How to choose and purchase fencing equipment (VFA buying guide)

Where to shop:
I would recommend ordering on-line from Absolute Fencing in New Jersey (www.absolutefencinggear.com). They are very fast in filling orders and have reasonable prices. If you want top of the line European-made equipment, try Leon Paul, Zivkovic, Negrini, Allstar or Uhlmann brands. There are links to these vendors and more on the VFA website links page. If you know what you are looking for and can tell good stuff from junk, e-Bay can be a good source of both new and used equipment - just beware that there is a lot of worn out or low quality gear being flogged on e-Bay. Note: Equipment labeled "FIE" or "800N" is required only for world cup competition. For local and domestic competition, equipment labeled "nonFIE", "club" or "350N" is fine (and much less expensive).

Buying your first set of basic equipment (mask, jacket, glove, plastron, practice weapon):
Go to www.absolutefencinggear.com, click on "shop" from the menu at the top of the page, then choose "starter sets" from the sidebar menu. You will want to get either a "standard" or "advanced" set. The standard set (which would do fine) is $116 for foil or $127 for epee. Most people consider it worthwhile to upgrade to a front zip jacket ($12 surcharge). The "advanced" set contains a front zip jacket (with no surcharge) and slightly higher quality items and is $145 for foil or $156 for epee. There are also options of buying sets which contain carrying bags, but a duffel bag, hockey or golf bag, etc also works.

What to order:
Mask-measure all the way around the face in inches from chin to crown, going right through the middle of the ears. Under 21"=extra small, 21-23"=small, 24-25"=medium, 26-28"=large. Foil fencers now have the option to upgrade to electric foil mask for $5. This is cheaper and less hassle than having to buy and sew on an electric bib at a later date. If you plan to fence foil as your main weapon and there is a chance you might want to try a tournament, I would recommend the upgrade. You can still use the mask for non-electric practice. The one thing you won't be able to use it for is fencing electric epee in tournaments. If you want to fence both weapons in tournaments, you will need two masks (one with the bib and one without).

Glove-measure around palm (excluding thumb) and add 1/2 inch. under 7.5=extra small, 7.5-8"=small, 8.5-9=medium, 9.5-10=large, over 10.5=extra large

Jacket-measure around chest and add 6" to get size (for a rapidly growing child or teen, you might add 7 or 8"). Get a regular jacket, not the extra padded one. Note: if ordering a European brand jacket (Allstar or Uhlmann), the sizing is different. See sizing guides on the vendor website.

Weapon-For a fencer age 11 or older, get a full size (#5) weapon. Most kids under the age of 11 do best with a child-sized foil (size #2). A 10 year old who is big for his age might go straight to a full size weapon. Nearly all competitive foil fencers use a pistol grip. We have several kinds in the rental foil bag so you can try them out. The most popular is the Visconti model, which comes in several sizes. In competitive epee, some fencers use a pistol grip (for more powerful actions on the blade) while others use the traditional straight French grip (for more reach, and a game of blade avoidance and counterattacking)-your choice will depend on your fencing style. Note that a French grip can be converted to a pistol grip later (by cutting down the tang) but not the other way around. If you are interested in pursuing both foil and epee in the future, get your set with whichever you think you are likely to do more of, and you can always borrow the other one (free of charge) from me.

In addition to the basic equipment, I recommend purchasing the following as early in your career as possible:
Fencing pants: are required for USFA competition. While we tend to be lax in enforcing this for beginners in local GMD meets, we do require them for open events, anyone going to JOs, a regional youth circuit, or any out of state tournament will need them, and anyone who plans to compete regularly should go ahead and get them. With fencing pants, you need knee-high socks. Soccer or tube socks from a local sporting goods store will do fine. Pants cost $35-65 depending which model you get.

For women: breast protectors. Also required for USFA competition for female fencers. You can get the cheap plastic cups (under $10) that go into the pockets in your jacket (you may have to alter the pockets if they are not in the right place for your body), or a full chest plate for about $25-30.

For small child or anyone who is easily bruised: chest plates are also available for children and men. In our club, where smaller kids often drill with or fence with much larger partners, a chest plate can increase comfort and confidence.

Buying youur first set of electric equipment:
From Absolute: Go to www.absolutefencinggear.com, click on "starter sets" from the sidebar, then on "regular electric sets" from the options.

For foil, you have the option of a 3 piece set (foil, body cord and metallic vest) for $107, or several more expensive options that may contain electric foil mask (with cord) and/or extra body cords or foils. Choose whichever type of grip you like (French or one of the pistol grips), a 2-prong body cord (NOT bayonet-this is so that you'll be able to use club body cords with your foil if you need to), size #5 blade (unless under 11 years old), and your choice of French or German point (most beginning foil competitors are fine with French point, and don't need the more expensive German foil point). For the metallic vest (lamÈ), get the same size as your jacket (or one size bigger if growing).

For epee, the basic set (electric epee and body cord) is $56. Choose whichever type of grip you like (French or one of the pistol grips), and size #5 blade (unless under 11 years old), There is only one type of epee body cord. For epee, I recommend paying the $7 surcharge to get a German point. They require less fussing with and adjustment than French points.