It took you long enough to decide on a compound bow vs recurve. Little did you know, it’s not that simple. Now you have to choose between single cam and dual cam—and all the different types of dual cam!
Most likely, your buddies, the guy behind the counter at the archery supply store, your mom and YouTube all have a different opinion about which system is “better.” The truth is single cam vs dual cam compound bows is a question of personal tastes and situations, so here’s the real scoop on which is better for you.
The Boring Technical Part
Yeah, you probably don’t actually care that much about why each compound bow cam system works the way it does, but trust me, a bit of technical knowledge can help you make an informed decision. Plus, compound bows have really only existed for about 50 years with some of the specialized dual cam systems having been patented after 2000. A good understanding of the technology will help you keep up with the market as manufacturers inevitably improve upon these systems and even invent new ones.
The exact whys and hows of a compound bow’s cam system could be a physics student’s honors thesis, and indeed, they have been. But we don’t need to get that complicated.
Basically, you just need to know that cam systems function like block and tackles. You pull the bowstring back which rotates the large wheel of the cam. The large wheel in turn rotates the smaller wheel of the cam. However, since it’s smaller, it rotates a shorter distance, transferring a greater amount of force into the cables connecting the limbs.
Single Cam Basics
If you guessed that single cam compound bows are called such because they only have one cam, you catch on quick. Yes, a single cam bow only has one cam, usually on the bottom limb. It’s also almost always elliptical in shape.
The other limb features a round wheel, but this isn’t a cam system. Instead it’s just a timing wheel.
The single cam system may seem simpler, and it is, but it’s actually the newer type of compound bow, invented in the late 70s. It’s also the more popular of the two due to a number of benefits I’ll go over in a minute.
Dual Cam Basics
That’s right, you’re getting the hang of it. Dual cam compound bows have two cams. There’s one on top and one on bottom. While the original compound bow invented by Holless Wilbur Allen in 1966 was technically a dual cam bow, things have really advanced since then. And gotten more complicated. Technically, there are three types of dual cam bows: twin, hybrid and binary.
To keep it simple, the different types of dual cam bows are distinguished by how they use buss cables and control cables to transfer force and maintain the timing between the two cams, the biggest challenge dual cam bows face.
Here’s an easy chart comparing them all with single cam systems:
Binary bows are the newest type of dual cam bow, the most advanced and the most favored by professional archers. They eliminate, at least in part, many of the disadvantages of the dual cam system.
Single Cam vs Dual Cam Head to Head
Let’s take a look at how each bow type fares in specific aspects of archery. As you dive into this section, try to think about what it is exactly that you’re looking for. What are you going to use your bow for and what features will be important for these applications?
Dual cam compound bows are the fastest with binary cams specifically taking the gold. The why is pretty simple. There are two cams taking advantage of the laws of physics to transfer more force over a shorter distance. That means, all else being equal, the arrow flies faster.
Winner: Dual Cam
Dual cam bows have to have their cams perfectly timed so that they pull the limbs with equal force and release that force at the same time. Even a slight inconsistency can throw the arrow off course. As a result, single cams are usually more accurate. The only exception would be binary dual cam bows which are generally the most accurate dual cam models, but they still aren’t more accurate than a single cam.
Just carrying your bow by the string can throw the dual cams out of sync over time.
Winner: Single Cam
Cam systems are technologically complicated and can break down like any machine. Dry firing a bow can lead to cam damage.
Single cam bows have one less cam that you have to keep running smoothly.
More importantly, single cam bows don’t require you to keep them timed. Dual cam bows require a lot of maintenance to keep the two cams moving in sync.
Winner: Single Cam
Dual cam bows have more pieces to vibrate and more force applied across two limbs. Consequently, they’re louder than single cam models.
Who cares about noise? Hunters, of course. This is why I said to think about what you’re going to use the bow for. I’ll go into more detail later, though.
Winner: Single Cam
Compound bows have a weird thing called “let-off” that is, again, caused by the cams’ manipulation of the laws of physics. Basically, it’s easier to draw a compound bow’s bowstring than its actual draw weight. While the draw weight could be rated for 70 pounds, it might only take five pounds of force to pull back the bowstring.
This let-off is felt towards the end of the draw. During the draw, it first gets increasingly difficult to draw the bowstring, just like a traditional bow, until you reach a peak. Then as you continue to reach your draw length, it gets progressively easier, the let-off.
However, you will suddenly hit the “back wall.” The draw weight will shoot up making it nearly impossible to pull back the bowstring any farther. This actually helps archers a lot by giving them a consistent draw every time.
That said, a dual cam bow’s back wall is considered “harder” than a single cam bow’s. In other words, it’s more sudden and more difficult to draw the bowstring even a millimeter more.
Winner: Dual Cam
This one is a bit harder to call with certainty. Dual cam bows are more complex, so they cost more on average, but that’s far from a hard and fast rule. There are definitely advanced single cam models out there that cost way more than a budget twin cam. Still, binary cam bows tend to be the most expensive of them all, so I’m going to give this one to single cams.
Winner: Single Cam (by a nose)
So you can easily digest the above information, I brushed off my handy chart skills once again:
Which Is Best for Whom?
Neither single cam nor dual cam bows are inherently “better” than the other. Rather, their different pros and cons make them ideal for different situations. Let’s take a look at a few different demographics in the archery world to see who might want to take a closer look at one versus the other.
Bowhunters are probably the biggest users of compound bows in general and are a big reason single cam bows are the more popular of the two. Bowhunters want the increased accuracy and decreased noise that single cam systems provide. Plus, they likely go months between hunting seasons without using the bow and don’t feel like having to deal with too much maintenance when they finally break it out.
Nevertheless, you’ll find plenty of hunters who prefer dual cam bows, usually because they have higher speed. This is especially true with more experienced archers who like trying to shoot at longer distances or who still hunt and therefore need more speed to cross flat ground.
If you aren’t hunting and instead just shooting at an archery target on the range, you don’t care about noise. And while you do care about accuracy, you’re also much more inclined to maintain your bow and learn its tics inside and out.
For this reason, target archers, both hobby and professional, often go for dual cam systems. With proper tuning, the higher speed can actually provide better accuracy. The binary dual cam system tends to be the preferred setup in this situation.
A simpler dual cam bow like a twin cam can be a great option for a beginner, especially one that isn’t too fast. That’s due to the harder back wall. This gives the beginner a more consistent draw so they can focus on practicing their aim.
Choose Your Team… Or Not
At the end of the day, a properly tuned bow will serve your need well whether is is a single cam or dual cam bow.
A lot of people in the archery world swear by either single cams or dual cams and the other team is crazy, naive or both. You can certainly pick a side if you want. Get a single cam and shun your dual cam friends.
Alternatively, you can recognize that both single and dual cams have their advantages and disadvantages. By exploring them both, you can get the most out of archery regardless of your specific application.
Always use the best bow case available to protect your bow and your cams from damage.