Monday, November 20, 2017
Basic Starter Set:
The masks offered by Darkwood Armory are well-constructed and at $60, the price is hard to beat. Take care to read the sizing instructions when ordering - or, if possible, purchase your mask in-person at a war (Gulf, Pennsic, etc). They are available online here: Darkwood Armory Fencing Mask.
Zen Warrior Armory also sells very well-made masks. There are a few options available on their website, but for C&T, I would recommend buying one of their stainless steel masks, which start around $100 rather than their carbon steel mask. They are available online here: Zen Warrior Armory Stainless Fencing Mask
Back of Head Protector:
The back of head protector is probably one of the trickiest pieces of C&T gear to acquire - as there are relatively few people who make them. As a result, a lot of people are going to need to make their own.
Zen Warrior Armory (ZWA Back of Head Protector) and several HEMA suppliers (HEMA Back of Head Protectors - note I have not handled any of these) make commercially available back of head protectors that cost ~$70-75. Even so, all of these require modification to meet the rule requirements for my own kingdom, Calontir - which requires that all gaps be covered. This can be accomplished for the ZWA protectory by attaching a rigid "extension" to the back edge of the fencing mask. I have seen this accomplished with heavy leather, a strip of aluminum, and a series of lamellar plates.
There are also a few people who make vacuum formed plastic back of head protectors for sale, but none of the ones I know of sell them online.
This forum has a decent amount of information about making your own back of head protector out of leather.
PLEASE NOTE that using leather as a rigid material can be fraught with problems - as leather can get harder or softer depending on use, temperature, and treatment.
This tutorial shows how to use a construction helmet to serve as a back of head protector. I've had a bit better luck by cutting more of the helmet away and adding a leather "hinge" to the top of the mask to hold it in place. My tutorial is pending.
Winter Tree Crafts sells a basic gorget that should work reasonably well for ~$60 (WTC Gorget).
Zen Warrior Armory also sells a gorget that works well for rapier/C&T - but I can't seem to find it on their website. The lobster gorget that I can find doesn't tend to provide adequate throat protection.
MiG-TiG welding gloves work reasonably well as a cheap option for gloves (NOT the super-thick gloves that people think of as "welding gloves"). They can be had for ~$10-20 (Harbor Freight TiG Welding Gloves) - though they frequently have logos printed on them. These can usually be removed with rubbing alcohol, vodka, acetone, or other organic solvent.
I personally use Darkwood's gloves (Darkwood Armory Leather Gloves). They hold up reasonably well and aren't terribly expensive (~$30) and come in colors.
Only padding is required (not rigid material), so I've been using a pair of McDavid hex pads. However, a pair of modern skating or military surplus elbow pads should work reasonably well for getting started - just be sure that you can hide them under your garb. You should be able to buy these at Wal-Mart, a sporting goods store, etc. I've had pretty good luck at my local thrift store.
Puncture-Resistant Hood & Body Armor:
Meeting the requirement for puncture resistance typically requires 3-4 layers of medium weight linen fabric. Other combinations of fabrics can be used as well - but in all cases, a drop tester should be used on a swatch of your fabrics before you construct a garment. I generally recommend that fencers create garb items that meet the requirements for puncture-resistant body armor. Likewise, making your own hood is relatively simple for anybody who can sew. Tutorials on these items are pending.
If you want to buy a hood, the Darkwood hood (Darkwood Armory Hood) is my recommendation. It's around $35 and is made out of hemp and linen - which means it breathes pretty well.
Swords are, of course, the expensive part. My typical recommendation is that fighters start with a 42" bated rapier with the economy hilt from Darkwood (Economy Rapier). This is an all-around functional weapon that strikes a good balance between being a good simulator of a sword and an affordable price.
If you need something significantly cheaper to get you started, however, my recommendation is one of the Hanwei practical rapiers sold by Kult of Athena (37" version and 43" version). These have a reasonably good weight and balance - however, they tend to be much floppier than I'd prefer - which may be more of a problem for the 43" sword than for the 37" one.
For a longsword, I recommend either the basic Darkwood longsword or if you want something 16th century and German, the Castille Armory Feder.