Getting a chance to hold a heavy HEMA sword and to feel the adrenaline pumping into your veins is a feeling that can only be experienced when fencing in a tournament.
Fun and thrilling as these events may be, it’s hard to become one of the legendary fencers if you don’t use proper gear. Every piece of the puzzle is critical, and getting the best possible sword is essential.
Table of Contents
- Finding the Best HEMA Sword in 2020 for Each Tournament Category
- COMPARISON TABLE – Best HEMA Sword in 2020 List
- HEMA Sword for Tournaments – Rapier Category
- HEMA Sword for Tournaments – Longsword/Feder Category
- HEMA Sword for Tournaments – One-Handed Sword and Buckler Category
- HEMA Sword for Tournaments – Sabre Category
- How to pick the best HEMA sword for your needs?
Finding the Best HEMA Sword in 2020 for Each Tournament Category
With so many great options in the market, finding the top HEMA sword for the category in which you want to compete, can be a time-consuming task. That’s why we decided to prepare this article, and now all you have to do is take a couple of minutes to go through it keenly.
Every section was divided into 3 categories:
- Budget Pick – in this category you can find a HEMA sword which is still suitable for the tournaments, but cheaper than others.
- No-Limits Pick – in this category you can find a HEMA sword which we suggest that you buy if money isn’t a problem.
- Value Pick – in this category you can find a HEMA sword which has the best price-performance ratio. It’s also the most important category for you because sometimes there isn’t a vast difference price-wise between a budget and value pick, so it’s worth checking them both.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
COMPARISON TABLE – Best HEMA Sword in 2020 List
|Complete Basic Clamshell Rapier||Best Budget Rapier|| |
|Arms & Armor German Rapier||Best No-Limits Rapier|| |
|Darkwood's Economy Hilt Rapier||Best Value Rapier|| |
|Szymon Chlebowski Standard Federschwert||Best Budget Feder|| |
|Black Horse Blades Arbeitspferd Feder||Best No-Limits Feder|| |
|Regenyei Standard Feder||Best Value Feder|| |
|Regenyei I33 HEMA Sword||Best Budget I33 Sword|| |
|Albion Maestro Line I33 HEMA Sword||Best No-Limits I33 Sword|| |
|Castille XV Arming I33 HEMA Sword||Best Value I33 Sword|| |
|Cold Steel Training Saber||Best Budget Saber|| |
|Castille Armory Italian Dueling Sabre||Best No-Limits Saber|| |
|Regenyei Strong Saber||Best Value Saber|| |
HEMA Sword for Tournaments – Rapier Category
A rapier category is the 2nd most popular category on HEMA tournaments. Fencers wear equipment that is more focused on agility, speed, and thrusts than on the heavy protection. The most essential parts of fencing with a rapier are footwork, counters, guards, and thrusts. Many interesting fencing manuals for rapiers were written in the past, and the most popular ones are Venetian Rapier and Flower of the Battle.
Rapier and Flower of the Battle.
For around $250, Castille armory designed the best budget rapier for HEMA, which can be used in all HEMA tournaments. You’re not just paying for the best budget rapier, but you’re also supporting a fantastic company. To be honest, this rapier doesn’t look like something special. The reason for that is that it was designed for heavy HEMA sparrings and not to look good.
There are 2 versions of the blade available for this sword; “F2” and “F3”. “F2” is more suitable for SCA than HEMA, so let’s focus more on “F3” type.
Here are the reasons why is “F3” blade a better choice for HEMA fencers:
- It’s much stiffer – “F2” is too whippy, so judges can judge accurately on the tournaments.
- It’s much more durable – you can even use it to spar against sideswords, sabers, broadswords.
- It’s better in the bind.
- It gives you the right feeling when fencing with it.
The blade’s tip can be upgraded to a spatulated tip. The handle is made out of ebonized hardwood, and the guard offers decent protection for the hand.
Clamshell Rapier feels light, has a nice balance, allows fencers quick transitions between hands, and is a fantastic budget pick for tournaments.
How to describe Arms & Armor German Rapier in 2 words? Detailed masterpiece. It actually looks like a collector’s sword, that’s how well-made it is.
It has a reinforced narrow blade (a single fuller extending from the forte) which can easily handle the heaviest sparrings. It’s well balanced (PoB is around 5cm (2″) from the end of Ricasso), and it gives you a proper feeling when fencing. The blade flexes on around the last third, and the tip of the blade is quite pointy. You should consider buying a rapier tip or something similar to make this sword safer.
