This information is provided as a service to assist fencers when purchasing equipment. The views expressed represent the personal opinions of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Excalibur Community Fencing Club itself. Fencers are advised to research equipment purchases as widely as possible in order to make an informed choice.
A basic set of protective fencing clothing to get you started consists of a mask, jacket, plastron, glove and for ladies, a chest protector. For electric fencing at foil a lamé, or conductive jacket is required. For electric sabre fencing you need a lamé, conductive mask, mask wire and conductive glove/glove overlay. Due to the variation in target area, foil and sabre lamés are different. A bag is optional, but useful, and it doesn’t have to be a special fencing bag – a bag 110cm long should accommodate weapons. If purchasing a bag, check the dimensions and make sure it will fit in your car.
There are two categories of certification for fencing clothing. CEN Level 1, or 350N, clothing has been tested to comply with the CEN European level 1 standard and can withstand at least 350 Newtons of force. CEN Level 2, or 800N, has been tested to withstand at least 800 Newtons of force. Level 2 can also be referred to as FIE, meaning that it meets with the standards set by the Fédération Internationale d’Escrime for use in competitions. FIE mask bibs must withstand 1600N of force.
Currently, it is not necessary for fencers in WA State competitions to have FIE equipment. FIE equipment is however required for National competitions. If you anticipate competing in such events, even in two or three years’ time, it is worth doing the sums and considering whether purchasing FIE equipment at the outset will be more cost-effective for you than upgrading later.
In WA, Under 13s competitions, and sometimes Under 15 competitions are non-electric. For all other State competitions, and National competitions, electric equipment is required.
Note that most jackets, plastrons, weapons, sometimes breeches, and even some fencing shoes are different for right and left handed fencers. Make sure you order equipment with the correct handedness!
For non-electric fencing, basic masks suitable for non-electric fencing at all three weapons are available. However, as most as most adult and teenage fencers will progress to electric fencing once they have mastered the basics, the investment in an electric mask may prove more cost-effective.
For electric fencing at foil and épée an insulated mask is required. The mesh of these masks is coated with an insulating material, usually black, but sometimes coloured. Conductive bibs for foil have recently been introduced by the FIE. From 2010, a conductive bib has been required for AFF (national) foil competitions, and from 2011 it has been required at all WAFA (state) electric foil competitions. A mask wire is required to connect the conductive bib to the fencer’s lamé jacket.
For electric sabre, a fully conductive mask and mask wire are required.
Most fencers prefer a front zip jacket for ease of use. For safety, the zip is on the opposite side to the fencer’s sword arm. Do check size charts carefully, especially ladies. Fencing jackets are traditionally a fitted style, and ideally you want a jacket that is not so small as to impede movement, but not so large that there is excess material to catch your opponent’s blade.
Plastrons provide additional protection for the fencer’s sword arm and underarm. They usually cover more of the fencer’s front than the back and are therefore different for right and left handed fencers. These are often a little looser than the jacket.
A Velcro flap on the cuff is useful to help get the glove on and off, and also to pass the bodywire through for electric fencing. For electric sabre, you need either a glove with a conductive cuff, or a conductive overlay to place over the cuff of a standard glove. Some fencers get around this by tucking the cuff of their glove into the sleeve of their lamé, but this is unsafe and definitely not recommended. Gloves and overlays are designed to overlap the jacket/lamé and reduce the possibility of a blade going up a fencer’s sleeve and causing injury. A referee at any level of competition may (and probably should) refuse to allow a fencer to compete without a proper conductive glove or overlay.
Foil and Épée
The first consideration is whether to purchase electric or non-electric. Most fencers will start out using non-electric foils at their club, and at some point progress to electric fencing. When buying that first foil, the question is whether the extra investment in an electric weapon is more cost-effective.
Adult fencers usually progress to electric club fencing after mastering the basics, perhaps after a couple of terms. Older juniors might fence non-electric at the club, but require electric equipment for competitions. Younger juniors would generally fence non-electric both at the club and in Under 13 competitions.
For épée, the choice is more clear-cut, for fencers would rarely use non-electric weapons, even for training.
The electric points on foils and épées do require some maintenance and need to be treated with respect. Points can be replaced, but this means rewiring the weapon which can be fiddly and time-consuming. Juniors especially need to be aware that misuse can result in an inconvenient repair!
A further consideration is the type of grip. There are two basic types in common use in foil and épée; French grip and orthopaedic, or pistol grip. Beginning fencers usually start off using foils with a French grip. However, many experienced fencers prefer an orthopaedic grip. Some épéeists retain the use of a French grip to use the pommelling technique, where the fencer holds the end of the grip to increase the effective length of the weapon. Choice of grip is a matter of personal preference. Note that the different grip types require different tang lengths and threads so it is not usually feasible to convert a French grip weapon to orthopaedic grip.
If choosing an orthopaedic grip, you need to select the correct size. Unfortunately, not all manufacturers have useful size charts. If possible, try some at your club, but bear in mind that sizing can vary between manufacturers. If you do order the wrong size, you can usually replace the handle with a different size. Also note that handles from one manufacturer are not necessarily compatible with blades made by a different manufacturer. If in doubt, check before you buy.
To meet FIE standards, foils and épées must have ‘maraging’ blades. These blades are made from a special type of steel that can withstand a very high number of bending cycles. These blades usually last longer than standard blades, but are of course more expensive. These blades will be stamped to indicate that they are FIE compliant.
Parents should note that weapons are available with smaller blade sizes (0 – 4) for juniors, however these are not used in WA. Juniors are allowed to compete using smaller blades, but to do so would place them at a disadvantage compared to their opponents with standard (size 5) blades.
Choosing a sabre is simpler than choosing a foil. Grips are of one, standard size, and although there are various grip options, these are variations on the same basic type. There is not much difference between an electric and a non-electric sabre, and with no wires or moving parts, maintenance of an electric sabre is easier than for an electric foil. The price difference between electric and non-electric is less than with foil/épée. If you are starting out on sabre, it is well worth considering the investment in an electric sabre.
In order to comply with FIE requirements, sabre blades must meet the S2000 standard. Such blades will be stamped S2000. Maraging sabre blades are available, but these are not essential for FIE compliance. Sabre blades do tend to break more frequently than foil/épée blades so it may be worth ordering a spare blade.
If you intend entering competitions with your own electric weapons, bear in mind that you are supposed to bring at least two working weapons with you to the piste. Blades and points can and do break during competitions. Unless you intend to borrow spares from the club or other fencers, this means you need to consider buying at least two weapons and a spare blade. Doing so hurts your cash flow, but may save both embarrassment and postage.
For electric fencing in all three weapons, a bodywire is required to connect your weapon to the scoring equipment. Foil and sabre use the same types of bodywire, with either a two-pin or bayonet connection. Épée uses a three-pin connection.
The two-pin connection system tends to be favoured in Europe, and is probably the more widely used of the two systems in WA. The bayonet connection is prevalent in the UK, mainly due the popularity of the Leon Paul bayonet system. The choice is one of personal preference, but make sure you buy the right type for your weapon!
Do compare shipping prices between suppliers, as in some cases these can be more than the value of the items ordered. Calculation methods vary. Some suppliers charge a set rate per item, some charge more for the first item and a small additional cost for subsequent items.
Some suppliers offer starter kits with a complete set of fencing gear at a discount compared to buying the items separately. If you need a lot of equipment, do the sums and compare.
If ordering from overseas, customs charges may apply to the imported goods. Please refer to the Australian Customs Service website for more information.