I have been using a SPES “Axel Pettersson” jacket (V1.2) myself since the summer of 2015, although many of my friends and colleagues have been using them since around 2012. I have found it to be an excellent jacket for HEMA purposes, having used it for longsword, Scottish broadsword, rapier, smallsword, sabre, and sword and buckler.
This review: motivation and transparency
I bought this jacket for my own use in mid 2015. I have been wearing it regularly since then, and as of 2019, am still wearing it. I want to share my thoughts about a jacket that served me very well for several years.
A couple of years before I bought this jacket for myself, the Academy of Historical Arts online shop had begun distributing these jackets in the UK. Although I could have been influenced by the desire to sell more of the jackets, I only try to stock items in our shop that I’m willing to wear myself for sparring and competition. Our shop doesn’t usually keep these jackets in stock any more due to the fluctuations of currency and supply and demand, although we do sometimes receive requests to order them in.
(Edit: this “motivation” section was added on the 9th of March 2019, as part of an effort to improve the transparency of the various reviews on this website.)
Level of padding
The jacket is well padded across the arms and the torso. The lightest padding is probably on the upper arms, but the forearms are well padded, and the torso is covered very well. The jacket overlaps in front, so that there are two layers of padding over the chest and stomach.
From September 2015, all V2.0 jackets have been certified to have 350 N resistance against penetration, according to the EN 13567:2002 regulation standard.
This does not necessarily mean that they will stop a broken blade, if the thrust is delivered with more than 350 Newtons for force, or if the point of the blade is less than 3 mm square, or if the material has been fatigued and does not have the same integrity that it used to have. It is important to realise that a rating like this for a garment only certifies that the garment has a certain amount of resistance within certain parameters, and does not make it immune to broken blades.
However, that being said, it is excellent that the jacket does have this penetration resistance, and this will of course offer a protection greater than a jacket that does not have this level of rating. The certification offers some guarantee and reliability, meaning that anyone can place their trust in a typical jacket of this type.
Cut and mobility
The cut of the jacket is designed to give mobility in and around the shoulders, allowing the wearer to hold a sword above the head quite comfortably. Holding positions such as overhead Vom Tag and the crossed-wrist Ochs for the longsword, or the hanging guard or St. George’s guard for broadsword or sabre, are not a problem. The jacket barely rides upward from the hips when the hands are raised above the head; it stays in place very well.
The jacket covers the torso down until around the hips at the side, the pelvis at the front, and above the bottom at the rear. My jacket covers my hips, just, because I’m quite short. However, the jacket is not long enough to provide reliable protection over the pelvis and hip area.
Stiffness and breaking in period
This is a very stiff jacket when you start wearing it, and it requires significant breaking in before it begins to fit properly and move with you. Initially, it will feel like you are wearing something solid, but eventually (when you wear it to enough training sessions, force it to move in all the various directions, and sweat into it enough) it will begin to loosen up and will feel more comfortable. It took me about three months of regular use before my jacket became comfortable and useable.
Zips and fastenings
The zips on the old V1.1 jackets were small, weak, and unreliable. The zips on the V1.2 jackets are better, but could still be improved. The zips on the V2.0 jackets seem to be significantly better and more durable.
The zip is located on the front of the jacket, to the left (the non-dominant side). The jacket overlaps to the left, giving some protection to the zip against thrusts or strikes. It is quite easy to put the jacket on or to take it off.
The jacket has a wide enough collar to allow a rigid gorget to fit beneath it. Some people (depending on neck size and the precise configuration of equipment) are even able to slip the bib of their mask beneath the jacket’s collar.
The collar is fitted with a “blade catcher”, a pocket opening downward, that can provide some protection against a blade sliding upward from the torso so that it is caught in this pocket and does not go into the face or throat. The blade catcher has never worked for me, though, but it probably depends on how any piece of equipment fits a given person, how peoples hold themselves and move while fencing, also to some extent luck or bad luck. I think it is good to have this feature on the collar, but it is not correct to rely on it to prevent blades from going up beneath the bib of the mask.
The jacket is warm, due to the padding and the close fit. This is not such a problem in cooler countries such as Scotland, but the further south I travel for events, the more that heat becomes a problem for me when I am using this jacket!
The jacket weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 kg, depending on size. When wet (from washing, or just with sweat), it becomes even heavier. It is not a particularly light jacket.
The jacket looks great. It has a clean and tidy, modern kind of aesthetic, and it offers a professional look. In fact, the look of a fencer in a SPES “Axel Pettersson” jacket has become the dominant aesthetic for most HEMA practitioners in Europe and North America (although there are still many practitioners who prefer different kinds of jackets with a different cut, for disciplines such as smallsword, for example).
The jacket is not cheap, at around £170-£200 depending on size, colour, and customisations. However, there are few jackets cheaper than this that offer the same level of protection, so it is a case of paying for quality. It is a good investment worth making.
The SPES “Axel Pettersson” jacket has become virtually the standard jacket for most HEMA practitioners in Europe and North America, especially for practitioners of longsword, sword and buckler, and similar weapons that rely on cutting and striking techniques. It looks good, it provides excellent protection, and it has the necessary cut and mobility to allow for techniques and positions with the arms above the head.
You cannot go wrong with one of these jackets.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.