The Comprehensive Guide to Fencing Shoes
Just what are the best fencing shoes?
What are the best shoes for fencing? Do you need to purchase high-end fencing shoes, or can you go with a budget model?
One of the most asked questions in the Fencing.Net forums seems to concern fencing shoes. Just what are the best shoes for fencing and what type of shoes should you get, should the top-end fencing shoes be out of your budget range?
First, keep in mind the dynamics of the sport. Fencing requires sudden changes of direction and the fencing lunge exerts a force of up to 7 times the fencers’ body-weight onto their leading heel.
When asked, fencers say they want shoes that are low to the ground and give them a good “feel” for the strip. Fencers also demand lateral stability in their shoes to accommodate the changes of direction.
Many epee and foil fencers also demand good cushioning at the ball of the foot due to the amount of bouncing that they do in setting up for points. (Just watch a few videos of high-level epee fencing for examples.)
In 2008, Nike released their answer to the fencing shoe question – all based on 18 months of research. That research (link to article) found the following:
- Fencing has among the highest force applied to heel of lead foot in all sports. Up to 7x body weight. Close to the level of impact of a big man (like Shaq) after a dunk!
- The trailing foot takes a lot of damage.
- The lunge impacts the foot at an extreme angle: up to 45 degrees
- Fencers spend a lot of time on their forefoot when in preparation
This means that the shoes need to have:
- Good heel cushioning set at an angle to the heel strike of the lunge
- Flexible uppers and sole to be comfortable when in preparation and “bouncing”
- Durable inner edge to deal with foot drag on the lunge, especially with metal strips
- Traction: wood floors and gyms.
Keep in mind that NACs and larger tournaments are held with strips on top of a concete floor with minimal padding.
What type of shoes should you get?
Different fencers have some different (and competing) needs in fencing shoes. Before deciding on a pair, you need to know:
3. Level of competition
Age and budget run hand in hand. Young kids are either going to destroy their shoes or outgrow them. You’ll have to look at the number of training hours and how had they are on their fencing shoes to gauge which model is going to be the best value.
The higher the level of competition, the better shoe you’ll want to buy – mainly for durability on metal strips and for better cushioning and traction at those national events. If you are purchasing fencing shoes for your child, keep in mind that you need to get the pair that are going to last the best for them and their training schedules. An 11 year old that trains 3 to 5 times per week and is traveling nationally is going to burn through the low end shoes, so they’ll need more than one pair per season.
How long should fencing shoes last?
Most shoes in other sports are targeted to last for a single competition season in that sport. It’s easy for seasonal sports like baseball for kids where you’ll be swapping out cleats each season as your kid’s feet grow.
In fencing, there are overalapping seasons between the youth, junior, and senior ranks and many kids compete across age groups, which muddles the lines between seasons. The top brands are targeting shoes that have the internal cushioning lasting 9 to 12 months.
For youth fencers with a moderate training schedule, the kids will outgrow even the basic shoes before wearing them out. Of course, some clubs have a more intense training schedule which will impact your shoe budget.
Durability on the outsoles of fencing shoes is highly variable depending on the level of activity and the fencing conditions in the fencer’s club.
A fencer who is training 2-3 hours 4 days per week plus local events and NACs will burn through a pair of shoes much faster than the fencer who trains 2 hours for 3 days per week and only goes to one tournament per month.
A fencer who has the more active training schedule should shy away from the “beginner” shoes: the AF Elite and MVPs as those will wear out quickly with a lot of training hours. Opt for something on the higher end for more durability.
Sizing Concerns for Fencing Shoes:
Another thing to keep in mind with fencing shoes is that they are made in men’s sizes only. This creates issues for the women in the sport since you’ll have to do some conversions to get from a women’s foot/shoe size to pick out the appropriate men’s size. This is mainly due to the size of fencing as a sport. We’re hoping that fencing gets large enough to get manufacturers to design female-specific shoes. Until then, it’s off to size conversions.
Most fencing shoes run on the narrow side. The various house-brand shoes, Pbt, and Adidas all run narrow, so they’re usually one size different. (A woman looking for a women’s 7 would order a men’s 6.) The Hi-Tec/Leon Paul and Nike shoes are a little wider, so that conversion is usually 1.5 sizes different (where our women’s 7 would get the men’s 5.5.)