While other rapiers may feel like they were made for training and not for the tournaments, this sword feels like the real deal. THe German Rapier can perform every possible strike with ease, and it’s one of the fastest tournament-grade rapiers on the market.
The edges on the blade aren’t rounded as much as they’re on other rapiers, so for the tournaments, where having proper equipment is a must-have, this isn’t a problem. Keep that in mind when you train with it as well.
The handle is nicely covered with a wire bind, and the stunning-looking guard has a post and arm at the base of the hilt arms, instead of the ring, which is more frequently used.
It’s one of the most expensive rapiers on the market, but it’s worth it.
Darkwood’s Economy Hilt Rapier has the best price-performance ratio of all rapiers currently. Not only that you’re buying the best product, you can get, but you’re also supporting a great company with excellent customer service and a fantastic warranty.
This rapier can be customized (hilt, handle, pommel) and it can withstand the hardest sparring. With so many different options, you have an opportunity to build a sword that will adequately fit your needs.
It has a much simpler design compared to other rapiers, but don’t be confused by that. With a PoB 5cm (2″) above the guard, it gives you a proper feel and response when you fence with it. Darkwood offers 2 different blade types – DA1PR and DA2BR. For tournaments, you need to use a DA2BR because it’s more durable and less flexible than the other version. It’s still flexible enough for the tournaments, so you don’t need to worry about that. With proper care, this sword can last for years.
Usually, it’s always available, so if you decide to buy one for yourself, you’ll quickly receive it.
If you wish to read more about other rapiers, read our Best Rapier for Fencing in 2020 article, which can be found here.
HEMA Sword for Tournaments – Longsword/Feder Category
This is currently the most popular category in tournaments. In this category, fencers wear the heaviest equipment on the market, because of massive hits during the sparring. Not only massively protected, but fencers also need to be agile and precise as well, because they need to perform all kinds of techniques to beat the opponent. If you’re interested in learning more about the longsword techniques, you can read our Best Sword Lessons Books for HEMA article here.
Do you know that Standard Federschwert by Szymon Chlebowski costs only around $220? This is an insanely low price for a feder like this one is. This one is known for being one of the most durable feders amongst all. The blade is hardened (50 HRC), and tempered with careful attention. The edge is a lot thicker than on other feders, and it comes with a high-polish finish. The blade’s tip is rolled up.
When you fence with Standard Federschwert, it gives you that “right” feeling. It’s very agile and light, and it makes a beautiful sound. It’s flexible on the first third of the blade and stiffer on the other parts. The handle is wrapped up with a durable cord wrap.
Sometimes after hard sparrings, all you need to do is tighten up the compression hilt, and the sword will be as good as now.
Arbeitspferd Feder is one of the loudest feders on the market. It has a double fuller, shock seven steel, which is heat-treated to 57rc. Basically, it’s exceptionally durable and loud. It’s flexible on the first third of the blade and stiff on the other 2 thirds. PoB is around 7cm (2.8″) from the guard. The blade’s tip is spatulated.
It’s very well balanced, and it gives you that light feeling when you fence with it. Thanks to the hex nut screw in the pommel, it can be easily disassembled and maintained.
What we like about this sword are the customization options. You can change the pommel type, colors, guard, handle, and some other parts. These options also build up the price of this sword, but if budget isn’t a problem, this sword will definitely fulfill your requirements.
It’s hard to mention all the good things about the Regenyei Standard Feder in only a few paragraphs.
It’s one of the most durable and safest feders on the market right now. The blade is 5mm thick which makes it very resilient against edge damage. It’s flexible on the first third of the blade and stiffer on the other 2 thirds. The tip is back-folded and hollow, which is probably the safest possible tip you can have on a feder, and the lightest as well.
It has fantastic handling features. A combination of distal and profile taper with a huge schilt make it a low polar moment feder. This means that a lot of the sword’s weight is concentrated in the guard, and not on the blade. PoB is around 8cm (3.2″) from the guard.
The handle is covered by a black cord, and the handle is actually lengthier than on other feders, mainly because Peter Regenyei anticipated that fencers will wear heavy HEMA gloves when they fence with this sword.
There are different versions of this sword available on his site, so make sure to check this masterpiece out.
