WHAT TO GET
We have masks, back of the head protector, throat protectors, jackets, forearm and elbow protectors, knee protectors and shin guards that can be loaned at the club. So there is no need to buy anything when you start. Then, which order you get things will depend on your personal preferences and your budget. For most people, the order usually goes with mask (and back of the head protector), jacket and gloves.
Depending on your budget, it is highly recommended to get your own protective before you get sword(s). Swords can be easily loaned from the club (and easily cleaned and disinfected). Also, when you start fencing, you may prefer one weapon (for example longsword over saber or rapier), but this might change in a few months. And even if you still prefer the same weapon, your fencing might change and you may prefer a different brand or model or weapon based on how you fence (for example a forward weighted weapon if you prefer cutting to thrusting).
WHERE / WHO TO ORDER FROM?
Always order from a reputable HEMA retailer or supplier. There are smaller retailers and suppliers, but quality (particularly when it comes to safety) should not be compromised (there was recently a cheap jacket that a friend of mine ordered, and this was pierced by a sword only after a few practices…). So if this is not on this list, it does not mean it is bad, but ask one of the experienced club members who would be able to offer an objective point of view, and probably some experience with other suppliers.
The following are the most easily available retailers of HEMA gear in the US:
Purple heart Armory (www.woodenswords.com)
SPES US (www.histfenc.us)
Hema Supplies (www.hemasupplies.com)
Absolute Fencing (www.absolutefencinggear.com) is primarily a modern fencing maker, but has a few HEMA specific items and also some other things that can be useful
SoCal Swords (socalswords.com) imports Superior Fencing protective gear and some swords (Blackfencer)
There are other suppliers that may have certain types of equipment, but these vary with time. When you order gear, always check with them what the delays are. Purple heart and SPES USA often have the main items in stock, but it is still better to check with them before ordering.
You can also order from SPES directly in Poland (www.histfenc.com) and their shipping costs remain reasonable.
Absolute force is a no-brainer go to. They have cheap, durable, and safe masks (many of us have had some of their masks for years). These are available:
On Purpleheart armory’s website
On the website of absolute fencing (if you have a large head, the XL size is only available through them). On absolute fencing website, look for the HEMA mask.
If you order an absolute fencing, it is better to get the model WITHOUT integrated back of the head protector.
BACK OF THE HEAD PROTECTION:
The main recommendations are:
Available at Purpleheart and SPES. Both of them are easy to put on a mask (the trinity may need a little cut to put on a XL size mask though) and offer solid protection of the back of the head. The Unity is lighter, the Trinity offers additional protection in the throat, but sometimes your own crossguard can get stuck.
The model from Absolute Fencing is too soft. Additionally, although the model where it is integrated on the mask may sound like a good idea, it becomes harder to clean, and if you to change the mask or the back of the head protector, well you need to change both.
PBT also offers a back of the head protector (available on purple heart). It is harder than Absolute Fencing but still softer and less protective than SPES.
ADDITIONAL HEAD PROTECTION:
The gel mask liners from Purpleheart Armoury are a great addition under the mask. Some people use rugby scrum caps (which you can find on Amazon) and this can also be a good option for additional padding around the head. Be careful with your mask size, as if your mask size is too tight, it may not fit comfortably with the gel caps or rugby scrum cap.
The PBT gorget is my absolute favorite as it offers great protection around the throat and covers the clavicles. However, some people do not like it, particularly with large or short necks. Other options include the minimalist Destroyer Modz. These options and a few others are available on Purpleheart Armoury.
For women a solid fencing plastron is necessary. It is optional but highly recommended for men.
Absolute Fencing modern fencing plastrons (available on Absolute Fencing’s website and Purpleheart Armoury) work well
Purpleheart armory also has PBT plastrons
When choosing and ordering a jacket, ask people at the club if you can try theirs (preferentially before practice…), both to have a feel of the brand and model, but also the size. If in doubt, it is better to take a jacket that is slightly too big (may not look good, but you will still be able to move and breath). Also, it is easier to go see a tailor and ask to take fabric off than to make the jacket bigger, particularly as tailors will not have perforation rated fabric. Although it sounds tempting, in general with most HEMA makers, avoid trying to make custom size, unless you have a very unusual body shape (long arms or torso, unusually large or long neck...). Most makers are not particularly good at doing custom size accurately, it is hit or miss. Also, custom sizes often take longer, even more if you must send it back because it did not fit…
SPES AP LIGHT: This is probably the best all-around jacket that can be used for most weapons, from Rapier to longsword, and therefore is probably the best first jacket to get. It has removable protections (shoulder pads, chest protectors) that can be removed or replaced.
SPES AP: same design as AP light, a bit more padding (therefore heavier and hotter) and it is not removeable
SPES OFFICER: it is a lighter jacket without as much in terms of removable or interchangeable protections. It is officially designed for rapier and saber, but several of us at the club use it for longsword as well. Just a bit more risk of bruising.
SPES HUSSAR: you will be a tank with this and probably will not feel anything. Integrated forearm guards. But it is very heavy and gets hot very quickly.
