Gearing Up for HEMA Practice
Practicing HEMA requires specific protective gear and training implements. Beginning students are free to attend any class to observe and usually take part using loaner equipment. This page serves as an overview for what equipment Lonin provides for beginners and recommendations for building up a kit. The side bar contains two documents, Protective Gear and Training Weapons, which track a large range of HEMA equipment.
Base Layer and Protection
For all classwork and sparring activities, students should have a base layer. This should consist of comfortable, breathable clothing that will enable you to exercise for a few hours. Typically this consists of shorts and a t-shirt. Think of what you would wear to the gym or to go for a run. In addition to that base layer, students should wear personal protection specific to their needs. A protective cup is recommended for men. A plastic chest protector is recommended for men and women, but is not required.
Loaner Protection and Club Weapons
Lonin maintains a supply of loaner protection to enable new students to participate in classwork and drills. This primarily consists of fencing masks and gorgets. There are a small number of loaner gloves available. All loaner gear is marked with a white Lonin Glyph. (See Sidebar)
Loaner protective gear is to be used for classwork and drills only, not for steel sparring.
We also have a number of training swords for classwork and drills. These are kept in the armory closet, which is locked after each class or practice. Club weapons may be used for sparring at the discretion of the instructor present. Personal weapons are preferred for sparring to maintain the club weapons.
Personal Protection and Personal Weapons
Any protective gear that is not marked with a white Lonin glyph or any weapon that is not hanging on the left wall of the armory should be considered personal property and not used without the owner’s permission. If you are not sure about whether a sword or piece of gear is okay to use, assume it is not and ask an instructor. Personal protective gear and weapons should be taken home after class or practice.
Building a Kit
If you plan to continue studying HEMA or attending Lonin classes, it is recommended that you eventually put together your own kit. A mask, gorget, and hand protection are the first three things to acquire. These will allow you to participate in most Lonin classes and drills. Once you progress to sparring, you should acquire a jacket, leg protection, additional arm protection, and back of head protection for your mask. You will also want to acquire your own training weapon, however it is recommended that you get protective gear first. Personally owned swords allow you to practice at home and practice at class while allowing a newer student to use club equipment.
The sidebar contains links to two documents that list a majority of gear available on the market for HEMA. Reviews for much of the gear listed can be found on YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, as well as within the club itself and the HEMA community at large. Always research your purchases before making them. There are no stupid questions, ask about gear before financing it.
Now we’ll go through each area of the body that needs protection and discuss some of the most common or popular options for gear. This guide will go in order of what is typically recommended that you purchase. It is strongly recommended that you refer to the larger lists of gear linked in the sidebar. The examples listed below are to illustrate different types of gear, not what to buy specifically.
To get started, all you will need is a fencing mask. Most students start with a CEN Level 1 mask, with a 350N rated bib and a 600N rated mesh. This is sufficient for classes and drilling, but it is recommended that students acquire a CEN Level 2 mask, with 1600N rated bib and 1000N rated mesh, when they progress to steel sparring. Some students opt for a helmet rather than a mask. Helmets for HEMA are more expensive, harder to find used, and have fewer producers, however they do offer excellent protection for HEMA.
Sparring also requires the addition of Back-Of-Head (BOH) protection. Some students also like to add additional protection to the top and sides of the helmet.
To protect the neck, a gorget is used. Synthetic gorgets are popular due to comfort, low price, and availability. Gorgets made of steel are also popular for the increased protection, but can be more expensive and less readily available.
When fighting with swords, the hands are a valid target and need to be protected. For classwork and drills, light gloves are usually sufficient. For sparring and some techniques that require striking, heavier sparring gloves will be needed.
Sparring jackets protect the chest, arms, and neck. They are required for steel sparring and highly recommended for nylon sparring. Typically we recommend that students buy a mask, gorget, and gloves before buying a jacket. Jackets can be expensive and custom fit. You should be sure that HEMA and sparring are things you want to continue doing before purchasing one. Sparring jackets come in many styles and protection levels. Currently the trend is towards lighter jackets, as heavy jackets don’t breath as well and are more restrictive. Light jackets are great for classwork and drills, but may need additional protection for sparring. Standard or 350N jackets are the most common right now and can be used for sparring and classwork. Heavy jackets, 800N and up, are very protective and good for sparring, but you may find them too heavy or restrictive for classwork and drills.
With or without a jacket, students may want to invest in a chest protector. These can be worn without a jacket during classwork and drills or under a jacket during sparring. There are multiple makers and models of chest protector, but they typically look like this one:
While a sparring jacket does cover the arms and protect against most hits, additional arm protection is recommended to prevent harder hits and bruising. The forearms and elbows are especially susceptible to strikes. When using a light fencing jacket, you will especially want to invest in additional arm protection.
