Types of Compound Bows – Complete Guide

| Last Updated August 7, 2021

Archery is an exciting sport that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. The increasing popularity has brought about significant evolutions from the traditional recurve bows to more advanced modern bows—notably compound bows.

Whether you intend to practice target shooting to participate in shooting competitions, game hunting, or simply for fun, you can never go wrong with compound bows.

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The designs continue to get better by the day, and even with modern bows, you'll find a wide range to choose from based on individual preferences.

This article goes in-depth to discuss the four types of compound bows you're likely to come across in your pursuit of the best bow for your shooting needs. 

We'll talk about the major distinguishing features, advantages, and disadvantages of each, plus their favorite applications.

Understanding Cams: The Heart of the System

A compound bow comprises several parts, including a string, cable system, riser, and cams. Cams make an integral part of a compound bow that allows energy transfer into the limbs. These large wheels are always located in the upper and lower limbs.

Cams play a critical role in accomplishing multiple tasks simultaneously; thus, they are always referred to as the system’s heart. They work by rotating to transform the circular motion into linear motion and vice versa.

Compound bow cams come in two different shapes—round and oval. The shape of your bow cam will affect the amount of energy the bow will retain and release when you shoot and the strength required to draw the bow.

When you draw and release an arrow, the bow's cams manipulate the draw weight to determine the effectiveness of your shot.

However, when a compound bow reaches its full draw, it will "let off" up to about 90% of the pressure needed for holding the bowstring in its full draw position.

Compound bow cams come in four types—single cam, twin cam, binary cam, and hybrid cam. Each kind of cam has its advantages and disadvantages and is also suited for different shooting applications.

Types of Compound Bows

There are four types of compound bows. Each bow has unique features, usually featuring improvements from the preceding model. The below section discusses compound bow’s distinctive features, advantages, and disadvantages, plus their best applications.

Topic Type

Best For

Single Cam

Entry-level archers

Twin Cam

Hardcore competition shooters and experienced archers

Hybrid Cam

A little complicated and may require more experienced archers

Binary Cam

Competitive archers and giant game hunters

Single Cam

Often referred to as one cam or solo cam, a single cam is the simplest among compound bows. 

Just as the name suggests, a single cam system features one cam for flexing the bow, thus making shooting much easier. The other cam remains simply an idler wheel. 

Less moving parts in a single cam bow means more silent operation than other comparative bow types. Additionally, single cam compound bows don't need synchronization, making maintenance much more manageable.

The bow has a single power cam on the lower limb to help it out in balancing and an idler wheel on its upper limb.  The two wheels are for enhancing accuracy and smoothness when shooting compared to ordinary bows.

However, one major setback about single cam compound bows is achieving level nock travel. The system’s operation creates uneven pressure on the nock due to an idler wheel and a turning power wheel, thus interrupting the nock travel.

The nock travel interruption further affects accuracy, although some single cam bow models still offer decent accuracy and a reasonable stop at full draw.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Some models are difficult to adjust, making them prone to let-off problems

  • Some users report nock travel problems

  • Single cam compound bows have less power, meaning arrow speeds are also lower than other models.

Best For

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Unlike twin cam systems, single cam compound cams are much easier to operate and maintain. 

Despite other minor issues such as nock travel problems and adjustability for some models, single cams are still very reliable and widely accepted among many beginner archers.  

Whether you're looking to shoot as a sport or for game hunting, the simplicity in single cam bows makes it the best choice for entry-level archers.

Twin Cam

Twin cam compound bows, also referred to as two cam or dual cam bows, were designed to address nock travel mishaps in the single cam model. 

Unlike single cam system bows, the twin cam bow has two wheels with equal ability that help it produce more draw weight, thus enhanced arrow propulsion.

Proper synchronization gives two cam bows excellent nock travel, overall speed, and accuracy. The two cams have similar shapes—elliptical or circular that work harmoniously with other mechanical linkages.

The twin cam bow is less complicated and has a balanced pressure on the nock, thus enhanced draw power and arrow speeds.

Although the two wheels in a two cam bow are perfectly identical, they work independently, which poses the risk of one running either slower or faster than the other. If that occurs, it may cause synchronization issues, which in turn affect the draw weight.

Additionally, the independent cam rotation may cause irregular stretching of the bowstring, resulting in an imbalance of the lower and upper limbs. To reduce that effect, consider going for a compound bow with sturdier strings.

Another drawback about the twin cam bow is the increased noise due to multiple moving parts while operating. That's mainly a concern for game archers, as it may distract your target leading to wasted shots.

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Advantages

  • Enhanced arrow velocity

  • Two cams offer more draw power

  • Great nock travel and better precision more than single cam bows

Disadvantages

  • One cam may rotate faster or slower than the other, causing synchronization problems.

  • High maintenance and requires constant tuning

  • Noisy operation due to many moving parts

Best For

Twin cam bows are an improvement on single cam bows. It's the ideal choice for experienced shooters looking for a high-speed bow with great accuracy but fewer complications.

Hybrid Cam

Hybrid cam systems are an improvement on twin cam bows with significant emphasis on correcting the synchronization problems presented by the latter.

The power cam sits at the lower limb and connects the upper limb using a cable. On the upper limb is the control cam connecting to the power cam rather than directly connecting to the lower limb.

