A Guide to Buying Equipment

Recently there have been a few people asking about buying kit; what they should buy first, where to buy from and how much it will cost. Hopefully the short guide below will answer a few of these questions. Of course you are welcome to keep using club equipment for as long as you want.

What order to buy equipment in

There is no real right or wrong order to buy fencing kit. That said there is a certain amount of logic than can be used here. Although you may be tempted, it is really not essential that a sword is the first thing you buy, instead you probably want to consider a plastron or a jacket. The following is a suggested list:

  1. Jacket, plastron, chest protector (women) and glove. These are probably the items that you will want to have your own of first. You can look after them much better than the club is able to and a properly fitting glove will make a noticeable difference.
  2. Mask and breeches. The club owns a fair few pairs of breeches but the uptake on their use, for somewhat understandable reasons, is rather limited. Remember that each weapon has its own type of mask (depending on the target area) so ensure you buy the correct type; this is the reason we suggest holding of on the mask for a little bit.
  3. Sword and bodywire. Once you have decided which weapon you want to do it is worth buying your own sword; swords aren't cheap and so it is worth making sure you a happy with your choice of weapon first.
  4. Lamé. For the foilests and sabreurs the last thing you need buy is a lamé, this will likely be the single most expensive bit of kit you but if you buy a good quality lamé and look after it, it should last for many years.

A guide to the different bits of equipment

Jacket - Pretty obvious really, this is the white jacket that is worn, it is the main item of protective equipment that is worn. Most of the club jackets are ambidextrous and as a result the zip is located at the back. When buying your own jacket you should go for a 'front zip' jacket. These jacket are substantially easier to get in and out of. The zip is located towards the side on you non-dominate hand side. Because of this jackets come in right and left handed types and you need to specify this when buying.

Plastron - Although not the primary level of safety, this is possibly the most important layer. The concept behind the plastron is that the seems are not in line with the seems of the jacket. Since the greatest danger comes from a broken blade piercing the jacket on the sword arm, the plastron afford extra protection here. Unlike other items of clothing 800 N (see below) material is compulsory as opposed to 350 N. We would also suggest this isn't the place to save money; buy a good plastron, not because it will be safer necessarily but because the economy or entry range 800 N plastrons tend to have a very stiff feel and are particularly uncomfortable compared to more expensive materials. Note: it is possible to buy 350 N plastrons but these are own legal for use will non-electric swords or with 'child' size blades.

Glove - For non sabreurs glove choice is pretty simple, in the first instance you probably want a basic glove but ensure it has a velcro flap or similar. Along with making it easy to take on and off this will allow you to connect a bodywire to the sword. For sabreurs the choice is little more complex, you will want a glove with a lamé (metallic) cuff.

Chest Protector - Simply essential for the women you want to buy the the full 'chest guard' type. Sizes tend to be a little bit of a guessing game, so if possibly buy in person or try on someone's that you think will be the right size. These are typically not the most comfortable at first and require a degree of wearing in. The maxi-guard models (essentially a sports bra with a separate protector plate) tend to be more comfortable but do cost more. Note: Male chest guards do exist but you don't want to be that person.

Breeches - These are compulsory for electric fencing. One small oddity with breeches is that they come in left and right handed versions. The difference is that there is a back pocket (for tucking a unused body wire into) on the back leg; higher end breeches may also be designing to give better movement with a specific leg forwards.

Mask - Each weapon has its own type of mask. The simplest is the Épée mask, in this case the only requirement is for the mesh to have been coated in a non-conductive paint. For For there is a requirement for part of the bib (up to the line of the shoulders) to be made from a lamé material; this is then connected to the lamé itself by a mask wire. In Sabre the entire mask just but conductive (since the head is a valid target area); like Foil the mask is connected to the lamé via wire. Although you should only require 350 N bibs, sabreurs may want to buy a 1600 N FIE mask (it is actually pretty tricky not to sometimes). Leon Paul offer and option called 'Contour Fit', this is an alternative to the traditional elastic strap fitting, a shaped disc is used with two pieces of elastic to secure it. These tend to be more comfortable and keep the mask in place better.

