Everything you need to know to start in our HEMA school related to gear. Feel free to ask in class if you have specific questions.
- I'm new! What do I need for my first class?
Welcome newcomer! You only need a few things to get started your first month here at WoA. Comfortable, weather appropriate clothes and closed toed shoes for working out in, water, and a cup if you're a male. Optionally, you might want to bring a light set of regular motorcycle type gloves. Eventually, you WILL need gear, but for the first month or so this is everything you need to get started in HEMA. We will provide the rest.
Keep in mind our training is at your own pace. We set goals and targets, but feel free to go slower, stop and rest, and train at a safe pace for you. Please do not be shy and inform instructors of any existing injuries or special considerations you may have.
- What classes do I need protective gear for?
If you exclusively participate in non-combat training (such as the montante or you have opted to be on our do-not-spar list), we do not require protective gear. Comfortable work out clothes, a cup for males, closed toed shoes, and water is all you need for class.
All of our other classes have sparring involved, and all have the same protective gear requirements outlined in this FAQ. See "Is there a gear requirement?" and "What is Tier 1/Tier 2 gear?" questions for more information.
If you have no desire to spar or are unable to spar, and want to participate in the other classes, please talk to the instructors about what safety gear would be required.
- Is a cup really necessary?
Yes! Like any martial art, protecting yourself is important. We're not just swinging fists, we're swinging real swords! All males are required to wear cups during drills and sparring.
While we do not require females to have a cup, there are cups made for women. Women in our school do use cups to protect themselves as well.
- What kinds of gear are there? What is Tier 1 gear? What is Tier 2 gear?
Our school separates gear into two Tiers - Tier 1 and Tier 2.
Tier 1 gear is the essentials that we require students to have by the end of 3 months of training with WoA. They include a cup for men, a fencing mask, throat protection (aka a gorget), and sparring-appropriate gloves. We require all students who will be participating in full-speed sparring to own their own Tier 1 gear.
Tier 2 gear is gear you need to be fully combat ready for sparring at full speed. The school provides this gear to people who do not own it yet, and there is no set requirement on when you need to purchase it. We do encourage people to buy this gear as soon as they can anyway because it is safer for the student and we have limited supplies at the school. They can include many things, like fencing jackets or gambesons, feders, hard knee/elbow protection, etc. They can also include optional items such as padded undershirts and gel head protectors.
This FAQ has an outline of what a basic, typical Tier 1 + Tier 2 gear set up can look like.
- Is there a gear requirement? What gear should I buy first? When do I need to start buying gear? Why do I need to buy my own gear if the school has gear?
The first 3 months of training the school provides any gear you need for training. By month 3, the grace period starts to narrow and we do require students to acquire some of their own gear.
The first pieces of gear you should buy are the ones required by WoA to own.
WoA requires students within 3 months of training to have:
- sparring-appropriate gloves (Not Lacrosse or Hockey gloves, HEMA specific with the exception of Red Dragon gloves)
- throat protection (aka a gorget)
- fencing mask of their own
This is non-negotiable and is a requirement of all sparring members. All sparring members must have Tier 1 gear, no exceptions.
This requirement is for health and safety reasons. We do not want any students to be seriously injured during training, and obtaining properly fitted gear is important in training safely. It also mitigates the passing of germs due to sharing masks. All school gear is cleaned periodically, but having a mask that is only worn by you is the safest option.
Safety gear used frequently by many students at full sparring speed loses integrity faster and thus the risk of injury is much higher. New students will not be sparring at full speed or strength, and so the school gear is more suited to being gently used more frequently. By month 3 sparring can and does get more intense, and it is at this point we mandate members to have their own Tier 1 gear.
We provide loaner Tier 1 and 2 gear for new students learning the basics, but more experienced students must make room for newcomers and do their part by buying Tier 1 as soon as possible and keeping the school's gear in top shape for new students. WoA has limited funds to replace broken gear, most have been donated.
Please be proactive in letting instructors know when you have ordered the required gear.
Feel free to ask other students what gear they purchased and how they like it so you can have an idea of what to order in the near future. Keep in mind shipping may take a couple weeks on some items, so please be timely with this 3-month requirement. If you order gear late, you WILL NOT be allowed to spar until the gear has arrived.
- Do I need to buy everything in 3 months?
No, not at all! We only require Tier 1 gear within 3 months of training.
The school will still supply you with much of the gear you need. We do encourage students to continue acquiring gear that fits them as soon as they can.
- What if I cannot afford the gear in 3 months?
HEMA is and can be an expensive sport; it is also a dangerous martial art. Gear is necessary to participate safely.
You will be unable to participate in many things from sparring to training drills with others until you have acquired Tier 1 protection. Even if you have paid your membership dues, if you do not meet this requirement within the three month time period, you cannot spar.
