The best crossbow bolt in 2020 is the Carbon Express Maxima Blue Streak thanks to its accuracy and consistency from bolt to bolt.
If you’re interested in reading about the best crossbow broadheads click here.
To find the best crossbow bolts, I selected a wide range of bolts based on their sustained popularity and high-quality reviews across the web.
All interesting questions and feedback has then been aggregated into these reviews to provide a comprehensive list.
After filtering the best crossbow arrows, I was left with the following:
- Carbon Express Maxima Blue Streak
- Excalibur Firebolt Carbon Arrows
- Barnett Outdoors Carbon Crossbow Arrows
- Victory Archery X- Crossbow
- TenPoint Pro Lite
- Carbon Express PileDriver
- Easton XX75 Magnum Bolt
Before skipping to the crossbow bolts reviews, let’s first dig into what makes a great crossbow bolt.
Understanding your crossbow bolt
A good bolt is a consistently accurate bolt. For a bolt to be as accurate as possible it needs three things: weight at the front, perfect rotation of the shaft, and drag from the rear.
Bolt manufacturers are well aware of this, and constantly tweak their arrows to find the best balance and consistency.
Let’s take a look at what they tweak:
The vanes or fletching are the traditional ‘feathers’ at the back of the bolt. A single vane might weigh in anywhere from 5-10 grains, so that’d be 15 grains between three vanes.
There are three vane shapes: straight, offset and helical. The argument is that straight vanes will fly faster with less drag, while offset and helical designs will improve bolt centricity and stability in flight.
In reality, I wouldn’t base my choice of best bolt on this. In practice I don’t believe it makes much or even any difference, and that’s after having read related reports and tests.
What will make a difference is the size of the fletching. A big fletching is better for guiding the arrow over longer distances to its target.
The bigger the fletching however, the more drag occurs which might alter the course of the bolt. To counteract the drag on the fletching, we rely on the concept of ‘FOC’.
FOC: Weight Forward of Center
Weight forward of center simply refers to the arrows balance point, and how far past the very middle of the shaft it is. FOC weight is described as a percentage.
Why is this important? The further forward the FOC, the more of the arrow you allow to be ‘guided’ and stabilized by the fletching at the back.
For long distance competition shooting a higher FOC of between 11-16% is recommended. For hunting they also recommend a significant FOC of between 10-15%.
Why so far forward for hunting?
A broadhead is far bigger than a field-tip and makes the arrow liable to wind-plane. A higher FOC gives more control to the fletching at the back in order to override the broadhead.
And how does FOC affect penetration?
Testing has also proven that higher FOC provides greater penetration as it encounters less resistance.
Less resistance is found as the FOC reduces the shaft flexibility.
The important thing to remember about shaft diameter is it must be thinner than the broadhead ferrule. According to testing, if it’s wider it can lose up to 30% of penetration.
That’s a lot! When you purchase your broadheads, remember to take this into account.
A light arrow has greater acceleration but will quickly lose energy and velocity at distance.
An extremely interesting study by Dr Ed Ashby concluded that the frequency of heavy bone penetration significantly increases somewhere around a mass of 650 grains.
This is bigger than most crossbows are used to, but it does show that a heavier mass is critical for penetration, and accuracy over distance.
Remember that for high arrow mass you will need significantly more control from a bigger fletching, and a longer arrow.
When talking about FOC and bolt mass you have to consider inserts. An insert is the small brass, aluminium or sometimes plastic sleeve where you screw in your field-tip or broadhead. You glue your insert into the top of the bolt.
A heavy brass insert of 100-120 grains will add to FOC weight. Aluminium may be lighter, around 30 grains.
Effect on your scope
Finally, it’s also worth remembering that changing significantly your FOC and mass with different inserts or broadheads will ultimately affect how well your scope works, particularly with a ballistic reticle.
Crossbow bolts are roughly 20-inches long (anywhere from 16″-22″).
A shorter shaft will also be stiffer and less flexible, and therefore achieve more penetration. Shorter arrows will have better acceleration too as they leave the crossbow faster.
The downside to shorter arrows is if you shoot at long distances, because shorter arrows will lose their velocity faster.
