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From N00b to Epic: A Guide to HEMA Gear

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

So you’ve been doing HEMA a little while and now you’re an addict.

Firstly, congratulations and welcome to the club.

Secondly, I -know- that you have been surfing HEMA sites by now and daydreaming about gear, but it’s hard to know where to start with acquisitions.

Fear not! This will act as your guide in going from “Huh?” to “Don’t I look cool!”

There are a couple of things to consider when purchasing your first round of HEMA gear.

- If you are part of an organization, what is their gear situation?

- Are you doing to purchase piecemeal or flat out twink yourself to perfection?

- Will you adopt a fighter name that gets plastered on your gear in glitter letters? Wait...maybe that’s just me.

When I started my HEMA journey, I purposely set out to not buy gear early on. I wanted to experience a wider range of training to really understand what felt important versus what looked pretty. I am lucky enough to be at a sword school that has plenty of loaner gear so there wasn’t a dire need for me to acquire anything immediately. I was able to let need dictate my initial purchases.

What follows is a suggested list in order for the complete new HEMA student with access to limited gear. I will provide color commentary based on my own experiences, all of which I hope is helpful or at the very least amusing.

(A quick gender disclaimer: Dudes may choose to acquire a cup much earlier in the process. That’s between you and your parts and the safety comfort level they demand. Ladies, the same goes for your comfort level on timing for chest protection, but it should definitely be acquired)

New HEMA Enthusiast Gear List:

Round One

- Mask

- Gloves

These are the essentials for safe higher intensity drilling.

Fingers and face! Stay pretty and keep your opposable thumb superiority over your pets. I definitely wanted gloves pretty early on and those were my first purchase. My school has a wide variety of masks to choose from and they only smell maybe sometimes a little bit so that purchase got shifted down the list for me personally. The insides of gloves, however, get surprisingly -moist- (yeah, I said it), and having smaller hands, trying to wrangle the teenage mutant turtle oven mitts into a decent grasp on a sword was frustrating.

Round Two

- Jacket - Gorget - Back of the Head

- Cup for dudes - Chest protection for ladies

Must haves for controlled sparring.

Protect your brain bucket, dat neck, and of course the spot on your body where most of your important squishy bits reside. The back of the head protection doesn’t come standard with masks but is an easy and inexpensive (all things considered) add on. It’s a necessity for those who commit to leans way too often and aim to strike low. Just me? Ok then. Gorgets are just plain, ol’ common sense. Even though a mask has a little flap that comes down from the chin, do you really want to trust a little flap for your neck? The answer is no. Big, metal sticks are being waved about and thrust at body bits, best to be safe, safe, safe. Jackets, or gambesons...oh where to begin. Of course, they are important safety gear, but here is an item that even IF your school has plenty, you are going to want your own. Sharing gear that tends to get sweaty will open you up to all kinds of new experiences like discovering after a long bout of sparring that the insides of your elbows in fact smell like another human totally not you. That will convince just about anybody that your own jacket swamped with your own sweaty smell will make everything more pleasant. Aside from stank, getting a jacket that fits is fantastic for a range of motion. For my part, I opted for a ladies’ custom fit and could not be happier. No bulk at the waist and no wads of shoulder padding up in my ears. A wonderful investment.

As far as gender-specific safety needs, guys are gonna want a cup. End of story. We all know why. Ladies, it’s best to get a hard chest protector piece as there is evidence that repeated whacks to the bosom can result in lumps forming due to hematomas or damage to the soft tissue. All in all no matter the gender, let’s protect our soft, round parts.

Round Three

- Elbows

- Knees

- Forearms

- Shin

Competitive sparring levels of protection.

Not that these aren’t good before you get to that level, but you should be able to participate in drilling and controlled sparring with the gear listed before this round. Once you decide you want to fight for glory (but really, you should be fighting for funsies), you better see to protecting the pointy, bendy bits and the long, bony bits that are waving about just tempting your opponent’s sword to hit them.

Round Four or Zero or Much Later or Maybe Never

But Oh I Hope for Your Sake it Won’t be Never Because Sword

- Sword

This is definitely the tempting thing to get first. Because...sword. Again, if your school or club has plenty to use for training then you can luxuriously wait until you really, really have a heart's desire. Then you will spend HOURS scoping out all the different options and daydreaming what you might look like holding them. You might even draw little sketches of yourself. I didn’t do that, but ya know...some people might. Moving on.

All in all, it’s a predictable list that details the why and wherefore for gear acquisition. Even with all that gear, you are totally going to get sweet bruises to show your friends, but you can rest assured that you will still have eyes, fingers, a windpipe that works, an undamaged skull, safe organs, and the hard corners of the body looked out for.

Now you can justify the hours spent on HEMA gear sites as research and not just an internet rabbit hole of looking at awesome.

HEMA on, Wayne. HEMA on, Garth.

- The Fearless Nymph

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