Draw Length vs Arrow Length Explained

Nov 29, 2021Archery Basics, Arrows

When first starting out, many archers confuse the difference between draw length and arrow length. A common assumption of draw length vs arrow length is that draw length should be the same as arrow length. This is simply not true. Let’s go ahead and clear up the difference between the two by explaining the distinctions in more detail.

Since your draw length and the length of your arrows both have a direct impact on your shooting ability, you need to view these two measurements as mutually beneficial, but different. After reading the information below you will be able to correctly determine both your draw length and arrow length.

What Is Draw Length?

Your draw length is one of the two most important measurements you need to know. Draw weight (or poundage) is the second. Draw length is a term used to describe the length from the bow handle to the apex of the string while at full draw. You must figure out your draw length as this number is tailored to you. Knowing your draw length number allows you to purchase the right bow and adjust it to your needs.

Draw length is what determines not only the size of your bow, but the the length of your arrows as well.

Draw length is especially important for compound bows because this bow type has a set window of adjustment, depending on the bow. Since compound bows are manufactured with set draw lengths, you must know your draw length measurement in order to choose the right compound bow. The number is based on your wingspan. Once you have chosen your bow based on your draw length, a bow technician will fine-tune your bow so it fits properly.

Recurve bows and longbows do not have set draw lengths. Even so, you still need to know your draw length because the length of the bow must match your individual draw length. If a recurve or longbow is too short, you’ll run into issues.

Improper draw length prevents your ability to shoot with accuracy. Draw length that is too short makes you compressed and doesn’t allow proper form. Draw length that is too long will cause string slap and limit your ability to apply back tension through the shot.

How To Measure Draw Length

The most accurate way to measure draw length is to visit your local archery shop and have a professional measure it for you. If this is not an option or you just prefer to measure your draw length yourself, you can figure it out in just a matter of minutes.

First, stand with your back against a wall and then stretch your arms out flat against the wall. Now measure the entire distance between the ends of your middle fingers. Now take this measurement and divide by 2.5. This is your draw length. If you are by yourself, you can either hold a string and then measure it or you can hold a tape measure in your hands.

Arrow Length Explained

Arrow length refers to the length of the arrow shaft. It is measured from the deepest part of the nock to the end of the arrow shaft (not including the tip). You must know this measurement before buying your arrows. Depending on your arrow rest and where you want the end of your arrow to be will ultimately determine the size of your arrows. To be clear, if you happen to have a 29” draw length, you do not shoot 29” arrows…that’s where the two measurements differ.

So now that you understand that where your arrow sits on the rest helps determine its minimum length, it’s time to figure out the proper length for your arrows. Generally speaking, you add about 2 inches to your draw length to find your arrow length, but there’s a little more to it. That said, it’s important to consider your arrow spine.

Arrow Length and Arrow Spine

Arrow spine refers to the stiffness of an arrow. Spine ratings are listed on an arrow’s packaging, with a lower number meaning a stiffer arrow. For instance, an arrow with a 400 rating is going to be stiffer than an arrow with a 500 spine rating. Arrow manufacturers advise arrow spines that work best for different draw lengths and draw weights, making it easier for you to make the right choice.

Your choice of arrow spine, along with your choice of arrow fletching, arrow point weight, and arrow length, all work together to affect the accuracy of your arrows. Arrow spine is specifically important because this is what measures the flexibility aka bend-ability of an arrow. This bend-ability helps the arrow flex away from your bow upon release so there is no interference. Even though arrow manufacturers designate the correct spine using arrow spine charts, it’s important to test and see what works best for your setup.

Arrows that are too stiff will not bend enough upon release, creating a few issues. Arrows that are too soft will flex too much, causing a few issues as well and even cause the arrow to break. Longer arrows are weaker and often cause clearance as well as maneuverability issues. Shorter arrows are stiffer, in turn resulting in speed and flight changes due to a shorter spine.

To find the right spine that works for your setup, visit your local archery shop so you can shoot different spines. Once you find an arrow spine that works for you, stick with it unless you make changes to your draw weight, arrow length, or point weight.

Arrow Length vs Arrow Size

Arrow length and arrow size are two completely different things. Length refers to the length of the arrow shaft. Arrow size generally refers to the diameter of an arrow’s shaft. The larger the surface area of an arrow, the faster it will decay in flight. This means you can expect large diameter shafts to experience more wind drift and decay compared to small diameter shafts.

Determining Your Arrow Spine

After purchasing arrows that match your draw length and draw weight, you need to fine-tune them to fly perfectly straight. To try this yourself, use the bare-shaft tuning method to compare arrow impact. Remove the fletching from one or two arrows. Weigh the fletching of one arrow and attach the same weight of painter’s tape to the shaft (this is optional). Shoot the bare shaft arrow along with three fletched arrows over a distance of about 10 yards.

The goal is to have your arrows impact in the same area. Right-handed archers – if your bare shaft hits the target left of your other arrows, your spine is too stiff. To the right, your spine is too weak. For left-handers, it is the opposite. If your bare shaft happens to hit low then your nocking point needs to be adjusted because it is too high. Bare shafts that hit high means your nocking point is too low.

Draw Length vs Arrow Length

Now you understand the difference between draw length vs arrow length. Draw length is the measurement from the deepest part of the bow grip to the nock groove when at full draw. Arrow length refers to draw length plus about 2 inches. The length of your arrows is therefore based on your individual draw length.

Determining Your Draw Length

Archery shops can determine your draw length by using a special bow. Choosing this route means you must use your proper shooting form and you must only draw the string to the corner of your mouth. Don’t have a nearby shop or prefer to do it yourself? All you need is a tape measure and calculator.

Stand up straight with your back against a wall. Your palms should be facing forward. Now have someone else measure the distance between the tips of your fingers. Take this measurement and divide by 2.5. The result is your draw length number. For example, if your measurement is 70” you will be shooting using a 28” draw length. If you need help with the calculation, I created a draw length calculator to make things easier.

Keep in mind that your draw length may change over time depending on your age or any new equipment being used. For example, a new mechanical release may change your draw length slightly.

Determining Your Arrow Length

For arrow length, your draw length plus another 2” tends to be ideal if you have a correctly spined arrow. If you are just starting out, you may want to leave more length for tuning reasons, so be sure not cut off too much of the shaft as this will make the arrow too stiff. Leaving the 2” means you can cut the arrow progressively shorter until things are flying straight. Once you have determined the correct length, you can then cut the rest of your arrows to match.


Purchasing archery equipment for the first time can be a difficult task. It doesn’t have to be if you first know your archery measurements. Draw length vs arrow length is something you must completely understand before buying your first bow. Now that you understand the difference between the two measurements you are well on your way to being the best archer you can possibly be.

Whether you choose to shoot for fun, for hunting reasons, or with dreams of going to the Olympics one day, it all first starts with your ability to make the correct measurements so you can purchase the right equipment for you.

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