What to consider when buying plate armour

What would an amateur knight, lansquenet, henchman or adventurer be without a suit of steel armour? What today is called Sanitas or Swica used to be called Kürass or Hundsgugel. Things are a little different today, but some things have remained the same. I will give you tips on how to buy armour and explain exactly what you have to look out for.
My plate armour, which I use for sport, reenactment and LARP

I don’t want to beat around the bush too long… Again and again, people interested in armour ask themselves where, what, which armour they need for what. Therefore, I will now explain step by step how to answer these questions. Very easy. I will generally refer to plate armour. Especially historical ones, since fantasy armour is not my field and “should” differ little.

  1. What do I need armour for?
  2. What is my requirement?
  3. What is my budget?
  4. Where do I buy?

We will now take a closer look at these points.

1. What do I need armour for?

Do I need the armour for a reenactment? LARP? Harness fencing? Buhurt? This is one of the most important questions to think about thoroughly. A reenactor has a different requirement than perhaps a larper, likewise a buhurt sportsman to a harness fencer. Nevertheless, some claims may overlap. A few examples:

A larper who only needs his armour for role-playing can do without a lot. After all, what does a larper need plate armour with a thickness of 1.6-2mm for? A larper can save weight and money here.
The armourer, on the other hand, must pay close attention to how the armour is constructed and what properties it has. Even if the fight is less rough, you still have to provide enough protection.
Above all, the buhurtler needs a lot of protection. The blows are an extremely high strain on body and material. In addition, buhurtlers must also fulfil a number of historical criteria as well as association guidelines.

Since you don’t want to buy a complete suit of armour a second time, you should also think carefully about where there might be overlaps. I, for example, play with my armour in larps, but also use it for reenactment and armour fencing. These were not spontaneous decisions, but months of deliberation. So take your time. As a big fan of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, I followed his advice: He who gives a lot of thought before a battle is more likely to win than one who assumes victory with certainty and therefore gives no thought.

2. What is my requirement?

Let’s take a closer look at the topic of demands. Here questions about appearance fit like: Appearance, epoch, style, historical, fantasy, film template, etc. But also demands on the fit, workmanship or material. Here, too, I give examples:

  • All paths are open to the Larper here. Here you can find fantasy armour, armour from films, historical armour or even complete mixtures. Workmanship and material are not really important, unless you have a special requirement. Whether you wear hardened steel on your body or whether the armour was hammered by machine or by hand is not so important here. But what I strongly recommend and will always mention: Pay attention to the fit! Please. Many Larpers buy cheap mass-produced goods that don’t fit. It simply looks unbelievable and is uncomfortable. Just by looking at it!
  • The Reenactor has to deal with a few more questions. Era, style, material, fit, workmanship play the central role in the purchase. It makes a big difference whether you wear plate armour in the mid-14th or 15th century. There are big differences in style and technology. As a re-enactor, you can’t just combine eras or styles. No one wants a knight’s horseman in reenactment. Depending on the requirements or specifications, one is flexible in terms of materials or workmanship. But there are also strict groups where you are not invited without hammered armour. Sometimes it is extremely frowned upon to show armour made of stainless steel or titanium, because these steels did not exist.
  • The Armour Fencer, like the Reenactor, basically respects a historical model. The quality of the steel is very important. It is not important if the steel was hammered, but the thickness of the steel should be considered. A 1mm steel plate already protects the support optimally, but it dents very quickly. A cuirass made of 1mm steel is light and protects well, but a helmet made of 1mm sheet metal is not recommended. So, like the wearers back then, you can find a compromise between protection and weight. I will take up this topic in more detail.
  • The Buhurt Fighter usually has to adhere to certain, sometimes strict, historical guidelines. The only unhistorical thing is that the armour is usually visually too big, because you wear a lot more padding underneath than was usual in the past. There are strict protection guidelines. Here, the armour is also much thicker and therefore heavier. In contrast to harness fencing, here you have to deal with hard blows, even against the head. To reduce the increased weight, well-heeled fighters use titanium. Titanium is very light and yet extremely robust.

My armour is based on a historical model. The composition is based on the period 1380-1415, Milanese style. The armour has sheet metal parts which are 1 to 1.2 mm thick. I have chosen carbon steel, also called “mild steel”. The armour is made to measure.

Made to measure, please! Custom-made armour should simply be a must. Armour weighs a lot, even if a larper only buys 1mm thick insurance, it still weighs a lot. Plate armour is made so that the weight is distributed over the body and fits tightly. Armour that does not fit perfectly will not protect the wearer against any kind of threat. A cuirass, which protects the torso, was made to rest above the hips. In this way, weight could be distributed and the burden taken off the shoulders. If armour or leg armour is not made to measure (who has a unisex body), this can make movement extremely difficult or even impossible. Just a few millimetres can restrict a lot of movement. So my tip on the subject of requirements: It’s better to invest a few bucks more than to have to move around with a lot of weight and like C-3PO from Star Wars!

