The choice between a Kydex knife sheath and a leather knife sheath is more than a question of style or taste. It’s a question of speed, safety, and security.
It’s not that leather is bad. We carry both leather and Kydex knife sheaths at Montana Knife Company, but we ship all our knives with a Kydex sheath. Let’s talk about why that is.
Sure, Leather Looks Damn Good
I love the look of a leather sheath. It reminds me a lot of my grandpa and probably reminds you of yours.
It's the sort of sheath that a trapper like Jim Bridger would have worn back in his day. That's the look a lot of us are going for. We want something to match our leather gun sling, or the bridle or saddle on our horse.
A leather sheath on a leather belt with a nice buckle just looks good, plain and simple.
Leather vs. Kydex Knife Sheaths
Maybe you're not into all the maintenance a leather sheath requires. Or maybe you're just not sure which kind of sheath will suit your needs.
Let's talk about some of the issues you might run into with leather that you won't find with a Kydex sheath. Even if you love leather and don't mind the maintenance, the benefits of using a Kydex knife sheath stand out in a few categories.
Unlike leather, Kydex knife sheaths hold up against the elements, rain or shine.
Let's say you're out on a hike in the rain, and water is running down your jacket onto your blade handle and into your sheath. Most leather sheaths are sealed shut, so in that situation they fill with water. That water stays against your blade all day long, and the leather soaks it in, expands, softens, and loses its shape.
All our Kydex sheaths, however, have a small hole in the bottom for the water to run through.
MKC Kydex knife sheaths are heat molded to each knife and hold their form regardless of the elements. That means they can get wet, hot, or cold over and over — and still retain their shape.
If you're a person like me who uses a knife often, then you're constantly putting it into and pulling it out of the sheath. And you know a leather sheath can loosen up over time. A Kydex knife sheath retains its tension and fit regardless of how much you use it.
A leather sheath can be a great option, as long as it's well made and you take good care of it.
If you're the sort of person who's into leather products, I don't have to tell you how to take care of them. You probably enjoy oiling your sheath the same way you oil your gun barrel or your knife to prevent rust. You take care of your leather boots and your saddle, too. If your leather sheath rips, it gets restitched and put right back to work.
Kydex allows you to be a little less meticulous with your sheath care. Remember the example of rainwater we just discussed? What if it's another liquid, like blood? Leather will soak it up and start to smell if not cleaned thoroughly. And when you do clean it, you better find something interesting to do while you wait for it to dry.
It can go right into the sink and wash with hot soapy water, but avoid putting it in a hot dishwasher because it can melt it.
Quick tip: Don’t leave your knife in the Kydex sheath on the dash of your car if it's hot. It will melt.
A Kydex knife sheath adapts to different styles of carry. You can use it with all sorts of belt clips, shoulder straps, and backpacks. You can add different kinds of attachments to it, and even screw it to your Kydex gun holster.
We make sure that all the hole patterns on our Kydex knife sheaths match all industry-standard clips. That gives you the ability to modify your kit with various attachments and buckles and to interchange parts and pieces as needed.
One of the biggest considerations for knife owners is safety, especially for the young or less experienced. One issue with a leather sheath can be if it's made improperly without a good stopping point. In that situation, you can push a blade right through the end of it.
MKC's leather sheaths don't have this problem because they're made by one of the best sheath makers in the country: Francesca Ritchie over at Teton Leather in Idaho Falls. She uses a stiff, high-quality leather, and constructs her sheaths in such a way that mitigates a lot of the issues we can see with leather.
That said, leather is still a natural material. So even with well-made leather sheaths, if you don't line up the blade properly, you can cut into it and pierce through the side.
That sort of thing won't happen with Kydex knife sheaths. If you fall down a mountain or off a horse, for example, that knife can't stab you in the leg.
It's important that your knife be easily accessible, for a few reasons. Self-defense is number one.
If you're out for a hike in the mountains or on a backpacking trip, your knife is your last line of defense against humans, mountain lions, maybe even bears — anything that wants to do you harm.
Now, I don't recommend fighting a bear with a knife, but if it comes to it, you'll be glad that at the very least you can access your knife to protect yourself. In emergency situations like this, you won't have time to rummage through a backpack or dig through pockets to find a blade.
Your knife should also be accessible while hunting. I use a knife throughout the day on hunting trips, not just for field dressing. I might need to open a freeze-dried meal, cut some string, or shave off some dry wood to start a fire. If my knife is hard to get to, or if I'm constantly having to buckle and unbuckle a strap to sheathe it, I'm more likely to leave it on the ground for continual use, which means I'm more likely to damage or lose my investment.
When I go hunting, my pack weighs 60 pounds and has a lot of stuff to dig through. My Kydex knife sheath clips to the chest strap on my pack, leaving it in easy reach for self-defense or frequent use. I can also clip it to my belt when my pack is off. That way I can use it, secure it, and use it again.
MKC Kydex knife sheaths offer a ton of versatility and accessibility. I see farmers and ranchers clipping them to the visors of their pickups. I've clipped them to the edge of a piece of plastic on my raft. I see fly fishermen carrying them on their fishing vests.
There are a hundred different ways to carry a knife. But in my experience, using a Kydex knife sheath offers the best range of choices.
Bottom Line on Kydex Knife Sheaths
While leather knife sheaths are classic and they're not going away anytime soon, Kydex knife sheaths offer a durability and versatility that leather just can't. They're easy to clean, lightweight, weatherproof, and secure.
That's why we ship all our MKC blades with Kydex knife sheaths.
by Josh Smith, Master Bladesmith and Founder of Montana Knife Company