The best thing is to try on the shoes, or order a couple of pair in different sizes and then returning the ones that don’t fit.
Here’s the rundown on some common models of fencing shoes:
Nike Air Fencing Shoe, AKA the Nike Ballestra:
This is the fencing shoe of choice at the FdN offices. The first disclaimer is that we also sell a good number of them from our online store. The Nikes run at the top end of the fencing shoe price range and come in at $175. The shoes have a ton of research and design behind them and were launched with the 2008 Olympic Games.
The retail version of these shoes is in a white/gray/black model with some colors that were made available to NCAA collegiate teams.
The Nike shoes are currently tied with or slightly lighter than the most recent Adidas shoe, the D’Artagnan IV.
Adidas D’Artagnan IV
Adidas newest fencing shoe, launched in 2010, the D’Artagnan IV shoe looks like a bit of a Frankenstein. The back half is white and the forefoot is black. The inside edge of the shoe features the traditional leather layer (as opposed to the synthetic materials used by Nike) and Adidas has really worked on the weight of the shoe. This has been very popular, mainly due to the $115 – $125 price point in the market.
They’re not the most durable shoe, but it’s an Adidas shoe so there’s a lot of fencing knowledge there. They took their lumps from the D’Art 3 and delivered a much better shoe with the 4. (The D’Artagnan III was really a re-badged tennis shoe and did not hold up very well for fencers.)
Scimitar Fencing Shoe from Hi-Tec/Leon Paul
The Scimitar is the second shoe produced from the joint venture between Hi-Tec and Leon Paul. Hi-Tec is known for their indoor court shoes, and given the similarities in sports (see the section on non-fencing shoes below), the design team at Hi-Tec made a good fit for Leon Paul in helping to design and manufacture a good fencing shoe.
The Scimitar’s kept going where the Blades left off, adding additional protection against foot drag to the inside edge of the foot, offset laces, lighter weight, and anti-foot stick materials in the inside of the shoe.
The Scimitar runs wide and go for about $160.
The Blades are the first model of fencing shoe from the Leon Paul/Hi-Tec venture. They are more durable than most of the Adidas shoes on the market and accommodate wide feet.
The Blades have a traditional centered lacing and solid upper. They’ll heat up a bit faster than some newer models of fencing shoe. The rubber sole is durable against metal strips, but also has good grip on wood floors. The sole also features a “stability bar” which helps in changing direction when you’re retreating fast and need to stop and go in the other direction.
The first round of these shoes had a harder rubber used in the soles than future models. The softer rubber being used now increases the grip for the Blades, but at the expense of making the shoes wear out a little bit faster. At $120, they’re a good upgrade from the entry level fencing shoes on the market.
Adidas answer to the budget fencing shoe. It’s a basic level fencing shoe and has a nostalgic look for those traditionalists out there. It gets you a brand name fencing shoe without the top-end hit to your wallet. Better uppers but a soft sole. Good if you’re going to be sticking to wood or court strips, but metal strips in use in the US will eat these up. Usually around $99 per pair.
Adidas Asymmetrics: The “holy grail” of fencing shoes.
No article on fencing shoes would be complete without mention of the legendary Adidas Equipment or “Asymmetric” fencing shoes. These were designed specifically for the asymmetric foot dynamics of fencing, with the front foot made with stronger heel strike and increased ankle flexibility but with the rear foot having increased material on the inner edge going up further to deal with excessive foot drag.
The inventory issues in dealing with fencing shoes for “left” and “right” handed models made this a short lived, but very successful shoe.
Budget Fencing Shoes:
These are the entry-level cheap fencing shoes. These are all under $100 and trying to get as close to the $50 price point as they can.
AF Elite II
The AF Elite II is the second round of fencing shoe from Absolute Fencing Gear. The NJ manufacturer offers this shoe all the way down to a size 3 to get into the kid’s market. The shoes run on the narrow / small side, so those with wide feet may need to order a half size up. These are basic, value shoes and will wear out after a season. Those who are hard on shoes or train an intense schedule will eat these up faster than once per season.
BG MVP Shoes
Blue Gauntlet is targeting the beginner and youth market with their MVP line of fencing shoes. There are three models ranging from $54 to $69 in price. We’ve not used them, but reports from the forums are that they hold up okay for a budget shoe. We’ll look for photos and reviews of this shoe at the next few NACs to update this article.
