The Composite Bow Vs Longbow – Which One Is Better?

The topic of this article is Composite bow vs Longbow. We will discuss the background of each bow, the effect that each bow had on history, and which one I think is better for archers in the modern era.

So, how is the composite bow different than the longbow? What are the main differences between the bows?

In general the main difference between the composite bow and the longbow is:

  • Their size, longbows are larger than composite bows
  • The materials from which they are made

Although as you will see there is a disadvantage to the composite bow that the longbow does not have.

This is the main difference between the composite bow and the longbow. Now, let’s discuss this topic in a little more detail. The following segments discuss, where these bows originate from, how they were made, their effects on history, and of course which one is better for the modern-day archer and why.

Composite Bow vs Longbow – Detailed Breakdown

Composite BowLongbow
SizeUp to 125 cm or 49″up to 180 cm long or 70,8″
What They Are Made OfWood, horn, animal sinew, and/or silkYew wood, osage orange, hemp
Importance In World HistoryHelped establish the Mongol and Ottoman EmpiresHelped the British maintain regional supremacy in Medieval times
How They Were UsedLargely on horseback with the thumb drawOn foot using the Mediterranian draw
Disadvantages Of The BowA humid environment makes the bow much less effectiveThe large size makes it difficult to transport in comparison
Strength Of The Bow Up to 150 lbs of draw weightUp to 150 lbs of draw weight
Cost Of Modern-Day Versions150-450 dollars100-300 dollars
Composite bow vs Longbow

Bow Vs Longbow – The Strength Of Each Bow

The Composite bows have draw weights of up to 150 lbs, as was the case with the medieval Mongol bows. 150 lb of draw weight is the upper range of draw weights available to you. Of course, Composite bows with smaller draw weights of 50lbs-80lbs have also been made.

When it comes to the Longbow however the recorded upper range of draw weight is also 150 lbs for a six-foot bow. Of course, as is the case with Composite bows, lighter versions are available.

Composite Bow Vs Longbow – Their Size Difference

The Composite bow is far smaller than the longbow. While the longbow can be as long as 180 cm or 71″ and longer the Composite bows are far shorter with lengths as low as 114 cm or 45″ (With the Turkish bow) all the way to 130 cm or 51″ as was the case with the Mongol bows.

So, why is that? The main reason behind the smaller size of the Composite bows is in the way that they were used. Composite bows as opposed to longbows were almost exclusively used on horseback. And if you are riding a horse it is next to impossible to fire a 2-meter bow.

It just can’t be done. Hence why every Composite bow ever made in history is small enough so that the average archer can fire it from horseback. The surprising thing is even with the smaller size the Composite bows can be equal in strength to the longbows.

The strength of the composite bows comes from their design and the way it was built. We will get into that in the next segment.

Why Are Longbows That Much Longer Than Composite Bows?

Composite bow vs longbow

The reason why longbows are 180 cm (71″) or longer is that a medieval kingdom such as the British one needed powerful bows that were able to inflict damage to enemy soldiers wearing armor.

And to do that they needed large bows because the material used to build longbows was able to produce the necessary force only when they used a large enough size. This means to produce the necessary force with the material available they had to use a lot more of the material.

They were not able to use the composite technology in medieval England and France for reasons we will get into a little later.

Now that we dealt with their size difference let’s proceed to the difference in materials used to make these bows.

Composite Bow Vs Longbow – What They Were Made Of?

So, how were the Composite and Longbows made? And what Were they made of?

Well, this is the biggest difference, aside from size, between the composite and longbows. The way they were built. While the longbows are self-bows traditionally made from a single piece of wood (yew wood or dosage orange in modern times).

The Composite bows are, made by combining several materials together.

What the Composite and Longbows are made of?

Longbow: Yew wood, hemp for the bowstring
Composite bow: wood, animal horn, animal sinew, and fish glue

As you can see the longbow was far easier to make than a composite bow. As was the case with Turkic and Persian bows the bow-making process took several years.

How The Composite Bow Was Made

The Composite Bow was made by first bending the wood by applying humidity (in the form of steam most often) and then they slowly applied pressure to the wood in order to bend it into the desired shape. After that, the horns of a wild animal were glued to the bend wood limbs using animal glue.

Most often fish-glue. This process was delicate and it took a while for the glue to set. Applying pressure to horn and wood made sure it stuck better together.

After the horn and wood were joined together sinew was added. Several layers of sinew were added to the back of the bow and glued in place using, you guessed it. Fish glue! This made the bow limb bend away from the archer.

Unstrung Composite Bow

And when the sinew and the glue set, it also enabled the bow to store more energy as a result of the sinew.

So the addition of the sinew and horn to the bow enabled the bow to store a lot more energy without adding size.

