Every year as the holidays descend upon us and the year begins to draw to a close, a certain kind of question begins to fill my inbox. Fencers young and old, new and experienced; fencing parents, fencing aunts and uncles, fencing grandparents, all want to know: where does new fencing gear come from, and how do I get it?
Fencing gear is actually quite easy to obtain. There are many large, reputable sellers online. The hardest parts are knowing what you need, how to get the right size, and which upgrades are worth it.
What You Need
Sometimes it's easy to forget that there are actually three different kinds of fencing: foil, epee, and saber. In our class, we do foil, and this influences some of our equipment choices. The basics are: glove, jacket, mask, practice foil (the sword), and chest protector (sometimes optional, always recommended).
Typical Cost: $15-$20
Comes right-handed or left-handed. You only need one for the hand you use to hold the sword.
Get the Right Size: measure loosely around the top knuckles (i.e. do not include the thumb). Take the number in inches, and round up to the nearest half inch. If you get a number that isn't available, rounding up to the nearest whole inch is a viable alternative. Most fencers will fall between 7.5" to 8.5".
Options: It's better to get one that specifically says that it's washable, because this means it can be safely thrown in the washer with other clothes. Other than that, just stay away from the ones with a metal cuff (those are for saber, we do foil), and get one that you think looks cool.
Typical Cost: $60-$70+
This piece of equipment has lots of options. Pure cotton jackets are hard to deal with, and virtually everyone makes a non-shrink, dryer-safe jacket. Look for some percentage of polyester or nylon listed in addition to cotton (65% polyester/35% cotton is common, 100% nylon is somewhat common). There is plenty of leeway in measuring to get a jacket that fits just right.
Get the Right Size: Jackets are measured to the nearest even number of inches. Measure around the widest part of the chest, under the armpits (i.e. not including the arms), round up to the nearest even number of inches, then adjust according to the supplier's recommendation. For example, Absolute Fencing's Sizing Chart recommends adding 2" for nylon or stretchy fabric (both thin materials), and 6" for cotton, blended, or jackets with extra padding (all thicker materials). If outgrowing a jacket is a concern, add 2" more after that. It's ok to have a jacket that is a bit looser, but a jacket that is too tight may be unusable.
Jacket Example: Fencer A measures a little under 33" across their chest. This number is rounded up to 34". Since Fencer A is buying a 350N Comfort Jacket made of a blend of cotton and synthetic fabric, they add 6" to get to 40". If Fencer A is still growing a LOT or prefers a looser jacket, they could order a 42" jacket, but otherwise 40" is the correct measurement. Make sure to select right-handed or left-handed according to your fencer.
Options: On most websites different jackets made from different materials are listed as separate products. Rather than listing every single one, I'll just say that it's better to get some kind of front-zip jacket made out of either blended or synthetic material.
Typical Cost: $60-70
Because of changes in scoring rules, masks have a lot of variation between fencing weapon styles, but little within each style. Due to the way they are sized and the fact that they are made out of steel mesh, masks last a very long time, and might never need to be replaced.
Get the Right Size: Most fencers end up using a Medium mask, or occasionally a Small mask. Large is very rare, so if your measurements point to that size, measure again, and double-check with your fencer about what size mask they use during class. The majority of class masks are Medium.
Options: Make sure to get a foil mask that has the conductive metal mesh bib. This is a future-proofing decision that will ensure that you won't have to replace a perfectly functioning mask if you decide to start competing at a level that requires electronic scoring equipment.
Foil (the sword)
Typical Cost: $25
Unsurprisingly, most fencers end up wanting to get a foil as their first piece of equipment if they can only choose one thing. Like a glove, it's affordable and easy to take care of, however the foil is obviously much cooler due to being a weapon.
Get the Right Size: The foil also has lots of options, but everyone should get a practice/non-electric, French grip, #5 blade to begin with. Make sure to double check right-handed vs left-handed here as well!
Options: Useful options for the foil come when a fencer starts competing seriously in tournaments away from the club, or has started fencing at an advanced level. It's something to look forward to, but until then there aren't any options to worry about.
Typical Cost: $20-$30
According to the rules of fencing, chest protectors are required for females, and optional for males. However, there's no downside to using one, and they definitely add a bit more protection and comfort for anyone. I recommend a chest protector for everyone.
Getting the Right Size: Chest protectors are sized on a Small/Medium/Large scale. As with masks, most fencers will fit either a Medium or a Small. Refer to a supplier's sizing guide to select the best size, but there is wiggle room within each size to get the right fit.
Options: It's important to choose the right shape of chest protector for your fencer's profile. It's common and acceptable for younger fencers of any gender to use chest protectors called "male" without any stigma.
There are a couple last things worth mentioning: shoes, pants, and beginning equipment sets.
Shoes: Many athletic shoes will work well for fencing, but shoes designed for indoor courts work best. In particular, a shoe with a well-cushioned sole that isn't significantly thicker at the heel than at the ball of the foot is best.
Pants: Also called knickers. These aren't required unless attending away competitions, but they are the easiest kind of pants to fence in. They are also usually available as an upgrade in beginner sets. Definitely worth the upgrade, but also unfortunately the most prone to being outgrown. Other sports pants or sweatpants that go down to at least the knee tend to work fine, though.
Beginning Equipment Sets: Most suppliers will bundle the most common and necessary pieces of equipment into a set. The price compared to buying all the items individually is usually 10-15% off, frequently including a bag. If you are going to want all of your own personal equipment, these are a very good choice.
Every piece of equipment has some kind of more expensive version. In general, even the lowest-cost piece of equipment will tend to work well for a decent period of time. Most of the extra expense is due to features necessary for special purposes that aren't necessary for our class (like increased strength fabric required for high-level international tournaments, or electronically-compatible equipment for outside competitions). Differences like cotton vs polyester/cotton blend in a jacket are more important to us, and tend to not affect price drastically.
We are happy to provide all of the equipment in class for as long as anyone finds it convenient. Hopefully the above information helps streamline the process for figuring out the other options available.