How to Choose the Best Badminton Shuttlecock: A Complete Buyer’s Guide

Published April 2, 2021

When it comes to choosing the best badminton shuttlecock (a.k.a birdie, feather cork, or shuttle) for your game, the choices can be overwhelming.  Natural feathers? Synthetic feathers?  Nylon? Plastic? Which shuttlecock should you buy?  The answer to that depends on your own playing style, location, and level of experience.  Let’s break down some fast facts about shuttlecocks, to make the purchase process a little simpler. 

Image by moerschy from Pixabay

Some factors to consider when choosing a birdie:

Materials:

The best badminton shuttlecocks will be made of high-quality, genuine goose (or duck) feathers, with a cork head.  That cork head will often have a thin bit of leather stretched over it for protection.  Well-made, natural-feather shuttlecocks are typically the best performers.

Some shuttlecocks are made with synthetic feathers, nylon, or plastic.  Some may also have a foam head covered with plastic or rubber, instead of a cork head.  These types of birdies are slightly more durable but less accurate in terms of control.

Flight Speed:

Shuttlecocks will come with a ‘grade’ or ‘level’ assigned to them that quantifies their flight speed.  Flight speed is measured by the distance the shuttle travels over the net. For example, when struck with precisely the same racket and power, a shuttlecock with a flight speed of 77 will land 30 cm further than a shuttlecock rated at 76. Numbered shuttles will range between 74 and 79.

Nylon shuttlecocks are usually graded for flight speed using a color-coding system.  They will have a colored band around the neck of the birdie.  Green indicates a slower speed, while blue is a medium speed, and a red band denotes the highest flight speed.

Location:

An elite-level professional will consider every minor factor when choosing a shuttlecock, and this includes things like temperature, air density, and altitude.  As the temperature rises, air density decreases, making the shuttle speed slightly faster than in a colder climate. 

Altitude can affect flight speed as well.  The higher you are above sea level, the lower the air density will be, therefore increasing shuttle speed.  

Price:

Birdie’s don’t last forever.  Long volleys and continued use slowly break down a shuttlecock, affecting its flight speed, accuracy, and arc.  If you plan on playing dozens of intense games and training sessions throughout the week, choose a more durable, less expensive nylon shuttlecock.  Don’t use high-quality, genuine feather shuttlecocks for beginner’s practice sessions, or multi-shuttle drills, as they are more expensive, and this will end up costing you a decent amount of money over time. 

Which shuttlecock is best for each type of badminton player?

Just like different rackets lend themselves to players based on experience, shuttlecock choices are similar.  The best badminton shuttlecock for a professional player will be different than the best badminton shuttlecock for a beginner.  What kind of player are you?

The Backyard Badminton Picnicker 

This is a recreational badminton player participating in an outdoor game where nothing is at stake. This player has little to no badminton experience.  Any cheap plastic birdie with a foam head can serve the purpose for this player.  These types of birdies often come with recreational badminton sets at big-box chain stores like Walmart and Target. There are also cheaper backyard sets available online at Amazon that can be delivered straight to your door.

If you want to be a real hit at the party, opt for LED light-up shuttlecocks for after-dark shuttling.  We recommend the Ohuhu LED Shuttlecocks or the Zhenan LED Shuttlecocks.

The Beginner Badminton Player

This is a badminton enthusiast who is just beginning to learn the game at an indoor facility.  At this level of play, and with a beginner’s racket, the main goal would be to learn the rules and strategy of the game.  An inexpensive tube of nylon shuttlecocks with a foam or cork head will be fine.  

We recommend the Yonex Mavis 300.  It’s an affordable nylon shuttlecock and will sustain the kind of mis-hits common to beginner players.

A badminton player prepares to serve a shuttlecock over the net.

