Modern Knife Sheaths: A Look at Three Innovative Designs
Tony Sculimbrene 05.22.15
Ask any fixed blade maker what their least favorite part of product design and development is, and they will uniformly tell you that it is sheath making. Sheathes are just not easy to make.
You can get the tactical, tube-sock-style nylon sheathes that kind-of-sort-of work, or you can get Kydex models or leather, but unless the sheath is built for a specific unit, not just model, but individual knife, it’s never perfect.
And sheathes are just hard to make fit in to the production of a knife. They require an entirely different skill set than that used to make knives. But if you have used even a few fixed blades, you’ll recognize instantly that a sheath is just as important or more important than blade steel. In many ways, my favorite fixed blades are really good knives with great sheathes (the Ka Bar/Becker BK9 being the exception).
Recently, as the Gear Boom has continued, lots of folks have spent time reconsidering the sheath problem, and the result is a trio of very innovative sheath designs worth looking at if you are in the market for a fixed blade. There are, and have been for years, sheath makers that can bling out your sheath, but these designs represent a new level of functionality as opposed to an increase in decoration.
The aesthetic of Hedgehog Leatherworks‘s stuff is quite distinctive, very overbuilt, and quite heavy on the pockets and pouches. These sheathes turn a knife into a survival kit that is easy to carry. That alone makes them worthwhile for a lot folks. It doesn’t hurt that they use absolute top shelf material and make sheathes for some of the most popular blades, including a pair of ESEEs, an array of Ka-Bar/Beckers, and the divisive Tom Brown Tracker knife from TOPS Knives.
The next gen step in the evolution of their sheath systems came with addition of the shock cord straps to the handle snap, called the Rapid Release Strap. Here is a video overview of a sheath with the Rapid Release Strap:
This is an elegant solution to an age-old problem. All too often, the handle snap on sheath gets in the way, both when extracting the knife and putting it back into the sheath. This is cumbersome and makes the process an exclusively two-handed affair. By tying the handle snap to some shock cord, undoing the snap instantly shoots the straps out of the way, allowing for one handed extraction. It also makes resheathing the knife much easier as the path has been cleared.
Great materials, clever design (which is being patented, thankfully someone in the gear community is starting to see the value in intellectual property), and sheathes for classic blades make Hedgehog’s stuff among the best in the world. Their prices are high and waitlists are long, but it’s worth it. Another outfit, Coyle Outdoor, is also using (with permission) the shock cord system, so check there if Hedgehog doesn’t have what you want.
Bark River’s Mag Sheath
The Bark River Adventurer is one of the most amazing little fixed blades you’ll ever see. As a combination of Murray Carter’s design prowess and Mike Stewart’s manufacturing know-how, it is an achievement in production fixed blades. But it’s not just the knife that is innovative. The sheath has a trick, literally up its sleeve.
Designed as a neck knife, the sheath had to be tight fitting, but they decided to go a step further and add a rare earth magnet to the sheath. On one side of the sheath, they stacked two plys of leather, and in between there is a large, strong magnet. The leather is then sealed closed (though I would have liked it to be stitched). Other than some delaminating at the mouth of the sheath, the set up worked well. The magnet’s strong pull and the sheath’s tight fit kept everything exactly where it should be even when the whole unit, knife and all, is upside down.
While the sheath itself wasn’t the greatest in the world, the idea of incorporating a magnet to guarantee retention holds promise. With better execution, this could be the first of a trend. Just don’t wear the sheath around your neck if you have a pacemaker. (There is a warning in the box saying as much. It kinda took me by surprise until I felt just how strong the magnet was)
EdgeGuard Sheath System
Phil Adams makes some spectacular handmade hunting knives. Strongly influenced by Bob Loveless, like most other fixed blade makers, his designs are refined and hardworking. But when he took off is knifemaker hat and put on his inventor hat, he made a sheath system unlike anything else on the market.
Designed to be used in rough and sandy environments, EdgeGuard Sheath is basically a spring loaded, open pillar constructed sheath.
Taking two pieces of material, Phil uses nylon pillars to keep them a set distance apart while still holding the knife in place. Improving retention, the sheath has a mechanism that fits a spring-loaded bar into a small cut out on the handle of the standard EdgeGuard knife (the system comes with the knife).
As the knife is inserted into the sheath, it contacts the nylon pillars (preserving the edge) and is channeled into place. Over the last half inch or so of travel, the spring-loaded bar snaps into the notch on the blade spine and everything is held secure. To release the knife you simply press on the mechanism’s external tab and pull the handle. The mechanism can be user-swapped to the other side to make the sheath workable for lefties.
Phil offers custom versions of the sheath for any knife you own and he has expanded the line to include pre-built models for the USMC Ka-Bar and the Mk 2 Ka-Bar. The knife that comes with the standard system is a pretty darn good looking design in its own right–a 5 inch blade of 1095 with a good, sculpted handle. The sheath with the standard knife costs $225 from Phil’s site.
These are just three amazing sheathes, but they represent the cutting edge of sheath technology. As the Gear Boom continues, it’s likely we’ll see sheath technology pushed even further. Hopefully we’ll reach a point where production knives come with sheathes as good as the knives themselves. Production folders have come very close to customs in terms of performance and innovation in the past few years. It’d be nice to see the same progress in sheathes.