When you start historical fencing it’s hard to resist the urge to run out and buy the first sword you see.
Hopefully this guide will be helpful in considering your purchase options.
What to Get and When?
There are lots of options regarding equipment, so don’t rush into it. When purchasing gear the typical order of priority is:
- Mask and Overlay (get this as soon as you can afford it)
- Gloves & Sword (6 months or so)
- Everything else (later)
There are options in each category depending only your budget. Typically the best way to decide what is best for you is to speak to other students in the class about their experiences. This guide will give our own experience, but opinions may vary. If you want to explore a bunch of manufacturers then go to the WMA equipment Wiki on reddit.
How to Buy
Most of the equipment for HEMA comes from Europe and there can be significant postage costs and wait times.
The best thing to do is talk to your school about creating a group order for gear then splitting postage costs – you will save a lot of money this way.
Many products take a long time to be delivered as they are made to order. Swords typically take the longest and can take up to a year to arrive from some manufacturers.
Other equipment – masks, knee and shin guards etc. are much quicker and are usually in stock – always ask your fellow students about their experiences – a beautiful sword is no good if it takes 18 months to arrive.
Masks are usually in stock and will usually arrive from most manufacturers within 4 – 6 weeks.
350N Masks vs 1600N Masks
The rating refers to puncture resistance of the fabric (bib) as well as the quality of the mesh. 350N masks are generally less expensive and are adequate for training, though we highly recommend 1600N when buying your own mask.
If suspect that you may want to participate in competitions one day, then we consider a 1600N mask essential.
If you’re opting for a 350N mask the AF basic HEMA mask is the one we usually use in class. It is fairly low cost, and we can get the mask for around $100 Australian.
Our preferred 1600N mask at the moment is the Allstar International 1600N mask. This mask is durable and well padded, and comes in the standard mask sizes.
In addition to a mask you’ll need an overlay – this is the padded outer covering which acts as a shock absorber and protects from over-excited opponents. Allstar manufacture a Back of Head Protector and Overlay which is made specifically for their masks. I recommend the synthetic material overlay instead of the leather one they offer – the synthetic is washable and also is usually in stock (the leather one is made to order and takes much longer).
You’ll notice the Allstar website doesn’t offer delivery to Australia. You’ll have to email their contact address and usually you’ll be contacted by Harald, their sales-person who is very helpful and can answer any questions and put your order through for you.
Allstar mask with and without overlay
There are of course other mask manufacturers.
Some people favour the Gajardoni masks, though opinions vary.
PBT Historical Fencing are another manufacturer who provide masks and overlays (as well as other gear). Their equipment is generally reasonably good quality though we don’t recommend their 350N masks.
Hands get hit quite a lot in HEMA, generally during sparring. The choice of glove is entirely up to the student, and depends on your needs.
For longsword drills, as well as for sidesword and sabre the Red Dragon glove is a good option at a reasonable price. Delivery time for these is quite short.
For full speed sparring with longswords we recommend the Fechtschule Gdansk Sparring Glove. This glove offers the best protection of any we’ve seen, and is definitely the lightest option. It does use the ‘clamshell’ design which takes a little getting used to, but the additional protection is worth it (ask any of us who have had a finger broken after using different gloves to these). These gloves can be made in custom sizes, including with an extended cuff for arm protection
The customer service for sparring gloves is impressive, and their sales-rep Barbara is extremely helpful – as a plus they will happily replace gloves which fail due to defect.
Allow 2 – 3 months at least for these gloves to arrive.
Red dragon gloves and Sparring Gloves
Other popular glove options include:
Konig Gloves are extremely popular and manufactured with quality in mind. The design means they can be used for both longsword and sidesword sparring, though of course the separate fingers also make for slightly less protection.
The wait time on Konig gloves is over 12 months last time we checked – so not a good choice if you’re in a hurry.
Neyman Fencing Gloves are also popular. They’ve received mixed reviews though our own experiences with them have been great.
Neyman can be slow to deliver as equipment is made to order, and some people have found them hard to get in touch with.
Finally SPES Heavy Gloves have been popular for many years. While bulky they offer great protection – we do advise that you purchase the upgraded thumb protector.
Superior Fencing also provide a low cost heavy glove.
This is what everyone is excited to get hold of. We’re fortunate now that there are many manufacturers. We recommend swords with a relatively flexible blade, and if you’re intending to compete then most events don’t allow anything over 1.6kg, and 100cm in blade length.
Here are a few options, though you should talk to your instructor and other students before buying.
Regenyei Armoury is an old favourite for basic training gear. They’re quite consistent and reasonable quality at a decent price point. If you’re looking for a basic weapon for longsword training then their standard feders (feder is the modern term most often used for blunt training weapons like those shown in the images below) are a good choice, though they manufacture side-swords, sharp longswords, and most other swords you might want. They offer all types of customisation including lighter or heavier blades, and different lengths. We prefer the “medium” blade for their feders. Delivery times are up to 6 months, though usually less.
SIGI Forge are relative newcomers and now offer a variety of longsword training swords. They are excellent quality and have great handling characteristics, and are the sword of choice for many competitive fencers. For a review of the SIGI swords check out the Review on Our Blog.
Delivery times for some makers are up to a year!! (usually it’s 3 months or so for most decent fabricators).
NOTE: On the up-side many manufacturers don’t ask for money until your sword is ready so if you order you won’t have to pay until they ship it.
Jackets & Trousers & other Protectors
Get the jacket first – trousers can be acquired later.
Superior Fencing offer a series of low-cost options for fencing gear. These products are pretty good in terms of quality, though fit and finish isn’t quite as good as the more expensive brands. They are perfect if you’re starting out and don’t want to commit too much money to the sport.
Our preferred jackets and trousers are from SPES, specifically their AP Range of Jackets. These come in different thicknesses/weights as well as sizes and colours, and are durable and popular in the community. The Standard AP is suitable for all intensities of longsword fencing.
SPES also have elbow and knee protectors which are integrated into their range – these are essential equipment whether you get the SPES version or not.
Neyman Fencing also offer a wide range of jackets and trousers. These are hugely customisable right down to the colour of the stitching and are a popular choice. Neyman also have elbow and knee protectors which are excellent and light, though their forearm protectors can be quite bulky paired with some gloves.
Another jacket gaining popularity for longsword fencing is the Black Armoury jacket. The throat protector on this is unique in that it goes over the mask bib, making it mobile and protective. Our experience with these is that they’re a very light comfortable jacket of good quality.
SPES, Neyman, and Black Armoury jackets
Forearms and Shins & More
These are necessary for longsword sparring at full speed.
If you have Fechtschule Gdansk Sparring Gloves with extended cuffs then your forearms are covered and well protected – just wear elbow protectors.
If not then Superior Fencing, SPES, Neyman, and other manufacturers all make forearm protection. Be aware that the cuff on your gloves may interfere with forearm protection, so ask to try out your fellow students’ gear before you buy.
Shins are easier – while manufacturers such as SPES and Neyman do make specific protectors a pair of hockey shin guards from Rebel Sport are a good choice – they cover the sides as well as the front of the shin all the way down to the ankle, and our experiences with them have been good. Of course ensure you have knee protectors too – SPES trousers have specific knee protectors for their trousers, but there are many other options.
Ensure you wear a groin protector too if you’re male – there are many options, though we prefer the Shock-Doctor range of products which come in different styles and materials.