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Archery comes with many intricacies, from various forms of training to an endless list of equipment and accessory choices. There are numerous types of popular bows on the market, each providing a unique style that’s fitting for various goals, skillsets, and body types. If you’re looking to get into the sport, it’s essential you review every minor detail about a bow before making a financial commitment.
So, what are the differences between a compound bow and a longbow? The primary difference is in the length of their arms. Compound bows store energy through short limbs that work through a pulley system, and longbows boast long arms that are pulled back by the bowstring alone. You’ll also find that compound bows can be much more powerful, with speeds up to 370 feet per second, compared to the longbow’s potential of 200 feet per second.
Visually, they are strikingly different too.
So, it’s not just how they perform and how they are used.
Take a look at them side by side below. On the left, we have a compound, the right a longbow.
Let us continue to explore the differences, starting with the popular compound bow, before turning to trying to figure out what may be right (and best) for you!
What Are Compound Bows?
Known to be one of the most intricate bow designs available, the compound bow is built with a levering system that gives the arms their flexibility with the help of cables and pulleys. It’s primarily used for hunting and regular training, but these aren’t the only use cases for the bow. A compound bow is an ideal choice if you’re looking for more precision and power.
Although other bow designs still have plenty of viability in the archery sport, compound bows tend to be many people’s first choice for numerous reasons.
The mechanical features of the bow give archers various advantages that can provide better accuracy, more consistency, and even less fatigue on the body over time.
It also does an excellent job of controlling recoil and vibrations in comparison to other bows, and these minor benefits can make a huge difference in an archer’s overall performance.
However, as with any product, compound bows have their own pros and cons.
Some downsides to compound bows are the maintenance of mechanical parts, their heavy weight, and generally requires a bow press to make adjustments or replace strings, to name a few.
What Are Longbows?
The bow of choice for many archers long before compound bows were invented, longbows are known for their long arms, simple design, and significant recurve. The longstanding history of this bow continues to show relevancy even today. In its earlier days, the bow was primarily used for war and hunting. They can be manufactured from various types of wood, but it’s important to be lightweight and flexible for optimal performance.
Today, longbows are primarily used for practice and sport and stand as a great starter choice for people who are brand new to archery.
At a glance, most longbows seem to be built relatively the same; in reality, there are quite a few variations of longbows.
From materials to technique, different longbows require a slightly different approach for the best possible performance.
As the bow became popular across the world, different cultures crafted their own longbow design.
History shows that the medieval longbow bend through the entire length of the bow, whereas the Victorian longbow does not.
These minor differences can deliver a change in how a bow performs, which led other cultures to refine and improve their own designs until we came to the popular designs we recognize today.
What Is The Difference Between A Compound Bow And Longbow?
When you compare them side by side, it’s apparent that their designs are very different, as compound bows are much more mechanical, and longbows offer a simple style. This alone shouldn’t be the deciding factor in which bow you choose, as each serves a purpose in their own right. Compound bows provide much more customization for your archery experience, and in some cases, they can have a much better lifespan compared to longbows.
The known differences between the two are apparent, but this list will continue to grow as new designs and technologies will emerge that change how they perform.
Longbows have been pretty consistent since they were first created, yet compound bows are quickly evolving as they’re perfect for customizations and can easily adapt to archery tech as well.
You’ll find varying sentiments from the archery community as some people may prefer one design over the other.
Even among the suggestions and the variations in design, you want to choose a bow that’s fitting for your body type and archery goals.
If you plan on hunting, a compound bow is your best pick, but if you’re simply looking to practice or compete, this is where longbows tend to shine.
Keep reading below to get a more comprehensive look at their core differences.
Compound bows are crafted with ridged metals that are lightweight for easy mobility, and they’re noticeably shorter than longbows.
They’ve only been around for about fifty years, whereas longbows have held relevancy for thousands of years.
The types of arrows that are used are also different, as compound bows utilize arrows made of fiberglass, aluminum, or carbon fiber.
I mentioned this earlier in the article, but compound bows also provide much more power, and they’re capable of producing arrow speeds up to 370 feet per second.
Longbows may not have as many customizations available, but their power and accuracy shouldn’t be underestimated.
It does require a much more manual approach, and their arrow speeds are only able to reach speeds up to 200 feet per second.
Although a majority of them are made of wood, it is possible to find longbows that are made of fiberglass.
Longbows are significantly longer than compound bows, and they’re considered to be more fragile, as it isn’t as easy to repair a broken longbow in comparison to a compound bow.
Are Compound Bows Better Than Longbows?
This is a somewhat subjective question as both excel in various aspects of archery, but from a design standpoint, compound bows trump longbows in many different ways. The mechanical benefits of compound bows allow archers to shoot better, perform more consistently, and take on less wear and tear to the body. Longbows can be more labor-intensive, and compound bows can be customized from multiple angles for a more customized shooting experience.
Among the archery community, you’ll find the extensive debate between die-hard archers who feel one bow may be superior to the other.
You’ll find many valid points, but above it all, your personal preferences are the most important. It is crucial you choose a bow you’re willing to handle and care for that can meet your expectations every time you go hunting or hit the range.
The best way to do that is to fully understand how both bows work and the pros and cons associated with their shot and long-term use.
If you were to test their performance side by side in a controlled environment, compound bow swill outperforms longbows by a long shot.
Of course, with the intricate mechanical nature of compound bows, they’re much more prone to failure as it requires every part to work fluidly to perform.
The simple and manual nature of longbows is far less likely to encounter failure.
This alone could make them a better choice as they don’t require near as much care and maintenance that’s necessary with the compound bow design.
When A Compound Bow May Be Better
Another reason why compound bows are a top choice is that they’re pretty versatile and can be used with various archery events, interests, and goals.
They’re generally a go-to choice for serious hunters, as their stopping power, accuracy, and ease of use are proven to be highly effective.
The mechanical features of a compound bow greatly benefit the archer’s performance, which also makes them a great option for regular practice.
Technology will continue to evolve, and this will lead to even more advanced and customized compound bows in the future.
When A Longbow May Be Better
There are many circumstances where a longbow would be a better choice.
It doesn’t hurt to go with the longbow design if you’re looking for less maintenance, easy functionality, and a stellar choice for competitions or daily practice.
Just because compound bows offer more features doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for every situation.
It also provides some of the best accuracy and long-distance shooting you’ll get out of any bow, so it definitely provides some niche benefits that are extremely important to many different archers.
Should You Get A Compound Bow Or Longbow?
It’s pretty clear which bow is the optimal choice based on what archery activity interests you the most, but if we’ve learned anything, the required maintenance and intricate parts of each bow are equally important. Both will continue to have relevance in archery for many more years to come. Even if compound bows continue to evolve far past the competition, longbows will always have a purpose in archery.
Before you make a purchase, ensure you have a good idea of what you plan to use the bow for and what you’re looking to accomplish with archery as a whole.
This will allow you to choose a bow that’s perfect for your particular needs and will help you avoid additional costs or a frustrating experience at the range.
Looking to buy a compound bow – this is the resource for you → Best Compound Bows Under $400 » Top Picks & Buyers Guide
Archery is much more complex than many people think, but the necessary minor details of the sport are vital to understanding for the utmost satisfaction.
Each bow has unique qualities that make it a standout choice for different types of archers, but one part of the sport that may be more important than anything else is the importance of safety when using a bow.
With improper use and an inconsistent maintenance schedule, you could find yourself in a harmful situation if a part of your bow breaks while in use.]
I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy indoor and 3D archery with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.