PBT's Backzip HEMA Jacket

If you know anything about me, you know I'm a bit of a jacket connoisseur. HEMA has seen some amazing products come out in the past few years, many of them headed in the right direction...and some of them not. 

Most innovation has been around one of two directions: lighter jackets that have more mobility and breathability, and more protective jackets that keep you from the ouchies. But even with that, nobody really has innovated on price. 

PBT, at least in the USA, is a bit of a dark horse - they fly under the radar, with the occasional fencer picking up some of their gear. While I had owned some of their gear in the past, it was when I went to Swordfish and stayed with a friend in Denmark that I first experienced this jacket.

After trying it on, I placed an order almost immediately - I knew I had to review it, because my friend also told me the price point - 120 EUR ($140 USD).

Yes, a sub $200 jacket.

Review Experience / Methodology

PBT was unaware of the review, at least as far as I know - if they suddenly recognized my name (doubtful), they treated me no differently than they have in the past.

The jacket has been my primary jacket now for 5 months and has been worn in 4 tournaments.

Construction & Materials

Most of the materials are taken directly from their line of sport fencing line of coach's jackets - multiple layers of fabric with some thin padding. The fabric layers are stretchy, breathable, and fairly comfy. 

There is additional padding in the upper arms and upper torso, although not much. I'm glad they were strategic in designing the jacket, rather than treating it like protection needed to be equal across the jacket.

Torso Protection

Unlike the coach's jackets, there are strategic augments for protection. The entire torso has pockets going around (even to the back of the jacket) that allow you to put in thin foam inserts. I took out all of mine save for the chest piece, as I wear a padding shirt, and I was really only concerned about thrusts.

Pocket for the torso protection

Pocket for the torso protection

One of my main grips about all the velcro in HEMA is that it easily damages other garments. As you can see in the picture above, the jacket tends to stick to the inner lining. It's not the end of the world, but I find it fairly annoying.

Typically PBT's tailoring is fantastic, but the velcro around the torso pockets began to have its stitching fray a few months ago. I've had the same problem with their knickers, where the hip pad pockets started to have their velcro separate from the garment.  

It hasn't affected performance yet, but if you're looking for this jacket to last you years, there's probably going to be some repair needed here and there.

Sizing

I'm not a small guy - my chest is at 44 inches, and my waist is....well, I need to cut down on the candy at work, ok?

The upper body was a fantastic fit. The waist and torso were fairly large, however, but my amazing tailor who takes on all of my HEMA challenges took it in with ease (this is a good time to note that PBT's garments are the easiest to be tailored that I've seen to date).

If you're an even bigger guy who struggles with finding something to fit you, this jacket might be for you.

Shoulder Pads!

Shoulder pads, or as I call them, life savers.

Shoulder pads, or as I call them, life savers.

One of the chief reasons why I moved away from the coach's jacket was due to an injury - My parry missed my opponent's blade, and I took the full brunt of his cut right to the shoulder joint. I dropped like a sack of rocks, and it was painful for weeks.

Thankfully, this jacket has viscoelastic shoulder pads. They're small enough to not get in the way, but they still cover the joint very nicely. Last week in a tournament, someone struck me in the joint again, except this time I laughed. It did it's job marvelously.

The pocketz for the padz.

The pocketz for the padz.

The pads are placed in a pocket inside the jacket. In many ways I prefer the internal pocket for the shoulder over the external pocket that Gajardoni uses, but it's minor.

The biggest problem with the pocket is that it's completely open - I understand not wanting to use velcro, but even an overlap or lip to secure the pad in place would have been helpful. I've never had a problem during a fight, but they're constantly falling out. I've almost lost one more than once.

This motherfucking zipper, though.

I am barely pulling on this zipper, and you can see how easily it comes undone.

I am barely pulling on this zipper, and you can see how easily it comes undone.

Look, backzips are not the end of the world, and they have some pretty good advantages. All of them come with a lanyard to make it easy for you to zip up on your own. You should not disregard a jacket because it's a backzip.

You should disregard it because of the cheap fucking zipper.

I kid! Don't disregard this jacket.

(But seriously, fuck this zipper.)

The zipper is loose, requiring little to not friction to come undone. What this means is that you'll start a fight, and by the end the jacket will have opened up. My fencing buddies are constantly helping me re-zip the jacket, and I've been embarrassed at tournaments when they've stopped the action because I look like I can't dress myself.

One option is to replace the zipper, but that costs money and time to have a tailor do it for you. The other is to sandwich the lanyard in the top velcro after you've zipped up the jacket. This tends to do the trick, but it's annoying.

Performance

This jacket is comfortable to fence in. It moves how you want to move, and I've never felt like I'm fighting against the fabric. There's zero break-in period - it's ready to go the moment you get it.

I can cross my arms!

I can cross my arms!

Crossed arm actions never feel bound up. As you can see from the picture above, the shoulder pads don't interfere, and the jacket doesn't rise much with your hands in the air. 

Heat Dissipation

This jacket does a better job of shedding heat than the SPES AP, but not as well as the Gajardoni or Destroyer Modz Silverback.  

One of the things I like about a backzip is that your coach can let in some air if you're waiting for the judges to make a call. However, with the zipper on this being so challenging to keep up, I don't think I would bother.

Customer Service

PBT has always been fantastic. They answer questions fast and accurately. Everything that I've ordered from them typically ships within days, and I almost always have it two days after that. In a boutique industry like hours, it's just dreamy to be able to want something, and then have it arrive amazon style.

Is a $140 dollar jacket worth it?

It depends on a couple of factors:

  • If you're looking for the best jacket on the market, this isn't it.
  • If you want a light-weight jacket that you can pair with a padded shirt, this might be it.
  • If you're a bigger person and need some room for the oven, they have you covered.
  • Do you need loaner jackets? Oh man, is this it!

Conclusion

In the United States, PBT is left out of the conversation far too often. They have a long fencing pedigree (My epee whites are all PBT), and know how to make quality equipment.

I wish they'd put a better zipper on, and fix the shoulder pad pocket, but other than that, it's a pretty nice jacket.

Will it be my go-to? No. My Gajardoni is still my favorite, and if I ever switched permanently, it'd be to the DM Silverback. Heat can be crippling in longsword, and it's my biggest concern, even over protection.

But if you're just starting out in HEMA and you're on a budget, or you're a growing club in need of some loaner gear, you might have found what you were looking for.