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350N and 1600N mask certification

When it comes to practicing fencing or Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), choosing the right equipment is crucial for ensuring both safety and performance. Among the essential pieces of this equipment, the fencing mask holds a special place. That's why it's important to understand the differences between 350N and 1600N fencing masks, in order to make an informed choice based on your specific needs.

1. What Does the Newton Level Mean?

Before delving into the specifics of 350N and 1600N masks, let's understand what the "N" in these designations means. The "N" refers to the level of Newton, a unit of measurement that assesses fabric resistance against penetration. The higher the number of Newtons, the more resistant the fabric is to penetration.

In this context, fencing masks are generally classified into two main categories according to the European standard EN 13567, which sets the requirements for fencing equipment:

  • a 350N mask corresponds to level 1 (CEN level 1)
  • a 1600N mask aligns with level 2 (CEN level 2)

Isaac Newton

2. Does This Apply to the Mask's Mesh or Bib?

It's important to dispel a widespread but incorrect idea:

The resistance index mentioned, whether 350N or 1600N, refers exclusively to the mask's bib and not to the mesh.

The bib, which is made of fabric to allow good neck mobility, is inherently less resistant than a steel mesh. That's why the resistance to penetration of the bib is a crucial safety criterion.

As for the mask's mesh, the Newton index does not apply in the same way because the main risk is not penetration but rather deformation under impact. The mesh is designed to absorb shocks and prevent injuries by stopping weapons from going through or causing direct damage to the face. The standards and tests applied to the mesh aim to ensure its strength and ability to maintain its shape under impact, rather than measuring its resistance to penetration as is the case for the bib.

Fencing mask bib

3. What Resistance is Needed for Practicing HEMA?

For most training and sparring situations in HEMA, a 350N mask is sufficient.

It's essential to understand that these resistance standards for equipment were primarily established for Olympic fencing, where the risk of penetration is heightened by the use of weapons with thin points and the prevalence of thrusting attacks.
Conversely, the weapons used in HEMA are generally blunted, meaning their points are modified to reduce penetration risks: the point can be folded back, or covered with a leather or rubber tip. This significant modification greatly reduces the risk of penetration during training or combat.

Therefore, a fencing mask with a 350N resistance offers sufficient protection for practicing HEMA, taking into account the nature of the weapons used, of course.

Some competitions require a 1600N mask to participate

However, it's important to consider that some HEMA competitions may adopt stricter regulations regarding protection and equipment, and some may require a 1600N mask for participation. This measure aims to ensure the highest level of safety for all competitors, especially in contexts where the intensity and force of the blows may be higher.

If you are considering participating in HEMA competitions, it is therefore wise to consider acquiring a 1600N mask. Opting for equipment that meets the highest standards of protection not only ensures your personal safety but also prevents you from being unable to participate in events that impose more stringent protection criteria.

4. How to Check if My Mask is 350N or 1600N?

Visually, it is difficult to distinguish a 350N mask from a 1600N mask as the bib and fabric may look identical. However, there are several methods to determine the standard of your mask.

For masks from the brand FAITS D'ARMES, for example, a simple way to distinguish the resistance is to check the color of the inner padding: Blue padding indicates a 350N mask, while black padding means a 1600N mask.

This brand-specific feature allows for quick and easy identification.

Certification label on fencig mask

Furthermore, the most reliable method to verify the standard of your mask is to look for the mandatory printed mentions that inform about the mask's certification. These details are generally printed on the metallic strip located at the back of the mask.

  • A mention of "Level 1" means your mask is certified 350N
  • A mention of "Level 2" indicates the mask is certified 1600N, making it suitable for advanced practitioners, competitions

If none of these inscriptions are present on your mask, it may indicate that the mask has not passed the mandatory certification tests. In this case, it is strongly recommended to change your mask for a certified model, to ensure your safety during fencing practice. Always make sure your equipment meets the adequate safety standards for the type of practice you are undertaking.

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