Garmin Xero Bow Sight Reviews
If you've unfamiliar with the Garmin A1 and A1i, you're in for some fun: they’re pretty unique pieces of gear, and they’re unlike... well, they’re pretty much unlike 99% of the bow sights out there right now. We’ve looked at dozens—if not hundreds—of different bow sights, and the A1 and A1i really are a quantum leap forward when it comes to accuracy-enhancing archery/bowhunting tools. We have to admit right up front: we like them a great deal.
That said, we need to be very careful in the discussion section of our Garmin Xero Bow Sight review. We're going to be very honest in our observations—the Garmin Xero A1 and A1i are pieces of archery equipment that are really without equal, and there aren't too many other bow sights out there that have the capacity to provide so much accuracy—but they’re NOT perfect, and they’re not going to make deer drop down at your feet. Even while the Xero is a "Next Gen" bow sight, there are some issues you need to know about it. So we'll give you the good and the bad, and leave the conclusions up to you.
We go into a lot of detail below, and we've included videos wherever we thought it would help. There are a LOT of videos online about the Xero—it's a very unique piece of equipment, and people want to talk about it—but a lot of them are a little... "meandering," so to save you some time and effort, we've gone through and culled the most helpful ones.
(One final note before we begin: the Garmin Xero is made in two versions: the Xero A1 and the Xero A1i. Both are pretty deluxe, but the A1i is the "super-deluxe" version that has some added features. Below, we'll point out the features that are shared between both models, and which features are only on the A1i.)
How the Garmin Xero Works
As we've alluded to, the Xero is very different than pretty much all of the other bow sights on the market, so this is a good place to start:
Basically, the Xero is a digital tool that’s both a rangefinder and a bow sight rolled into one. After you get it set up (and we'll talk about set-up below, because set-up is both a "pro" and a "con"), you point your bow/bow sight at your target, and press a button. The Xero then measures the distance (and if necessary, the angle) to your target, and then displays a "digital sight pin" in the viewing window telling you where to aim.
Here's the Garmin Xero A1 (affiliate link in image):
...and as you can see, it looks very similar to Garmin Xero A1i (affiliate link in image):
Without an explanation, it seems pretty weird, but once you see it in action, it's pretty clear how it works. Here's a very quick explanation from Garmin themselves:
You range targets while you're at rest or while you're at full draw, and that means that you don't have to do two of the most difficult tasks in bowhunting: measuring yardage to your target, hiding your movement, and then manipulating your bow sight. The Xero does all that for you. Pretty cool.
Xero Features: What We Like
OK, so that's how it works. Let's look at all the perks of this kind of tool.
It's Basically Point, Click, Aim, and Shoot
It doesn't get simpler than that. That's really all it is—point, click, aim, shoot. You point it at your target, the sight tells you how far away your target is, it gives you a pin to aim at that target at that distance, and then you shoot. No guesswork, no estimation, nothing. Get range, aim, shoot.
It's Not That Complicated to Set Up
This is one of the big concerns people have about the Xero: set-up. The good news is, it's not really that bad, and Garmin walks you through the steps very clearly in this video:
The bad news is, it's definitely not what you're used to. If you're used to tuning a regular bow sight, well—as you can see, this is definitely more involved.
The irony is that when you face facts, *all* bow sights are a pain to set up! It may be more familiar to set a regular bow sight, but at some point you had to learn how to do that, too. Archery and bow hunting are activities that require constant discovery, so we'd urge you to get past any hesitation related to set-up. It's not really that hard. There may be *other* things that may concern you, but set-up shouldn't really be one of them.
It's Actually Two Bow Sights in One... Let's Explain:
So, from our description above and the video we included, you can see that the "pin"—that is, the digital dot on the viewing screen—appears after you've measured the distance. That's the new feature that you won't find on almost all other bow sights.
BUT, you can turn that feature off, and switch to a regular "fixed pin" program, which IS like most other bow sights. The Xero will display pins that you've set at 10/20/30 yards (or whatever you've set), and you can use the Xero like a fixed-pin bow sight. That's neat, and it kind of makes this bow sight a "2 sights in 1" deal.
It Can Record Different "Arrow Profiles"
NOTE: The "arrow profiles" feature is something you'd find on the A1i, and not the A1. For a comparison of the two, you can read our discussion of the A1i vs the A1.
The "arrow profiles" will remember the weight of your different arrows, and you can switch between them. Say, for instance, you plan on shooting an arrow that weighs 400 grains this weekend, but next weekend you'll be shooting an arrow that weighs 500 grains. If you've programed the Xero and tuned it for both of those arrow weights, you can toggle between those settings, depending on the arrow you want to use. That can be a *really* amazing function if you hunt different types of game / different types of game at different distances / etc.
If you read that sentence again—"If you've programmed the Xero..."—it's kind of trippy. Bowhunting equipment, until very recently, wasn't something you needed to "program," so we're kind of in a brave new world here. We imagine more and more equipment will be "programmable" as we boldly venture forth into the future.
Note, again, that the "arrow profiles" feature is only available on the A1i; the A1 only has the capacity for a single arrow setting, and you’ll need to re-tune the Garmin whenever you want to use an arrow of a different weight.
