Absolute Force haven’t been on the forefront of our community for a while. But their products are below the standard price point and most of them are fairly functional. Are the savings worth it? Lets find out.
I purchased the Absolute Force ‘Black HEMA pants w/Extra Protection’ (hereafter known as ‘AP Knickers’) over a year ago from a 3rd party vendor without AF’s knowledge and paid full price ($50 before shipping). I have worn them several times a week continuously since then, and through six multi-day tournaments. I have also consulted the opinions of various acquaintances and friends who own them and train with them.
Construction & Materials
The AF Knickers are constructed from a thick, canvas like material which has no stretch to it. They have built in elastic strap ‘suspenders’, elastic cuffs, and a single back pocket on the left side. They have a zipper along the crotch and close at the top with a large velcro patch. The ‘extra protection’ comes in the form of rectangular internal pockets roughly 5” by 10” going from the hip to upper thigh on the sides of the leg, which comes with removable, 3/4in thick closed cell impact foam. To be clear, this is the only protection that comes with them. Other then that they are simply a thick, durable cloth.
The construction is mostly solid. The stitching along the major stress points remain unbroken after long use, there are no loose threads and no holes are developing in the fabric itself. However, within the first week of owning them the rear pocket’s seam did tear on one side. I sewed it up myself and have not had a problem with it since. Light fading has appeared, largely where the bottom of my jacket rubs against the waist. Over time the velcro fastening has degraded. Part of this has to do with sizing problems (more on that below), but part of it is simply the nature of velcro, which loses its efficacy after a while.
My experience with the AF Knickers have been mixed. The biggest problem has been sizing. After consulting the sizing chart on the AF website I ordered the medium and found them to be just barely too small to be truly comfortable. I contacted my vendor who send me the larges as well and I found them to be much to big for me. I decided to try and make do with the mediums which felt comfortable and functional around the leg but were too tight around the stomach.
By removing the padding to produce a little more room in the waist, I found that I had three less than perfect options: fasten the velcro tightly which constricted my stomach and effected my breathing, fasten the velcro loosely which gave me a little more room and comfort but kept the zipper from closing completely and was prone to let go entirely, or simply leave the velcro undone entirely, relying on the suspenders to keep them up. In reality though, both the first two options would generally collapse into the third as the velcro would release whenever I bent over at the waist.
I have more or less made due. The suspenders keep the knickers up fine and once my fencing jacket is on no one can see whether or not they are actually fastened around the waist. The fit on the leg is unrestrictive and despite the lack of stretch to the material there is enough space to for my full range of motion. But I have found myself rather embarrassed by the fact that whenever my jacket is off I am walking around with my pants hanging open.
Finally, a note on the hip and thigh ‘extra protection’: I removed mine very early on to make more room in the waist but when I wore them I found them to be slightly restrictive. Because they are long, going from hip to upper thigh, they are called to bend a little with the leg as you ‘sit down’. The foam bent with me, but its presence was noticeable. I might have left them in if the sizing allowed me as I wasn’t too troubled by it but those particularly sensitive to that presence may not like them. Once the pads are removed however, you would never know the pockets were there.
I ordered my Knickers from a 3rd party vendor but before I did I called Absolute Force to ask about their sizing. The gentleman I talked to on the phone was brusque and his answers were confident but ultimately unhelpful. He suggested going a size up from one’s normal sizing, a suggestion that would seem to make sense considering the tightness of my mediums on me, but the larges were unusably big on me so I had to discarded his advice.
This sizing problem appears to be more than just an issue of my compatibility with their product. Many other product owners that I have talked to have suggested that the sizing of the AF Knickers seems inconsistent, that the sizing chart seems to be a rough suggestion at best. However, for people able to find a pair that fits them properly, it is an adequate, functional product that has lasted well. Finally, it should be noted that at $50, they are half the price of many of the other options out there, including the SPES and PBT knickers. With this in mind I would recommend the the AF Knickers if you’re looking to gamble a bit in return for saving some money or if there is an rock solid return policy.