HEMA Sword for Tournaments – One-Handed Sword and Buckler Category
This is one of the most intense categories of HEMA tournaments. Hits aren’t as massive as they are in the longsword category, but they’re more frequent.
There are lots of sidestepping, blocking, thrusting, and cutting in every match, so fencers need to be prepared for everything. The 3 swords which you can find below are all I:33 type swords because I:33 is the oldest surviving manual for the Sword & Buckler category.
Regenyei is once again on this list, and the reason for that is his amazing Regenyei I33 Swords. We said swords because he can create 11 different one-handers. We will focus on the One-handed HEMA sword (No.11), which is made after codex I33. This makes it suitable for the One-Handed Sword and Buckler Category.
The combination of structure, balance, weight, and PoB, which is around 8,5 cm (3.3″) from the cross makes this HEMA sword an ideal part of equipment for tournaments and training. It’s not a lightweight sword, but when you fence with it, you don’t feel the weight. The blade alone is very thick and durable enough to let fencers use thrust, without any significant concerns. The blade’s tip is back-folded.
The handle is made of hardwood and covered with a durable black spiral-leather. The round pommel is made of solid steel.
It may look like a collectors’ sword, but it’s not. This is a mighty I33 HEMA sword, with an extremely durable blade and structure. The maneuverability with this sword is fantastic, and it feels light in hand. The blade can withstand the hardest possible beating you can imagine.
It’s amazingly well balanced, quite loud, and it gives you that “right” feeling as well. The edges are quite thin compared to other one-handers, but they don’t dent as much as on other swords, with thicker edges. The tip of the sword is also rounded. The handle is wrapped with cord, and it’s actually very comfortable, and it has the rounded pommel with the tang passing through and beaten on it.
This HEMA sword could also be in the Best Value category because it’s worth every penny.
Price-wise, there’s a small difference between Albion’s I33 and Castille’s I33 sword. They’re both fantastic, so whichever you decide to buy, you won’t regret it.
The Castille XV Arming I33 HEMA Sword is without a doubt a sword made for tournaments. This means it’s very durable, feels light, and is well balanced. PoB is around 9 cm (3.5″) from the quillons. The blade is made from sturdy 5160 spring steel bar stock tempered to the optimal 50 Rockwell C hardness. A slightly thicker diamond cross-section and correct balance make the spatulated tip of the blade agile and very dynamic. It flexes on the first third of the blade (starting at the tip of course).
The handle is covered by a Line-X brand coated T6061 billet aluminum, and the sword is held together by a type “H” wheel pommel with threaded hex pin. This makes it easy to tighten up after hard sparrings.
HEMA Sword for Tournaments – Sabre Category
The sabre category is very similar to the rapiers’ category. If you’re looking for fencing manuals, you’ll see that you can actually use a lot of learning material from rapier fencing manuals. There are 2 versions of saber – dueling and military. Compared to the military version, dueling sabers have fatter blades, are typically held “hammer” grip, a more exaggerated curve, and are weighted way differently (top heavy, rather than a weighted hilt). They can be used on the tournaments, but fencers prefer to use a military version.
Military sabers are thinner, have enclosed basket-style guard for the hand which is much more protective, and the weight is much closer to the hilt. With the military saber, there is a lot of technical footwork with sudden strikes delivered from the wrist.
We would suggest that you buy this sword if your saber breaks 3 weeks before the next tournament and you need a new saber asap. Basically, it’s not a lousy saber at all, but it’s not the best possible choice for tournaments. The good thing about this sword is availability.
If we compare it with Hanwei saber, this HEMA sword is much more durable and sturdy. Overall it’s much more suitable for HEMA than Hanwei’s model. The blade is just curved and flexible enough to thrust with it safely. The tip is too pointy, so for high-intense sparring, you’ll need to modify it. Compared to Castille’s and Regenyei’s blades, Cold Steel’s blade nicks easier.
The handling is proper, the sword is agile, and you can feel that it’s more focused on cutting techniques. The guard is thick, quite heavy, and it takes the hardest beating without any issues. The handle is spacious enough for heavy gloves. The grip is plastic.
What we like about Castille’s Italian Dueling Sabre is the option to build your own saber.
Blades have the exact size, weight, curve, flex, and tang dimensions than blades of the late 19th century. They are very durable, light, agile and reasonably flexible. Made from hardened 5160 chrome-vanadium spring steel, both versions (16 mm and 20 mm) have a 10 mm rounded tip and have a 2 mm rounded edge. Tips should be modified for tournaments.
