Equipping and Using Armor

How long should armour/costumes take to put on? Also it seems from films, there are so many complaints about such being ill-fit, and taking a long time to wear, movement restricting, too heavy. I get it’s filming but we’re expecting the characters are able to freely fight in them and get in and out at ease. In other words, what we see is too impractical and unrealistic in reality. So what is actually realistic and something you could really see working?

So, there’s a huge difference between armor and costumes. There’s also a wild difference in the amount of time (for either) based on what you’re talking about.

Something like a gambeson or breastplate could be put on fairly quickly. Somewhat similar to putting on any other article of clothing (though, admittedly, the breastplate may be a poor example here depending on the design.)

On the other end of the spectrum, something like full plate would require a second person to strap the wearer in, though I’m not sure on exactly how much time it would take. A modern reenactor can get into plate in ~10 minutes, though that number will vary based on the armor in use, and it’s likely that a professional combatant in the era could have easily shaved a few minutes off that time. So, it’s not an incredibly drawn out process, but it is still something you’d need to do before combat began.

As he demonstrates, getting out of your armor is considerably easier than getting into it, but there are still going to be buckles in hard to reach places that will require assistance. His estimate of it taking about a third as long to get out, is probably a pretty sound guess.

Too heavy is a very subjective criticism; it is entirely dependent on the wearer’s conditioning. Historical armor weights vary wildly depending on the style, and material. The video example above weighs just under 60lbs, which is slightly lighter surviving historical examples from the 14th century.

Ironically, soldiers today tend to have heavier carry loads than someone armored in full plate with their kit.

The reality was that fully articulated armor offered the wearer a lot of mobility, and combined that with protection. While it is, “heavy armor,” that is weight that a professional combatant could condition themselves to, and wouldn’t really interfere with their ability to move and fight. If you have armor that seriously impairs your ability to move, that’s just going to get you killed.

Ironically, the bigger issue wasn’t the weight of the armor, it was the way the armor could trap heat, and exhaust a combatant who didn’t have the conditioning for it.

This is where you’ll get into a specific problem that’s basically impossible to lock down because it’s going to depend on the individual. If you’re putting actors in period appropriate reproduction armor, they might find that very uncomfortable, and may not have the condition (or the desire to build up the conditioning) to be effective in it. They’re not going to need to actually fight in the armor. Additionally, it’s entirely possible that the costume designers created armor that isn’t really functional. This is a weird edge case, because at that point you do have a costume, not armor, and it doesn’t matter if it would be impossible to actually fight in armor designed to those specifications, because the actors are going to do what the script tells them to.

There’s actually a lot of examples of downright terrible armor designs in films, that would be more dangerous to the wearer. Any armor with, “boob plate,” come to mind off hand, but that’s an entirely different topic.

Now, having just dunked on that, there are a lot of films, and TV where the production team takes the time to make functional armor designs, or use historically accurate(-ish) reproductions. (Sometimes you’ll see some anachronisms. Post-gunpowder armor designs in a pre-gunpowder setting is a very common example.) The considerations of filming work better if your actors can move and interact with their environment. If they’re comfortable and mobile, then that’s not problem for the production.

One of the biggest examples of armor that simply doesn’t work which you’ll see frequently in pop culture, isn’t heavy at all, it’s leather. While leather was used as a component of armor (such as the straps in the example above), nobody was making armor out of leather. The image of a stealthy knife fighter in bondage gear has the same historical authenticity as Leonidas’s leather speedo crew. Which is to say: None.

Leather was used in clothing (just like it is today), and if you’re looking at a character like Aragorn (and, I mean, specifically Aragorn, as in the creepy murder hobo wandering around in the forest), then leather clothing makes a lot of sense. But that’s not armor.

When it comes to armor weight, most of it is going to come from the chain. Chainmail is excellent protection. It has its weaknesses, but it’s a very solid starting point. Padded armor gets a bad reputation in modern pop culture, but was also shockingly effective. It’s easy to forget, but that was armor, and it did work. Plate was an effective outer shell, protecting your chain from the worst of the abuse you’d take.

So, in asking, “what works?” Historical armor worked. It worked very well. Even things like full plate (when they’re based on historical examples) were things you could actually move and fight in. Now, you needed training, you needed the conditioning to effectively function in that armor, but real people did that.

-Starke

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