Types Of Compound Bows

Types of compound bows

What Is A Compound Bow?

The compound bow was first developed in 1966 by Holles Wilbur Allen in Missouri USA. The compound bow uses a levering system involving cables and pulleys or “cams” to bend the limbs, risers, or ends of the bow. The compound bow’s setup and structure of cams and cables provide a mechanical advantage that allows the archer to need to apply much less physical pulling effort (poundage) when the bow is at full draw.

By requiring less pull or draw effort to keep the bow fully drawn, the archer achieves better aim and increased accuracy. The system also allows you to store more energy into the highly rigid bow. This translates into higher velocity upon release. Compound bows represent distinct design improvements over traditional longbows and recurve bows.

4 Types of Compound Bows

Now let us take a clear and closer look at the 4 types of compound bows and what makes them stand out. This will include their advantages and disadvantages compared to the other compound bow types.

Single Cam Compound Bows

A single cam compound bow features the presence of just one power cam to flex the bows limbs and create the energy that propels the arrow.

The power cam is usually mounted on the lower limb of the single cam compound bow, with the upper limb hosting an idler wheel.

This simplicity in the single cam bow’s design has earned it a wide acceptance among archers who love it because of it’s ease of maintenance and tuning.

Some single cam bows are optimized for smoothness, while other types of compound can be more aggressive and focused towards speed.

Some have nock travel issues that can create non-level flight, while others don’t. All single cam compound bows are accurate to an acceptable level.

The major problem with single cam compounds is nock travel. Since one wheel is idle while the power cam turns, there is unequal pressure acting against the arrow’s nock.

This unequal pressure is what leads to the arrow flight issues and what dual cam systems attempt to correct.

Advantages of single cam compound bows.

They are of high precision. Although the other compound bows are more precise than single cam bows, all compound bows are very precise.

They are precise especially when compared to other bow types. This makes the single cam compound bow generally very accurate.

They are quiet in operation. Single cams shoot the most quietly among all compound bows. This is because of their simpler design, which has less moving parts and therefore generates less tension than the other compound bow types.

There are no synchronization issues with the single cam compound bow type. Since there’s only one working cam in a single cam bow, there are very little maintenance needs.

This is unlike the other compound bow types with double cams because they throughout long term use they need constant synchronization. Learning how to synchronize a compound bow is fairly easy however.

They’re really easy to use. Single cam compound bows are smooth and reliable enough for most users and especially beginners. This is due to their good combination of simplicity and accuracy.

Some disadvantages of single cam compound bows.

They have lower power. In the family of compound bows, single cam bows are powerful, but when compared to other compound bows are the least powerful.

This means the other compound bow types shoot faster arrows in general than their single cam bow cousins.

As we mentioned before they tend to have nock travel issues. This is yet another issue with single cam compound bows because the fixed wheel and the single power cam together create unequal levels of pressure against the arrow’s nock. That’s what causes nock travel issues and reduced precision.

Twin/Dual Cam Compound Bows

A twin cam or dual cam compound bow has two cams working together in a single bow configuration to produce more draw weight to propel the arrow with.

The two cams can either be circular or elliptical but they both have to look the same enabling proper synchronization.

When compared to single cam bow setups, dual cam bows offer more power and speed than single cam bows, but they’re prone to suffer synchronization issues quite often.

These synchronization issues are a result of their design. The two cams work independent of one another and so create the risk that one can rotate slightly ahead of the other.

The result is a string stretch problem. This means the upper and lower limb forces aren’t completely balancing. It may be a very minor amount but it still creates arrow nock travel problems.

Fortunately modern dual cam bows come with better strings which don’t stretch quite as much as older bowstring technology.

Less string stretch keeps the cams from getting too far out of sync easily. You’ll still need to get the bow checked at least once every season by a qualified bow technician to ensure most accurate precision of your dual cam compound bow.

Other than synchronization issues, dual cam bows are quite enjoyable to shoot. They include producing more power and precision and offer more adjustment options than single cam bows.

Advantages of twin/dual cam compound bows.

They have better accuracy. Twin cam bows produce more precise accuracy as a result of the two cams working in harmony and producing level nock travel.

They produce more power thus resulting in higher arrow speeds. In addition to being more accurate, the two-cam system produces more power than single-cam systems by equally flexing the limbs to store and release the draw weight.

Some disadvantages of twin/dual cam compound bows.

They are noisier than single cam bows. Dual cam compound bows are generally noisier than single cam systems although modern bow technology and materials has lessened this noise gap.

There’s the constant need to keep both cams synchronized since they function independently of one another. Although modern dual cam bows suffer less from this issue, it’s still a problem.

Hybrid Cam Compound Bows

Hybrid cam compound bows are a further development of twin cam bows. They are designed to solve the synchronization issues resulting from the dual cam operation.

Both cams are automatically synchronized, and in this way the bow is easy to tune and requires less maintenance overall.

Both hybrid and twin/dual cam bow types have two cams each, but the hybrid cam compound bow has only one power cam and one control cam.

While the dual cam setup connects the cable from the two cams to the opposite limbs, the hybrid setup connects only the cable from the lower cam to the top limb. The cable from the upper cam goes to the lower cam and not to the limb.

This makes the bottom cam the power cam and the top cam follows its movements. Since both cams are automatically synchronized it makes the hybrid bow easy to tune and requires less maintenance overall. A great thing.

Summing it up, the hybrid cam bows offer very good speed and accuracy like their dual cam cousins, yet they don’t suffer the synchronization troubles of dual cam compound bows.

