What sort of armor would a bounty hunter wear in a fantasy based world inspired by the medieval ages (1100 A.D - 1400 A.D) that would allow him to be both protected and agile, while remaining somewhat incognito? No one in this world has access to magic or gun powder, and the bounty hunter mostly hunts criminals and murderers. He is an excellent swordsman with elite military training in the past.
A bounty hunter is a predator. What kind of armor do predators have?
A predator does not want a fair fight. It does not want a fight at all. A predator is not going to roar at its prey to give it notice. A predator is not going to plaster a big sign on its chest reading "I WILL KILL YOU". A predator wants to surprise prey, and at worst have to chase the surprised prey. If you routinely take on prey under circumstances that allow the prey to fight back, each time is a roll of the dice. Eventually the predator rolls snake eyes, and then its predating days are done.
If you are engaged in warfare or ritual conspecific combat then armor of some sort might make sense. It makes sense to bluster and bellow. You are not going to eat your combatant. You want to defeat him and have him run away.
A bounty hunter should look like something other than a bounty hunter- whatever he or she can get away with and ideally something that does not raise suspicion. Laborer, beggar, pilgrim, traveling merchant; whatever. The prey should not know that a bounty hunter is tracking him or her until it is too late.
Wily prey will sense the presence of the unseen hunter. The Bourne movies are all about that - I am reminded of the scene in Bourne Identity - "I can tell you the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215 pounds and knows how to handle himself".
Bounty hunting would be a periodic and probably not very remunerative profession in the long run, so the first constraint is the bounty hunter isn't going to be rich enough to afford to be fully armed "Cap-à-pie" like a knight or man at arms. As an aside, even knights and men at arms were often unarmed and unarmored in peacetime, since their weapons and harness were being held at the local money lenders as security for loans...
The other factor which would limit the use of armour and many types of arms is the need to be able to blend in with the local population. A stranger coming into a town or village would be quite noticeable at the low population densities and limited amount of travel people did on the middle ages. A merchant, minstrel or maybe a monk or friar would be who people would expect to be on the road. In the Canterbury Tales, the party of pilgrims includes:
- Man of Law
- the wife of Bath
Armed men showing up would likely be taken as a sign of trouble, either a scout for a band of robbers or perhaps the advance sign of a Chevauchee burning and plundering their way through the countryside.
Much like the idea of Ninjas has been contaminated by sensationalism (the iconic movie Ninja is actually dressed as a Japanese stagehand. The convention was the audience was to ignore them as they moved about the stage to rearrange set pieces during a show). Anyone working covertly would dress and act in the manner of the people they are hiding or operating among. Your bounty hunter could not look like a serf, since serfs were generally tied to the land and had little reason to leave the farms anyway, but as noted, would stand out too much if openly armed.
So your bounty hunter will have to blend in like this:
I tend to agree with all answers, specially willik's and Thucydides's, but I would like to add that protection rarely hurt anyone. There are several options that don't impede (much) movement and can be more or less concealed with the appropiate clothing, although some of them may be a bit more modern than your desired period:
- Padded clothing. Gambesons are the basic defense against blades, can be disguised into fashion(sometimes noblemen, specially those who served, wore fancy gambesons) and won't impede movement (it may be stiffer than normal clothes but not much). Don't underestimate the absorbing power of padded clothes.
- Brigandine. The brigandine is a kind of cuirass made of padded clothes or leather with strips of metal sewed inside. This was imported from the mongol invasions and was a popular soldier armor as it was cheaper than a chain of mail. It is also less noisy and less conspicuous, although it will be stiffer than both chain or padded clothes (note that a brigandine has nothing to do with bandits. brigand was a kind of foot soldier back then).
- A cape: This is a bit more modern (about 16th century maybe), and it will depend on the kind of weapons your hunter will encounter but a heavy cape is a useful implement to deflect weapons and distract the opponent.
None of these armors will stop a crossbow bolt, nor a well placed blow or arrow, but will stop or deflect most glancing blows that otherwise would have drawn blood, while remaining mobile.
As they say above, none of this will replace the reason a hunter is good at his job, specially if there's no "magic medicine" or something that stops infections. Cunning will probably be his/her main weapon, and if I had to fight in those conditions I would prefer to lay traps and direct my prey to a place he cannot fight back than assault him.
I would like to direct you to read a bit about the almogavars, an aragonese light infantry that was prevalent from the 10th up to the 15th century. Their common armor was a wide leather belt, tunic and breeches, and still managed to win over heavily armored troops thanks to good tactics and ferocity.
