There have,been European made 350N kit from the major brands outside the US, but the cost was always 2-3 times higher than the non-350N kit from many US brands. With no USFA mandate requiring it, US vendors have had little incentive to go through the cost of making sure their budget gear met European CEN 1/350N standards. In my opinion, this leaves newer fencers who are less educated about their gear choices in a somewhat precarious situation.
I have long been an advocate of a minimum 350 Newton standard for competitive gear in the US. All too many beginning fencers think that a jacket is a jacket and that they all offer about the same level of protection. The US has been mercifully free of serious fencing related injuries, but I subscribe to a “better to have it and not need it” policy.
With this in mind, a few years ago I rounded up a selection of jackets from all the major brands in the US, some of which claimed to be 350N, and sent them off for testing. I expected most of them to be at or at least very close to the mark. In fact, only one brand exceeded the 350N mark, with most falling in the 200-300 Newton range.
Leon Paul, now the official supplier of fencing apparel to the USFA, has broken through the price barrier for 350 Newton gear in the US market with their new line of USFA branded items. These items exceed the European mandated CEN 1 350N standard and still manage to be comparable in price to other kit offered in the US.
I had the chance to put the new Leon Paul USFA jacket through its paces in the hands of several competitive fencers of different weapons over the past couple of months. Their feedback was very favorable and in a couple of cases the fencers did not want to go back to their jackets, trying to talk me into selling them the sample!
The most impressive and noticeable aspect of the jacket is its very light weight. The material is very thin and breathable. It is the lightest weight jacket I can recall ever having seen. This leads to the jacket being very comfortable and easy to wear. It also means that it dries very quickly between uses.
The material, despite its very light weight, rates an impressive 470 Newton resistance. The arm of the jacket is double layered and the jacket has an integral reinforced plastron area – meaning that the parts that are hit the most actually exceed the FIE 800N rating!
In addition, the jacket features offset seams sometimes found in other high end jackets. The stitching on the jacket is very well done being double stitched on every seam using athletic material grade thread. The zipper is a heavy duty sport zipper for long life and the Velcro fastenings are large and high quality. It also features an integral blade trap around the neck for added safety.
I have put the jacket through several wash cycles now and it comes out looking shiny and new every time. After several months of hard use it is still bright white (it has proven to be very stain resistant), no frayed areas, and no pilling.
The only downside is that the jacket does not have stretch panels. For most fencers, this probably will not be much of an issue. The tailoring is such that proper sizing will mean a close and proper fit for most people. However, those who prefer the “skin tight” style uniforms may wish to make this purchase in person to make sure they can size the jacket properly.
All in all, I have been very impressed with this jacket. The incredible light weight and breathability, combined with its extra safety overall and the 800+ Newton rating in the double layered areas, make this not only the safest non-FIE jacket I know of for the US market, but the under $80 price make it an excellent deal.
Leon Paul will also be releasing fencing pants, a plastron, a contour fit mask, and a new type of blade specifically for the US market and under their USFA partnered label. More on those to come…
James Faine is the Director and Coach of the Charlottesville Fencing Alliance, Head Coach of the Buford and Grymes Middle School fencing clubs and Vice Chair of the VA Division, USFA. Coach Faine fences competitively in Division 1/Open USFA events and is also a Referee and Armouer.