Buying the right limbs for your bow

Whether you are a starting archer or an experienced archer finding the right limbs is very difficult. With compound and traditional archery you buy the complete bow. Therefore you cannot choose between different riser and limb combinations. Although this gives you a lot of flexibility it also makes the buying process a lot harder. In this article I will help you in your journey to the right limbs.

I will first discuss the most important product features that you should consider when buying a bow. In the next section I will answer some frequently asked questions about limbs. At the end of this article I will provide you with some recommended limbs and share my personal experience.

Summary

The most important product features that you should consider are the:

  • Limb fitting: how the limb is attached to the riser
  • The draw weight: determines the speed of the arrow and how heavy the draw is (draw weight)
  • Size of the limbs: determines how far you can pull back the bow (draw length)

In this article I will discuss these aspects in more detail.

Product features to consider

Although limbs are a relatively simple part of the bow, there are still a lot of product characteristics that you should consider. In this section I will discuss these in more detail.

Limb fitting

One of the most important element of your bow is the limb fitting. The limb fitting allows you to connect your bow to the riser. If your limb fitting on your riser doesn’t match with your limbs you will not be able to attach your limbs. Therefore you should consciously choose a limb fitting for both your riser and limbs. You essentially get locked in a certain system once you made your decision. If you want Formula limbs on your ILF riser, you have bad luck. Therefore most archers pick one system and stay with it. This allows you to change your limbs, without having to change the riser.

The ILF fitting

For good reason most archers prefer the ILF system because this system is accepted by almost all manufacturers including: Hoyt, PSE archery, Winners Archery, SF archery, Core archery, Samick, Krossen, Nika archery, and many more. Even a lot of budget brands use the ILF system as their limb fitting. Therefore this system gives you the most flexibility and options.

The formula fitting

For a while the ILF system was the main limb fitting for Hoyt. After a while Hoyt developed the formula fitting which is similar to the ILF fitting. According to Hoyt the formula fitting is superior, but most archers agree that there is little difference between the two fittings. I believe that the Formula fitting is just a proprietary fitting that was introduced as a smart business move. A lot of archers prefer Hoyt gear, so if they buy a Hoyt riser they now also have to buy Hoyt limbs. Hoyt still sells a few ILF limbs because a lot of archers already have an ILF riser, but their most liked limbs are now solely available with a formula fitting.

If you want to know more about the differences between ILF and Formula I would recommend reading our dedicated article: ''Which is better: Formula or ILF''

Proprietary limb fittings

There are many other proprietary limb fittings amongst archery manufacturers. Most of those proprietary systems attach the riser to the limbs by means of a bolt that is tightened by hand. This fitting is way simpler and cheaper to manufacture. Therefore these proprietary limb fittings are most popular in the cheap category. A popular bow with a proprietary limb fitting is the Samick Sage. This bow is often recommended by archery bloggers, but I believe buying a proprietary limb fitting is a bad idea.

The length of the limb (draw length)

Another important aspect of the limb is the length of the limb. The length of the limb determines for a large part how far you can draw back the bow. Although you can draw a bow with short limbs very far, it is not designed to do so. Shooting with too short limbs can not only decrease the lifespan, it will also be quite uncomfortable. If you bend a limb further than it’s designed for it will provide a lot of resistance and will feel really stiff. Therefore the draw will become less smooth and will strain your muscles.

Therefore buying too short limbs is bad for both the archer and the bow. But what about limbs that are longer than necessary? Limbs that are longer than necessary are not harmful to the bow and the draw will be just as smooth or even smoother. The only negative about longer limbs is that your bow becomes bigger, which can make it more difficult to wield. The draw weight will also feel a bit lighter than with longer limbs. Therefore buying longer limbs than necessary is sometimes even advised for older archers.

If you want to know how to find the right limb size I would recommend reading the ‘’What size limbs do I need?’’ section of this article

Draw weight

The draw weight is one of the trickiest parts of archery to get right. The problem is that a lot of starting archers overestimate their strength. The problem with drawing a bow is that you use a lot of muscles that you don’t use in daily live. Even if you are going to the gym and train your back muscles you probably don’t train all the muscles you use in archery.