Field-tips and broadheads
Some crossbow bolts that you buy will come with an insert but without the head. This is so you can add your own choice of field-tip or broadhead, depending on whether you want to shoot targets or hunt.
In relation to buying the best bolt, just remember to take into account the weight of your field-tip or broadhead. Add this to the weight of your insert to understand your FOC percentage.
I’ve already written about the best broadheads elsewhere, but mechanical broadheads will tend to fly a little better and improve accuracy over a fixed-blade broadhead.
Four basic nock styles
It has a half-moon shape to welcome the string. It sits perpendicular to the index vane. They are sometimes made of plastic however plastic versions may cheapen the design and quality.
A deeper less common variant of the half-moon nock which snaps onto the bow string. You find this more commonly on archery bows.
A flat nock gives the string a nice wide surface area to get squarely behind as it sends the bolt down the rail effectively.
TenPoint has brought out the omni nock which is more like a half-moon but with more bow string channels. Debatably it’s not a bad choice because you don’t have the same risk of dry firing as the half-moon nock but you do have the improvement over the flat nock as the omni nock engages the string.
Unlike the half-moon nock, you can position flat nocks anyway you like. I prefer flat nocks as it’s easier for half-moon nocks to provoke dry fire if improperly seated or out of position.
Crossbow Bolts Reviews
Carbon Express Maxima Blue Streak Review
The Maxima Blue Streak from Carbon Express is a 22-inch, 403-grain bolt with a diameter of 0.340 inches. The Maxima has excellent all round feedback thanks to its precise accuracy and consistency.
To balance the 403-grain weight and 22-inch shaft, it has a 3-inch vane and a FOC weight of about 15% when paired with a 125-grain broadhead.
Carbon Express claim that all the arrows are laser checked for straightness with a maximum of 0.0025 inches. When I checked they fell well within this range (between 0.001 and 0.0025).
Its excellent accuracy likely comes down to its double spine design. The double spine and proprietary ‘diamond weave’ design increase consistency by reducing flexibility.
Aside from increasing penetration, it also helps to get the bolt spinning faster and earlier and to maintain speed over a prolonged distance.
This really is an excellent arrow which holds true to its specifications. The only downside perhaps is the heavier price tag, but hey, you get what you pay for.
- My best crossbow bolt
- Great consistency between arrows
- Come with laser eye-lighted nocks
- More expensive but you get what you pay for
- No practice field-tip included
Excalibur Firebolt Carbon Arrows Review
These sturdy 20-inch carbon arrows from Excalibur have pleased hundreds of consumers.
They are made from series-22 carbon which maintains excellent arrow rigidity and leads to better penetration.
The Firebolt arrows has slightly offset 4-inch vanes of the same color. This is because the arrows have flat ends which don’t require the use of nocks. You can simply line up any fletch in the channel and shoot it.
Without the broadhead, this arrow weighs in at 265 grains, so I’d recommend using a 125 or 150-grain broadhead to bring the weight up and improve the FOC.
You may find that you have to reglue the inserts from time to time if they come loose, which can get a bit frustrating.
- Line up any fletch to shoot
- loose inserts
Barnett Outdoors Carbon Crossbow Arrows Review
The Barnett Outdoors Carbon Arrows are one of the most popular bolts on the market, with an insane number of reviews, particularly on Amazon.
This is a 20-inch bolt which without the included 100-grain field-tip weighs 312 grains. I’d therefore recommend using a 125-grain field-tip or broadhead with it to reach the advertised “weighs an ounce” (437.5 grains).
This should increase your FOC weight to meet the recommended 10-15% range for hunting while offering you a significant increase in penetration if you’re hunting big game.
The carbon shaft has increased wall thickness on the previous model which also serves to increase durability and penetration.
I believe that the only difference here is the age of the model, the “deal” being a model from about 10 years ago. Therefore it is designed specifically for lighter bows with less FPS and energy and could damage newer ones.
For this reason I recommend the newer version, although the excellent feedback of the “deal” version means that few people have been disappointed with it.
Finally, this bow uses half-moon nocks which I’m personally not a fan off, although it’s no big issue.
