Which is the BEST HELMET?
Tips for Keeping Your Head
in a Sword Fight
The best helmet is the one that fits well, lets you see properly, move easily, and protects your head ... during that rare event of the other guy getting in a head strike you didn't move fast enough to deflect.... There are lots of helmets available. Since they can be expensive, it's nice to have a bit of advice before deciding to buy one. I have at least eight different types of helmet. The medieval one I bought on Ebay has good steel and would be useful with a suspension system added .... if it wasn't too small for me. Besides, the eye area is wide open, and that's the part of my face I most want to protect. It makes a nice ornament though. I look at it every day.
Now here's a real piece of art. A Manchu helmet from the history of China. This is the sort of thing our reproduction helmets have been copied from.
This page isn't about decorations. It's here to help you find the best helmet for full contact sword fighting. If I didn't have to protect my eyes, I'd use one of my riding helmets. They are the most comfortable and best fitting helmets ever designed.That was what gave me the idea for the liner I have in my Qing General's helmet. More on that in my replica armour, custom helmet page, still to be written. Let's ask a few questions:
Do I need a helmet?
Probably, yes, because you're getting better at sword fighting. The better you get, the faster you move. Faster strikes are harder to control. If you and your training partner start wearing armour, you will have more freedom in a sword fight. Instead of having to hold every strike so that it barely touches, you can rely on the armour to absorb some of the blow. Replica armour, and even the best helmet, are not a license for full power strikes in a sword fight. Full speed with controlled strikes is good.
Sometimes, when training, a partner will announce they are not going to wear a helmet, or gloves, or some other piece of protective equipment, because they find it too restrictive. Have you heard that one before? It has the effect of making you too nervous to fight well in case you hurt them. Pass them a helmet and refuse to play with them until they put it on!
What do I want to use it for?
Will you be using your helmet:
How much face protection?
- Only to dress up for Ren Faires. Weii, it depends how much you want to spend. The best helmet choice for you might be one made out of papier mache. Or you could buy a custom period helmet, or anything in between.
- Slow swordplay and partner drills. A fencing mask will do for now, or a Philippino martial arts helmet such as the third one in the picture row above. You might need a stronger helmet for later if you speed up the swordsmanship.
- Full speed swordplay. You need the best helmet you can get and possibly some armour as well. The next decision is how much face protection you need.
Your mask has to have a grille with gaps narrow enough to prevent penetration of whichever sword you are using. One of my favourite wooden swords is within regulation thickness dimensions for my type of swordsmanship, including tournaments but the bars on the helmets most of my fellow students are wearing, are wide enough to let it through. So, for their health, I can't use it. If you have one of the swords that will be used with the helmet, take it with you and try to poke it through the grille.
If you are using a blunt steel sword, you'll need better protection again. Look at the Terry Tyndal mask in the centre, above. You'll need something like that sort of face protection for steel. I don't have to say anything about the stupidity of fighting with sharp steel.... do I? Most people who think that's okay are missing a limb, or dead!
Is it a good fit?
If the best helmet for you is an off-the-shelf version, check it for these things:
- Head fit.It shouldn't be so tight you can't wriggle your ears. Nor should it be so loose it swings around or wobbles. If there isn't a perfect fit, go for the one slightly too big because you can wear an arming cap inside or fit it with velco hat fitting pads.
- Visibility. Your helmet must not obscure your vision. If it is too top heavy, it can slide forward over your eyes. If it's too big, it will settle too low on your head. I'll explain how to correctly measure the fit for a Custom Helmet, in the page I've written specifically about them. I'll explain how to adjust the fit of a helmet in the page about ready-mades.
How much will it cost?
- Fencing mask. The best helmet price I got on a strong - 3 style mask, was $80 AUD. That's with a special club deal where I bought 10 from Physical Chess, and included postage costs. Expect to pay about $120 AUD for a good fencing mask, if you just want the one. Americans can probably get them cheaper. I plan to set up a bit of a shop from this site in the future, where Australians will be able to get all their sword fighting gear in one place, at the best prices.
- Philippino martial arts masks. About $100 AUD.
- Terry Tyndal custom helmets. It depends what you want.
- Take a look for yourself.
- Custom Helmets. That depends entirely on the maker. Don't expect any change from $500 AUD, and it might be quite a bit more. I think my custom Qing General's parade helmet by Adam Mckay (first in the row above), is a beautiful work of art. It's also highly functional. When I'm not wearing it to train against steel, it has pride of place as a home decoration. It's my favourite and best helmet. I don't begrudge one cent of what it cost.
Where can I get one?
- Fencing Mask. At fencing stores such as Physical Chess, or from me when I set up on online store.
- Terry Tyndal helmets. Only from him at That Guy's Products. And there is a waiting list of close to a year. You have to get onto the end of the list. It's worth the wait and cost to have the best helmet for reenactment fighting.
- Philippino Martial Arts mask. Here's one place to get them.
- Custom Helmet. You'll need to find a local armourer. I found a few of them at the Lithgow Ironfest. Sometimes they have their work on display. Check out the local Ren Faire, or your local NVG, SCA, or other reenactment group. Those people know all the best armourers in the local area. They will know how to get the best helmet for you if you are prepared to pay the price and wait the time for a custom one.
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