Medieval Knight RACES Modern Soldier in Obstacle Course

OK, who would win in a race: A soldier, a firefighter, or a knight? What, you’ve never asked yourself that? Well, for those of you who did, you finally have your answer thanks to a video released by Daniel Jaquet of the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance (Center for Higher Studies of the Renaissance):

The results? Firefighter in first with 180 seconds, knight in second with 190 seconds, and soldier dead last with 218 seconds.

Keeping in mind that I am not a medieval armor expert, the armor worn by the “knight” in this race appears to be representative of the sort worn in the 15th Century, but with an open-face helmet (likely for safety). Compare the suit, which has large pauldrons and a fauld (telescoping mail skirt), and minimal exposed mail (chainmail) to the one worn by Ian LaSpina in his comparison between a 14th Century suit of armor and the load of a modern infantryman.

Besides driving home the fact that knights in shining armor were not nearly so immobile as modern tradition portrays them, this race also illustrates something else: The modern infantryman’s load is a considerable burden. Although, as shown in the aforementioned comparison from Knyght Errant, the loads of a medieval knight and a modern infantryman are fairly comparable in terms of mass, the distribution clearly is not. Although this “race” is not scientific enough to prove the exact degree to which the infantryman’s mobility is hindered, it does show him being at a significant disadvantage versus either the knight or the firefighter over the obstacle course. Logic, too, points this way: While the knight’s armor is well-distributed over his body, the soldier’s burden is borne almost entirely on his back and shoulders, with relatively little being carried at his hips. This not only makes moving with the load more awkward, but also increases the risk of injury.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Dario B.

    Bière, the caserne where i did my military service!! 😀

    • FarmerB

      …and where I frequently shoot today…

  • junyo

    One of the things the Michael Crichton pointed out in Timeline was that the modern idea of a knight in armor as some sort of immobile comic tin man was flawed. These guys had the same life and death pressures of any fighter in any age. They were never 100% invulnerable on the battlefield so they couldn’t just lumber around. They had to make the same protection/mobility balance that you always do. Then they trained and fought in the armor to make that balance make sense until the weapon tech outclassed it and it couldn’t anymore.

    • ActionPhysicalMan

      We can thank Samuel Clemens for initially promoting that myth in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

    • MeaCulpa

      Yeah, the “classic” knight in armour get up was mostly for jousting tournaments and not actual combat.

      • pun&gun

        Jousting had its own varieties of armor. Much thicker, and actually *designed* to impede movement in order to reduce injury of broken joints. That “frog mouth” helmet was a good example, as it actually prevented the wearer from turning his head.
        The armor seen in the video here was definitely worn in actual combat, though. Light, mobile, protective, and well-distributed. It was just really, really expensive, so only the most elite could afford it, and because armor had to be tailored to the wearer, it’s not something one could expect to salvage off a corpse and have it work as well.

    • Amplified Heat

      There were both dismounted knights as well as the more famous heavy cavalry. Armor was tailored accordingly.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Right, heavy armor had its place. Look at the Battle of Verneuil, where French knights in heavy armor and Lombard cavalry in super-heavy armor crushed the English bowmen formations. It was English armor that turned the tide back against the French.

        • Amplified Heat

          Granted, that place was usually a single important battle (like you said) before the loser adapted & mooted the advantage via tactics or overmatch. Longbowman kind of kicked off the heavy armor race originally, IIRC.

    • .45

      Yes. The armor is IN CASE you get hit, not so you can get hit. Frequently modern reproduction armor is heavier than the real stuff because reenactors want to keep using their armor for years of blunt weapon “fighting” and it needs to be thicker than the original stuff that was there as a crumple zone that could be replaced after every battle if needed.

    • Cal S.

      I think that’s one of the reasons I like the LoTR for their semi-accurate portrayal of armored mobility.

      I say ‘semi-accurate’ because they err on the side of “A breastplate is just supposed to look cool, not block arrows or swords, right?”

      • pun&gun

        *Aragorn cuts through Uruk-hai plate armor with a longsword*
        …what?

        • Cal S.

          Yep, lol.

    • USMC03Vet

      The same applies to the modern soldier. Sure they are weighted down but that doesn’t mean they are ineffective stones either. I’m sure centuries from now the same arguments and myths will be brought up because they are brought up even today. Soldiering is rough and physically demanding. That is never going to change. The complaints of having to carry x while doing it will never change. I’m sure in ye olden times soldiers were complaining just the same.