In the hybrid setup, cams pull on opposing cams instead of pulling on the opposing limbs. The upper control cam thus follows the lower limb movements to create a perfect cam balance on either side.

The co-dependence created enhances synchrony to iron out the problem of one cam moving slower or faster, as is the case in twin cam bows.

Tuning a hybrid cam is easier, and synchronization is automatic. Besides, they are straightforward to maintain compared to twin cams. Arrow speed and accuracy are also more enhanced, but they need proper orientation to achieve the desired accuracy.

Advantages

  • Easy bow tuning

  • High arrow velocity and enhanced accuracy

  • Requires very little maintenance

Disadvantages

  • A little noisy

  • Requires regular maintenance and tuning to keep it in top working condition

  • May be a little confusing at first for amateurs

Best For

The two asymmetrical elliptical cams in a hybrid cam system make it one of the most accurate and fast compound bows suitable for most experienced archers. Once adequately dialed in, hybrid cams operate with low noise and have extremely high arrow speeds.

Binary Cam

Binary cam resolves the mishaps of twin and hybrid cams, making it the most advanced in modern compound bow technology.

The binary technology features a pair of dependent power cams in mutual synchronization.  The upper limb connects the lower limb directly via a cable. On the other hand, the lower limb power cam connects the upper limb cam.

The setup creates dependency and uniformity between the cams for smooth part movements.

Two power cams mean more draw weight, thus enhanced arrow speed and higher velocity. The automatic balance further reduces nock travel problems.

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Advantages

  • Highly reduced nock travel problems

  • Two power cams for enhanced draw weight, thus greater arrow speeds

  • Greater accuracy and arrow speed for giant game hunting and competitive archery

Disadvantages

  • Complex design requires frequent maintenance and tuning

  • Manufacturers advertise binary cam as a hybrid due to patent issues, which can be confusing to shoppers

  • Noisy operation

Best For

The binary cam setup is more complex but with increased precision. It is the favorite bow type for experienced archers in competitive archery and big game hunting. However, the bow requires more frequent maintenance and tuning to keep it in top performance condition.

What Type of Compound Bow Should I Choose?

The availability of several compound bows on the market can make deciding on the appropriate type confusing. Below are the top factors to keep in mind when shopping for a compound bow.

Your Dominant Eye

The first critical step before settling on a compound bow type is determining your dominant eye. 

Since “shooting wrong-hand” is highly possible using a less dominant eye, go with the dominant eye when choosing a compound bow to avoid such frustrations. A less dominant hand is okay.

The brain aligns with the dominant eye, which is why matching the dominant eye is critical. For instance, important information such as sighting your target will automatically go to the most prevalent eye, thus giving you a more accurate shot.  

Draw Length

Draw length is the distance between the bowstring and your grip at full draw. While at the local pro shop, talk to the dealer to help you determine and adjust the bow according to your draw length. 

To determine your draw length, stand with your arms held out straight to the side and have someone measure your arm span from one fingertip to the other in inches. Divide the number by 2.5.

Draw Weight

Draw weight is the maximum poundage you'll pull to bring your bow to full draw. You'll find many modern compound bows with about 65 to 80 percent let-off when the bow is drawn fully. That means you'll be holding a paltry 20% or slightly more of the draw weight.

The debate on your bow's draw weight narrows down to hunting needs. Some states have minimum draw weight requirements for specific hunting applications. 

For instance, you'll require about 40 percent draw weight for big game hunting—enough to kill animals such as whitetail deer. However, for more giant games such as moose or bear, you may need more draw weight - not less than 50 pounds. 

More draw weight translates to a flatter trajectory, more kinetic energy, greater arrow speeds, and potentially greater target penetration. 

Overall Bow Weight  

The overall bow weight is especially important if you intend to use the bow for game hunting. Consider picking a lighter bow to maneuver the woods easily and with fewer vibrations to avoid distracting your targets. 

However, you may need to put up with a more complex and precise bow for big game hunting to give you the desired efficiency in bringing down giant games such as moose. 

Conclusion 

From the traditional single cam systems to the modern-day complex and more powerful binary cams, compound bows continue to experience rapid evolution, and archers can only look forward to more advanced techniques in the future.

While the choice of a compound bow narrows down to individual preferences such as sporting and game hunting needs, some are more suited for specific applications than others.

However, all the bows share one common feature—maintenance practice that involves tuning to keep the bow adequately balanced. 

For entry-level archers, you may consider starting with less complicated bows, such as a single cam, and climb up binary models as you gain more experience. 

People Also Ask

As compound bows continue to gain popularity among archers, many shooters still find confusing aspects about the best type and applications. Below are answers to the two common questions about compound bows.

What is the Most Common Compound Bow Type?

Compound bows come in four main types—single cam, twin cam, hybrid cam, and binary cam, each suited for specific applications and levels of experience.

While all four types are good bows for hunting and target practice, single cam bows are more common due to their simplicity, silent operation, and low maintenance requirements.

What Activities Are Compound Bows Best For?

Compound bows are a little complicated compared to the traditional recurve bows, which tend to be relatively easy to understand and operate. However, compound bows are becoming increasingly popular among archers.

The bows are best suited for hunting and target practice for entry-level and experienced shooters.



My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.