<span style="font-size:12pt;line-height:100%">Armor Fitting and Strapping 101</span>
OK – After seeing everyone at DragonCon and having the opportunity to march in the parade (and get into and out of my armor a few times fairly quickly) I thought that I might be able to offer some advice. I’m not saying that these are perfect solutions but they work for me and I think that they will work for many of you as well…
Just as a matter of background – I spent years fighting heavy weapons in the SCA (I'm the shiny guy in the pic below). I also helped put myself through school by making medieval armor for full contact combat. There are several other SCAdians on the boards and they can attest to some of the challenges that need to be overcome to be able to function effectively while wearing full armor.
Basically SCA armor needs to be constructed, attached, and strapped in such a way as to permit total freedom of movement. You need to be able to walk, run, dodge, jump, fall, kneel, and fight at full speed almost like your life depends on it. Slow, inflexible, or unwieldy armor just won’t cut it. I think that most of those lessons can be directly applied to what we do here at the 405th.
The greatest looking armor in the world won’t help you in a ‘Con situation if you can’t wear it. Granted not everyone will find himself or herself walking in a parade, but it’s my personal opinion that you should design your armor to be worn and worn comfortably for extended periods of time – how else will you get to meet the ladies (or gentlemen) looking to spend some quality time with a geared out Spartan?
If you have the luxury of making each and every piece of your armor yourself and scaling it to fit you perfectly – Great! However many of us are using frankensuits or at least suits with some “Muckle” based pieces, which may be way too big for you (at least they are for me and I’m not a particularly small guy). Even if you are custom fitting a pep-based suit, many of these suggestions may still apply. Take the time to pre-fit, trim, and size those pieces that can be altered. Some of the biggest offenders:
1. The Thighs – be sure that they have been trimmed down to allow you to walk normally without having them grind into the shin/kneecaps up front. Also be sure that you scallop out the area behind the knee. The scallop should be deep enough to allow you to kneel, sit, and flex your legs without pinching or binding. The in-game models take many anatomical liberties when it comes to how the armor interacts with joints when bending and flexing. Try to find a happy medium between how it looks and how it works.
2. The Codpiece – just a little bit of trimming and rounding can make the difference between being in agony and enjoying yourself. Make sure that the “Cod” end of the Codpiece is shaped to allow some space between the edges and the inside of the thighs. Pinching is no fun at all… [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/icon_eek.gif[/img]
3. The Shins/Greaves – these are one of the harder pieces to adjust, as there is a lot of detail at both the top and bottom that you don’t want to discard. I have short shins and that necessitated some trimming to allow me to kneel. Use the same guidelines as with the thighs – be sure to scallop the rear of the shin deep enough so that it doesn’t interfere with flexing your legs.
4. The Inside – spend some time trimming the interior of any cast pieces. Most of the molded pieces out there are slush-cast which means you may have uneven interior surfaces. Remove any sharp edges, bumps, or protrusions that can rub you the wrong way. A Dremel is a great way to accomplish this – just be careful not to take off too much. You can also use this time to even out the weight of any not-quite-matching pieces. That extra ½ pound of resin in the right boot will make itself known after 3-4 hours of walking around.
Take the time to trim and fit each piece and then start test-fitting them together. Remember – it’s easier to take off a small amount at a time that it is to go back and try to rebuild something. Get everything trimmed and fitted BEFORE you do your final paint. Slow and steady wins the race and every minute you spend double-checking now will save you headache and discomfort later on.
You need to be able to wear your armor comfortably without it flopping all over the place. I don’t have Chief-size forearms or calves so something has to hold those pieces in place. Adhesive back closed-cell foam sheets are easy to find and available in different thicknesses. It can be cut with scissors and is easy to use. Simply pad the interior of the pieces to keep them secure and oriented properly on your body. It can also be used to help cushion your torso/shoulder strapping if you decide to not use a pressure suit.
Padding is what will keep your shins from spinning around and pointing in random directions as you walk around. It will also help keep your forearms from twisting and riding down on your wrists (really painful after a few hours – trust me). Be sure to pad while taking into consideration your final undersuit thickness – what fits great over a pair of jeans or on a bare forearm may be too loose or too tight when you add some UnderArmour or a pressure suit. Add a few sections at a time and keep test fitting until you feel comfortable that the piece is staying where you want it. Padding is no replacement for good strapping but it is the key to keeping everything exactly in place. Make sure that the surface you will be adhering the foam to is smooth and clean, otherwise you may not get a good tight bond.
This is the big one. Anyone who has ever done any backpacking knows that weight distribution is the key to comfort. Trying to hang your entire kit from a couple of pieces of thin web strapping over your shoulders is a recipe for pain and discomfort. Not only will your actual shoulders hurt, your back will bear the brunt of the weight and that pain will linger long after the pinched skin and muscles recover. You waist is where that weight needs to go. Always strap up to the lowest and widest support point available – for example:
Hang your legs so that most of the weight is supported at the waist – not the shoulders.
Hang your torso from your shoulders but hang your shoulder pieces (Pauldrons) across your back and shoulders – not off of the torso piece. This helps to minimize the weight at any one spot.
OK – got the idea? Then moving on…
Use the correct width of strapping material – too thin and it will cut into you and hurt, too thick and it will interfere with your mobility and you won’t be able to adjust it as easily. I like standard 1 ½” heavy-duty web strapping for everything but the belt. Buckles and fittings are readily available in that size and they are large enough to use easily. I used this stuff that I found on Ebay (you can literally find everything you need there if you know how to search effectively). I have no relationship with any of the merchants but they did right by me and there are always others if you prefer. If you have a local Army Surplus/Paintball store they will usually have the belts and suspenders.