  • Mr Mxyzptlk

    Seems like a bit of an unfair comparison as the “knight” isn’t carrying any weapons and isn’t carrying a full pack like the soldier is. To be fair the soldier should just be wearing his armour vest and no webbing or pack, or the knight should have a longsword and pollaxe.

    • Exactly, when SOCOM teams are chasing down fighters in Afghanistan they don’t go loaded for bear because they would never catch them. In fact some will go down to just a chest rig with a pretty stripped down load up.

    • Holdfast_II

      Well, the soldier isn’t carrying a rifle and the fireman doesn’t have a hose, so that’s pretty even.

      I do agree that it’s unfair for the soldier to have the pack on – in real life he would drop that before beginning an assault.

      • Wasn’t the rifle attached to his backpack? I saw what looked like a SIG 550 series attached to it.

      • USMC03Vet

        Yes the objective rally point where they stage.

    • Amplified Heat

      The soldier has no weapons or helmet (what, like 20lbs?)
      The firefighter has no fire axe or mask/helmet (maybe 20?)
      The knight has no helmet or weapon (probably more like 30lbs, at least, depending)

      Knights had pages carry all their other crap during battle. The real question is why modern soldiers don’t have a bunch of middle schoolers with them to carry all their MREs and water bladders, lol

      • Ark

        Squire, more 7.62!

        • Brett baker

          If we **** up and go back to 7.62, we’d better bring back the ammo bearer MOS!

          • Ark

            Send in the ROTC kids.

      • ActionPhysicalMan

        Did you watch the video? It specified (at 6:04) the weight each of them was carrying so you don’t have to guess. The knight was wearing 64lbs of kit not 30.

        • Amplified Heat

          Did you read my comment? We’re talking about the equipment they aren’t carrying in this test but would be in practice. That steel helmet is a killer (and in more ways than one). The one in the video is much lighter than generally seen, lacking face mask, mantel, and whatever ornamentation

          • ActionPhysicalMan

            I did not realize you were speaking of things that they didn’t have because you included things they did have (helmets) and gave weights that were unlikely for items you did mention. The missing parts of the helmet and a weapon for the knight would not weigh 10lbs much less 30lbs for instance. I realize other things may be missing like armored footwear for the knight and ammunition and water for the soldier. I did like the part about squires though.

          • .45

            Agreed. I have replica swords, spears, daggers, a mace, etc. Kind of hard to add a 2.5 pound sword with a, let’s be generous here, 1 pound dagger, and 2 pound spear and get 30 pounds. This isn’t Hollywood here, they came to fight, not clumsily swing anime swords to impress the viewers.

          • pbla4024

            And a shield. 5 pounds?

          • pun&gun

            Shields had fallen out of use by the 15th century when this style of armor was worn, especially for the type of soldiers that used full plate armor. Pike formations had largely replaced shield walls, and guns were replacing bows and crossbows, so using shields to protect against missile fire was no longer productive. Plus, in full plate like this, the shield wasn’t really necessary. That’s why 15th c. Italian and Gothic armor had asymmetrical pauldrons that were larger on the offhand side.

          • .45

            I doubt the actual weight of the helmet used is that different from a closed one, which by the way, the open faced one is still historically accurate. Inccidentally, most closed helms of the era depicted would have had visors that could be lifted so the men wearing them could easily see and breathe whenever they felt they were not in serious danger doing so, mostly negating any complaints about their choice of helmet anyway. This was frequently how knights died from arrows. Arrows wouldn’t normally penetrate good armor at a distance, but a stray shot to the face when some poor SOB opens his visor to yell at his men? Yuppers.

          • Vosh Sahaal

            The heavy enclosed helmets are for mounted. Visors come off for footwork.

      • USMC03Vet

        Haha they do make boots carry heavy stuff. It’s a right of passage.

      • pun&gun

        The knight’s weapon loadout wouldn’t weigh anywhere near that much. His heaviest weapon was a lance, used only on horseback. On foot, he’d have a sidearm like a mace or arming sword (usually 2-4 pounds) and a two-handed primary weapon like a poleaxe (about 7 pounds).

    • phuzz

      Modern soldiers wouldn’t need to carry as much if they bothered to take a couple of squires along, and maybe a horse or two.

  • USMC03Vet

    That is the weakest obstacle course I’ve ever seen.

    I want to see it done on the USMC obstacle course. I want to see death.

    • TheNotoriousIUD

      I think my elementary school had the same course.

