A Certain Lack of Focus

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stuff It

knickersLast night after fencing I was talking to my brother and he pointed out something about fencing bags. They're STUPID.

The typical fencing bag contains 3-5 weapons (in our case epees) a mask, several body cords, shoes and glove. Most fencers also shove in their uniform, knickers (you may giggle here) and jacket, underarm protector (which is hardly ever used but required for competition) and if you're female, a chest protector on top of everything else. A smart fencer (which I am not in this respect) will also have a fencing tool kit, extra parts (tip screws, tips, springs etc) a granola bar (or five), and Gatorade or a water bottle. I like to throw in a bar of ivory soap because I pretend that it keeps it from smelling to bad (eventually the stench will always win).

bagsYou can get a cheap fencing bag for about $20. These are small with a single main compartment and not really intended to carry anything but weapons, although I've seen people manage to shove in other things. Sometimes they have a side compartment for body cords. Like most bags which are designed specifically for fencing, these bags are cloth or vinyl. The cheap bags have no hard parts, so without weapons inside they can be crumpled up into a ball. They are kind of wedge shaped, and carried over the shoulder so the heavy thicker part, which contains the grip and bell-guard part of the weapon, hangs towards the bottom. Since these can't hold much, they don't put much strain on the back, but that's not much of a consolation since you've got to get another bag to carry the rest of your crap. An alternate cheap design is symmetrical, either tubular or "lumpy." These hold a bit more since you can alternate the direction of the weapons and shove a mask or so in the edges, but they can get heavy and often don't hold up all that well (though I'm here to tell you, my soft lumpy ND bag still doesn't have so much as a hole after eight years).

bagNicer bags have a hard bottom and have wheels on one side. The bag itself is still cloth or vinyl. These start at around a hundred but can get into the three hundreds (or more). Top of the line bags have two long main compartments, three smaller side pockets, and often come with a smaller long bag that straps on top (which is in my humble opinion totally useless) that is intended to be used to carry just a couple weapons around at a time. I got a $150-200 bag in high school. I got it at the end of the season (so I got a good bag for the price) and it was a name brand, so theoretically decent quality, but after only a year it had some decent tears in it. In all fairness, this probably wasn't the maker's fault; when you travel a few times a year with a soft bag that has hard metal objects in it, being handled by well... I don't think it's necessary to go off on bag handlers (that's an entirely different post), it's not that surprising how quickly a bag's gunna show wear and tear. In fact I think the wheeled bags are more likely to show the wear, because they have cloth attached to wood, which is easily strained, as opposed to all cloth, which just moves with the bumps (then the stuff inside gets to show the wear instead). Nonetheless, $200 is a lot to pay for something that's going to have holes in it after a year. The cheaper bags will go even faster. They're also bulkier than the soft ones which gets to be a pain in the ass when you can't use the wheels.

stuffThe biggest problem though is that, while the side pockets are good for all the little crap you carry, the inside compartments aren't really well designed for anything else. You have two compartments, but the only thing that really fits them properly is your weapons (and that's debatable due to the weird shape). The mask gets shoved in, usually with a bell guard or two in the back so it can fit, the shoes are shoved on top, and if the fencer forgets the consequences (rusty blades and rust stripes on the fabric) the uniform and glove are often tossed on top as well. If you remember, the 2nd compartment can be used for the uniform and other sweaty and wet stuff, but it all lumps up awkwardly because it's a long space for not long things. All in all it's an uncomfortable set up, not good for equipment, and frustrating to use.

Again it's not really the fault of the makers, the reason this is so awkward is because the equipment itself is oddly shaped and hard to combine. And unlike in more glamorous sports, we can't just pack it all separately and hire a caddy or bat boy to lug it around for us (nothing is not nearly enough pay to do things like that). Tomorrow (or whenever I get around to it) I'll post what I think the ideal fencing bag would be, along with creative solutions that fencers have come up with to make their bags more functional (or at least cheaper).

*The last image is mine. The others are from gofence.com and linked.

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