If you are a knife enthusiast, a collector, a military guy, or just a typical adventurer, you must have a knife that handles all kinds of torture and abuse. It helps you survive out in the wild and goes with you through the thick and thin - quite literally. So, I guess it deserves the best of care too. Regular maintenance is extremely important for the “health” of your knife. And the most crucial part of maintenance is keeping it covered and well protected. That is what a sheath does.
Every knife owner must have a good-quality durable sheath along. But why is it so important? Well, you see, just like your knife is your companion, a sheath is your knife's companion too. It not only keeps the knife protected but also provides a means to carry it attached to your waist. Another benefit of carrying a knife in a sheath is that it eliminates the risk of anyone getting hurt. Your knife won’t get scratched, neither would it dull very quickly. You can also preserve it from the elements of nature that can cause serious harm to your weapon. Even though a knife sheath may seem unimportant and a waste of a few bucks, not having one can certainly reduce the life of your tool by a significant amount.
There are several different materials that knife sheaths are available. Each has its pros and cons, but you need to know them all to make an informed decision.
Leather has been used to make knife sheaths for a very long time. It is still known for its classic looks and aesthetic, and people prefer its sheaths over any other material. Leather gives you that natural, raw feel when you take it in your hands. It also smells the best because of the material it's made of. When you use it, it will most likely remind you of the time cowboys ruled the land and used to wear all these cool-guy leather hats with those big chunky sheaths wrapped around their waists. The quality of this one is exceptional. Because leather is a tough material, it can handle wear and tear for a long time. It would never break or tear up. The worst thing that could happen is that the stitches come loose, but you can always sew them back. The best thing about leather is that it gives your knife the perfect fit. It won't get all stretched out, nor will it shrink, unlike most artificially made materials. The primary reason that military or tactical knife sheaths are made up of leather is that it is noise- disciplined. This means that if you take your knife out of a leather sheath it won't make any sound that could scare your prey away.
With such a great set of benefits come a few disadvantages too. Leather may not tear apart, but it will wear out after a certain point, but that also highly depends on the way you treat it. If you oil your knife regularly and keep it away from moisture, it may last a pretty long time. Another great setback is that leather is not naturally waterproof. So if there is a situation where you have to jump into a river or have direct contact with water, your sheath will most certainly get wet. The area of concern is that leather holds on to moisture and takes a long time to dry. So, if you aren’t aware at all times, the wet sheath will continue to erode your knife blade which can be quite harmful. Despite all the disadvantages, well-crafted sheaths are still a preference for authentic knife enthusiasts.
Nylon is another material widely used for knife sheaths. But, before we move ahead, you should know that nylon is used to make many different kinds of sheaths. There are varieties of nylon sheaths with different quality materials and weaving structures. Hence, judging nylon can be very tricky. Generally, some of its main benefits are that nylon sheaths are strong and tough, just like their leather counterparts. They are not going to tear or break away very easily, so if you are looking for a sheath that can survive all those tough situations out in the wild, you know which one to choose. Apart from that, another great advantage is that nylon is much more resistant to water, and moisture doesn’t affect them as seriously as it does leather. Therefore, you don’t have to worry if your sheath gets wet every once in a while. Unlike leather, nylon sheaths are also resistant to rot and mildew. Call it a bonus or whatever but nylon sheaths are MOLLE (modular lightweight load-carrying equipment) compatible. Allow me to elaborate. In simple words, MOLLE is a lightweight modular system that is used to carry your gear. So, your sheath can be strapped onto your gear, and you can carry it around easily. Nylon is noiseless too, but not as effective as the leather ones. So, if you need a sheath that does not have ANY sound, try a leather one. The surprising and probably the most notable thing about nylon is its low price. Even with all the great benefits, nylon is much cheaper than Kydex or leather sheaths.
As for its disadvantages, they are not as durable or long-lasting as other materials. They will break down faster, and you will have to change a nylon sheath frequently. But, it also depends on its maintenance. If you take good care of it, it actually may last for quite a good time. Another setback with a material like nylon is that it gets stretched over time. At first, your knife would fit perfectly into it. But, as you continue to use it, it will loosen up, and the knife wouldn’t feel snugly in it anymore. Consequently, you will have to replace your nylon sheath with another one. Now, it seems like those advantages come at a price though, don’t they?