How The Longbow Was Made

A longbow is made by cutting out a long block of wood from a tree. In Europe, yew wood was used to make longbows but in modern times bowyers do use Osage orange wood in their bowmaking.

Once, the long block of wood is cut out from a tree it is left to dry for at least a year. After a year the bowyer draws the outline of the bow he wants to make on the stave of wood and carefully proceeds to cut out the excess wood until the bow starts to get shape.

And after that, it is simply a question of removing excess wood until you get the desired shape of the bow. To see how it is done in modern times watch the video below with over a million views demonstrating this process perfectly.

Their Effect On World History

When it comes to the impact each of the bows had on world events and world history the composite bow clearly wins here. But why is that?

Well, the composite bow was widely used by the Nomadic peoples on the Asian steps. This means the Scythians, which were followed by the Huns, Mongols, and then the Turks.

The Hunnic tribes managed to scare numerous tribes from their homes and forced them to migrate to the Roman Empire. That sudden influx of “Barbarians” at their borders sapped Roman military might, given that they had to expend their military might to fight the invaders off.

So, with the help of their composite bows and their horse-archery tactics, the Huns facilitated the collapse of the Roman Empire. Which undoubtedly had a huge impact on world events.

And Then Came The Mongols

Mongols Using A Composite Bow

Let’s not neglect the impact of the Mongols, many centuries later. They managed to bring about the collapse of the Chinese Kingdoms and the Khvarezmian Empire. This in turn wiped off the so-called “Islamic Golden Age” of science. Enormous potential that was being developed in the Middle East was lost.

And lastly the Ottomans. The descendants of Turkic Nomads from the Asian steps that settled in Anatolia. They were formidable horse archers who utilized their Turkic bows (which were composite) to fight their enemies and create the Ottoman Empire.

As you can see the Composite bow was used to bring about the collapse of great Empires and Kingdoms throughout the centuries. For example, the creation of the Mongol Empire on the back of the Mongolian composite bow enabled Marco Polo to travel from Italy to China and back. Safely!

What About The Longbow?

So what about the Longbow? Well, its effect on world history, was mostly localized. It enabled The British to establish regional supremacy over the French.

Sourced from

Their Bows wreaked havoc on the battlefields from Crecy to Agincourt. And was one of the main contributors to the “Hundred Years Ward” lasting that long.

So, as far as historical impact is concerned? The Composite bow literally shaped world history! On that basis alone it is far more valuable than any other bow in history.

Composite Bow Vs Longbow – How They Were Used

This is one of the main differences between Composite bows and Longbows. Longbows were used by a group of archers that fired volleys of arrows at the enemy. On the other hand Composite bows, while they have been used by foot archers, were mostly fired from horseback.

This difference also affected the way the bow is fired.

The Longbow is fired using the Mediterranian draw. This means those who use the Longbow use the index, middle, and ring fingers of their dominant hand to draw their bow.

On the other hand, Composite bows are fired mostly using the thumb draw technique. This means the archer wraps the bowstring with the thumb on his dominant hand and then uses his index finger to pinch the arrow.

It looks something like this.

How A Composite Bow Is Fired

The thumb draw made it far easier to shoot bows from horseback. It simply gave the archer a greater deal of control over their bow. And this method has stuck around in Asia and even among some Native American tribes.

Composite Bow Vs Longbow – The Disadvantages To Each Bow

The main disadvantage to the Composite bows is their reaction to humidity. If we are talking about a traditionally made composite bow, they don’t work well in humidity. The animal glue that holds the different parts can dissolve if subjected to water/humidity.

An archer can mitigate that by being respectful to his or her bow. So unstring your bow when it is not used and protect it from moisture. If you do that you will be fine. And the composite bow will serve you well for a long time.

The modern version can and does have a protective coating on them to protect them from water, but still, be careful.

What About The Longbow?

The main disadvantage to a longbow would be its size. It’s just way too long for my liking. Composite bows are shorter, meaning compact, and easier to carry around. Longbows are long and more difficult to carry around.

While it is never a good idea to expose your bow to rain or excessive humidity the longbow is not as vulnerable to it as the composite bow.

My Recommendation

I know, the composite bow is a little more expensive than the longbow. That is true. But even with that I highly recommend choosing a Composite bow. It’s smaller, it can be just as powerful. Oh, did I mention it’s much smaller?

That makes it a lot easier to carry around. Feel free to disagree with me if you wish, but given everything, I will choose the Composite bow over the longbow. I get the appeal of the Longbow, it does actually look cool. And if you ever watched movies depicting Medieval warfare you get a sense you are holding a piece of history in your hands.

Which you re. But still, if you can afford it, go with the composite bow instead.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you want to continue comparing different bows from history I suggest you take a look at my article on the Yumi bow vs. the Longbow, here.

Or you can take a look at this article covering the topic of longbow vs. recurve bows, just go here.

Take care!

Recent Posts