Why choosing the right draw length is very important

If you buy limbs with a too high draw weight you will shoot less accurately because you will start to shake. You can even experience muscle pain. Therefore you have to be certain that the draw weight is not too heavy for you. Shooting with weak limbs has a few disadvantages namely:

  • Your arrow drop increases: which can mean that you can shoot your bow less far.
  • Your arrow will be more susceptible for vibration: because the arrow is shot with less force the arrow will be influenced more by the vibration of the bow, which decreases accuracy
  • Your arrow will be more susceptible to wind: because your arrow will travel longer in the air, it will drift more in the wind then when using a stronger bow. This can decrease your accuracy at windy days.

These disadvantages, however, do not outweigh the problems you experience when shooting with a too heavy bow. Shooting with a too light bow will put you at a marginal disadvantage. Shooting with a too heavy bow can give you serious muscle problems, which can even make you quit the sport.

Why archers often still choose a too heavy draw weight

Archers often compare their draw weight amongst each other. Therefore archers sometimes feel the urge to buy limbs with a heavier draw weight. For some reason there is some sort of status involved in shooting with a high draw weight.

Archery ,however, is not a weight lifting competition but is all about accuracy. Forcing yourself to shoot with a heavier draw weight will only decrease the latter. You can’t also compare the draw weight between archers just by looking at the numbers of the limbs. Because the actual draw weight is also influenced by your draw length.

How draw weight is measured

The draw weight of the limbs is measured at 28 inches, for all sizes of limbs. Therefore if you have a 23 inch draw length you will shoot a lot lower poundage than indicated on the limbs. If you have a 30 inch draw length you will have a higher poundage than indicated on the limbs.

If you want some guidelines to choose the right draw length I would recommend to read the ‘’What draw weight do I need?’’ section of this article.

Materials

There are multiple materials suitable for manufacturing bow limbs, the most common materials used are: wood, bamboo and carbon. Manufacturers often claim that their limbs have the most smoothest draw and are most accurate. But most of these claims are groundless. In general there are just very minor differences in the smoothness of the draw and even the cheapest brands offer quite impressive limbs.

An advantage carbon has over wood and bamboo is that it is less prone to breaking. But carbon limbs tend to be very expensive, therefore I wouldn’t recommend buying carbon limbs. In my experience I haven’t noticed huge differences in the quality of limbs between manufacturers.

What size limbs do I need?

Determining the limb size you need is best done by the following three step process:

  1. Determining the riser length
  2. Measuring the draw length
  3. Matching the limbs to the draw length

Below I will discuss this process in more detail.

Step 1: Determining the riser length

Limbs come in three different sizes: short, medium and long. These three sizes can attach to two different riser lengths, namely: short and long. If you combine these three size with the two riser sizes, you get four different bow lengths, namely: 64, 66, 68, 70 inch. See the table below for the combinations.

Riser length Short limbs Medium limbs Long limbs
Short 23 inch riser 64 inch bow 66 inch bow 68 inch bow
Long 25 inch riser 66 inch bow 68 inch bow 70 inch bow

For adult archers the 25 inch riser is recommended, while for small children the 23 inch riser is recommended. The long riser gives you the most flexibility and is most common. So if the archer is an adult you basically have three different bow sizes: 66, 68 and 70 inch.

Step 2: Measuring the draw length

There are multiple ways to estimate your draw length based on your own length or arm span. My favorite method however is to measure it with a real bow. When you are at full draw you let someone help you by marking the place where your arrow meets the riser. You can either do this with a piece of tape or a marker. Be sure that you are aiming in a safe direction and that the person helping you is not in the line of fire.

If you don’t have a bow nearby you can also mimic the draw and let someone measure it with a measuring tape. These measurements are a lot more accurate than draw length calculations derived from your length or arm span.

