Travelling Light – Armour for wayfaring combat archers

By The Honourable Lady Angele Marie de Savigny (Kerry McSaveney)

July 2014 (updated Jan 2018)

Greetings,

My name is Angele Marie de Savigny.  I am a member of the Lochac Company of Archers, primarily for being a combat archer, as I have a fondness for shooting moving targets more than static ones.  You will usually find me on the war fields and at the archery butts of Canterbury Faire, Rowany Festival, and Great Northern War.

I reside in the Shire of Darton, in the Crescent Isles (Wellington, New Zealand), so the tyranny of distance and geography means that I am often forced to travel by air, and I hold the purse strings tight enough to not want to pay for extra baggage.  But with the support of others, I can go to Rowany Festival for a week with 23kg of luggage and 7kg of carry on, a coat and my handbag. This includes my bow, quiver and armour, as well as my clothes – the advantage of travelling as a light combatant is that the armour can be incredibly light when you take it right back to the minimum required standards.

So how light is light and how minimal is minimum?

All of my armour and combat archery equipment (not counting arrows) weighs in somewhere around 13kg, and half of that is my helmet!

Fighting as a light (plumed) combatant means that you are not engaging in melee combat – meaning that no one should be striking you with anything other than missile weapons, so you can get away with wearing the absolute minimum armour required by the Society, or maybe more if you feel it necessary for your safety and comfort.

Personally, I wouldn’t fight heavy in what I consider to be my light armour as I wouldn’t feel well enough protected for heavy combat.  But I feel that my light armour is sufficient for the level of risk that I face as a light combatant – the worst injuries I am likely to receive are actually going to be from tripping over something while retreating from an incoming heavy.

I’ll run you through what you’d need and how I’ve gone about it.

Equipment

Bow

You will need a recurve bow or longbow with a draw weight that doesn’t exceed 30 pounds at 28 inches of draw.  I have a 30lb take-down fibreglass and wood recurve bow that neatly fits the length of my suitcase.  It wasn’t very expensive, and I wouldn’t risk a pricey bow– bows often get shot, bumped, and tripped over on the war field. Save your nice period bow for the archery range.

Quiver

I know many combat archers who use rigid quivers at war to prevent having to reinspect arrows if your quiver gets shot, but I just go with a floppy leather quiver and take my chances. I’m still using the quiver I made at my first Rowany Festival.  You could probably borrow one if you are travelling. I use the belt with my other clothing, so no extra weight there.

Arrows

I borrow arrows because firstly, they’re too long to fit in my suitcase, and secondly, because I need the space and weight allowance to have clothes to wear.  Ask on one of the archers mailings lists – people are generally quite willing to loan you arrows. There may be a rental charge (beer!) or you could fight for your patrons, and you should offer to pay for any losses or breakages.   Don’t forget to collect as many of recyclable bits as possible from your broken arrows, and return them to the person you borrowed them from.  It helps keep the cost of replacements down.

Armour

So what’s the minimum you can get away with?  It’s pretty darn minimal!  This is just a bit of a summary, complete current armour specifications can be found in the Combat Handbook.

Areas of the body which must be armoured are:

  • The head and neck, including the face, throat, and the cervical and first thoracic vertebrae.
  • The kidneys and floating ribs.
  • The elbow joints.
  • The hands and wrists.
  • The groin.
  • The knee joints.

armour requirements

Helmet

Mine is a 2mm steel bascinet, and has a detachable visor with permanently attached mesh over a bar grill. I have a plain bar grill for heavy fighting, and a full-face visor for steel fighting.  The helm has a padded suspension harness. It’s the heaviest part of my armour at 6.8kg – much of that is the weight of the aventail, which I could remove – but I like the look and the extra protection.

Finding a good helmet is likely to be the biggest expense in armouring up.

The helmet travels in a small backpack as my piece of carry-on luggage – everything else I’d want in-flight goes in my handbag.  Warn the security folks as to what it is BEFORE it goes into the x-ray machine.  Have the bag open for the helmet to be visible.  Often they want a look, mostly because it’s cool, not any significant concerns.  Make sure the bag is less than 7kg so you don’t give them any excuses.

Your helmet needs to be made of 1.6mm steel at a minimum, padded with 12.7mm (1/2 inch) of resilient material, or a suspension harness.  It needs a bar grill, mesh, and a plume.

helm and plumeplume componentsplume attachment

Plumes

Helms worn by plumed participants must have a plume of a high-visibility colour extending at least 30cm vertically above the highest point of the helm. Plumes must have sufficient bulk through its entire height to be easily visible from all angles. Sticks, arrows, or other tall but thin objects are not acceptable.

The plume must be able to flex and return to its original position if struck or bent without becoming detached from the helm.  Mine starts with a gate spring to provide the necessary flex.

Plumes must be securely attached to the rear or top of the helm in such a way that there is minimal chance they will become detached in combat.  I just use duct tape since I don’t want to permanently alter my helm. The flex  of the spring means it doesn’t get peeled off if knocked.

The plume is one of the items I used to borrow, because biosecurity officials don’t like feathers so much, and the feathers can get a bit grubby after a weekend of war.  I’ve now got one stashed with friends on the mainland, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore, but always declare it if you are transporting one between countries.  I have a supply of plumes to loan archers coming to Canterbury Faire, so you can avoid the same hassles – just let me know if I have to pack an extra one.