Tier 1 gear is the best investment you can make to protect yourself. However, these are not the only items you will need to be combat ready.
If you are ready to spar at full speed sooner than 3 months, it may mean you will need Tier 1 protection sooner as well. It is best to purchase Tier 1 items as soon as you have decided you would like to start sparring.
Tier 2 gear can be prioritized later by need, and we can help guide you through that. Generally speaking though: Cup, helmet, throat protection, gloves, then fencing jacket is a good order in which to acquire items.
If you have serious financial concerns, please talk to the instructors about your situation to see how we can help.
- What if I bought the gear but the shipping is taking longer than estimated? What if I got the wrong size and I need to exchange the item? What if X brand-new company is making a really cool product and I backed them on Kickstarter/Facebook/Indiegogo/other crowdfunding source and I’m waiting for the actual product?
If there is a problem with the shipping of the item itself, or if it arrived the wrong size and has been exchanged, please inform the instructors of the situation and show them the correspondence. You will be allowed to use the school gear until your gear arrives. Please be proactive in communicating with instructors Mike and Loch about your gear.
If you backed a Kickstarter, small business, or other start-ups it is still your responsibility to have necessary protective gear by the required time.
- Is it okay to use gear from other sports?
In short, Yes! This is covered more in the "Are there ways to save money" question and the "I'm involved in the SCA..." question.
- I just bought the Tier 1 gear. Are there ways to save money on getting the rest of my gear?
Yes! There are many ways to save starting out.
First, see if any students are selling gear or if the school has gear available for sale. This helps students and the school as well. Also, ask a patched member about our donation basket.
On Facebook, there is a HEMA marketplace group where you can buy HEMA specific gear second hand. (Keep in mind this marketplace is not affiliated with WoA and is subject to all the risks of buying online from Facebook. We cannot guarantee the product ordered nor the safety of your funds.)
Online auctions can be a source of used fencing jackets, just ensure they are truly at minimum 350N certified (this is a rating that indicates puncture resistance) and from a trusted seller.
Second-hand sports stores and thrift stores can have items like hard elbow-and-knee pads and baseball/softball shin guards. Many HEMA fighters use items like these. Sports like BMX, skateboarding, rollerblading, baseball, football, and hockey can have protective gear applicable to HEMA, so keep an open eye and mind. (Note: Hockey gloves can protect the hands for light drills and the school does carry them for this purpose, but they are NOT protective enough for sparring. Please stick with HEMA specific gloves. Hockey/ Lacrosse gloves are not considered Tier 1 gear.)
There is gear you can make yourself as well that can help save you money while you train. Please ask a patched member or instructor if you'd like more information on creating your own gear.
- I used to be in SCA, LARP, or a reenactment group. Can I use my gear from this group?
It depends. An instructor can look over gear you have and tell you what would be allowed or not. HEMA has different requirements than these other groups, so please be open-minded about the switch.
As a general statement, costume gear and gear that is not made with full contact in mind is NOT allowed. LARP gear is generally not protective enough.
- Why do you guys wear leather? I don't see other schools wearing leather.
You're right, other schools tend to use more modern HEMA jackets and gear. We wear leather armor for several reasons:
1. It separates our school from other schools. We are unique in our use of leather armor.
2. It supports Ash Mountain Armory, the local company that makes the armor and training weapons we use.
3. Leather is customizable to the fighter and easy to trim and adjust.
4. It can be easily repaired and lasts a long time.
5. It is genuinely protective and molds to the body, and we like our ribs and bones in one piece.
- Do I need a sword? Which sword should I buy? What is a feder? Are all the swords the same?
A feder is a training sword. It is a blunt steel sword made specifically for fencing. For our school and tournaments, it is the primary weapon used in Longsword events. We do use sharp swords to train cutting technique, but NOT for fencing. If you want to purchase a sword for class, a feder is likely the sword you will be using. We tend to use the terms “feder” and “sword” interchangeably to refer to the fencing implements we use in sparring. There are similar swords called "training” or “stage combat” blunts. These are different in that they can sometimes cost less, but are also generally not safe for sparring. Our school does not recommend spending money on training blunts.
The school provides swords to practice with and purchase of a sword is not required, but we are limited in our supply and it can be very useful to train with the same sword each time, so you get to know your weapon. Also, many of our feders are nylon, and not allowed in almost all tournaments.
The best thing to do is talk to the instructors when you are ready to purchase a feder of your own and let them help you determine which sword would be best for the training you are doing.
HEMA has specific requirements in many tournaments and not just any sword will do, even for basic sparring at the school. Swords must be forged and crafted with specific criteria in mind. Even so, within the HEMA community, there is a wide range of swords available. Keep in mind certain swords will weigh differently, have different protections built in, such as complex hilt rings, longer or shorter blades, etc. Factors like this affect fighting styles.