Advantages of hybrid cam compound bows.

They have very much precision. These bows generally have the precision of dual cam bows, with very little nock travel issues as well.

They are very fast. Hybrid compound bows are also very powerful and they shoot very fast arrows because they use dual cams just like dual cam bows.

They’re easier to keep up. With a hybrid compound bow, you don’t face the kind of synchronization issues that you’ll have to face with a twin cam bow
They are quieter. Hybrid compound bows also shoot very quietly.

Disadvantages of hybrid compound bows.

They need some maintenance still. Hybrid bows are not entirely as maintenance free as many manufacturers will have you believe because they still need proper orientation initially to reach their best performance.

After that initial setup they’re fairly easy to keep in sync afterwards. You’re looking at mainly just simple string and other normal bow maintenance after that.

Binary Cam Compound Bows

The fourth type of compound bows are binary cams and these are a further development from hybrid cam bows. In a binary cam compound bow, there are two active cams just like in a dual-cam setup.

The cable from the two cams go to the opposite cam. This means the cable from the top cam gets attached to the lower cam while the cable from the lower cam gets attached to the upper cam.

Such an arrangement makes both cams depend on the movements of each other, producing an entirely different dynamic from the other compound bows.

Binary cam bows generate plenty of power for high-speed arrows and the two cams regulate each other. Any imperfections in their limbs get smoothed out for clean and accurate arrow releases.

Advantages of binary cam compound bows.

They have high power & speed. Unlike hybrid cam bows, binary bows have two power cams which helps to produce more power and more draw weight. This advantage means faster arrows.

They are built to have high precision. The unique cam configuration of binary cam bows makes them self-balancing and therefore reduces any nock travel issues.

This makes the binary cam compound bow the most precise compound bow. The technology of bows is always getting better and this makes our sport more exciting than ever.

Disadvantages of binary cam compound bows.

Some patent issues have halted many manufacturers from marketing their binary cam compound bows as such.

They sell their binary bows as hybrid bows, although the technology is actually binary, they label them as hybrid-bows to avoid legality problems.

Also their highly complex design translates to frequent maintenance and tuning.


Bow Type
Single CamIdler wheel at top. Power cam at bottom.Easy to use
and quiet.
Harder to tune than other designs.
Hybrid CamsControl cam at top. Power cam at bottom.Easy to tune.
Requires less
Reduced nock
Twin CamsUses two cams which can be round or elliptical on top and bottom.Good accuracy.
Level nock travel.
Fast arrow travel.
Complex design creates need for frequent
maintenance and tuning.
Binary CamsSimilar to twin cams but top and bottom cams depend on each other instead of the bow’s limbs.Very high velocity. Level nock travel. Great accuracy.Complex design creates need for frequent
maintenance and tuning.
Table of bow types with advantages and disadvantages

Things To Consider When Choosing A Compound Bow

Draw weight is actually the amount of work or effort you need to get your compound to full draw. It’s depicted in pounds.

Choose a bow that you can comfortably pull back slowly and smoothly. To put things in perspective, a bow with a draw weight of 50 pounds or more is enough to harvest a whitetail deer.

Higher draw weight means a faster bow, heavier arrows and arrow points too. Many compound bows have a large range of adjustment from very low draw weights in the 20 lb range all the way up to 70 lbs.

Draw length is the distance between the grip and the bowstring when the string is fully drawn back. You can have the draw length adjusted at your local bow shop.

Keep in mind if you have to choose between “less” or “more” go with less since too much draw length will have a negative impact on your speed and accuracy.

It’s also important to build your shoulder muscles gradually. Learn to increase accuracy and strengthen muscles to allow higher draw weights.

Axle length is the total length of the compound bow. It’s measured from center axle of bottom to center axle of top cam.

Shorter bows are easier to maneuver but harder to shoot and require more practice on your part. Hunters who hunt from tree stands tend to prefer short bows for this reason.

On the other hand, longer axle lengths are more forgiving and are your best option if you’re new to bow hunting as a sport. Competition archers use long bow lengths.

Brace height is the distance from grip and the bow string when at rest. Lower brace height gives you a faster bow, but it’s less forgiving and more difficult to shoot also.

A higher brace height gives you a slower arrow but is more forgiving. On average, you’ll find compound bows that have a brace height of seven inches.

Take the time to try out different brace heights, then choose a bow that matches your needs the best.

The overall weight of the bow should be considered if you plan to use it for hunting. Lighter bows may be easier to lug around while in the woods, but they also tend to be louder because they have more vibration.

Heavier bows can be tiresome to carry around all day long but absorb more vibration thus making them quieter. A good archery shop can put you in a superb bow that matches your needs and lasts many years.


You have seen the 4 major types of compound bows based on their cam configuration and their technology. Your mind may be racing trying to decide on a particular bow type to purchase.

You should always keep in mind that the compound bow was invented to use the mechanical advantage of pulley systems to provide several advantages. To make drawing and aiming the bow easier on your body, to get faster arrow speeds, and to use shorter limb or riser lengths.

While you may choose a single cam bow which is perfect for a beginner, or decide that the binary cam technology is the best invention on the planet, it’s important to remember that it’s your archery skills that will truly make you a better archer.

Martin Hamilton

Archery lover and compound bow enthusiast. Love all types of archery. The current technology in compound bows, crossbows, recurve bows and arrows is truly amazing. I was an airline mechanic for years and got introduced to advanced composites. Great to see them put to use in this amazing sport.

Recent Posts