Equipment - Buying Guide
At some point, all fencers who have been participating in the sport for a while, will decide that it is time to buy your own gear.
Having your own equipment can be a great thing, being able to practice with the same gear every week allowing you to become familiar with the nuances of the gear, knowing the condition and being able to upkeep your equipment, and only having to smell your own sweat when working out. However, buying gear can be daunting, as there are options on top of option out there for you to choose from and it can be discouraging.
Unfortunately, like most cities in America, Cincinnati doesn't have any brick and mortar stores to visit. This means that the internet is our only local access to buying gear for fencing and we have to make some assumptions about what we are ordering and what we will be receiving. Advice that we always give, due to the fact that looking at products before buying is not easily possible, is that you should look at what other fencers at your club, or at tournaments, have and ask questions about their experience with the materials, craftsmanship, and the quality. Ask to try things out, ask what their opinions are, ask for help... your fellow fencers will want to help and will be willing to give their two cents.
In that vein this is to give some pointers and advice on how to proceed when buying your fencing equipment online.
We have a list of vendors that we have experience doing business with on our LINKS page.
CRITICAL GEAR - The equipment that you need to fence
There are a few pieces of equipment that are necessary to have fun and safely spar with fellow fencers. This is the minimum safety gear and the weapon necessary to play.
If you are a student that has gone through our (or almost any club's) beginner classes, you will recognize this gear as the same type of clothing that you used that was provided by the club. That list is as follows:
- Weapon (Foil, Epee, Sabre depending on which event you are practicing)
Important note: There is a company in England that makes plastic fencing equipment that is for teaching very young children who are not capable of using full size, real fencing equipment. These plastic materials are NOT compatible with Olympic fencing with steel weapons as using them together poses a very real safety issue. It is important to make sure that if you are buying equipment, especially for children, you are purchasing weapons and masks that are proper for use with steel fencing equipment. Please feel free to inquire of your instructors if you are unsure if you are looking at these plastic masks or not before buying.
THE UNIFORM - Breaking down the clothing
The mask is one of the most important pieces of safety equipment, protecting the face, head, and neck. At no point will any fencer participate in any activities where there is blade on blade engagement without a mask on. The mask is made up of a steel mesh face shield that covers the face and a heavy fabric bib that covers the lower head and the neck to the sternum on the chest. It is important that it overlaps the jacket. Also, the bib must be permanently attached to the body of the mask. Years ago, there were masks that had snap out bibs (so they could be washed or replaced), but those are no longer legal for competition fencing for safety reasons and, while not expressly forbidden for practice, are highly suspect and should be considered as less than safe for use.
Those are the most important components of the mask. Additionally, there are weapon specific masks that are also available for fencers who are participating in electrically scored competitions. Those special weapon masks are not necessary for dry (practice) fencing. A basic competition mask is sufficient for all practice in all three weapons.
The basic competition masks are usable and appropriate for fencing epee competitively. For epee, the mask needs to meet the above requirements for composition and coverage. The metal mesh will be coated with a non-conductive material. The bib will be non-conductive fabric.
Foil now includes a portion of the mask as valid target area at the bottom portion of the mask. As such foil masks feature a strip of conductive lame material along the bottom of the bib. Competition masks come with that strip built into the mask.
For fencers who have older masks from before the addition of the conductive strip, or those who've purchased a practice mask without the strip and have later decided to start competing and need to have the lame piece can purchase a lame patch that is sewn onto the bib to meet the requirement for tournaments.
Sabre has masks that are the most different from the other weapons, as the entire head is valid target area and so the whole mask needs to be conductive metal. Sabre masks will almost always be a bright silver, as they are not painted. Occasionally, they will also feature an acrylic "window" in front of the eyes, instead of the metal mesh. The sabre masks are only appropriate if you are planning on participating in sabre competitions and generally need to be in addition to a mask that is used for foil and epee, unless you are specifically fencing sabre only.
Mask Connector Wires -
Because sabre and foil both have conductive masks, in competition, they need to be connected to the body lame (and through that, to the body cord and back to the scoring box). The foil and sabre masks will have a tab on them that the wire connects to with a spring loaded clamp and then the wire will be clamped onto the collar of the conductive lame that you wear in those competitive weapons. The same wire is used for both of those weapons, so if you are competing in both foil and sabre, it is not necessary to purchase two sets.
There are no mask connector wires in epee.
The jacket is an important piece of equipment that needs to fully cover the torso, groin, and arms. If you are buying a jacket there are two basic types: the front zip and the back zip. Again, you can find examples of both of these in the club's rental equipment.
The back zip jacket is the most common beginner jacket. They are less expensive, come in simple to order sizes that allow for more growth, and can be used ambidextrously. They are generally made of stiffer, duck cotton fabric which is less comfortable and less flexible. They are also harder to put on and take off without help.
The front zip jackets are more comfortable and are easy to get in and out of, when competing they are preferable, because they make it easy to open and close to get some air in between bouts. The jackets are going to cost more and some of the tech fabrics tend to break down faster with wear and washing. Another important thing to consider, is that the front zip jackets are specific to the hand you use to fence. That is because the zipper must always be on the side of the body facing away from the opponent (so a right handed fencer will zip on the left side of the torso). While back zip jackets are sold in S, M, L, XL, etc... sizing, the front zip is measured by the chest size. They are much more specific to the size ordered, but are generally less forgiving to growth spurts and weight gain.
Gloves are the toughest part of the uniform to buy without being able to see them. There are a huge number of different types of gloves and materials that they can be made of. It is always worthwhile to ask fencers what they think about the equipment they have and what suppliers make gear that they prefer.