The Differences between a Crossbow Bolt and Arrow

A crossbow is one of the most commonly used bows in archery and hunting. Other common bows in archery and hunting include traditional bows, compound bows, and recurve bows. All types of bows are used for shooting a projectile at a target. Crossbows use a projectile known as a bolt to shoot at a target. On the other hand, traditional, compound, and recurve bows use projectiles known as arrows to shoot at a target. Most people confuse bolts with arrows. However, they’re not the same and are not interchangeable. So how are bolts different from arrows? Find out below.

Crossbow Bolts

A crossbow bolt, also known as a quarrel, is a special type of projectile launched by a crossbow when shooting at a target. A crossbow bolt has the following characteristics:

Length- Typical bolts have a length of between 16 inches to 22 inches. The most common length of bolts is 20 inches.

Parts of a Bolt- Bolts have four major parts. These parts include a shaft, nock, fletching, and bolt head. The shaft is the body of a bolt. The nock is the section attached to the back section of the shaft. The role of the nock is to keep the bolt in place when lining it up to shoot.

The fletching is the part that looks like a wing and is used for stabilizing the bolt trajectory during flight. It also keeps the bolt in the right direction, thereby preventing it from swaying right or left. The fletching is also known as a vane.

The bolt head is the sharp, pointed part of a bolt that hits a target. Bolt heads come in two different types, which are field points and broadheads. Field points are bolt heads used for target practice. They’re pointed but have cylindrical edges. On the other hand, broadheads are pointed with sharp, blade edges and are used for hunting.

Broadheads come in three different types including fixed-blade, removable-blade, and expandable-blade broadheads. Fixed-blade broadheads are a single piece of a broadhead with non-removable sharp blades. Removable-blade broadheads have blades that can be removed and replaced as needed. Expandable-blade broadheads have concealed blades that open up upon hitting a target for more damage.

Weight- The weight of a bolt is indicated in grains per inch (GPI). For example, a specific brand of an arrow may weigh 15 GPI. If the total length of that bolt is 22 inches, then its total weight will be 15 x 22, which equals 330 grains. Bolts tend to be a little heavier than arrows. This is because bolts have a higher GPI than arrows.

Materials- The shaft of a bolt is typically made of materials such as carbon fiber, aluminum, or a composite of carbon fiber and aluminum. Aluminum bolts are more affordable but they bend easily. A bent bolt can hardly hit a target. Bolts made of carbon fiber are expensive but more durable than aluminum bolts. The fletching is usually made of plastic.


Arrows are projectiles used in regular types of bows. An arrow has the following characteristics:

Length- A typical arrow has a length of 27 inches to 32 inches.

Parts of an Arrow- An arrow comprises of an arrowhead, shaft, nock, and fletching. The arrowhead is the pointed part of an arrow that hits a target.

The shaft is the body section of an arrow. It should be straight and stiff for more accurate shooting. The nock is the rear part of an arrow. Its role is to hold an arrow in position when shooting.

The fletching is the feather-like part of an arrow. It makes the arrow spin like a bullet and allows the arrow to maintain accuracy and stability during flight.

Weight- The weight of an arrow is also indicated in grains per inch (GPI). For instance, an arrow that has a GPI of 8 and a length of 32 inches will weigh 9×32, which equals 288 grains. Arrows are typically lighter than crossbows. This is because arrows have a lower GPI than bolts.

Materials- Traditional arrows have a solid shaft made of wood. Modern arrow shafts are made of materials such as aluminum, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and graphite. The fletching of an arrow is typically made of feathers, molded rubber, or plastic. The nock is usually made of plastic and arrowheads are made of steel.


Generally, crossbow bolts are shorter than arrows. Also, bolts are heavier than arrows. Since bolts are heavier, they’re less affected by wind. Thus, bolts are better for hunting in windy conditions than arrows. Also, arrows have a flatter trajectory than bolts due to their lightweight nature. Arrows also have a lower penetration power than bolts due to their lighter weight. Now that you know the differences between a crossbow bolt and arrow, you’ll be able to buy the right projectile for your bow.

Leave a Comment