Image by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

The Intermediate Badminton Shuttler

This intermediate player is one who has learned the rules and strategies behind the game and is honing in on perfecting their technique. This perfection requires lengthy training sessions where a shuttle’s stability and durability come into play. Shuttlecocks can wear out or break apart with continued use. After all, a shuttlecock launch from a racket hit can be upwards of 250-300 miles per hour. This is when you may want to move to a durable feather or nylon shuttlecock with a cork head. Here are some of our recommendations:

For the best badminton shuttlecocks made with natural feathers, we recommend the Yonex Aerosensa 30.  It’s medium speed shuttle that is more durable and affordable than the AS-40 It’s suitable for local tournaments and training sessions. 

For the best nylon badminton shuttlecocks for intermediate players, we recommend the Yonex Mavis 350.  This cork based, nylon shuttlecock is made in Japan.  It is an upgraded version of the 300 and has better-than-decent durability. 

The Elite or International Badminton Professional

This is an elite-level professional badminton player.  This type of player chooses every piece of badminton equipment with purpose – to provide every advantage, no matter how small.  Analyzing the quality, trajectory, weight, speed, and stability of a shuttlecock are the kinds of lengths this type of player is willing to go to gain even the slightest edge over their opponent. To this player, every feather matters.

International tournaments are regulated by the BWF, and only shuttlecocks sanctioned for BWF tournament play are allowed.  For that reason, we can recommend these two BWF approved, high-quality shuttlecocks:

The Aeroplane EG1130 Black Label shuttlecocks are made with premium, ultra-white goose feathers.  They have top-notch packaging with thermal protectant foil linings. 
The Victor Champion NO. 1 shuttlecocks are also BWF approved with natural feathers and a genuine cork base.  These are some of the best badminton shuttlecocks for professionals.

Two white-feathered shuttlecocks lie in the grass.

Image by ?? ? from Pixabay

Anatomy of the Bird – What’s a Shuttlecock Made of?

The Parts of a Shuttlecock

This is an icon of a shuttlecock with an arrow pointing to the narrow round base labeling it with the letter A.  An arrow points to the conical skirt of the shuttlecock labeling it with the letter B.
  1.  This part of the shuttlecock is known as the head or base.  It is typically made of foam or cork and coated with stretched leather or plastic.  This is the part of the shuttle that should make solid contact with the center of your badminton racket on every single swing.  
  2. This cone-shaped part of the shuttlecock is called the skirt.  It is often made of natural goose feathers (16 to be exact) or nylon.  It can also be made of duck feathers, synthetic feathers, nylon, or plastic.  The entire cone needs to be symmetrical, to avoid an off-balanced flight over the net.  What’s the difference between natural feather shuttlecocks and synthetic shuttlecocks?
  • Natural feather shuttlecocks perform better than synthetic shuttlecocks.  They are also more costly to make.  This extra cost trickles down into the price you pay.  Natural feather shuttlecocks tend to be more expensive than synthetic ones. 
  • Natural feather shuttlecocks tend to break down faster than synthetic shuttlecocks and need to be replaced more often.

How are shuttlecocks made?

Quality shuttlecock manufacturers are very precise when choosing feathers for their birdies.  The feathers need to be precisely even in length and undamaged.  Manufacturers will use specialized machines with sensors that measure each and every feather to ensure it is an adequate length and angle. 

White feather tips up close.

Image by Observateur from Pixabay

16 holes are punched in the cork tip by a machine that spaces the holes perfectly.  Workers in the plant feed feathers into a machine to be inserted into the pre-punched holes.  Those workers are also responsible for making minor adjustments to feather angles to ensure they are all even and the cone shape is symmetrical.  Wind tunnel technology helps manufacturing employees determine if the shuttles are balanced.

To increase durability, feathers are then sewn together with two rows of thread, stitching each feather to the one beside it.  This absorbent thread is then made stiff with an application of glue.  These stiff threads help maintain the skirt’s conical shape.  Quality control mechanisms mimic racket swings to hit completed shuttlecocks a waiting worker.  When shuttlecocks are approved, workers insert the shuttlecocks into a tube to be labeled for sale.  

Check out this incredible inside look at how shuttlecocks are manufactured!

And always remember, the rally isn’t over until the shuttle hits the ground

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