Kydex is a thermoplastic acrylic polyvinyl chloride material. Basically, it is a modern material specially used to make firearms holsters and knife sheaths. This one has the most benefits out of all. To begin with, Kydex is a durable and very strong material. Probably the toughest one out of all the materials (or at least I think so). It is waterproof and scratch-resistant, which means that you can abuse it as much as you like, it won't give up. You can put it into the water, or even saltwater for a long time, and it won't have much effect on it. So, if you are someone who needs a sheath to last forever and doesn’t want to go through the trouble of replacing one again and again, then probably this is the best pick for you. Unlike nylon, Kydex doesn’t stretch or shrink over time, so your knife would fit perfectly into it even after it gets old. Personally, Kydex is the perfect material for someone like me who absolutely hates maintaining stuff. I know that it's nothing to be proud of but spending time oiling or thoroughly cleaning a sheath is just not my thing.
To start with the disadvantages, and a prominent one, Kydex sheaths make a hell of a lot of noise. Unlike other materials, Kydex snaps when a knife is drawn in or out of the sheath. Now taking it as an advantage or a setback depends on person to person. If you are someone who enjoys the satisfaction that comes from that “snap” and thinks that it sounds cool, then it may not be an issue for you. But, if you strictly need it to be quiet, this isn't the perfect fit for you. Plus, due to this particular reason, Kydex may not be used as a tactical weapon. By choosing a Kydex sheath, you are also risking your knife to lose its sharpness frequently. When you repeatedly take the knife in and out of the sheath (and keep in mind that Kydex is a hard material), the edge of the blade comes in contact with the cover, and it becomes dull over time.
Kydex too is kind of a plastic sheath but its characteristics are nowhere similar to them. Note that plastic sheaths are the cheapest option out of them all, but you get what you pay for. They are the lowest quality and won't last a bit. They will wear out pretty easily, and you will have to replace your crappy sheath for a new one. Just so you know, there aren’t any apparent benefits of a plastic sheath.
The job of a sheath is to protect the blade. But, what a plastic sheath does is the exact opposite. Repeated use of a knife in a plastic sheath will dull the blade over time so you will have to go through the trouble of sharpening it again and again. Due to the low-quality material, your blade won't have any breathing space at all. Therefore, a plastic sheath is not a great home for your trusty knife. It will continue to damage it over time, so never store your knife in it for long. Firstly, try not to choose a knife that originally comes with a plastic sheath (go for a leather one instead). Even if you do, replace it as soon as you can. Avoid thinking of it as the cheapest option, because it will cost you more than you think.
Well, as I’ve said before, each material has its pros and cons and is suitable for you depending upon the situation you are in. I prefer weighing the advantages and disadvantages against each other and coming up with an answer. However, there are a few characteristics that you should look for in your sheath. Prefer one that has a lower attachment. This means that it must have a hole or a tag that you can attach to your backpack, making it accessible. Having a belt attachment too may also be a plus point.
Now, if your priority is getting a sheath that looks good, and you’re very strict about the noise part, then you should find your options in leather. Similarly, a Kydex sheath is preferred by those who aren't ready to compromise on the quality and durability of the material because it is the best one out in the market. As it is low maintenance, you don’t have to spend much time taking care of it. Kydex makes for a great diving sheath too. In case you are leaning towards a nylon sheath, then the greatest benefit you'll get is that it is MOLLE compatible. It is made up of satisfactory material and will surely last a long time if you take good care of it. The benefits you get with its low cost are notable. Finally, if you are searching for a sheath on a budget, then plastic is the way to go, but keep in mind that you will have to replace it quite soon.
Many people tend to overlook the sheath while focusing on the decision of buying a knife because they don’t realize how important it is and the kind of effect it has. If you are going to buy a sheath or already have one, take good care of it. Don’t store the knife in the sheath for a very long time because it will collect moisture and eventually cause harm to your blade. Oil it regularly to reduce friction. Establish a routine for sharpening and honing your blade so it's ready when you want it to be. In short, protect your blade so your blade can protect you.
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