If you want a historical suit of armour, you still have to invest time in research, of course. Here, too, you should not save time. If you don’t do enough research, you will have problems gaining a foothold in reenactment and will have to buy more. Today, in the digital age, you can find practically everything via Google.

3. What is my budget?

So let’s look at the question of questions…. The typical Monopoly question: How much do I want to invest? Do I have a budget immediately on call or monthly? Where do I save, where do I spend more? Armour costs a lot, and the mere steel is not enough. The budget is strongly linked to the demands of theme two. Based on my experience, I personally divide it into the following categories for a rough overview:

The cheap mass-produced goods as the lowest category can be found in any medieval shop, LARP shop or costume shop. You don’t need to do a long Google search. These items are usually available in standard clothing sizes, but very often also simply in “unisex”. The material is usable, but there is often no more detailed information about the composition. However, one cannot expect stainless steel or hardened steel at such low prices. Those who have a historical claim, be it nevertheless modest, will not get their money’s worth here. A feeling 90% of the mass-produced items have many historical flaws. The prices are very low: a helmet with visor costs on average 160 CHF, a breastplate around 100 CHF. A complete suit of armour can cost between 500-1’000 CHF. The reason for these low prices is that the armour is made according to a template and produced in India.

The uninformed eye might see a good suit of armour here. Alas: no.
Source: Battlemerchant

The middle class covers almost all the requirements of the target groups I mentioned. For the most part, the armour follows historical models, it is made to measure, the material or thickness can be chosen. These armours are also made with modern machines, which has a positive effect on the prices. A helmet with visor costs between 300-1’000 CHF, a breastplate between 300-700 CHF. A complete suit of armour costs on average between 2’000-6’000 CHF. Many of these armours are manufactured in the so-called former Eastern Bloc countries.

The crème de la crème of armour basically covers a small target group: Hardcore reenactors, museums, universities, people with lots and lots of money. The armour is hammered from A-Z, without machines. Customised here means going to the blacksmith personally and having the armour adjusted again and again, until the end. These armours are so historically accurate that it is difficult to distinguish them from originals. Even the thickness of each piece of steel varies depending on the area. Here it is difficult to quantify exact prices. But such complete suits of armour usually start at 10’000 CHF. Such smiths also make the new armour of the papal guard.

For my armour, I initially set myself a budget of max. 2,000 CHF. In addition, I had a monthly budget of 200 CHF for remaining parts or additional items. The complete armour as shown in the picture cost me exactly 2’000 CHF (plate parts). But of course you also need a gambeson, shoes, trousers, padding in the helmet, chain mail, etc. As with the tatoos, there is always something more. So, if I add up all the configurations, I’m at about 4,000 CHF.

What if I don’t have enough money for my dream armour? Very simple: save and wait. Maybe that sounds a bit harsh or even demotivating…. admittedly! But what is far worse is if you buy a cheaper version because you don’t have enough money and then you are dead unhappy. If you buy a cheaper alternative, you are usually bitterly disappointed. Discipline is needed here. If you can save 100-200 CHF every month, you will have about my armour configuration in ten months. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the pieces right away. You can also start with a breastplate, helmet and gloves. Even nobles from poorer houses could not always afford all the parts, or even never.

What are the maintenance costs? Armour needs care, especially if you need it regularly. Of course, maintenance causes costs, but they are not very high. Basically, you need oil or grease regularly, as well as polishing utensils. These cost an estimated 50 CHF per year, rarely a little more. If you want to do martial arts in your armour, especially buhurt, you have to reckon with the fact that some parts have to be repaired or bought again. In Ukraine, I met a buhurt fighter who had to replace parts every season. In our country, this can quickly add up to costs of 300-1,000 CHF per year.

4. Where do I buy?

Once you have defined your requirements and budget, you can finally start shopping! You should take your time to study all the shops carefully. Here, too, it’s worth comparing prices, checking reviews and asking around in the scene. Tips from comrades are usually very helpful, and they also save a lot of research. I will write a separate article on “Shops for plate armour”, as it is a larger topic.

Finally, I would like to summarise everything briefly: Think carefully about what you want to use your armour for and what the motivation behind it is. Think carefully about what your requirements are for the armour, how it should look or what it must be able to withstand. Think about the budget you want to or can invest in the armour. Check all shops and options for the purchase. Basically, there is nothing more to say.

If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them. 🙂
I will open more threads which will complement this one.

Claudio Ritrovato

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