A fencing mask is an essential part of any fencer’s kit, whether you are a competition professional, or have just started at your local club.
A fencing mask helps you stay safe and, when you buy the right mask, that you are ready for competitions.
Read our complete guide to fencing masks below for all you need to know.
Electric & Non-Electric Fencing Masks
It’s important first of all to distinguish between electric and non-electric (dry) fencing masks. Electric masks are necessary for foil and sabre, as they allow a valid touch to be registered on scoring equipment.
As the whole body is a target in Epee, a non-electric fencing mask is used for competition epee fencing.
At your local fencing club, a lot of the communal masks are likely to be non-electric masks or epee masks, regardless of your weapon of choice, as they are used for teaching purposes outside of electric fencing.
Below we discuss the key differences between electric fencing masks.
Types of Fencing Masks
There are 3 main types of fencing masks - foil, epee and sabre. This means you need to make sure you choose a mask that corresponds to the sword you fence with. For more information, see our guide to fencing swords.
All fencing masks will look broadly the same, so it’s important to make sure you pay attention to the details if you are going to choose the right mask.
As the target area in foil includes the torso, groin area and the lower bib of the mask, a foil mask will typically have a lower bib area that is made of conductive material.
This is so when you are fencing, a hit on your bib will register with the electronic equipment used for scoring. If you wrongly used a mask with a non-lame bib, this would register as an off-target touch.
When fencing electric foil, in order for the mask to be connected to the electrical apparatus to register a point, you must connect the mask bib to your lame using a mask wire.
In epee, the target area is the entire body and there is no need to distinguish between valid and invalid touches on the body.
This also means that an epee mask could also be referred to as a ‘standard’ non-electric fencing mask.
With foil and sabre, a conductive lame and mask are worn according to the valid target area to distinguish between valid and invalid touches.
Because epee masks will lack these additional features, they are usually cheaper than their conductive counterparts, and make them particularly attractive for clubs, who buy these for non-electric fencing practice.
In short, if you are fencing epee, you do not need to buy a conductive fencing mask.
A sabre mask is completely conductive, making sure that any touches are registered on the scoring apparatus. This is in line with the target area for sabre, which is the above-the-waist torso, the arms, and the head.
As with foil, the mask will need to be connected to the lame using a mask wire.
Aside from choosing a mask by weapon, coaching masks can be purchased for fencing instructors.
The core difference between coaching masks and masks for fencing students or competing fencers is that they are entirely black, including the bib and padding. This is so the coach can be easily identified in a hall of masked fencers.
This is particularly important for helping students know who the coach is in the event of a health and safety incident, and also helps convey the authority and rank of the coach visually.
As discussed with regard to epee, you may see masks advertised as ‘club masks’. These are another name for non-electric fencing masks used for epee and for fencing practice.
Club masks are usually the most budget-friendly option for clubs looking to buy a series of masks for communal club gear, and may be offered in bulk at a discount to fencing clubs.
Unlike a conventional fencing mask, which has a metal mesh shell, you may also see masks which have a clear, transparent strip that allows the fencer to see clearly.
These are known as visor or lexan masks, which you may see sold online or in older fencing footage.
However, visor masks were banned by the FIE (Fédération Internationale d'Escrime), the international governing body of olympic fencing in the early 2010s due to safety concerns.
When fencing you should always use equipment sold by reputable retailers or approved by the FIE.
See our fencing glossary for more fencing terms like "FIE".
FIE vs Non-FIE Masks - What’s the Difference?
An FIE mask is a mask which has been approved for use in competitions by the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime.
A Non-FIE mask sold by reputable retailers is usually a cheaper mask which, if bearing the CE mark, still meets general safety requirements.
FIE masks are usually more expensive as they conform to a higher safety standard, such as puncture resistance.
Non-FIE masks are normally used by fencers at local clubs, for practice, or if they are new to the sport and don’t want to pay for the higher end FIE equipment.
If you are fencing in competition outside the US, you are required to wear FIE equipment and clothing. If you fence within the US, you should follow the recommendations of the USFA.
You should be wary of fencing equipment that does not bear a safety certification, as you have no guarantees of the protection it can give you.
Fencing Mask Designs & Colours
You may have seen during coverage of the Olympics, at clubs or competitions that many fencers choose colours or designs other than the standard black mesh fencing mask.
As long as it is an FIE-approved mask design, it can be worn in competition.
As masks are painted on the outside, a design shouldn’t impact your vision when compared to a standard black mesh mask.
How Much Do Fencing Masks Cost?
Fencing masks generally cost between £60 and £300.
