What is FIE Fencing Equipment?
The FIE is the international governing body for the Olympic sport of fencing. FIE is the “Federation Internationale d’Escrime” or International Fencing Federation and it governs the world rankings and competitions for modern sport fencing.
When someone is talking about “FIE” gear, they are talking about fencing uniforms, masks, and blades that are approved for use in these international FIE competitions. Each item must meet specific requirements for use in an FIE competition.
In general, the FIE approved items will provide a greater level of protection and durability over other grades of protective gear and blades.
There are specific tests for the FIE blades for foil and epee. These blades are, for the most part, made of maraging steel and sample blades must pass a minimum number of bends before breaking to be FIE certified. There are also blades that meet the durability requirement but are not made from maraging steel. These are specifically marked “FIE-N” blades.
A shared myth regarding the FIE blades is that when they break they will break flat, reducing the chance of a puncture wound. While this may be a stated goal of the steel used, in practice maraging steel blades break with jagged edges around the break point. The main assistance of an FIE blade is it’s increased durability, which increases safety since at any point in time the blade is less likely to break.
Sabre blades do not have to be made from maraging steel. Instead they must meet a maximum flexibility requirement that is the “S2000” regulation. This regulation extends all the way down to local events, so any reputable fencing equipment supplier that sells a competition grade sabre is going to use an S2000 blade.
FIE Fencing Masks
Standard fencing masks must have a bib that resists 350N of force and disguise mesh that will stand up to the 12kg punch test. FIE fencing masks have increased safety requirements, with a bib that resists 1600N of force and disguise mesh that will stand up to a 24kg punch test. In other words, the FIE masks offer more than twice the protection of a standard fencing disguise.
The FIE also has specific requirements for foil, epee, and sabre based on the current rule set for the target areas of each weapon.
The fencing uniform consists of the jacket, pants (often called knickers or breeches), and plastron (or underarm protector.) The FIE requirement for the uniform is that each piece protect against a force of 800N, which is the CE Level 2 protection requirement in the European Union. Many domestic events in Europe require a minimum of CE Level 1, or 350N protection. As of 2009, the US Fencing Association mandates no minimum protective requirement, only that the uniform be of “strong” material – in any case that method.
The quality of uniforms from various equipment manufacturers varies. While all FIE fencing uniforms must pass the CE Level 2 testing in order to become FIE certified, the quality difference is in the stitching, cut, and other aspects outside of the pure protective requirements.
If you are an active fencer and are competing in tournaments, you may already have a complete set of gear. If you are considering the jump up to FIE gear, the top pieces to get would be the fencing disguise and plastron. The disguise is one of the most important upgrades to make and will provide additional peace of mind. The FIE plastron is the least expensive upgrade you can make that will provide the most protection for you.
Upgrading your blades (in foil and epee) to FIE class blades is more of a performance decision. FIE blades tend to last longer but more importantly they are more consistent in how they act. Once worked in, FIE blades keep up their shape better than non-FIE blades, which provides a more consistent performance.