Gorget

During typical combat situations including turning the head, lifting the chin etc, the neck, including the larynx, cervical vertebrae, and first thoracic vertebra must be covered by one or a combination of:

  • The helm; or
  • A gorget of rigid material padded with a minimum of 6mm of resilient material; or
  • A mail or heavy leather camail or aventail that hangs or drapes to absorb the force of a blow. If the camail or aventail lies against the larynx, cervical vertebrae, or first thoracic vertebra or can be pushed into contact with those areas by a blow from a weapon, that section must be padded with a minimum of 6mm of resilient material.
  • A collar of heavy leather lined with a minimum of 6mm of resilient material.

I bought a nice leather and closed cell foam gorget off a knight when I started, and now I have a steel one from Winter Tree Crafts (via Duke Gabriel). The aventail is bonus armour, and technically means I don’t need the gorget, but I rather value my throat! The gorget goes in my suitcase, wrapped around my knee and elbow armour.

Groin protection

Combatants with male genitalia must have their groin covered by a minimum of a rigid athletic box (eg. a karate or cricket box), worn in a supporter or fighting garment designed to hold the box in place, or equivalent armour.

Combatants with female genitalia must have their pubic bone area covered by groin protection of closed cell foam or heavy leather or equivalent. Commercially available female groin protection is considered equivalent, eg. female martial arts groin guard.

I have a martial arts groin guard which I covered in black linen, because obvious modern groin protection is just naff.  This goes in the suitcase, often tucked into my quiver.

Body armour

This is where I exceed the Society minimum standards.  I wear a Charles du Blois -style gambeson made of linen on the outer layer, lined with wool moving blanket, and a softer layer on linen on the inside. I wear the same as padded chausses for my legs.  I’ve found I get just as hot fighting in summer as in winter (even in snow!), I just need to drink more water in summer.  I like the extra level of protection the padding offers, and it’s what holds on the rest of my armour.

The sleeves and legs of the padded armour have pockets sewn in to hold my knee and elbow armour so that I don’t have to worry about dealing with straps (which I’ve always found to be the thing that makes armour uncomfortable).  The fit is tight enough that the protection doesn’t move from where it’s supposed to sit, no matter what I’m doing. The kidney and floating ribs area has pockets to hold heavy leather plates and extra padding which cover off the kidney protection requirements.

Your kidney area and floating ribs need to be covered by a minimum of heavy leather worn over 6mm of closed cell foam or equivalent padding.

It is highly recommended, but not required, that those with breasts wear breast protection of rigid material.  If breast protection is worn, separate floating breast cups are prohibited unless they are connected by an interconnecting rigid piece such as a heavy leather or metal breastplate.  I just wear my gambeson without additional breast protection, and yes, it stings when you get shot in the boob. Find a friend to kiss it better!

My favourite thing about my body armour is I can just undo my gambeson and take it off for lunch breaks, and not have to worry about fussing with strapping things back on when it’s time to re-amour.

My gambeson lies flat on the bottom of my suitcase, with my padded chausses lining the edges. Trying to fold them would take up too much space.

Elbow cops

Both elbows, including the point and both sides of the elbow joint must be covered by rigid material underlain by at least 6.35mm (1/4 inch) of resilient material or equivalent padding. This armour shall be attached in such a way that the elbow remains covered during combat.

I have aluminium elbow cops without fans, padded with closed cell foam.  I purchased my current pair for US$30 from www.bokalosarmoury.com, but I hammered my first set out of a sheet of aluminium.  If you are going the route of hiding your knee and elbow armour under clothing, then you could use plastic, or any of the other materials that qualify as rigid.  Certainly doesn’t have to be pretty!

Gauntlets

While operating archery or siege equipment, combat archers and siege engineers may use as a minimum hand protection half gauntlets made of rigid material, lined with 6.35mm (1/4 inch) of resilient material, or equivalent, protecting the outer surfaces of the hand and wrist including the wrist, the back and sides of the hand, and the inner points of the wrist bones.

This is your standard demi-gauntlet that most heavies use. Mine are made of wax-hardened heavy leather, padded with closed cell foam. I made them myself from a pattern I found online. Some people make special gauntlets that offer slightly more protection for an archer’s hands, but I accept the risk of getting shot in the fingers occasionally.

Knee cops

The knee, including the knee cap, the areas 2.54mm (1 inch) above and below the kneecap, and both sides of the knee joint must be covered by rigid material lined with at least 6.35mm (1/4 inch) of resilient material or equivalent. This armour shall be attached in such a way that the knee remains covered during combat.

My knee cops match my elbow cops, from the same armourer (US$34 for the pair).  The elbows and knees actually all nest together for easy packing.  The fit of my chausses and the position of the pockets within them mean that my knee cops never move out of position, and I have no annoying strap digging in behind my knee.

Shoes

All participants must wear sturdy footwear which provides adequate protection and support of the foot and ankle for the terrain and activity of combat.

I have leather boots from an army surplus store.  I always wear my boots on the plane because of the weight of them. You can take them off and swap for something comfier once you get to your destination.

Rigid material

Here’s a bit of a summary of some of the things you could use for the rigid bits of armour.

  • Steel of no less than 1.2mm (18 gauge), or aluminium of no less than 1.9mm (1/16 inch), or
  • Other metals or high-impact-resistant plastics such as ABS or polyethylene of sufficient thickness to be equivalent, or
  • Heavy leather (stiff, oak-tanned leather nominally 4.4mm (11/64 inch, or 11oz) thick) that has been treated in such a manner as to permanently harden the leather, or
  • Two layers of untreated heavy leather.

The ensemble:

the ensemblePhoto by Karen Geerdink-Hocking, Rowany Festival 2012  (I need to update this photo for my new gambeson)

Demi-gauntlet, and knees and elbows nested together and tucked into gorget.

knees in elbows