During the Viking Period, the Norse mainly rely on agility in combat. Combat equipment is well-crafted and allows for fluid movement.
The wooden round shield is a primary defense, while fighting with a one-handed weapon. A warrior might paint the shield with a pattern or image of personal significance. Skald lyrics honor such decorations of shields. Even spear fighters tend to use a shield, thrusting the spear past it one-handed, possibly with versatile use of the shield hand.
Less commonly, a helmet is known, of various styles: dome-shape, crested, and conical, typically with nose guard, sometimes with a spectacle guard.
Archeologists suspect most Norse men and women know how to metalwork, since they appear to make their own iron tools and weapons, while highly skilled metalworkers enjoy celebrated social status. Excellent weapons are a principle means for warriors to display social status.
When present, the chain tunic is light and effective, allowing warriors to perform agile athletic stunts, even swim in it.
While ceremonial burial with weapons is common, burial in armor is rare. Prized swords are sometimes ‘killed’ (ceremonially damaged) to discourage looting, sometimes left whole. Possibly, metal helmets and chain tunics lack ritual significance, and are more likely to pass down to the next generation of warriors. Burial sites increase in frequency where a warrior was killed while wearing a chain tunic (evidenced by a lethal leg wound), yet is buried without a chain tunic.
Leather armor appears unknown among the Norse, except for foreign items.
A woman warrior, nicknamed a ‘shield lass’ skjaldmær, probably dresses according to personal preference. Possibly she wears a heavy linen, ankle-length underdress (with added side slits or extra material gores to flair wide for lots of leg room), then over it, thigh-length versions of dresses (resembling mens tunics). Wearing mens tunics seems possible, yet drawings of valkyrjur suggest women warriors prefer womens clothing, as long as conducive to battle. Descriptions mention the normal use of shield and helmet, and occasional references to the brynja chain tunic.
Below are warriors from Noregr 800s, the Oseberg Tapestry. In the first image, two women warriors in traditional womens clothing, each carrying a spear. They appear dressed in an ankle-length underdress, with a cape around shoulders and reaching the ankles, and a scarf to tie back the hair. Men in the tapestry wear either Norse pants or Garðariki baggy pants, bound calf-length. In the next image, these might be unbound baggy pants, but the form disresembles the other examples. Possibly, this is a woman spearfighter, in an ankle-length linen underdress, and over it, a thigh-length version of a longsleeve heavy wool dress. An other warrior may be a similarly clad woman carrying a sword. In this case, note the similarity between what appears to be a womens underdress (serkr) on the warrior, and what is clearly a womens underdress on the woman to the right of the warrior. A modern reconstruction is perhaps suggestive. She can easily wear a brynja chain tunic over these. Elsewhere a woman appears in a Viking Period carving in England, wearing the distinctive Viking outer dress (smokkr) with the traditional shoulder-strap ornaments, but only thigh-length rather than the normal calf-length. Thigh-length versions of womens dresses seem possible and useful for combat.
Note, in the armor statistics below, the helmet is treated as a separate item that adds an AC helmet bonus +1, mechanically similar to the AC shield bonus +2. A cloak or cape likewise can boost AC.
To make more sense of the light but wellmade brynja chain tunic, being shortsleeve thigh-length, the 3e mechanic for the light armor chain shirt represents it allowing Dexterity bonus +4. Mix-and-match armor types. For example, Dexterity +3, with Skjǫldr wooden round shield +2, Hjálmr helmet +1, and Brynja chain tunic AC 13, totals AC 19.
(mens heavy tunics of linen or wool) light armor
AC 11 + Dexterity bonus
(womens heavy dresses of linen or wool) light armor
AC 11 + Dexterity bonus
(mens heavy wool cloak, open to side, broach on shoulder)
(womens heavy wool cape, open at front, broach in front below neck)
(wooden round shield)
(helmet, dome shaped, crested, or conical, with spectacle or nose guard)
(shortsleeve thigh-length chain tunic, over tunics or dresses) light armor
AC 13 + maximum Dexterity bonus +4
Because of traderoutes, Non-Norse armors are possible
(Finnar calf-length fur tunic for shaman) light armor
AC 12 + Dexterity bonus
(Garðariki lamellar scale cuirass) medium armor
AC 14 + maximum Dexterity bonus +2
(Frakkland longsleeve calf-length hauberk chain suit) heavy armor
AC 16 + No Dexterity bonus