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Leather Sheaths vs Kydex Sheaths: The Good and Bad
To me leather is the ultimate solution for carrying and protecting a knife. It is durable, silent, comfortable, and has an intrinsic appeal that can't be matched in a synthetic material. Leather also gains character with age, and begins to take on its own personality through the scratches and scuff marks that come with time.
If you haven't noticed, I am slightly biased to leather! My opinion has been forged through a number of experiences using both leather and its plastic alternative called kydex. At the end of the day, there are benefits and drawbacks to both options. This article will highlight the differences so that you can decide what is best for you.
For starters kydex is very noisy and disruptive. If you bump it against a tree or rock, it makes a distinct clacking sound… and if you remove your knife from the sheath you might as well announce your presence with a fog horn. A leather sheath creates almost no noise at all when the knife is inserted and removed.
Comfort and Carry
While some kydex sheaths have decent mechanisms of attaching to your belt, the vast majority are insecure and unbalanced. Many employ the use of steel clips which are prone to breaking. Tech-locks are another attachment mechanism which are more secure but tend to rattle around the belt. A properly made leather sheath is balanced, secure, and very comfortable to carry because it can be cinched tightly against the body.
Kydex is basically unaffected by water and moisture, whereas leather can experience problems if it gets soaking wet. If you get a leather sheath soaking wet, it becomes pliable and if you don't allow it to dry it can begin to mold. This is not a serious problem unless you plan on swimming with your sheath on a consistent basis. Should your sheath become overly saturated with water, simply allow it to dry without the knife inside. Also be certain not to speed the process with an external heat source as this will cause the leather to dry hard.
Blade Retention
Kydex sheaths are made by heating a piece of plastic, molding it around the knife, and then allowing it to cool off. The blade is held in place by the tension of the plastic. The problem is that most of these plastic sheaths are molded very loose or very tight. This results in the knife coming out of the sheath too easily or not easily enough. Leather can be equally problematic in regards to the closure strap. If a leather closure strap is secured around the handle of a knife for a long time, it will tend to stay in that position even when the closure strap is released. This is a problem becasue the user will often cut through the strap as he pulls the knife out. Hedgehog has eliminated this problem through a Patent Pending Rapid Release mechanism that retracts the leather strap from the cutting path of the blade.
When kydex is dropped or banged around, it will often crack which can render the sheath useless. Most of the time the crack occurs near a weak spot on the sheath like the attachment point, steel clip, or tech-lock. Leather is far more resistant to breaking from impact, however prolonged exposure to very high temperatures may cause it to become overly dry. The solution is to apply a small amount of neats foot oil to restore the proper moisture content. Too much oil will cause the fibers to loosen, and the sheath will loose form.
Have you ever walked through the forest and found that even the smallest foreign object, like a piece of trash, leaps out and catches your eye? Kydex is the same way. It blends poorly on a visual level, just like a candy wrapper that has been littered in the forest. While there are black and camouflage pattern varieties, the texture and surface is still shiny. Leather generally has a dull surface that is far less reflective. It is also capable of holding natural camo like clay, ash, and charcoal.
Edge Dulling
Most kydex sheaths have a nasty habit of dulling the edges on a knife. Every time you move the knife in and out of the sheath, the precious sharp edge of your blade wears against the hard surface of the plastic which accelerates the dulling process. This effect is greatly minimized with leather, as it offers a softer surface on which the blade edge rests.

  Best always,
Paul Scheiter

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