Step 3: Matching the limbs to the draw length

The final and easiest step is to match the draw length to the limbs. See the tables below to see what limbs you need

Short riser (small children)

Max draw length Limbs Bow length
24 inch Short 64 inch
26 inch Medium 66 inch
28 inch Long 68 inch

Long riser (adults and teens)

Max draw length Limbs Bow length
26 inch Short 66 inch
28 inch Medium 68 inch
30 inch Long 70 inch

Make sure that your bow is not shorter than is recommended for your draw length. This can not only increase the stress on the limbs, but it can also make the bow much heavier to draw. Therefore, if you are (nearly) at the max, I would recommend choosing the larger option, if possible.

What draw weight do I need?

Although I can give clear recommendations on what limb size you need, I can’t do so with the draw weight. The problem is that you cannot measure what weight you can comfortably draw. But to give you an estimation I provided a table below with the recommended draw weight for different profiles.

Archers profile Draw weight
Small children 16 LBS or less
Larger children 16 till 18 LBS
Teenage female 18 till 22 LBS
Teenage male 20 till 24 LBS
Female 20 till 26 LBS
Male 22 till 30 LBS

Make sure that you don’t buy limbs that have a to heavy draw weight. Many starting archers overestimate their strength and thereby make the wrong decision. Buying too heavy limbs can result in muscle pain and a significant decrease in your accuracy.

It’s especially a good idea to buy a lower draw weight if you are tall. Archers with long arms will have a long draw length which increases the actual draw weight that the archer has to pull back. If you want to know more about how to choose the right draw weight, I would recommend reading this article:

How to choose the right draw weight for your bow

Q&A

There are a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding limbs, in this section I will answer the most common questions. If you have a question that is not covered, please leave it in the comment section down below. I will answer it as soon as possible and I might even feature it on this page.

Do I need expensive limbs?

One common misconception is that expensive limbs shoot the arrow more accurate than inexpensive limbs. These claims are purely the result of clever marketers that want to increase the sales of their limbs. Any physicist will explain that the material act very predictably when it’s under tension. Therefore there is no variation between shots that originate from the limbs. Some good reasons to consider more expensive limbs are:

  • Durability: expensive limbs can be more durable depending on their manufacturing process. This is however not always the case, therefore you shouldn’t use only the price to assess the durability.
  • The styling of the limb: expensive limbs tend to have nicer styling, this can of course be a reason why you prefer those limbs.
  • You like the brand: some archery brands have innovated a lot that improved archery, take Hoyt for example. A good way to support these innovators is to buy their products.

So don’t be deterred from buying expensive limbs, if you like the look and the brand, you will probably like it. Just don’t expect an increase in performance purely because of the limbs, it’s not going to happen.

Is ILF a must?

No, ILF is not a must, but there is a very good reason why many archers prefer this system over proprietary and Formula fittings. The ILF versus Formula fitting is kind of like Windows versus IOS (the operating system of Apple). Although the Formula fitting allows you to add really good looking and high-quality limbs to your riser, it also limits your choice. If you have a Formula riser you can only attach expensive Hoyt limbs. Some archers that really love Hoyt, don’t mind that because they would buy Hoyt limbs anyway. Archers that want to be able to switch would however never buy a Formula riser, because you are limited to Hoyt limbs.

Bows with proprietary limb fittings from other manufacturers tend to be a bit cheaper than ILF bows, but not by much. These proprietary systems where the norm years ago, before the invention of ILF. I wouldn’t recommend buying a bow with these proprietary limb fittings to any serious archer. They severely limit you with the number of options and you could even get stuck with forsaken limb fitting. These limb fittings are only recommended for archers that want to shoot in their backyards and don’t want to switch limbs.

Can you get used to heavy draw weight?