The 2-Inch Field of View is Uncluttered
Looking through the viewing pane and see no pins—that really is a cool feature. Even when you've got really thin pins out there, like .019 or even .010... let's be honest, they still get in the way. Looking through the viewfinder and seeing a single, small dot where you should put your arrow—that's really cool. Oh, and by the way—you can control the brightness of that dot. Even cooler.
It Compensates for Odd Angles / It’s Great for Hunting from a Stand
Even with all the other amazing things about the Xero, this is perhaps our favorite: it can measure the angle of your bow to the target, so can take shots from elevated stances. That's great for just about everybody: spot-and-stalk hunters shooting downhill, tree stand hunting shooting from a steep incline, even 3-D archers who are out and about. If you've ever cursed your pendulum sight, well... we have too! The elevation aspect of the Xero is another neat aspect of its rangefinder functionality.
You Can Aim Out to 100 Yards
And that's pretty far. In fact, we recommend not shooting at targets that far away unless you really know what you’re doing. 100 yards is a lot.
We don't really need expound here; it's got quite a range.
It's Got Some Decent Battery Life
Last but not least—not least at all, in fact. Because the Xero is a mechanical device (after all, it is a rangefinder, as well as a bow sight), it'll need some juice to keep it going. The Xero needs 2 AAA lithium batteries, and from the marketing material, it says that it can operate for up to a year. Ranging tends to eat up a lot of juice, as does using it in very cold weather, so that's something keep in mind.
Alright, now onto the next section of our Garmin Xero Bow Sight review: the less-than-perfect features.
Does the Xero Have "Xero" Things Wrong with It? No.
Have you ever despaired over the lack of perfection in this world? Well, this won't be the moment where everything comes together. The Garmin Xero is pretty stinkin' amazing, but it's got some less-than-perfect aspects to it. In our most humble of opinions, they are:
It Doesn't Range Through Cover / Mist / Impediments in the Environment
Do you remember above, when we mentioned that you can take this incredible piece of tech, and basically un-tech it, and use it like a regular fixed pin bow sight? If that struck you as odd, you get a gold sticker for being a smarty pants. The reason you can make the Xero into a basic fixed-pin sight with static dots on the screen is because it can't range through impediments. So, that's a strike against it.
But... that said... honestly... a regular rangefinder would range through cover / mist / impediments either. So while that is a genuine complaint, it's not the worst thing in the world, and according to the manufacturer's website, the Xero *is* designed to withstand rough weather conditions, so even if it's rainy / snowy / dry and dusty / etc., you should be good to go. It's designed for, you know, hunting conditions.
It's a LITTLE Bit Heavier Than Normal Bow Sights
We checked on the Garmin website, and it clocks in at 14.7 ounces (and this is true for both models—the real difference between the two models are digital options, not shape or size or anything like that). So, at nearly 15 ounces, that's definitely more than you'll find on many other sights. You can find a solid 1-pin or 3-pin that will weigh in at 5 or 6 ounces, so "tech is heavy," so to speak. If you had carrying any extra weight on your rig, you may want to stick with an "analog" bow sight.
That said, the Xero A1 and A1i aren't crazy heavy. The Black Gold Pro Dovetail 3 Pin Bow Sight, which is another high-end bow sight (albeit a regular fixed-pin sight), clocks in at 11.3 ounces, which is in the ballpark of the Xero.
It *Does* Takes Some Set-Up...
...and that set-up is different than you're used to.
Remember earlier, when we said the set-up wasn't that bad? It's not, and it's no worse than you'd experience on a regular high-end bow sight that features micro adjustability. But if you hate learning new things, well, this will take some learnin.' If you really hate sighting in, the Xero may irritate you.
You Still Have to Know Your Stuff!
Whenever there's a "quantum leap" in bow gear, people assume that bow hunting will now be easy as pie. Well, bad news: it won't. No matter how fancy-pants bow gear gets, you still need to know the woods. You still need to know you game. You still need to control your scent. You still need patience and perseverance. You still need... well, you'll still a whole bunch of things. Great gear can help, but it can't replace all that.
Alright, that seems like a good place to wrap things up.
The Xero: A Hero?
We think so. It really is "Next Gen" tech when it comes to bow sights. After all—this isn't just a really fancy bow sight, that you can micro adjust; this is TECHNOLOGY. It's a marriage between an old-school venture—bow hunting—and some very new-school software. Traditional archers will shake their head in disgust at this thing, but for those of us that welcome next tools and accuracy-enhancing gear, this is about as good as it gets right now. Point, aim, shoot—that's really all it is. It is a wild leap forward in terms of accuracy tools.
With an understanding of the Xero's capabilities—and its limitations—we give it the ole' thumbs up. It really an incredible tool. Again, it won't make you into Robin Hood, but with the right tuning—and the right skills in the person using it—it can be very powerful.
Alright, that wraps it up for this Garmin Xero bow sight review! Be good, be fair, and have fun!
To see the Garmin A1, you can...
...and to see the Garmin A1i, you can...