For example, let's say you have been training with a lightweight nylon feder here at the school. If you are unaware that the sword you are purchasing has a significant weight difference, the muscle memory you’ve built through your training will have to be relearned.
Please do your research and talk to the instructors about your intended purchase BEFORE YOU BUY ANYTHING so that we can help.
- What do I need to have a full set of gear of my own? Do I need to purchase a full set of gear?
In short, No, you do not need to purchase a full gear set. The school provides what you need during training, but school gear is limited, and cannot always be used in tournaments. It is more convenient and safer to have a full set of gear of your own. We encourage students to piece their gear set together as they can.
The level of protection you will want depends on your fighting style and personal preferences. For example, a lightweight fencing jacket might make sense for one person, and a heavy more protective Gambeson might better suit someone else.
There is no 'one right way' to create a full set of HEMA gear. That can be frustrating for people new to the sport, but it is actually a very good thing and allows for a lot of customization for your personal fighting style.
There are some general guidelines though. Many tournaments require the appropriate head, hand, and throat protection, as well as hard elbows/knees, a cup for males, at least 350N rated fencing jacket or gambeson, and hard chest protection of some sort. Some tournaments have more requirements than others. Many tournaments do NOT allow metal protection such as gauntlets.
A simple, basic Tier 2 gear list can look like this:
-Fencing Mask (including some sort of protection for the back of the head)
-Hard chest protection
-Padded shoulder protection
-Hard elbow and knee protection
-HEMA Sparring Gloves
Many items HEMA fighters use are borrowed from other sports or even homemade and altered to fit this sport. Instructors and patched members can help you with putting together a full set of gear.
In general, we recommend buying gear in this order: Cup, mask, gorget, gloves, fencing jacket, and from there things can change based on needs and availability. Buy Tier 1 gear first, then start working on Tier 2 gear.
We will soon be adding a section of pictures of our prime fighters and other members and the gear they use to give an idea of a complete gear list and how much variety is truly available.
- Do you recommend getting cheap gear or expensive gear?
Not all gear needs to be expensive to work. It really depends on the item and your needs. In general, we recommend quality-for-the-price over the absolute cheapest, but sometimes the absolute cheapest stuff works just fine and it is exactly what we use! Sometimes cheap gear just needs a small modification to make it work much better. Please ask patched members or instructors about the gear they use and try a variety of gear while at the school to get an idea of the options out there to help you make a decision.
In the words of one HEMA enthusiast, Kasey McClelland, "... name brand doesn't [necessarily] mean [quality]. My 60$ fencing mask is outperforming my much higher priced one."
As a general statement, we recommend buying something not overly cheap (like hockey gloves from a local thrift store) if it will need replacing soon (since hockey gloves are not Tier 1 gear, they would soon need replacing and would not be worth the price no matter how cheap).
We absolutely recommend saving your money and buying a STEEL feder. While synthetic/ nylon swords are great for solo practice (and cheaper) they slip and bounce when practicing with someone else and are not approved for tournaments nor sparring at the school, so if you intend to buy a sword please save your money and buy a quality product. Ask the instructors about the swords they use. We can help you select a feder.
Besides the Tier 1 gear, much of the rest can be initially purchased cheaply used, or borrowed from the school. Eventually, you can upgrade to leather armor, and we encourage all of our students to invest in protective leather eventually if they intend on participating in tournaments.
- Is there any gear you don't recommend? Is there any gear I should avoid?
We do not recommend buying synthetic sword trainers. As mentioned, they are fine for solo practice and are cheaper. We do not discourage people from buying them; we simply think the steel feders are a better use of your money long term.
We do not recommend buying hockey gloves as hand protection, or Red Dragon brand HEMA gloves. While the latter are marketed as HEMA specific, they are not protective enough for sparring and fingers have been broken while wearing these. We do not allow Red Dragons or Hockey Gloves in sparring. (You might find yourself as a total beginner 'sparring' with an instructor in these kinds of gloves, but the instructors are professionals trained to avoid injury and are not truly sparring but rather drilling. These gloves are only good for light drills.)
We do not recommend any costume items or items not created for full contact sports. If you truly cannot tell if something is merely a costume piece or not, please show it to a patched member or instructor and ask. If your sword is not made by a brand that has been certified for use in tournaments it will not be allowed. If it is something you are considering purchasing, ASK someone first. Not just any old sword or armor piece will work for what we do, there are specific and strict standards for the swords and some armor.
The general rule of thumb: If you bought it at a renaissance festival, collectible shop, or because it simply looked cool... it is likely a costume piece and will not be allowed.
We do not recommend buying metal gauntlets even if they are designed for full contact because many tournaments do not allow them and they are quite expensive.
As of June 2019, our school no longer approves the use of 5-fingered sparring gloves without instructor-approved uparmoring.
- What brands of gear are good? Whom should I buy from?