      • Swarf

        *juvie

    • MBR

      This looks like a modified military pentathalon obstacle course since it’s lacking a majority of the obstacles and for some reason they’ve even filled up the pit with sand (without it is +8 feet deep, not fun with gear on I can tell you that). But then again nothing about this surprises me considering its the French we are talking about.

      • Preacher

        meeeh. I saw a SIG. Has to be swiss. If you did not got it: It´s not about the obstacle. They are just indicators for the capability of movement with the gear. Proved perfect: Firefighters have the hardest job – Old armor with a good design is with its more central mass better to handle. Soldiers are Wannabes. Perfect.

        • MBR

          I was just sharing my knowledge about the course, didn’t in any way intentionally comment on the capability of the different loadouts since different loadouts for different jobs.

          You are probably right, seems like the Center for Higher Studies of the Renaissance is based in Geneva so that + SIG = Probably the Swiss.

          • Hillary

            I agree with MBR. I could beat that course with my c*ck tied behind my back.

        • BillyOblivion

          Look at the elbows of the soldier when he comes out of the low crawl.

      • Eric Sebu

        Daniel Jaquet is from Swizzerland and the French version of the miltary obstacle course is not like this. Ayway, if your xenophobic comment about the French is not something unusual, considering the standard US citizen, your comment make me laugh.

        • MBR

          We’ll a) you missed the fact that it a jest at the French, the company that I run does business exclusively with the French so I can vouch for them being really nice people b) I’m from Finland… So temper yourself just a tad

        • MBR

          Out of interest since you seem to know about French military obstacle courses, what are they like and how much do the differ from a Military Pentathalon course? Is there some standard course that’s on every base or do they vary between bases? Since here in Finland all the bases I’ve been stationed at have had just the standard Military Pentathalon course. I’m genuinely interested in know a tad more about them.

  • Kurt Ingalls

    Well…….we learned that a modern soldier can hunt down a knight AND a fire fighter if it comes to that…..LOL 🙂

  • The_Champ

    It is and always has been an interesting balancing act between protection and mobility. Recent reading on Cortes’ Conquistadors in the New World talked about his soldiers often adopting soft quilted armor in place of the hard metal plates they brought from Spain. While this European armor seemingly saved many soldiers in battle against great odds, soldiers often swapped it out for less effective armor due to the oppressively hot climate.

    And how can you blame them, Cortes’ routinely had his men armored up even as they slept, so as to be always ready for battle. Long marches in the oppressively hot and humid tropics had even the toughest soldiers ditching their plate armor for quilted cloth.

    • Henry

      Light equipment had always been a fixture in the Spanish military. IIRC the late John Keegan argued that this is a consequence of the semi-arid climate in much of Spain, which is unique among European countries (European countries of similar latitude, i.e. Portugal, Italy and Greece have predominantly Mediterranean climates). This means hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters – the summers are too hot for metal armour and the land is too lean to support lumbering baggage trains, with their hordes of pack animals and huge number of camp followers. So the Spanish style of warfare has always been a lot “leaner” than that of other European nations, but much closer to that of the Arabs and the Berber’s. Coincidentally, this made the Spanish forces uniquely suited to expeditionary warfare in the New World.

  • Martin Grønsdal

    Obstacle course made to fit private Benjamin?

  • Swarf

    Man, those guys look tired. They’re making me tired.

  • Amplified Heat

    I believe it was mostly the post-gun powder, short-lived plate armor phase that gets the bad rap. Ridiculously thick & heavy panels, with fewer & less articulated joints in between, that practically had to be put on after mounting the poor horse (similarly loaded down with its own armor), and hauling an unwieldy and awkward lance/spear. The realities of those pin-hole helmets would have also been comically crippling in this test (balance beam especially)

    • noob

      indeed. they didn’t have the metalurgy to make ar500 plate. skallagrim has an antique guns vs replica medieval armour that shows how much worse it was to get bits of plate that was designed to be “proof” against a smooth bore musket ball catastrophically fail and enter your chest cavity when hit by something faster like a rifled musket ball or god forbid a cannonball.

    • gunsandrockets

      Heavy jousting armor tends to confused in the modern imagination with plate armor intended for battle.

    • pun&gun

      That’s jousting armor, and was never intended for combat. (And even in that case, the stories of needing to be lifted onto the horse with a crane and such are still myth)

  • noob

    so – can we make a replica of that suit of plate in level III protective materials? eg AR500 and laminated ballistic composites? might be useful for, uh, police work.