- Best crossbow bolt for the money
- Built for light crossbows
Victory Archery X Review
The Victory Archery X equally has impressive feedback online, albeit from a lower number of people as far as I can tell.
The bolts themselves weigh in at around 325 grains before you add a field-tip or broadhead, and are available in 20-inch, 22-inch and 24-inch lengths. The 24-inch is great for those who struggle to find them for their longer crossbows.
The bolt is built of carbon fiber, and has a slightly heavier brass insert which contributes to the 325-grain weight, and with a heavy broadhead you get a high-energy bolt built for long-distance and penetration shooting.
The Bohning X vanes measure at 3 inches, and an extra half inch would have been nice, particularly on the longer shafts.
The bolt is topped off by a plastic half-moon nock. If I could ask for more, it would be a sturdier material.
- Good value for money crossbow bolt
- Good mass and FOC weight for penetration
- Plastic nock
TenPoint Pro Lite Review
The TenPoint Pro Lite has received excellent feedback. It’s a 20-inch long, 22/64-inch-diameter bolt, built for accuracy and consistency between bolts.
TenPoint says that they hand sort all the bolts to achieve maximum consistency of straightness (to within .003 of an inch) and weight tolerance (to within two grains per dozen).
The bolt is balanced at 10.5% FOC – just on the edge of the hunting threshold – and the arrow is a little lighter at 370 grains when coupled with a 100-grain field-tip or broadhead. The aluminium insert comes in light at around 25 grains.
The plastifletch fletching at the back of the arrow measures out at 3.5 inches and are slightly offset. The bolt also features TenPoint’s neon green superbrite omni-nock which helps to avoid dry firing associated with half-moon nocks.
- Avoid dry firing with omni-nock technology
- Extremely consistent bolts
- Best at shorter distances due to lower FOC and bolt mass
Carbon Express PileDriver Review
The 20-inch Carbon Express Piledriver is as powerful as its name suggests.
The bolt weighs 442 grains with a 100-grain field-tip or broadhead which is at the heavy end of the scale. The added weight, combined with an FOC of around 14%, make this bolt a bone crusher – perfect for hunting heavy game. I’d recommend adding a heavier broadhead (125 or 150 grains) to maximize FOC and penetration.
The bolt is extremely durable on impact thanks to its 0.348-inch diameter and strong build from composite materials. Although you may want to adjust the scope due to the long shaft and different materials, once you’ve done so you’ll get excellent consistency over long distances.
They have kitted this bolt out with a 4-inch vane to keep control of the heavy mass. If you go with this bolt you’ll feel confident approaching all types and sizes of game.
The biggest negative is probably that they advertise it as coming with a field-tip, when actually it doesn’t.
- Best crossbow bolt for hunting big game
- Best selling crossbow bolt on Amazon
- Great value for money
- Buy practice field-tip separately
Easton XX75 Magnum Bolt Review
The Easton XX75 Magnum Bolts is one of the most popular bolts I’ve come across.
The arrows without the head weigh in nicely at around 350 grains. If you add a nice 125-grain broadhead you can get a really solid bolt mass for energy and penetration.
The FOC however is a little on the light side. For the above setup it comes in at around 10%, and I’d like to see a little more.
the bolt comes with 4-inch Kinsey vanes, and despite what’s advertise it does actually come with an insert and nocks. Take care to ensure your nocks are correctly aligned straight out of the box for maximum accuracy.
- Good value for money crossbow bolt
- Slightly low FOC weight
The best overall crossbow bolt was the Carbon Express Maxima Blue Streak. It has a good out-of-the-box FOC which you could customise with heavier inserts or broadheads. The mass is also on the weightier side which I like, and these bolts are very uniform – there isn’t any difference from one to another. This allows for consistency, and most of all accuracy and penetration.
If you want a high-quality value crossbow bolt then I’d recommend the Barnett Outdoors Carbon Arrows. However, I would suggest using a slightly heavier broadhead (125 or 150 grain) to keep the mass and FOC up. Also, be careful to purchase the newer model, not the 10-year-old model still knocking around on Amazon.
Finally, for big game hunting you obviously want as much penetration as you can get. If this is your case, then I’d recommend the durable Carbon Express PileDrivers. They’re mean!