After a couple of weeks of struggling with gripping my longsword with my lead hand (my sparring glove is a smidge too small), I finally felt like I had the dexterity I wanted. My fingers were mobile and thumb dexterity wasn’t an issue - I could change through grips and guards with little issue. But even with all of that dexterity, my hands felt completely safe. I knew these were going to be my gloves for some time.
I’m talking about the SPES heavies.
Originally with the Armadillos gloves, the plan was to write a journal style review that showcased the pitfalls and joys of using the gloves, culminating in a final review after using the gloves in the Trnava 2018 longsword tournament.
However, after weeks of frustration that culminated in a near-catastrophic failure of the gloves meant that I had to swap them out at the last moment for a 3 week marathon of tournaments. I could not rely on them, both because they never ‘broke in’ as promised, and because from a safety perspective I no longer felt comfortable with my hands in them.
Before getting into the review, here are my journal entries:
I recommend reading all of them in order to get a full picture of the armadillo gloves. I also want to add that aside from the catastrophic failure, my experience has been mirrored by other people putting out their first impressions of the gloves after receiving their pair.
I purchased the gloves at full price when they opened sales to the public. At the time, it wasn’t clear that this was a ‘public beta,’ of sorts, where they were going to use feedback from the first round of customers to improve the gloves for the full production run.
So, I’m already not excited about the fact that I paid so much for a pair of gloves for the honor of giving feedback. I’ve read a comment here or there from Neyman saying that all of us who got the first pairs will receive an updated pair of gloves with the changes from production.
However, none of us know how long that will be, or what will changes will be coming down the pipeline. For the time being, I need something my hands can trust.
And for the time being, it’s not the Armadillos.
All of the feedback in this review has already been communicated to Neyman, and to their credit they’ve been humble in accepting it, and not at all defensive.
Construction and Materials
Update 1 gives you a lot of detail on the construction, so I’m only going to go into my final thoughts in this review.
The plastic the gloves are made up of held up extremely well. No deformations or cracks in the time I used them, and they held up admirably.
The entire glove is held together via elastic cord. As stated in the updates, this cord is far too tightly stretched, leaving joints and other parts of the glove with absolutely no flexibility.
The fingers, for instance, coil like a tight fist, causing you to fight the construction when trying to get the gloves on. Opening your hands in the glove can be difficult and even tiring during a long practice session.
Neyman has stated repeatedly that the gloves need to be broken in for them to be comfortable. However, I politely disagree - this is a design flaw.
I put weights on the fingers every night to stretch them out. I ‘warmed’ them up before practices, stretching the fingers as much as I could without worrying about breaking the gloves. I wore them around the house, trying to get them to loosen up.
After weeks and weeks of trying, I can confidently say they did not break in one bit. The fingers are just as aggressively tight as they were when I first got them, and nearly every person that has put out a first impression has had the same issue.
‘Easy’ to fix
With gloves this expensive (I paid $300 USD), one of the selling points is that you can fix them on your own. The elastic cord, being that it’s exposed down the length of the fingers, has been a cause for concern for the public. Neyman has stated that it should take mere minutes to replace one of the finger cords, and even supplied cords along with the gloves.
So I decided that if I couldn’t break the gloves in, I’ll replace the cords and give them a touch of ‘slack.’
I’m a hack friendly guy. I don’t shy away from fixing my own gear, and I practically have a little workshop set up in my apartment to improve pieces of kit that I love. Replacing some cord can’t be that hard, right?
After spending well over 8 hours, I replaced the cord on one finger.
I’m baffled as to how they assembled these gloves - I can only assume it was with the aide of a mechanical device. The wholes where the cord run through the fingers are incredibly small, and with a pair of needle nose pliers practically impossible to get 2 sections of cord through. I was fed up.
This is not the ‘minutes’ that Neyman claimed, and if you’re not very good at crafts or hacking things, stop reading this review and go buy another pair of gloves. These are not for you - these are for people highly skilled in fixing equipment.
Neyman stated they would be putting out a video showing how easy it is to replace the elastic cords with detailed instructions. It’s been a few months now, and that video has not materialized, and without any further guidance I can only write this review with my current experience.
Finger attachments are crazy tight as well.
Rather than sewing or hard attaching the plates to the underglove, Neyman is thankfully attempting to make it easy to replace the underglove whenever you want.
That’s the theory. at least.
To make the underglove easily modded, they use a more shoelace type of elastic strap in places on the finger to hug the plates to the underglove. However, despite the good intentions, this is also a major design flaw.
First, the elastics are (again) far too small, making them extremely tight to the fingers. And because the underglove isn’t attached to them in any way, you aren’t just fighting the fist the fingers are trying to curl into, but the underglove being caught on the elastics and trying to weave your fingers into them.