    • 劉丁丁

      We probably can. But it’ll be pointless.
      Suits of plate armor were designed that way for a different set of variables.
      What kind of threat are they designed to defend?
      What are the available material and technology?

      • noob

        currently the swat team shield man looks like this:
        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a5d74636e71af24a5e7918f065b6f3746d2a2ea8ac3b24b50e7e857691159d96.jpg

        which works in most cases except the tightest of corridors you find in meth labs. But it only protects you from the direction the shield is covering.

        You could make a suit with more all around protection and have the swat team guy go in to serve a warrant against people armed with pistols with less chance of getting hurt, if we use current peak materials technology and clever plate shaping.

        It’s mostly to buy the swat team time when breaching so they can dominate clear from room to room without having to keep re-positioning the shield at the front of the stack.

        Also the first guy in can now carry a long gun instead of a shield and pistol if everyone has full armor coverage.

    • pun&gun

      In order to make armor that offered that much coverage *and* stopped rifle rounds, it would have to be immensely heavy and so thick that you could barely move. Articulated plate was perfect for the threats it faced at the time, but the needs of the modern world are too different for it to be worthwhile.

      • noob

        We could make it a lot lighter if we just concentrated on being resistant to common pistol round threats for most of the coverage and then just put rifle plates to cover the heart and brain.

        • Vosh Sahaal

          Or attached to a load bearing mechanical frame. Capacitor tech is getting up there.

          • noob

            Can you imagine getting shot in the main LiPo battery pack or the supercap and having it short out with your blood as the conductor?

          • Vosh Sahaal

            That’s why you armor it.

          • Vosh Sahaal

            This is why you armor the battery. An unlikely shock hazard vs the danger of small arms and shrapnel. Not to mention being able to carry a small armory easily.

  • noob

    When reading history, you hear a lot about 15C knights getting defeated by the opposing army attacking their “baggage” where they kept their food.

    Why does our modern army not have a baggage area and end up carrying everything in pack? Is it because we don’t have horses so our baggage would be even more immobile (because a wheeled vehicle cannot climb grades a mule can handle with ease)?

    • Cal S.

      They do. In fact in Operation Desert Storm, the US Army had better access to fresh water than the Iraqi troops did, and the latter had been in prepared positions for weeks.

      Having never served myself, I can only speculate, so anyone who has feel free to correct errors. Fighting a conventional war with larger unit concentrations makes supply simpler and the troops are freed up to fight with less burden. Anytime you send out troops from their supply base, you have to make sure they’ll have enough supplies to fight, eat, and survive the elements. Every day they’re gone adds 24-hrs of supplies to their burden. Extended foot patrols are kinda rare in conventional fighting because they break up an otherwise cohesive unit into groups too small and too separated to be considered combat effective against a relatively centralized foe. When they are undertaken, it’s usually reserved for special units or missions. However, when you’re fighting a small-unit decentralized foe in a guerilla war, small-unit foot patrols are common and widespread throughout the entire force. Why do they have to carry it on their backs? Because it would be impractical and expensive to requisition every small-unit patrol a logistics vehicle. Some of the patrols do traverse foot trails and mountainous terrain that would be impossible to make with a vehicle.

      The US military has known and acknowledged this problem for years. While it might be a logical step to re-starting the mule program, don’t forget that even mules have their weight limits. Also they will require the same kind of food and water considerations as their handlers. By the time you get enough mules together to carry the supplies of the unit plus the supplies for themselves, you’ve got yourself an armed mule train instead of a foot patrol. If the mules get spooked or killed, you’ve now jeopardized the entire unit if the supply containers are too heavy or unwieldly. Instead, the proposed solution is something like the Boston Dynamics “Dog”, a load-carrying robot that can reliably carry the small-unit’s gear.

    • pun&gun

      Massive improvements in transportation mean that a huge logistics system replaces a dedicated supply train.

  • Suppressed

    I didn’t watch the video so maybe this was accounted for, but I would think it would make the most sense to have the same guy, with considerable rest between, run the course in nothing but a pair of Magpul MDS and then in each one of the outfits, because variables and such.

    • FT_Ward

      It still wouldn’t be scientific as he’d get better at crossing obstacles with practice.

  • .45

    Random point of interest: Knights were expected to be able to vault onto their horse in full armor. Mobility has been the key to battle for as long as battle has existed, and in the age of knights, horses were their high speed low drag transportation. The myth of knights helpless in their armor is exactly that: A myth.