Pressure Suit (Props to SKG for finding this one way back when)
<span style="font-size:12pt;line-height:100%">Building the rig:</span>
OK – I started with a pressure suit (I used a Sette but SixSixOne makes many as well). The key is how it fits and how it will interface with the armor pieces that you will be attaching. Try to get one that breathes (mesh fabric) and has a minimum number of plates – especially where they will be hidden by your armor. There’s no sense in carrying the extra weight and heat from plates that do nothing. The Pressure Suit will act as a harness base – now to build on that base.
Add Suspenders and a military-style web belt (preferably at least 2” wide). The Thighs, Codpiece, Buttplate, and Pouches will all hang from this belt so make it a good one. Make sure that is has a heavy-duty quick release buckle (sometimes called a parachute buckle). The suspenders are a military-style 4 point rig with clips to attach to the eyelets in the web belt. Be sure that they have quick-adjust buckles to allow for alterations when the suit is on.
I chose to integrate the suspenders into the Pressure suit permanently by lacing them into the protective plates. I recommend doing this, as it will keep everything centered properly. The last thing you want to have happen is to feel your suspenders shift and start taking your armor with them. This way they are locked in place.
The belt is also permanently attached to the Pressure Suit via the suspenders – you will see why shortly. The belt needs to have everything attached – here’s what I did:
Recess attachment points on the Codpiece, Buttplate, and Pouches to allow you to install “Chicago Screws”. Make sure that you get long enough stems to reach through your belt. Epoxy the female ends into the armor pieces. Then space them accordingly around your waistline (belt) and mark the locations for holes. A soldering iron is a great way to melt and seal the holes in the belt for the attachment points – it will stink so do it outside if you can. Slip the ends through, add a washer for safety, and screw the pieces on – done!
For the Codpiece, I selected a longer male screw end and I simply screw that piece on over the buckle section when I’m done. You could also locate the belt buckle off-center at one of the armor piece junctions to avoid any overlap but I’m a symmetrical kind of guy so the extra hassle is OK in my book.
OK – now the Pressure Suit, Suspenders, and Belt are all one integrated unit – let’s keep going.
The Legs – you need strapping to keep your legs attached. You also need it to keep them centered properly so that they don’t rotate or spin around your thighs. While it’s possible to do this with a single strap, the chances of getting the balance point precisely correct are pretty slim. Instead use a 2-point attachment – one just ahead of center and one just behind. Both sets of straps can be individually adjusted to position your legs just right. I used 1 ½” strapping and parachute buckles for this. The Thigh straps are epoxied in place and the belt ends are simple loops using the buckle end to secure them. Those loops can be shifted forward and back to allow for the perfect orientation. Simply attach the legs using the buckles and done! Keep playing with the adjustment until they sit right and can withstand some walking/running around.
The Shoulders – this is a biggie. They need to be positioned and stay JUST RIGHT to complete the look. Your shoulders are round and the Pauldrons will want to rotate forward or backward unless you strap them in place. Here what I did:
I recessed some more of the 1 ½” strapping into the shoulder “caps” (after filling them to make them solid). Then the two shoulders are attached at the center using another parachute buckle and retaining slider. This way I can precisely adjust the width of the strapping to ensure that the spacing is correct. I then ran the strapping through the pressure suit and ran the arms through the bicep sections. I also cut strapping slots into the shoulder caps of the pressure suit. By running the strapping through those slots, it guarantees that the shoulders will stay in place.
The net result is one cohesive piece, which contains the Pressure Suit, Belt, Suspenders, Codpiece, Buttplate, Pouches, Thighs, and Shoulders. It also allows me to put ALL of it on at once. I step into the thighs, pull them up, slip my arms into the suit/shoulders, zip it closed, and screw in the final screw for the codpiece. It literally takes me less than 60 seconds to put it all on and the beauty of this system is that once it’s adjusted – it stays adjusted. No need to fight with multiple pieces and readjusting everything every time you put on your armor.
The shins and boots go on, the torso slides over, the forearms slide on – then add the gloves and helmet and you’re done…
<span style="font-size:12pt;line-height:100%">Strapping Tips:</span>
1. Once you have the lengths correct you need cut the extra off. Not too short but removing that extra unnecessary 6” will keep your armor looking tidy and stop it from potentially bunching up.
2. Melt/seal all of the edges of the strapping. Most strapping is synthetic and 5 minutes with a lighter will keep your ends and edges from unraveling (thats a few seconds on each piece - not five minutes on each - just checking .
3. Buy more than you think you will need. This stuff is cheap and it’s always a good idea to have some extra sitting around.
4. Don’t be afraid to experiment – everyone has a different body type and will require a slightly different approach.
5. Integrate whenever possible – by strapping multiple pieces together, you can increase the strength of the entire assembly. It will also make it easier to put your armor on and take it back off.
Please remember that this is only what has worked for me - YMMV. While I don’t have years of experience with the 405th, I do have years of experience strapping armor and I hope that that this helps everyone to enjoy his or her armor. After spending countless hours perfecting every little detail, spend the extra time to make sure that you can get the most out of it!
Good luck and please feel free to add your tips and tricks!