SPES Officer's Jacket: At Attention

I’ve had no issues making public comments that wondered about what’s going on at SPES the last couple of years. We haven’t seen many new products, and have seen virtually no improvements of their existing gear (SPES heavy thumb design, I’m looking at you). While I heard that SPES was actually working on research and development, but was just being private about it, there seemed to be no fruits to their labor. Was SPES falling behind some of the other vendors who are trying to tackle HEMA gear problems with passion?

So, when the Officer’s Jacket came onto the market, I plopped money down and waited to see what SPES has been up to.

Review Experience / Methodology

I purchased the jacket at full price from SPES USA. I am personal friends with the person who runs SPES USA, but I received no discounts or special treatment. I was in the queue just like everyone else.

While I’ve used this jacket for single stick, sword and buckler, and rapier, my primary use has been longsword. I’ve used it for a few months now, and wore it at AIMA Roma 2018.

I survived a fight with Sergei Kultaev in it, and if you’ve seen him fight, you know that this jacket went through about as tough of a test as you can make. His technique combined with his power is nothing to scoff at.

Construction & Materials

While SPES has always maintained a reputation for high-quality equipment, the officer’s jacket was shockingly even better than anything else they have produced to date. The seams were flawless and durable, the zipper frustration-free, and the buttons have worked magnificently.

zipper and buttons.png

I thought the combinations of buttons AND a zipper was going to frustrate me, but I’ve come to appreciate them. The buttons are snaps, are easy to button up, and keep the zipper from falling down. They’re also sexy as fuck.

While the exterior of the jacket is a soft material (not the stiff material used in traditional AP jackets), the padding is incredible. It’s a light mesh that’s breathable, protective, and mobile. The material also appears to inhibit smells from accumulating.

While the padding isn’t a SPES breakthrough (many other vendors have either already started to use the material, or are already using it), it’s a welcome addition to SPES products. It’s light years better than the heavy batting used in previous jackets that got heavier when soaked, and smelled like the inside of a teenagers jock strap.

Truth be told, the padding isn’t as protective as the older materials, but thankfully SPES has reinforced key areas of the jacket to provide additional protection - shoulders, forearms, elbows, etc. Mobility isn’t affected in the slightest by the reinforcement.

 It's hard to see, but the jackets have extra padding that provides *just* enough extra protection to make your shoulder joints a little safer.

It's hard to see, but the jackets have extra padding that provides *just* enough extra protection to make your shoulder joints a little safer.

The jacket has attachment points at the elbows for SPES related products, but I actually find this to be something worth griping about. HEMA vendors - can we please come up with a universal mounting system?

These proprietary systems are awful - I’d never use SPES’s forearm guards in a million years, but nothing else on the market attaches to where they placed the fabric rings. I should be able to use any elbows, knees or forearm guards I want with any jacket, and have them just work. If computers and gun manufacturers can do it, then so can you. To be clear, this isn’t SPES’s problem alone - every manufacturer does this.

 The attachment points are only valuable if you want to use something like SPES's forearm guards, which I find to be generally awful.

The attachment points are only valuable if you want to use something like SPES's forearm guards, which I find to be generally awful.

The jacket has an adjustable strap on the back so that way you can keep a slim profile on the jacket. While it might appear to be vanity, having your jacket close to your body is valuable. We wouldn’t want someone scoring points because their thrust landed on some rogue fabric, now would we?

 The backstrap, or how-to-make-yourself-look-20-pounds-lighter

The backstrap, or how-to-make-yourself-look-20-pounds-lighter

Performance

I have really enjoyed sparring in this jacket - I can spar for long periods of time without getting tired or overheated, and I never feel like I’m fighting the equipment. It’s completely retired my former training jacket, the back-zip PBT.

While the jacket lapel overlaps like most hema and fencing jackets, it doesn’t completely overlap the sternum. While I’ve taken (and survived) some pretty nasty thrusts with rolled tipped feders without rubber blunts, I’d probably recommend a chest protector or plastron for higher intensity sparring or tournaments.

One of the downsides of the new interior padding, and this goes for ALL hema vendors using it, is that velcro can absolutely chew it up. It doesn’t appear to lose its effectiveness, but you can see in the pictures the levels of damage. While I try my best to always protect my velcro, that doesn’t always happen.

 The damage hasn't gotten worse after repeated washings or abuse, but you can see how velcro can kind of make a mess of it.

The damage hasn't gotten worse after repeated washings or abuse, but you can see how velcro can kind of make a mess of it.

While the gusset in the armpits is better than some other military fencing style jackets, it’s not quite perfect for longsword - the jacket still rises up a little more than I might like, and since this is cut a little shorter than their AP jacket, will end up exposing your hips a bit more. If you’re going to use this for longsword, I recommend either pants with hip pads (PBT), or a fencing skirt. Having said that, it doesn’t affect mobility, and I never feel encumbered in the shoulder area.

Overall, the jacket doesn’t a pretty good job of soaking up cuts. I strongly recommend forearm protection, but then again, I recommend forearm protection in any jacket if you’re doing longsword. Nerve damage is a real thing, people.

Conclusion

If you use a variety of weapons and want a single jacket, this one is for you. While not the most protective for longsword, for regular club sparring it’s perfectly fine.

SPES is releasing their AP Light soon, which apparently using a load of the design queues from the officer’s jacket, with some extra reinforcement for longsword. If you’re big into longsword competition, I’d recommend waiting and seeing how the AP Light performs, although the officer’s jacket is certainly sexier.

Given how fantastic the officer’s jacket is, I’m really excited to see what SPES does in the coming year. They seem poised to be not just providing staples to the community, but right on the front lines of equipment design. Now, if they can finally fix the fucking heavy gloves thumb….