Collection: Gambesons

Gambesons and other padded items by Zeughaus


During the Middle Ages, the gambeson was an essential element of an armour set. Whether worn on its own as primary armour or underneath chain mail, the gambeson was indispensable. The prevalence of gambesons has naturally been retained in LARP, reenactments, and show combat.


Whether you are a LARPer, a reenactor, or a show fighter, if you are passionate about the military aspects of the Middle Ages and want to slip into the authentic role of a knight or another character of the period, you have to do some initial research. Our image of the Middle Ages offers a lot of room for fantasy and the individual shaping of one's own interpretation. Nevertheless, a basic reference to historical facts is important to most enthusiasts.

When we think of the medieval knight, we primarily have the image of the iron-clad fighter in mind. This is, of course, because this image has a special appeal due to its distinct aesthetic. But there are also quite practical reasons: our knowledge about the knight in full armour is historically very extensive. Historical documents and pictures from the Middle Ages describe this ideal archetype, and quite a few archaeological finds and well-preserved originals provide a reliable visual reference.

It is much more difficult with armour components, which on the one hand were less in the foreground, and on the other hand survived the centuries in smaller quantities and often in more damaged condition.

The gambeson is one such piece of armour where we’re clear about how it’s manufactured and can well understand its use, but it still presents small puzzles in terms of details.

Nevertheless, the gambeson is still an essential piece of a complete suit of armour, and often in combination with chain mail, is the first step of your transformation into a historically inspired character.

More Than an Undergarment

The common designation as simple textile armour may factually be correct, but it hardly does the gambeson justice.

From about the 10th century onward, the gambeson served both as armour in its own right and as a component of armour in Europe. Historians recognize precursors in the leather jackets of the Scythians, a Eurasian equestrian nomadic people, from the 8th century BC. The gambeson enjoyed great popularity and spread throughout Europe from the 13th to the 15th century AD.

The quilted jacket, sometimes in the version of a knee-length coat, was made using different manufacturing methods depending on the nature of its use.

The material of choice for making a gambeson, also known as a Sarrock in German-speaking countries, was linen. The use of the flax plant for textile production has been a known technique for thousands of years. The natural fibers obtained from it, woven into linen, are characterized by numerous positive properties. Linen is resilient, hard-wearing, and durable. At the same time, it is very comfortable to wear, absorbs moisture, and insulates heat. Due to the high demands on flax cultivation and its processing, linen is comparatively expensive. Therefore, our large selection of gambesons is made of cotton. On the other hand, the extent to which cotton was historically used for manufacturing on a larger scale in Europe is disputed.

As an independent piece of armour, the gambeson consisted of several layers of linen cloth, also known as acetone. Its manufacture from up to 25 quilted layers made this primary armour stable and protected its wearer from blows, cuts, and even arrows lit on fire. On the other hand, this type of armour was not very comfortable. It was stiff and offered limited freedom of movement.

The classic gambeson, however, consists of only two layers surrounding a cushioning filling, to which it owes its designation as a padded doublet. The chambers, which were formed by quilting the cloth layers, were filled with fabric remnants, raw cotton, or even horsehair. This maximizes comfort by providing insulation and cushioning. On the other hand, a classic gambeson provides very limited protection against cuts and has little to offer against stabs or arrowheads. On the contrary, the quilting could direct stitches additionally to the seams where the inner and outer cloth lay on top of each other without padding.

Padded gambesons were also worn as independent armour and were quite popular among foot soldiers with limited financial means for basic protection on the battlefield. However, its effectiveness was optimal when paired with other armour elements, as was the case with knights and other armed horsemen.

The gambeson was typically worn under the chain mail, rarely over it, and formed an optimal combination with it. Chain mail provided reliable protection against cuts and was also able to ward off stabs and arrowheads to a limited extent. However, it offered very minimum protection against blunt blows. The gambeson had the task of absorbing this force. At the same time, gambesons provided warmth and evenly distributed the load of the chain mail.

Also in connection with plate armour the gambeson increases above all general comfort. Armour that is slightly too large is fixed by the padding effect and chafing or pressure points are reliably prevented. As a thinner armour or doublet, the undergarment serves to fasten and fix parts of plate armour.

Your Gambeson - A Faithful Companion in Any Situation

Pure textile armour remained an essential part of any armour set and retained its popularity until roughly the 15th century. At this point more modern armour, such as plate armour, made gambesons obsolete in their original form. Additionally, around this time textile armour was “upgraded” with metal parts, resulting in the brigantine and the English Jack of Plates for example.

Practicalities aside, gambesons are also very visually appealing. Even today, this makes them a solid choice for LARP, reenactments, or show combat.

Gambesons are especially a good choice for those who are starting out in a hobby, such as LARP or reenactments, and would like to eventually invest in their own chain mail or metal armour. Not only is a gambeson an important first step in this regard, but it also helps you fit into a role or character on its own.

With Zeughaus, you will find a large selection of gambesons in different shapes, colors, and sizes. They can be worn as stand-alone armour or combined with padding and other armour pieces down the line.

As a second skin, your gambeson thus becomes a valued companion and transforms its wearer into a different person from another world, in another time, with minimum effort and at little cost.