This problem is compounded by the fact that the elastics aren’t placed at the joints of the fingers, but instead on the individual phalanx bones. So, rather than “giving’ at the joint, you’re muscling through them at the bone.
They’re not enjoyable in any sense to put on. And even once you DO have them on, the extreme tightness can make your hands numb in a couple of minutes. I was always left feeling like I was losing a bit of circulation. Maybe you’re into that sort of things, but I’m not.
What’s the point of giving measurements if the thumb is stock?
Neyman requested measurements of our hands in order to have the gloves made. I have enough experience with custom gear in HEMA to know that it’s a mixed bag, and there’s a great chance that you won’t be happy with the end result.
But even with tempering my expectations, the thumb was wildly off from my measurements. I couldn’t even get my thumb to meet the first thumb strap, let alone the final one, which meant my thumb was constantly slipping out (even more so than what they do notoriously with sparring gloves). They recommended hot gluing it, but that only worked for so long.
I was baffled, until I realized that they made the gloves to fit the stock underglove, rather than my hand measurements. Many of the early adopters have had the same issue, especially with smaller hands.
Leaving safety out of it for a second, I did enjoy fencing in these gloves. My fingers didn’t feel separated like they can in other five fingered gloves, they weren’t heavy, and they fit a variety of hilts. They were genuinely fun to fence in.
But fun to fence in doesn’t keep your fingers safe.
The sides of the index fingers, for instance, don’t have any additional plating, even though those fingers are more exposed and is a common place for being struck. The finger tips are a noble design (a tip that wraps around the front of the finger), but because it’s not enclosed your fingers tips can be exposed or even pinched between a strike and the glove.
But the most dangerous part is the grounding design. Rather than extensive padding, the fingers are meant to ground to the hilt of the weapon in order to absorb the impact of a strike. This is a common strategy ,and a good one at that.
The problem is two fold. First, the points of contact are incredibly small. Second, they’re rounded off. Why is this a problem?
Because unless your fingers are situated properly to allow for the grounding to happen, they will slip past the hilt on a strike…and you’ll find yourself with a broken digit.
(This is why smashing a glove on a table is a useless demonstration, and one that needs to never be done again. It’s very easy for grounding to work well on a flat surface. Combat conditions are completely different than a coffee table.)
Now, here’s where I really want to qualify these statements. These appears to be a problem mostly when a single finger is struck, or is out of line with the rest of the fingers. That’s because most likely ONE of your fingers will be grounded, if not too, and they can absorb the force for the others. I also, to date, seem to be the only one who has felt this actually happen, as no other first-impressioners (people who want to give opinions on equipment they haven’t used extensively) have mentioned it.
But I don’t like the concept that the gloves will either protect you, OR break a finger. There’s no way to know what levels of force are good for the glove, since the failure point seems so acute, and I worry it would be even more pronounced for rapier and other gloves where the fingers, depending on the grip, can be even more isolated.
Conclusion - wait for the sequel, and only if they fix it.
These gloves are not ready for prime time. I think there’s a lot of fantastic ideas built into them, and Neyman has poured their heart and soul into making them. They aren’t bad people, and they’re very passionate about making HEMA better.
But this design needs more actual testing, and desperately needs improvements to the design. When I last spoke to them about the issues, I wasn’t left with a lot of confidence that they will be addressed as completely as they need to be.
Five fingered gloves are a bit of a stupid unicorn in HEMA. It’s easy to blame your mitten gloves for you being unable to fence well, but full finger dexterity isn’t as important as thumb dexterity, and unless your practice is rife with constant grip changes…you don’t need five fingered gloves anyways.
Mittens keep you safe. The SPES heavies actually give you quite a bit of finger play in them, and you can feel the hilt in your hands. Same goes for the sparring gloves mitten (not the hoof. Don’t ever buy the hoof). The best part about mittens is that you can rely on them, and that outside of a couple of freak situations, will mostly make sure you can go to work the next day without a broken finger.
The same can’t be said for these. The fact that they’re so difficult to make them comfortable, aren’t good at giving you feedback if you might be sparring in an unsafe condition, and could find yourself fighting the gloves most of all when you’re trying to fix them, I cannot in good faith recommend these gloves at this time.
If Neyman delivers on the promise that the production model will fix some of these issues, and I am able to use them, I will update this review. But I don’t know when that is, and I don’t think it’s fair to the HEMA community for me to recommend them based on something that hasn’t happened yet.
Keep your hands safe. Five fingered gloves are close to becoming a reality, but that reality isn’t today.