Feathers vs. vanes: Here’s what you need to know

So you’ve got a fletching jig, and you’ve decided to build your own arrows for all your shooting needs – indoors, outdoor target, outdoor 3-D, hunting, etc. And now the question is…..Do I use feathers or vanes?

According to the LAS TechXPert crew, there are many factors individual archers must consider in making such a determination, i.e., shooting style, venue, personal goals, etc. And the answer is going to vary from shooter to shooter. But there are some generalities.

Before we get to that, though, let’s discuss the purpose and composition of fletchings. Think of fletchings as propeller fins for your arrow. They induce spin and stabilize its flight. As the shaft slices through the air, the wind flows over the fletchings, which spin and help align the shaft toward your aiming point. Arrows most commonly are fletched with three feathers or vanes. Some archers use four to stabilize large broadheads or to allow them to lower the profile of all the fletchings.


From the top: 5-inch feather; 3-inch low-profile, outdoor target vane; 2-inch high-profile, broadhead vane.

Feathers are just that. They typically are made from the primary flight feathers of a turkey wing. Vanes, on the other hand, are plastic. Although they can be treated to protect them from rain, feathers are prone to getting water logged, where vanes can withstand any weather.

Feathers impart more drag and spin on the arrow, along with being lighter and more flexible than vanes. Vanes are more durable. Whatever you decide to use, put one or the other on each individual arrow. For example, don’t put two feathers and a vane on an arrow.

Traditional archers often shoot arrows directly off the shelf of the riser, which leads to much more fletching-to-bow contact. For this reason, they mostly choose feathers, which easily give way to that contact without causing erratic arrow flight and inaccuracy like vanes would with direct contact.

trad fletch

A traditional or recurve archer using an elevated rest, like a rest-and-plunger combination or a stick-on style rest, may choose vanes because of the greater arrow clearance afforded by the elevated rest. The vanes would be preferable in rainy conditions, because feathers can get soaked to the point that they simply lay flat.

Indoor compound archers seem to be split between feathers and vanes. There’s no wind or rain to contend with, so the climate will always be prime for both. Feathers are said to be more forgiving, because they flex and fold in the air and around parts of the bow as an arrow is released. Both vanes and feathers have great steering capabilities indoors.

Indoor Olympic recurve archers tend to choose feathers for their forgiveness sliding across rests and risers. But there are those archers who simply shoot their outdoor arrows indoors, and therefore shoot vanes.

And speaking of outdoors, most competition compound and Olympic recurve archers shoot vanes outdoors. You can get much less wind drift using low-profile vanes, plus, they’re waterproof. Olympic recurve archers frequently use curled Mylar vanes, such as those made by XSWings, Range-O-Matic, Eli and Gas Pro, which promote maximum spin, outdoors.

curly vanes

Bowhunters these days commonly use vanes to withstand the elements, but there are some who still put feathers on their arrows for maximum guidance when using fixed-blade broadheads. Both are great for steering arrows tipped with most fixed or expandable broadheads.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing between feathers and vanes. The best way to figure out what will work with your rig under the conditions you expect to encounter is to try both and gauge the results.

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