Waist and Legs
Most hits in HEMA sparring fall above the waist, hence our focus on covering those areas first. Strikes to the legs are valid though, and leg protection is required for steel sparring. The most common protection solution for the waist and legs are sparring pants. These come in a variety of styles and protection levels, typically 350N or 800N. There are also some companies making armor-like solutions for the legs.
Knee, Shin, and Groin
In addition to waist and leg protection, you may also want protection for the knee, shin, and groin. There are multiple options for all. For the knee and shin, a combined protector similar to ones used for Moto sports are very common, Red Dragon sells a rebranded moto sport knee/shin protector which is popular and effective. Shin protectors for soccer and lacrosse are also popular, combined with various knee guards. For groin protection, a cup and jock strap or shorts with a cup holder is standard, as with other sports. You can the brand of cup, shorts, and/or jock that is comfortable for you.
Personal Training Weapons
As previously mentioned, Lonin provides training weapons for students. Lonin owned equipment should be used only during Lonin classes and events and should never leave the Loft or SANCA premises. If you want a weapon to train with at home or take with you to a tournament, you should first consult the HEMA Training Weapons document in the sidebar of this page. This will illustrate that there are many, many makers of swords for HEMA. Which you choose will largely be based on your personal preference. As always, I advise researching any sword purchases before placing your order. Ask club members, search YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook for reviews.
There are three types of sword typically used when practicing HEMA. This applies for longsword, the most common sword studied in HEMA, and other types of sword. Let’s first go over the three basic sword types.
A simulator is a blunt steel sword that mimics a real sword as closely as possible in design, weight, and aesthetics. Typically these are specially made for HEMA or other sword sparring/fighting sports, with thick rounded edges. A blunt simulator may or may not have a reinforced or rolled tip for safety. Note that this is not the same as a dull sword, such as the dull blades Hanwei sells for it’s Hanwei/Tinker line swords. Dull blades typically start from a sharp blank, which is then left unsharpened. These are extremely angular, which will lead to them chewing up other blades and becoming saw-blades themselves.
Feders are the primary sword used when sparring. The width of the blade is narrower, but the edges are still thick like a blunt simulator. The blade and grip are both longer. Feders have reinforced or rolled tips for safety. You will often see additional material added to the tip for increased safety, rubber tips, leather coverings, and thermal plastic are all common.
A sharp sword. Also referred to as “live steel”. Sharp swords are used for test cutting, which highlights issues or strengths in your edge alignment and other cutting mechanics. Sharps are also used in extremely slow and controlled learning activities, such as feeling what sharp-on-sharp blade contact feels like. Sharp swords should never be used for sparring, no matter how much protective gear is being worn. Doing so puts yourself and your partner at serious risk of injury or death.
Which to Buy
This excellent article, Triangulation in HEMA , goes over why each of these swords is used. To summarize, you will eventually want all three of these swords if you plan on pursuing HEMA in the long term. Each sword has it’s specific uses and capabilities.
I recommend that you first purchase a Blunt Simulator or Feder. Either of these swords will let you practice techniques at home and in class. Blunt Simulators are better for classwork. They more accurately mimic a real sword and work better for demonstrating techniques and doing drills with partners. Feders will also let you participate in classwork, however they are better for sparring than simulating a real sword. They will still work for drills, but some techniques may feel a bit awkward.
Feders are better than blunt simulators for sparring, they are quicker to maneuver and the blades typically hit with less force. They usually have safer tips and features for sparring. It can be hard to decide between a Feder or Simulator when choosing your first sword. I advise that you ask around, handle both types of sword, handle different makes of sword if you are able, and really think about what you want to do with it. If you want to get right into sparring, consider a Feder. If you want to focus on learning and classwork, or don’t plan to do much sparring, consider a Simulator.
You should not consider buying a Sharp until you are experienced with a Feder or Simulator.
In addition to steel, there are also simulators made of wood, nylon/plastic, and foam.
Nylon/plastic simulators are affordable, however they do not simulate a steel blade well and can be just as dangerous as steel simulators. I would only recommend nylon/plastic simulators if you are on a budget or practicing solo. Lonin has a number of nylon/plastic simulators used to supplement our steel simulator collection.
Foam swords are coming back into popularity in the HEMA scene. Long discounted as inaccurate “boffers”, developments in foam weapons have resulted in swords that are safe, simulate blade binding better than nylon/plastic, and are genuinely fun to fight with. Foam swords are quickly supplanting Lonin’s nylon/plastic swords.
Wood simulators are not recommended at all. They are incredibly stiff, heavy, and prone to splintering.