Obviously, this is a difficult question to answer as some people really like some brands and others do not.
This FAQ will not be promoting any particular brand or gear piece over another outside of AMA gear which we personally use on a daily basis, but here are a few examples of Tier 1 gear based on what students and/or the school owns and uses.
Any standard MMA or full-contact sports cup will provide protection for male students. They range in price from $16-30. Cageside Muay Thai Steel Cup for $16 has been recommended before.
Absolute Force brand masks range from $60 to $110. They also make gloves in the $130 price range.
SPES brand Heavy Gloves (AKA Crab Claws), are solid beginner-to-intermediate gloves. They are common, very protective gloves in HEMA. $189 for the gloves themselves and $35 for the blast caps (a modification you purchase), which should be added to them to better protect the thumb tips.
Gorgets range in prices from a variety of brands, most students in our school use Ash Mountain Armory leather gorgets which range from $80 for a basic model to $120. The school's loaner gorgets are made by AMA.
When it comes to further Tier 2 gear, armor, training swords, etc. please take your time, ask members what they have purchased, and get a feel for the different gear styles and brands. You can always ask a patched member or instructor about a purchase you would like to make. Please get advice before you buy, some items can be quite costly, and it is up to you to ensure the gear you purchase will be acceptable.
We will soon be creating a picture bio of each member and a list of gear they use to give an idea of the variety of styles, prices, and options out there.
- How much of a financial investment am I making? How much does gear cost?
Gear ranges in prices widely and can be pretty cheap to quite expensive. In HEMA, a lot of gear is still homemade or adjusted from other sports, and while HEMA specific gear continues to improve, there is a huge variety so a singular price point is hard to nail down. To give an example: thrift store find softball shin guards for $10 might last you your entire HEMA career! A good set of gloves, on the other hand, might end up costing $200+ easily. However, when it comes to gloves, safer is better. No one like broken hands.
We can give an example of typical head, throat, and hand protection, which can be (besides the sword itself) some of the pricier items to start with:
A typical fencing mask with back of the head protection costs about $110 from Absolute Force. (There are cheaper options. Absolute Force makes basic masks for $60.)
A basic but protective cup can cost around $16 from Cageside.
A simple leather gorget by Ash Mountain Armory made to your neck size costs $80. There are also cheaper options that lack customization available online.
SPES heavy gloves cost $189, EHR (End Him Rightly) protective blast caps (armored protective covers) for the thumbs are $35. Absolute Force offers gloves in the $130 range.
These are examples of decent essential gear that protects well and lasts. While not the cheapest options on the market they are not considered expensive either.
Disclaimer: We are not directly affiliated with Ash Mountain Armory, SPES, End Him Rightly, Cageside, or Absolute Force, they are just brands many of our students own, recommend, and use. Ash Mountain Armory is owned by our instructor.
- How do I support local companies in regards to HEMA gear? Where do I buy HEMA gear?
Buying from AMA , which makes our Viking shields, bucklers, axes, and leather armor is the best way to get high-quality gear and support a local Asheville business at the same time.
Cageside Muay Thai cups was recommended by a HEMA enthusiast from another school, and the product is made in North Carolina.
Finding second-hand sports shops and thrift shops to help piece together your initial set of gear can help support local business as well.
There is a Long list of companies, expanding every day, of people who make HEMA gear and places to purchase it from, both in the US and overseas.
https://www.reddit.com/r/Hema/ The HEMA Reddit post "The State of the Art" is a list of resources for new and existing gear from different companies. This list is not comprehensive though, and many new and smaller companies exist outside of this list. The sport is growing every day, and with it, new companies emerge all the time.
Before making a purchase, talk to other students and the instructors and find out where they've bought things in the past. You can also attend a tournament and look at the wide variety of gear worn by other students in other schools.
- This FAQ is really long! Just tell me what I need to know quickly to get started, please!?
Here's the TLDR version!
You need work-out appropriate clothes, water, and shoes to start out. Men need a cup as well.
Within 3 months we require all students to have Tier 1 gear--a mask, throat protection (gorget), and sparring-appropriate gloves. We can recommend these items to you. You will not be allowed to spar if you fail to meet this gear requirement. You are exempt from this requirement if you only participate in Montante training. Your name will go on a no-spar list either way after the 3 month period.
The school provides the other gear you need to get started, but it is important to keep building up Tier 2 (full sparring) gear as you can to be best protected during sparring.
There is a LOT of HEMA gear out there, and we can help you choose what would be best for you! Take a look at what's out there and don't be shy about asking members and instructors about their gear.
Don't bring in any costume gear from your LARPing or boffing days, but if you have an item you think might be HEMA appropriate please bring it in to be inspected first rather than assuming it is okay.
If you have any problems or concerns, please tell the instructors as soon as possible so we can help.
FAQ by Krys Earles