Swords - There are far too many options here to discuss. In the first instance you probably want the basic blade option and foilists and épéeist probably want to go for a pistol grip as opposed to the French type; this offers better point control and is more comfortable to use. Note that for Foils and Sabres you will need to specify the type of in-guard socket on you sword. Fencing in the UK we strongly suggest the bayonet type as these tend to last longer, stay in better and are much more commonly used (very useful when you need to borrow a spare wire or sword). All Foils and Sabres have bayonet sockets. Remember that swords break, this is why we suggest that you start cheap. Cheap blades often last the longest and by the time you want a better blade or a different guard many people will have told you (at length) about the various advantages of different combinations.

Bodywire - Not much to say on this one, simply buy the right wire for you weapon (either Foil/Sabre or Épée) and, as above, we suggest that Foilists and Sabreurs opt for the bayonet type.

Lamé - These are required for Foil and Sabre. They are a metallic vest or jacket the covers the valid target area and, along with the sword, are connected to the scoring box. These are probably the last thing you want to buy due to the relatively large stock available from the club and the relatively high cost. Again this is an area you probably want to buy good quality; because they are metallic lamés can suffer from rust or limescale build up. Previously people that have bought budget lamés have found they have developed a number of deadspots in less than a year, whereas a premium lamé should last for several years.

350 N vs. 800 N
This corresponds to the force (N stands for Newtons, the unit of force) required to puncture the material. Therefore 800 N (sometimes called FIE) is clearly stronger and safer than 350 N. That said this does not mean that you should consider 350 N unsafe, it is the standard material used in the vast majority of fencing clothing. For club use or at British competitions you are only required to have equipment that has been certified as 350 N (sometimes labelled CEN 1), with the exception of plastron which must always be 800 N (CEN 2). 800 N equipment is only required at international competitions, so there is no point to buy it as your first kit. 800 N material is, obviously, much more expensive and so the clothing costs more

Suppliers

Leon Paul - Viewed by many as the best manufacturers of fencing clothing, swords and accessories. Leon Paul were established in 1921 and are still run by the Paul family. All their equipment (excluding socks and shoes) is made at their factory in London and the are the only company to manufacture fencing equipment in the UK and are probably the most active in developing new products. They offer some excellent products for beginners. Although by the no means the cheapest on the market, Leon Paul equipment should last for a very long time and maintain its quality. They have a shop in London and have stalls at several competitions across the country, including the Welsh Open (November) and the Oxfam Open (June) both of which are in Cardiff. 99 % of all the club's equipment has been sourced from Leon Paul. Website: http://www.leonpaul.com

Allstar - Another premium supplier, who sell the extremely respected Braise Frere (a French company who many say make the best blades on the market). Equipment tends to be of a similar price to Leon Paul and quality is also close, although clothing tends not to be quite to the same standards these days. In the UK Allstar is distributed alongside Uhlmann who are another, very similar, company. Like Leon Paul they have a store in London (although it is often closed) and attend several competitions. Website: http://www.alstar-fencing.co.uk

PBT - Another German supplier. Still very good quality but not as good as that from Leon Paul or Allstar/Uhlmann. In the UK equipment is sold by PBT-UK who are distributor. They have a store in Aldershot although they do not, typically, run stalls at competitions. Website http://www.pbt-uk.com

Blades Brand - A budget supplier. A lot of equipment (especially clothing) is manufactured in China. Recently they have started selling Absolute Fencing equipment (a US brand) which is of reasonable quality. They have no physical store nor do the host stalls at competitions. Website: http://www.bladesbrand.com

Note on other suppliers - Only the above four companies are recommended by British Fencing and thus are the only suppliers we as a club can recommend. We cannot recommend that you buy equipment from eBay as there is no way of know that quality or condition of it. We also do not recommend the UK company Sword Price Fighters, there was recently an issue when it was shown this company's equipment (which is all made in China) was not of the quality of safety standards that were claimed, as such they were removed from the list of approved suppliers by British Fencing

Note on buying from abroad - Most major fencing manufacturers have distributors in the UK and thus there should be no need to buy from abroad and we would advise you to be very careful if you do decide to (especially outside Europe) as for equipment to be legal for use in the UK it must have a European CEN rating.

We hope all this helps and if you have any questions feel free to ask the club armourer or any member of the committee (although you will never struggle to find people willing to give opinions of different types of kit).