Yes, you can get used to a bow with a heavy draw weight, but it can take a lot of time and the process is not fun. Just shooting with a bow that has a to heavy draw weight will probably not work, since you cannot train enough without getting muscle strain. Therefore the only way to get used to the heavy draw weight is to train your back muscles. I recommend this article if you want to know how to train your back muscles for archery:

‘’How to train your back muscles for archery’’

Depending the draw weight this can take at least a few months. Therefore this process can be quite frustrating. In my opinion the best idea is to buy limbs with a lower poundage. You can keep the heavier limbs if you ever want to increase your poundage. It is very common for archers to increase your poundage after a year, therefore you will probably use the heavier limbs when you are more trained.

Do I have to go to an archery store?

When I was just starting with archery everyone was telling me that you should just go to an archery store to get advice. Now I am more experienced I know that this is a horrible idea. The problem is that some salesmen in archery stores want to sell the bow that provides them the most profit. Luckily a lot of salesmen don’t have this mentality, but you should be careful and not rely only on their advice.

A way better idea is to do your own research and then ask for advice. This will make you more alert and you will more easily notice when a salesmen trying to sell their most expensive limbs without a good reason. If you do a lot of research and you know what you want, you can also buy your limbs online. There are a lot of options available, and especially if you want cheap limbs, online is the way to go.

My recommendation

I have shot many different limbs in my archery ‘’career’’. The limbs I liked the most are the Krossen Xenia. These limbs are not too expensive and are made from a combination of wood and fiberglass. The combination of wood and fiberglass makes the pull more smooth than pure wooden limbs. This combination makes them also more durable. The limbs have an ILF fitting and have an attachment point for limb savers or dampeners. You can get these limbs in draw length from 14 to 30 LBS. I have these limbs for 2 ½ years now and they never broke on me even though I have a long draw length, which put the limbs under more stress.

Final words

In general archery limbs tend to be quite uniform, there is very little difference in the overall quality of the limbs. Therefore I don’t think you should worry too much which brand you are going to buy. Even a lot of very cheap brands have decent limbs. Sadly sometimes even established brands have quality control issues.

I have had bad experiences with the Bamboo limbs from Core Archery. Both my father and I had these limbs and they broke within one year. Although Core Archery is not an expensive brand it is more expensive than most Chinese brands, with which I have good experiences.

The most important thing you should worry about is the size of the limb, which is based on your draw length. But also deciding on the right draw weight and limb fitting is very important.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section down below. I will answer any questions as soon as possible.

4 Replies to “Buying the right limbs for your bow”

  1. Hammond lau says:

    Very good sharing for those still new in archery sport, after readIng all the content I have Some decision to choose my new bow limbs, thank you Mr. Tim sharing your valuable experience to us…..

    Reply
    1. Tim van Rooijen says:

      Thank you, great to hear that my article was helpful!

      Reply
  2. Rianto Hanafiah says:

    Hello
    I”m going to buy a second recurve barebow , ( my 1st is Wood riser with Cartel limbs )
    What is more important to buy ” expensive riser / moderate limbs OR moderate price riser / expensive limbs ”
    one shop offering me , ” Winex riser & premium alpha limbs ” ( price of riser double than price of limbs ) , both from W&W company
    Or better I choose ” WNS premium riser with premium alpha limbs ” ( price about the same )
    sometimes , I read , that limbs is more important than riser
    thank you very much n best regards

    Reply
    1. Tim van Rooijen says:

      Hi Rianto,
      Great to hear that you are switching to more serious gear. In general, I believe that buying higher quality limbs is more important. It not only makes the draw smoother but you also have a smaller chance of breakages. Most cheaper risers also tend to be quite durable. It’s just more difficult to make a good limb than a good riser. There are still some things to consider, such as the weight of the riser and the tuning mechanism. If you would like more information on that, I would recommend reading this article: https://improveyourarchery.com/how-to-choose-the-right-riser-for-your-bow/

      Getting carbon limbs, such as the limbs you chose, is a great option. They are more durable and make a smoother draw, so I think that will be a great investment.

      If I had to make the choice I would buy the cheaper riser. The money you save could be a good investment in other gear.

      Reply

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