    People are usually surprised to learn that weight wise, the super fantastic extra fast and skilled samurai and the slow bumbling knight carried about the same. Except the samurai had less comfortable and less protective armor, but that doesn’t go well with popular culture romantizing the exotic samurai…

    • mcjagermech

      It also shows that medieval Europeans weren’t all knuckle dragging morons incapable of designing things well, since people think the medieval era were the dark ages devoid of meaningful science, engineering and education.

      • .45

        I also enjoy hearing some random geek on the net talking about how the Japanese were so smart to come up with folding steel to make swords that are better than any other sword on the planet. Not like the Celts were doing that B.C. or the Norse later on, etc, and not like those cultures didn’t stop doing it because their technology advanced to the point they didn’t need to anymore…

        Don’t get me wrong, the Japanese have a fascinating culture and the samurai were pretty impressive, but realistically speaking, Japan was a couple hundred years behind the rest of the world technologically and militarily speaking for most of its existence.

        • Iggy

          To be fair the Katana is a pretty impressive design given the crappy iron ore the Japanese had access to. It’s just crapped on by designs made with access to better steel.

          • .45

            Oh yeah, I have a couple of cheap replicas (that most serious katana fans would turn their noses up at), and they are wonderful cutting blades. It just amuses and annoys me that people don’t realize the real reasons for why they did what they did and instead talk of magical folded steel lightsabers that can be used to cut through i-beams and stone pillars without a ding because Japanese.

        • pun&gun

          The Japanese *had* to do that kind of thing because the iron ore available in Japan was crap.

        • Foma Klimov

          At least they bathed on regular basis. They couldn’t stand the stench of the first European explorers and always dealt with them outside.

  • fintroll

    Not sure I agree with the conclusions. As the fireman has more weight (especially compared to his bodyweight) than the soldier, and also on his back. The big difference seems to be that the soldiers pack is awful. Everything just constantly shakes and moves around, while the firearms heaviest item (the bottle) stays nicely put. Moving masses tire more than when they stay nicely put.

  • TRUBRIT

    The point of this is to show how much the modern soldier is weighed down with more stuff and the effect on mobility. You can nit pick as much as you want, but the facts are there. The weight has steadily increased since WW2. More injuries and more long term damage is a reality. The Knight has 10 years on the Soldier and Fire Fighter. There are many discussions on this and especially on the supposed ‘over matching’, the new popular phrase by the REMFs.

  • Richard Allen

    Infantry loads have been 60-100 lbs at least since Roman times with the Romans on the high end of that range. There have been troops out on the long tails of the distributions like the Brits in the Falklands who had totally outrageous loads and peasant militia who would go with nothing more than their agricultural tool. But basically, the standard load is about what the standard soldier is capable of carrying and always has been. Weight reductions in equipment has led to carrying more stuff. Take a look at the battery load out of Special Forces during Desert Storm. Batteries have improved since then but I would bet that the weight has simply been replaced by something else.

    • CommonSense23

      There is a difference between approach loads and fighting loads. Fighting loads have been steadily climbing.

  • Kirk Newsted

    One of the things that many people don’t realize about the medieval knights is they started out at about 5 years old as a helper and by the time they were knighted at 16 or so they had already been training with weapons and armor virtually every day since they were about 10. The armor was a 2nd skin.

  • cwolf

    Lightly loaded Soldier.

  • retfed

    I’m glad the fireman is the fastest.
    If I ever need serious help, I’m more likely to need the fireman than the soldier or the knight.

  • Fruitbat44

    Not exactly scientific, but still very interesting. And a good way of pointing out, that the medieval European knight was a professional fighting man.

  • Matthew Cole Canil

    While its a fun exploration it would be better to run the same person through course they had done several times previously(to remove any learning curve) in each gear set, perhaps after a sufficient period of rest to avoid sequencing bias, but also on the same day to keep conditions even. This could be repeated to test self consistency, and or likewise repeated with different individuals also prepped for the course trying all 3, and in those other individuals tat could be where they tested age range. Longitudinal meets cross section studies. Of course for further testing seeing if the course was major factor would be valid as well. the firefighters bag seemed to be issue at points as did the soldiers pack, times aside we did see the Knight have several less snag issues I believe food for thought.

  • I know a fair number of medieval reenactors who are VERY mobile in their armor. Its all about having it fitted properly. See if you can find videos of battles from the Pennsic or Estrella wars. I’ve fought in both.