The price depends on a range of factors including:
- FIE or non-FIE
- Electric or non-electric
- Club mask or individual use
- Foil, Epee or Sabre
- Quality of materials
- Padding options
- Detachable materials
- Puncture resistance (N)
What’s important is that you choose the mask that makes sense for you. Fencing equipment can be expensive. If you are new to the sport, it may make sense to use club masks initially while you learn. After a while you may want to buy your own for comfort and if you are regularly fencing electric, and then move up to FIE if you are fencing competitively.
How Do You Clean & Care for a Fencing Mask?
Anyone who has used a club mask regularly will know that having a clean mask is essential for an enjoyable fencing experience!
You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your own mask, but a common way to wash a mask is by hand in the sink.
Simply submerge your mask in warm, soapy water and wipe the mask gently to remove dirt and leave to air dry.
Many masks now have detachable bibs and padding, making it easier to clean the softer fabric of the mask.
You should clean your mask once a month if used regularly, or whenever you notice your mask getting dirty.
Now you know fencing mask basics, take a look at our beginner fencing tips for more fencing advice.
Is It Easy to See Through A Fencing Mask?
Yes, as the mask is close to your face, your eyes should naturally adjust to see beyond and filter out the mesh material.
It may take some getting used to initially, and your vision won’t be the same as if it were unobstructed, but it should be clear enough to fence comfortably.
Can You Fence Without a Mask?
No, fencing without a mask is dangerous and can result in serious injury or death.
Are Fencing Masks Heavy?
Fencing masks can feel heavy initially, but you soon get used to the weight. It is important to get a mask that fits you well, to ensure you are as comfortable as possible when you fence.
As fencing technology progresses, it is likely that masks will weigh less over time.
What Size Fencing Mask Do I Need?
Many equipment suppliers online will provide measurements for each size of fencing mask, and even instructions on how to take a measurement accurately.
If you don’t feel confident taking a measurement or choosing a size online, getting a second or third opinion is always helpful. If you are still concerned, it may be worth taking a trip to a fencing shop in person, where staff will be happy to help and advise you.
Can You Fence With a Dented Mask?
While you can technically fence with a dented mask, it will likely not be permitted in competition and is likely to be a safety risk.
If a mask is weak or dented, it should be replaced. A dent, even if hammered out or minor, could cause a permanent weakening in the material.
For more information on safety policies, see the British Fencing website.
I’ve Broken My Mask - Can You Buy Mask Parts?
Yes, almost all parts of a mask, including padding, bibs, shells, straps and wires can be bought in isolation from fencing equipment suppliers. It is always best to buy parts from the same supplier you bought your original mask from.
You may also be able to send in your mask for repair if you are unsure of how to repair your mask yourself.
Do Fencing Masks Stop You From Getting Hurt?
Fencing masks bought from reputable suppliers are strength and safety tested to ensure they protect the fencer’s head, face and neck during normal use.
It is still possible to get hurt wearing a fencing mask, and a sword striking or touching the mask can be quite jarring for new fencers. It should however hurt minimally if both fencers are obeying the rules and using the appropriate equipment.
Can You Wear Glasses with a Fencing Mask?
Yes, you can. Many fencers wear glasses while fencing, however you may also choose to wear contact lenses if wearing a mask and glasses combination is uncomfortable or bothersome.
Sports retailers also stock straps and sports glasses which may be an option if you are finding your normal glasses are too loose.
Take a look at our blog on wearing glasses while fencing for our tips for glasses-wearers.
Can You Wear a Fencing Mask for Other Sword Sports?
No, if you are participating in HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) or Kendo, for example, you should use masks and protective equipment that is designed for the sport or martial art.
This also applies vice versa, as, for example, the mesh wire on a kendo mask has larger gaps, meaning it would be dangerous to wear while fencing.
Can You Buy a Second Hand Mask?
Yes, it’s perfectly fine to buy a pre-owned fencing mask. The most important thing is that it is in good condition suitable for fencing. .
Do I Need A Mask Wire?
If you fence electric foil or sabre - yes. This is so you can connect the conductive bib (foil) or mask (sabre) to your lame so valid touches will register on scoring equipment.
Guide to Fencing Swords
Learn more about different fencing sword types and their differences.
Guide to Fencing Plastrons
Find out more about plastrons with our in-depth guide.
Guide to Fencing Jackets
Learn more about fencing jackets with our guide for fencing beginners.
Guide to Fencing Breeches
Learn more about fencing breeches with our guide for fencing beginners.
Guide to Fencing Lamés
Find out more lamés and their use in fencing with our starter guide.