Other brand alternatives:
Superior fencing (www.supfen.com): you can find similar design to other makers. Lots of customization option. Fairly cheap. Made in Pakistan and can take quite a long time to be made and delivered. Some of the club jackets are from them. Some models can be found on Southcoast Swords. Ask Richard or John for more info.
Black armory (on HEMA supplies): interesting design with collar above the mask. Some love it, some hate it…
Scholar HEMA jacket on Hema supplies: some people have had good success with it. Not much experience, but reviews seem to be positive.
This needs to be a hard protection.
SPES are good (available on Purpleheart or SPES).
You can also use Knee pro (see below) for the elbow.
SPES Geicko: a good compromise between good protection and limited bulkiness. Available on Purple heart or SPES.
SPE Vectir: good protection but bulky. All available on Purple heart or SPES.
SPES labs(only on the polish SPES website at the moment) : a very good choice in my opinion. Light, not too bulky with good protection
Different gloves will be necessary for different weapons.
SPES Heavies are the go-to. Bulky, heavy and not the best mobility, but currently the only gloves that are easily available, offer good protection and are durable.
There are other longsword gloves you may see available, here are the pros and cons:
Sparring glove mittens (available on Hema Supplies): many people love these gloves. However, the wrist protection is a little weak.
Sparing gloves infinity (available on Hema Supplies): good 5 finger gloves, if you get the right sizing. Usually long delivery times. As with any 5 finger gloves, variable durability.
Koenig gloves: at this moment, no current production. Can be good if they fit you (one size only). Can take time to break them. Durability can be variable
Upcoming progauntlet and thokk gloves are promising, but for the moment no mass delivery yet.
Absolute force HEMA gloves only offer weak protection and are not recommended for longsword sparring
Purpleheart Armoury rapier gloves are the ones that are used the most.
Some people use sweater pants, but protection is limited.
SPES Locust: good protection and mobility, simple design and easily available. SPES also offers lighter options (“light fencing pants”) and heavier (“hussar”) options. Available on Purple heart or SPES. Superior Fencing /southcoast sword also have some options.
A hard protection is needed.
Knee pro: available on Amazon (search knee pro knee pad). Cheap, easy to use, good protection.
SPES knee guards: these are suboptimal as they are too small and leave a gap below the knee.
Soccer socks (so that no skin is exposed). S
Harrow Probot Shin guards (or other field hockey guards). Field hockey guards are the best as they cover the ankle bones and the sides of the shins. Can be found on amazon by searching “Harrow probot shin guards”.
Another alternative is a baseball catcher shin guard, which also includes knee protection, but this is heavier.
SPES shin guards, or soccer shin guards, are too small and will not protect the side well and will also leave a gap on the higher part of the tibia.
We want to avoid using our outdoor shoes on the matts at the club.
Wrestling or indoor soccer shoes work well and can be fairly cheap.
Nike fencing shoes are also good. They can be bought on Absolute Fencing. These are expensive, but may be worth considering if you destroy your other shoes (the fencing shoes have strong reinforcements on the side and front that will improve durability significantly if you have a tendency to drag your feet).
FOR SWORD MAKERS:
Order only from well-known sword maker. Do not order some unknown maker’s sword on amazon or some obscure website, as safety will be unknown, and we probably will NOT want to spar with those. Ask people at the club to try their swords. Every brand and model handles differently and you may like one and hate another. Also, one of the reasons why it is better to get protective gear first, is that you may quickly change the way you fence. Therefore, a sword you may like in your first few months, may not be your favorite later.
PURPLE HEART ARMORY: MADE BY VIKTOR BERBECKUZ. Various flexibility levels. Try to avoid the hardest ones. The “technique line” is not for sparring. Contact Purpleheart directly to make sure the model you want is suitable for sparring.
SIGI FORGE (www.sigiforge.com): flexible longsword, great quality, usually 2-3 months between order and delivery.
AUREUS – KRAKEN (www.krakenswords.com): great reputation well-made swords. Ask them for delivery times.
KVETUN (https://kvetun-armoury.com/resellers.html): durable. Good warranty (I have experienced a broken sword and they made the warranty work very easily).
REGENYEI (on HEMA supplies): this is a long-time workhorse model for HEMA. The only drawback is that it is not very flexible for most of their longswords.
ARM AND ARMOR (www.arms-n-armor.com): US Made. Great quality, can take time, especially for custom orders. For longsword, make sure to check the size of the handle, as they can be on the small size and hard to fit both hands with heavy gloves. Southcoast swords also seems to carry some models.
CASTILLE (www.castillearmory.com): US-made swords. very good line of products for all weapons, good degree of customization.
BLACKFENCER (imported by Southcoast swords): good line of weapons.
There are other sword makers, ask at the club if you are interested in others.
THE QUICK LIST
Mask: Absolute Fencing HEMA basic fencing mask, without the back of the head protector from this brand
Back of the head protector: SPES Unity
Gorget: PBT gorget
Plastron: PBT or absolute fencing
Jacket: SPES AP light
Elbows and forearm guards: SPES Gecko
Longsword: SPES Heavies
Pants: SPES Locust
Knee protectors: Knee pro III
Can also be found on Amazon
Shin guards: Harrow probot shin guards + soccer or baseball socks
Search “Harrow probot shin guards” on amazon or other sports retailer.