If you like pretty and nice, and you rarely use your knife for anything more than a weekend camping trip or afternoon of whittling in the backyard then you can afford to be fussy about your knife sheath. Let’s face it; nothing quite matches the beauty of a well-made leather sheath. For those of you who are into the “tacticool” look then a Kydex sheath is probably your thing. But what if you’re going to be using a knife on a ranch or out in the jungle or perhaps even in a remote military zone where the sheath is subjected to abuse ranging from bumps and scrapes to high humidity and even monsoons. What if stealth is of primary importance? What if the ability to improvise the sheath at a minute’s notice is also important? If that’s the case then allow me to introduce you to a sheath system I’ve been using for at least twenty years. These sheaths are for the person who's looking for a rugged, no nonsense sheath.
The idea started with an extra-heavy-duty olive drab military tow strap I bought at an army surplus store over thirty years ago. The tow strap was brand new and it made a nice addition to my truck’s emergency package. Over the years the tow strap was used for pulling other vehicles out of mud or sand and towing cars and trucks from one location to another. Then one night my two youngest sons were attempting to pull a disabled pickup truck and the strap snapped when one of them gunned the engine.
Perhaps most folks would’ve tossed what was left of the strap into the garbage but I saw an opportunity to give it a second chance so I made my first tow-strap knife sheath and immediately discovered it was a practical concept.
Before I get into the details let me tell you what I like and dislike about other sheath materials. I’ve already admitted that leather is beautiful. If you take care of it then it can last for many years. Neglect it and it will be gone in no time. To begin with leather, being an organic product, can quickly degrade if not pampered. Leather is subject to mold in humid climates and if you’ve ever fallen into a lake or river wearing a leather knife sheath then you know what a mess that can be. Even if treated with silicon or some other leather preservative the sheath will soften to the point of being mushy. If it dries too rapidly it’ll harden and become brittle. You can work the leather fibers back and forth to put some “life” back into the sheath but you’d best treat it with a conditioner (saddle soap, Neatsfoot Oil, Mink Oil etc.) as soon as you get a chance. Wet leather takes a while to dry and if you’re using a carbon steel blade then watch for rust spots on the blade where it came in contact with the leather. Furthermore, leather stitching has a tendency to unravel over time. Kydex on the other hand is practically impermeable to the weather. It is, however, horrifically noisy. If you’re trying to move through the woods or brush without making aberrant sounds then Kydex isn’t for you. Brush against thorns and you’ll hear an icky scraping sound that can be heard a hundred feet away. Besides, every time you extract your knife from a Kydex sheath you might as well yell, “Here I am!”
So then what’s the advantage of the military tow strap knife sheath? To begin with it’s inexpensive to buy and easy to make. Remember, I’m referring specifically to a military grade tow strap. They’re available at army surplus stores or online. These are not your thin, bright yellow straps sold at auto stores and larges retail outlets. Military grade two straps are heavy, thick and rugged. If you decide to buy one then get a strap that’s 1 ½ inches wide.
Depending on the overall length of your knife, cut a piece of strapping long enough to be made into the sheath itself and the carrying loop. Note the photo above. I lay the knife on the table and then measure the length I’ll require for the sheath then I’ll overlap the loop for the belt.
You can add a leather patch at the bottom of the sheath (where the knife point will make contact with the sheath) or if you choose then leave it as is. In all my years of carrying these knife sheaths I’ve never had a knife point come through the heavy sheath. Not that it won’t happen, but that it’s never happened to me—so if that bothers you then attach the leather piece.
To secure the sheath wrap the entire area with duct tape. You can use any color you want. I just use whatever I have on hand but I imagine you might use a camouflaged duct tape and that would look quite spiffy.
Some of you might be wondering about a welt along the cutting edge of the sheath, or where the knife edge will make contact. Again, I seldom bother with that detail. It’s never been a problem for me but you can fashion a strip of leather or plastic and insert it between strap or you can wrap it over the outside. I’ve done the latter and it works well.
There are a number of improvisations that can be done with this easy-to-make knife sheath. I wrap my sheaths with parachute cord. You might also insert a ferro rod under the cordage or you can slip some fish hooks and fishing line via a pouch made from another piece of strap that’s wrapped along with the sheath. These straps are rugged, waterproof and the duct tape adds more protection to the sheath. Remember that I’m not referring to lesser tow straps and I am not recommending any other type of strap like that from a seat belt. The seat belt strap is far too thin and fragile. In other words, I don’t recommend seat belt straps.