Masks

This is another complicated area, due to different sizes, weapons and rules.  The main questions are whether you think the child will want to enter competitions soon, and if so, which competitions.  The complicating factor is that masks are expensive, you don’t want the cheapest ones anyway, and that they last a long time so you are shopping for the mask that your child will be using if they are still fencing five years from now.

·         Competition or electric masks are weapon-specific. A sabre mask cannot be used in competition in the other two weapons, nor a foil or epee mask in electric sabre (the sabre mask must be totally conductive, the epee one totally insulated – incompatible requirements).  Foil and epee masks are the same for training and some competitions – Under 13 and schools competitions do not require the foil bib to be target (people often simply say “doesn't need foil bib”) and so epee masks can be used here.  Proper foil masks, i.e. for electric competition where the bib is required, have a conductive patch on the bottom of the bib, which is usually grey. They are required for state U15, U17, U20 and Open competitions. The club masks are, strictly speaking, epee masks. In training, especially when fencing non-electric, the differences do not matter, but you generally do not want to use the expensive conductive foil or sabre mask in non-electric training, as the lamé material wears down with each use.

·         For any child under 10, we suggest a training mask, or an epee mask (the difference is whether the metal mesh is insulated with a black coating or left bare metal; either is fine). By the time they are thinking about competing in an Under 15 event the mask will be too small or too old and odiferous anyway.  As always, they can borrow gear to do the odd competition which requires a lamé bib.

·         For an older fencer the choice is harder, and really comes down to cost and how often you think they will enter events which require the bib.  They will not need it to train on the electrics, so it is really only to be able to use their own mask at a competition that is needed. Here it may be worth getting a cheaper mask to use for a year or two, then replace it or relegate it to training when competitions loom. However, you still don’t want dirt cheap – you are relying on it to protect Little Johnnie/Jenny, though this is really only a concern with no-name, “Made in China” masks; the name brands will be safe and there are many Chinese-made types which are good too – if these are what you’re thinking of, talk to the coaches. The club masks are always available to anyone to use, so if this choice is too hard put it off till last and then get a more expensive mask.

·         If you decide on a bibbed mask, we recommend getting what is probably the most expensive one: the Leon Paul X-Change mask.  This allows you to replace the bib when the old one stops working, making it the most expensive purchase but the cheapest and most versatile in the long run. As mentioned above, lamé material deteriorates with age and use, meaning that sooner or later the bib will not work properly on the electrics.  This is particularly inconvenient for the beginner – if you think your child might want to do a competition in a few years, it still might not be worth getting a lamé bibbed mask now, as by the time those few years have passed the bib probably won’t work anyway. The X-Change mask allows you to buy a replacement bib (which is not cheap, but much less than a new mask) and simply slide it in.  You can also change it from an epee mask (no lamé) to a foil mask (with lamé) by getting an additional foil or epee bib.  If you decide to get this, either buy the mask with both bibs, or just the epee version – training can be done with the epee bib and the foil one saved (not in a sweaty fencing bag) or ordered later for competitions when it is required.

·         Leon Paul masks offer two means of fixing the mask onto the head: either the traditional metal spring with an additional velcro strap, or the "contour fit" system. The club masks use the contour fit system, with a plastic disk which sits at the back of the head attached to the mask by straps. Either system is fine, so this is a matter of personal preference. If you intend to fence in a national competition, then contour fit masks will require an additional strap connected on the bib running around the back of the neck with a magnetic buckle. You might as well order this at the same time as the mask, as the cost is low, but you don't need to use it until in a national event.

·         For Leon Paul X-Change masks you now have a choice of either a Classic Lamé bib or a Lightweight Lamé bib – the Classic option was added quite recently, so we can’t truly comment with experience here. Nonetheless, we still suggest the new Classic Lamé option as it will probably last a little longer, but this is the one place where the Lightweight Lamé might be better, as the bib will rub a lot (see lamés for discussion of the different materials).

·         For sabre masks, we recommend the Leon Paul X-Change as well, for the same reason: the ability to replace the bib without buying a new mask.  Bibs on both electric foil and sabre masks wear out much faster than the rest: for a fencer training 2-5 times a week, a bib will have a life expectancy of 1-3 years but the rest of the mask essentially lasts indefinitely, especially as you can change the lining on the X-Change masks too. Sabre masks cannot be used with the epee bib, so simply get the sabre mask and a new bib as needed.

·         Masks come in different levels of protection, what is called “FIE” and “non-FIE”.  This is actually the difference between “1600N” and anything else, with the FIE variety certified to resist a foil point with 1600 Newtons of force behind it (the actual tests are different, but that’s the theory). Confusingly, there is another standard endorsed by the FIE (Federation Internationale d’Escrime – the international fencing federation) for use by national bodies which specifies 350N for clothing and masks, so manufacturers will sometimes call this level “FIE” – if you are looking for an FIE mask, make sure to look for the 1600N. This 1600N level is only required at national competitions, so we recommend that you ignore them unless there is some pressing need (though the X-Change masks recommended above are only available as FIE masks).  Any 350N mask, or a mask from a reputable manufacturer is safe, and instances of true mask failure are very rare: you can count failures in the last 30 years on your fingers. But beware that some of the shadier Chinese companies will simply label their masks “350N” when they have not a hope of meeting the standard. Again, if you are not sure, ask a coach first.

·         Take your time to get the mask size correct, and whenever possible try on a mask of the same brand to see what it feels like.  Mask sizes are not standard, and there are other things like the interior padding which can have quite an impact on which size is actually best.  Start with the manufacturer’s sizing charts, which for masks normally mean wrapping a measuring tape around the face from the chin to the crown and back again, in front of both ears.  Then hunt around to try on similar masks at club – the club masks have a full set of Leon Paul sizes, and many fencers will have other brands so you can generally get an idea from these. Remember also that there is a degree of adjustment in any mask, and some offer quite a lot. When you get a mask, ask one of the coaches to show you how to adjust it to fit.

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