Finally I would like to point that medieval clothes tended to be a bit loose, specially if we're talking about 10-13th century. The tunics and surcoats were still common, and the pants (well, braies, that are not exactly but like pants) were only popular with the working class (you would wear hoses, though). A sleeveless gambeson is feasible to hid under the surcoat. 14th century brought forward the chamise, although it still was not exactly as our shirt (the armpits usually were opened), reserving tunics for noble and clergymen. Still, you can hide a lot under a cape, and nobody will look you bad for wearing one (unless is a very hot day): not all people could afford winter garments so wearing an all-weather garment with a heavy wool (not fur, unless you're rich) cape would be appropiate. It was also a good way to hide your pouches (clothes of the time usually hadn't much of pockets, you would had pouches, usually of leather, instead). Nobody likes to have it's moneybag stolen.
All depends on your world.
I concur with @Willk's and @Thucydides answers and agree that in real medieval world a bounty hunter should carry no armor - mostly because regular people never did that, no matter what fantasy depictions may suggest.
However, I understand that you want to create your own fantasy world, which, while being similar to medieval Europe, can be different from it. If you want your bounty hunters to be armored, that's Ok.
Some other answers (like @Alberto Yagos') has suggested what this armor can be. I'm going to dwell on why a bounty hunter can be armored. First, your fantasy world should be more dangerous and chaotic than the real medieval world. Maybe dangerous creatures are lurking around, and wielding a sword and wearing even some minimal armor is highly advisable for any traveler. Second, your bounty hunter may need to capture his target alive. Thus, he can not rely on quick sword strike or accurate crossbow shot - he may want to confront his target armed an armored, intimidating him/her into submission.
Incognito isn't possible, but the best idea for 1100-1400 AD is what rolepaying games call leather armor, actually a coat of plates (after 1250 AD).
This fashionable piece comes from https://armstreet.com/store/armor/the-wayward-knight-visby-coat-of-plates
It's a sleeveless jacket made of different materials (leather, wool, etc.) with the inside lined with several steel plates. More plates = more flexibility, if that's important for your bounty hunter.
Anything you want.
Historically, this wasn't exactly a profession at this time, so to ask what a bounty hunter might wear in this time period is wide, wide, wide open. The meat of what I think would be best is bolded below. You can skip the difficulties portion as it doesn't answer the question, it's just added context.
Here's the difficulties.
1- The printing press isn't invented until later after gun powder became more of a thing. So no wanted posters.
2-Travel was expensive and difficult. The cost of tracking someone down has to outweigh the cost of going to get them.
3-Most of the time when a posse was rustled up during Medieval times in England (say the 1300s), they included the corner because when someone ran, they were allowed to kill them. Women by drowning, men by beheading. The people who chased them didn't get extra money for this, they were sheriffs or guards carrying out their duty.
4-Again, travel was an issue, and not just for the hunter--also for the hunted. Anyone not known was seen with suspicion except in very large cities of which there were few.
5-And yet again, travel was difficult for the magistrates set to judge on these occasions. There was not incentive for most criminals to be kept alive.
6-Bounties were offered very rarely. And when they were it was often for a BAND of criminals, not just ONE person. (Though once in a while, an enemy of the crown might have a reward for capture). You could appeal to the king for men to take care of a band of criminals and pay the salary for those men during that time. A lone guy catching criminals is odd indeed.
But if you take care of these issues with worldbuilding, it's a different thing. I can say that while travelling folks wore weapons and armor, but inside a township or a building you had to give up arms. This was standard pretty much everywhere.
What this means is that your guy is likely going to be confronting people in places where weapons aren't permitted (save for the knife that everyone carries to cut meat). That means close fighting and hand to hand, and that means little to no armor.
Medieval folk were used to declarations from lawmen, and if you were there to get a criminal, you could get help from local law and from the people around you. Because it was generally law that everyone had to help protect the community (everyone above age 12 and male took an oath to protect their town).
Taking someone back to the township where they committed the crime is tough. Takes time and you have to feed them on the way. The local constabulary isn't going to want to take anything but their OWN criminals because it costs to keep them until the judge comes round. If they are due to come soon, they might, but if they were just there, they might refuse to house the criminal. The very best thing you can do is wait for crimes to be committed in the area by your criminal, otherwise it's a long trek.
So, in short, you want to blend in and look ordinary. And most of what you will be doing means less in the way of sword work and arrows and more in the way of fast agile fighting. Maybe padded underneath, maybe a little leather layer to help, but mostly unarmored.
I would like to think that the standard double tunic of the day would suffice. People usually wore a linen tunic under a woolen one. If paired with the correct outfit an arming sword and buckler might work making him a swashbuckler. In some regions swords were quite legal and some places you were legally required to at least own a weapon. Travelling armed was probably quite normal as one would never know when a bear or bandit might come out of the forest.
I knew a guy who had a chain shirt which he sometimes wore between a t-shirt and a another top. When he was wearing his normal raincoat you couldn't hear any noise from the chain and I guess he could have gone to most places without anyone knowing it was there.
It leaves the head and limbs exposed, of course, but much better than nothing if the target puts up a fight.