What are the best non-fencing shoes for fencing?
It’s tough when you have to shell out $120 – $175 every 9 months for new shoes. It’s worse when you’re one of those who are notoriously hard on shoes. For that reason, many fencers have turned to their local sporting goods store to find a decent shoe that meets the requirements to fencing and still provides a good value.
There are some types of shoes to look for and some to make sure to avoid.
The most popular shoes to use have been court shoes. These are shoes made for sports like raquetball, squash, and even volleyball. Those sports feature lots of lateral motion and lunging actions.
This means that they will be low to the ground and have cushioning set up for the heel strike (for your front foot) as well as the lateral stability for side to side motion (for your back foot).
Nike Indoor Volleyball Shoe
We had a fencer test this shoe out and she loved it. The gum soles are great for a wood floor fencing club and they held up reasonably well at NACs. The shoe was used for just about a full season of training and competition at the NACs and Junior Olympics before being retired in favor of the Nike Ballestras.
[Nike: Multicourt avaiable via Nike.com for about $55.]
Asics Gel Rocket
The Asics make a decent shoe if you’re on a budget. The Asics have been reported to work out fine as a fencing shoe, but their durability is suspect on rough metal strips. Older models have actually had the gel come out of the sole after extremely intense use on metal strips! They’re reported to be a bit heavier than other shoes in their class.
Adidas Stabil series
The Stabil has received the rave reviews from fencers on the forums, but the entire series has been pretty well received. These are a staple in the epee fencing community. The wide foot base and thin sole (relative to other court shoes) allow for a good “feeling” of the strip and fast direction changes.
Typical review quote (for the Stabil Vs): “These shoes, in one word, rock. I will never again use a traditional fencing shoe. Good cushion, etc, and they’ve suffered 1 year of heavy usage on “cheesegrater” aluminum strips without complaint. I replace the insoles about every 6 months, but other than that, no upkeep. I love these things”
You can purchase the Stabil online via Amazon or at Sports Authority.
Yonex Badminton shoes
(Power Cushion SHB-101 LX model) – well-cushioned for those explosive moves. They have grippy soles. They have great lateral support and sufficient toe protection. They’re reported to be a pretty good shoe if you can find them.
Shoes to Avoid:
Any “fencing” shoe made by a major fashion designer.
There are “fencing” shoes out there by some major designers. When you take a look at them, they resemble fencing shoes and that’s because they are fashion (read: walking about town) shoes that were inspired by the sport of fencing.
There is absolutely nothing in the shoe designed to hold up to athletic performance or usage. Wear them out on the town, but take them off in the fencing club.
Some misguided souls take a look at wrestling shoes and say “hey, that’s *really* low to the ground, I’ll really feel the strip in those” and they get them. A couple of weeks later they’re complaining about foot, knee, and lower back pain.
Wrestling shoes are made to be used when competing on a 2 inch thick mat. Nothing about that says “durability on a strip” or “heel cushioning for a lunge.” Avoid wrestling shoes at all cost. If you see someone at your fencing club suited up to fence and wearing wrestling shoes, put them in a 3/4 nelson, pin them to the floor, and make them go put on something suitable.
Other things to get:
Once you have your fencing shoes, you may need to go ahead and get a few upgrades. Things that we’ve found useful over the years:
Hard heel cup. The hard heel cup is a hard plastic heel insert. Use these for your front foot. What the hard heel cup does is keeps your heel from flattening out during the lunge, allowing your heel’s fat pad to do more work in cushioning the blow of the lunge. The Nike shoes have a hard heel cup integrated into the design, but if you have a tendency to get a bruised heel, go ahead and get one. They’re about $5.00 from most fencing equipment retailers.
Avoid the soft gel heel cups. They raise the height of your heel in the shoe, plus the grip on your sock, which means you’re a lot more likely to put holes in your socks while fencing.
Cushion insoles. On lower end shoes like the AF and Blue Gauntlet house brands, spending another $15 to $20 on cushion insole will make you feel a lot better towards the end of the day during your fencing tournaments. Check out the SoftSol inserts and get the one that has a good heel strike and protection for the ball of the foot. They make several models matching up with different foot-impact styles.The Comprehensive Guide to Fencing Shoes by Craig Harkins