There are also 2 available grip styles. Both are 3D printed from black PLA and are covered with a rubberized coating that offers a sticky grip surface. The guard is also available in two styles, is very sturdy and it protects your hands properly.
Everything is held together by a back cap system, which features a hex nut.
The Regenyei Strong Saber is actually one of the most robust sabers on the market. The blade is sturdy, stiff, has a slight curve, and it has a back-folded tip. This makes it more responsive, and it works better in a bind. PoB is around 13 cm (5.1″) from the guard.
The sword is well balanced, and it gives you a proper feeling when you fence with it. It has a precise flow, and it lets you control movements without any struggle. It feels lightweight, not clunky, even though the PoB is far away from the guard. Quick cuts can be delivered with ease.
The handle is covered with a black cord, and it’s lengthier than usual. The guard is hand-forged and very durable. It has a threaded tang with a large pommel nut solidly wedged in place. The build is very tight, without any rattling noises.
How to pick the best HEMA sword for your needs?
On your journey of discovering all aspects of Historical European Martial Arts, you’ll quickly find out that there’s a wide selection of different types of equipment.
Now, the question is which one should you choose? In the beginning, most fencers directly visit some webshop and order their first HEMA sword. That’s an entirely logical move, but when you become more and more experienced, and when you test other swords as well, you can quickly become picky.
So the best way to find your next HEMA sword is to ask yourself these questions:
- What category do you prefer: rapier, longsword, or other?
- Are you a beginner?
- What will you be using your sword for the most: training or tournaments?
- Will you be sparring with the proper HEMA equipment or not?
- How psychically prepared are you?
These are just a few critical questions which will affect the final decision. Keep in mind that most fencers use different kinds of swords for each occasion. For example, some fencers prefer synthetic swords for sparring and use steel swords only in the tournaments.
In this article we presented only the tournament-grade swords, so we skipped synthetic versions. We’ve written 2 articles about Best HEMA Longswords and Best HEMA Rapiers in which we thoroughly reviewed not only steel swords but other versions as well.
How much should I spend buying a new HEMA sword?
There are swordsmiths who specialize in a specific area, some create better feders, others create better rapiers. To be honest, brand (swordsmith) and experience in making HEMA equipment matter a lot. Even if you’re a total beginner, buying your first HEMA sword is crucial.
How many times in your life have you bought a cheaper product, just to realize in the next few days or months, that it’d be much smarter if you had spent a bit more and got a lot better product in the first place?
Buying from some companies (swordsmiths) can be a waste of time and your money, and of course, we didn’t include them here, in this article.
Some swords are just too dangerous to use when training, now imagine using it in the tournaments… Chipped edges or tips, too pointy tips, too whippy or fragile blades, etc. That’s why we decided to create this article, to help you realize that you don’t need to spend a thousand dollars or euros to get a fantastic, tournament-grade sword.
Quality HEMA swords will last you for years, be safe for fencing, and help you become a better fencer.
So to answer this question – don’t try to save money when buying HEMA equipment.
Check forums, check our website, ask your friends, test your friends’ swords, do anything that you can to find the best one for yourself.
Does it meet tournament standards?
Every tournament has its own rules and standards. Swordfish, for example, has strict rules when it comes to fencer’s equipment. From the blade length, blade’s flexibility, types of blade’s point to different kinds of cross guards, everything is clearly written in order to participate in the tournament.
The good thing about these most popular tournaments is that they have experienced staff who inspect the fencer’s gear before every match, and if these people think that the fencer’s equipment is unsafe or unsuitable for a tournament, the fencer will be disqualified.
You can always e-mail the tournament’s staff and ask them specific questions about your gear before the tournament begins.
So to answer this question – all swords in this article are tournament-grade which means that they can be used on tournaments.
HEMA swords are undoubtedly a crucial piece of every fencer’s equipment, and each fencer should be comfortable when fencing with their sword. Being comfortable means more than just having a good grip, it also means that you aren’t afraid of injuring your opponent when striking and that you can trust your blade not to shatter and dangerously fly in the stands.
Of course, these 3 things aren’t the only important factor when choosing the sword, but we suggest that you have them in your mind when you order your next sword for HEMA.
We hope that you liked our Top HEMA Sword in 2020 article and let us know in the comments which one is your favorite!