Best Safari Knife Shoot Out - 2017

Discussion in 'Hunting Equipment, Gear & Optics' started by rookhawk, May 24, 2017.

  1. rookhawk

    rookhawk AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Best Safari Knife Shoot Out – 2017



    D. Troy Moritz & Austringer Outfitters​

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    From top left clockwise: The ESEE RB3 Camp-Lore, the Buck Selkirk, the Fallkniven F1 Pro and the Arthur Wright Bushcraft. Each formidable choices for a safari knife in their own right and all received recognition during our three phases of testing.


    What makes a knife a “safari knife” and who does it best? We logged hundreds of hours distilling the core requirements for a proper safari knife, created testing criterion and ran some of the best knives in the world through their paces. Who reigns supreme?


    Our requirements which we determined based upon reasonable use cases can best be described as follows, although none of the entrants actually achieved all functional and non-functional requirements:


    1.) Suitable for General Field Craft. Examples of this trait would be cutting a few branches from a blind here and there, sharpening a stick or two for grilling up the sand grouse skewers for lunch over the mopane wood fire and other basic bushcraft duties.

    2.) Fit for use as a Standard Hunting Knife. Can the knife dress a large game animal at least to the point of quartering, removing loins and backstraps, basic bird/fish cleaning and other standard and customary hunting duties.

    3.) The tourist’s Odd Jobs while on safari. Is the knife razor sharp enough to do the near impossible task of cutting a fine Cuban cigar in the bush without destroying a fine stick? Can it act as a cigar cutter 10x in a row without being dull? What about cutting into biltong all day as you try to snack on dried cross grain cut meats and jerkys?

    4.) The multi-tool of unforeseen and inappropriate jobs. Contrary to all good sense and fair judgment, can the knife do things you ought not due like pry open rusted small lock to get at the tools or tire? Can the knife endure the abuse of use as an emergency ice pick to get perfect size shavings for your gin and tonic? In short, can it endure misuse and abuse that in good conscience should void the warranty on any knife?

    5.) Maintains its edge and sharpens with minimal effort. Dull knives are not useful and they serve as a particular nuisance when you’re 8,000 miles from your Japanese Whetstone. Does the knife have a Scandinavian single bevel grind that makes sharpening imbecile proof in the field? Does the steel alloy make touch ups of the blade against a leather scabbard or inside of your leather belt possible? We dulled all the blades and went on to see how easy they touch up with a quick strop knowing a proper sharpening is not likely.

    6.) Proportionally appropriate for the tasks of a safari in both form and function. The knives tested all were fixed blade models that could provide slashing, thrusting and <gulp> prying abilities. Proper handles that fit adult hands with good indexing and blade geometry, reasonable 3-4” blades, quality sheaths and all within the realms of suitable “bushcraft style” knives that are clearly multi-purpose knives that would be suitable proxies for traditional hunting knives when called upon.​

    We ran a great many contestants through their paces under many different conditions in a three phase process.


    Phase 1 – Over 30 knives were tested in the USA in backyard conditions to see if they held any promise as contenders. In addition to the knives featured here we looked at everything from classic WWII Kabars, Case, Bucks, Beckers, Condors, Ontario, Benchmade, Gerber, Helle, Spyderco and Moro.


    Phase 2 – More than a dozen knives made it past the initial testing and got to be used on an actual hunt in Texas. During this field test we field dressed several deer, started fires with ferocium rods, cut a few cigars to celebrate the day’s successes and even used them as utensils at some dinners.


    Phase 3 – The preliminary finalists were sent for final testing in Zimbabwe for more than two weeks of rigorous use and carry in real world safari conditions. During this third phase Professional Hunters, Clients, National Parks Rangers, Skinners and Trackers all got to put these knives through rigorous endurance tests to see just what sort of punishment was endured.​



    In the end, we had four winners that will surely guide your decision making towards the right knife for your upcoming safari. The winners are:


    Best Economy Value Safari Knife – Buck Selkirk

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    The Buck Selkirk has many virtues but is balanced by a few vices as well. But with an MSRP of $87.00 and a street price that often is just slightly more than $50.00 it deserves consideration for anyone on a budget.


    What we loved: The included ferocium fire starter is a great bonus as was the multi-position adjustable sheath that can accommodate many configurations. The blade was suitably sharp and reasonably thick to handle many of the duties for which it was conscripted. The steel pommel could serve useful for bashing and crushing tasks in a pinch and the micarta handles provided a steady grip while the steel guard would protect your fingers from serious injury if using it for a thrusting tool. Lets not forget that sterling reputation of Buck’s limited lifetime warranty that comes proudly on a piece of paper in every box.


    What we didn’t like: Kydex, Nylon or as is the case with the economical Selkirk, plastic sheaths are notorious for being loud when used on stalks and may blow your cover while trying to move silently on your hunt. The plastic whistle in the ferocium rod handle was a bit of a gimmick for our tastes and the 420HC steel held its edge for a long time but does not touch up or resharpen very easily. Lastly, the made in China stamp on the blade reminds us that this is a economy knife and not a legendary American Buck but for little more than $50.00 it is asking a lot to be made in the USA. Lastly, the drop point and the flat grind are not the most durable geometries and while dressing a game animal we broke a small portion of the tip off to the chagrin of the PH.


    Best Ultra Premium Safari Knife – Fallkniven F1 Pro

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    The Fallkniven F1 Pro is really perfect for the Saab car enthusiast. If the beloved Saab carrries the banner “Designed from Jets” this Swedish maestro has a shared claim. The Fallkniven F1 Pro was designed for the pilots of Sweden’s Viggen warplanes as a true emergency survival knife. With no gimmicks and superfluous features it is a truly marvelous creation. Laminated steel ensures a razor cutting edge and soft, shock absorbent spine and case to the blade. The rubber handle secures the knife whether wet or dry while the pommel allows you to break ice, the cockpit glass on your fighter jet or any other pounding task. The blade profile has a secondary bevel and an appearance very similar to what Americans have chosen for fine hunting knives for nearly a century. Tactical, reliable, flawlessly manufactured and contemporary in its aesthetic, the Fallkniven F1 Pro is not a knife for the traditionalist but is nonetheless an exquisite piece of modern Swedish engineering. With a MSRP of over $350.00 and a US street price hovering around $250.00 the knife is not for the economy minded but it quite possibly could be the last knife you ever buy for safaris, hunting and camp life.


    What we loved: The Laminated CoS steel with a 60 Rockwell hardness makes for a razor sharp edge, easy touch ups and the soft laminations provide shock absorption and protection. The leather sheath (purchased separately as it comes with a Zytel sheath standard) is of a hanger configuration that was quite comfortable. The included waterproof storage box is a sure-win for reuse by the safari hunter and the included diamond/ceramic sharpening stone is a valuable accessory. The quality of the micro welds that affixed the guard to the blade were exactly what you’d expect of a world class Swedish manufacturer and while the grip is quite thin and overall lightweight, it never seemed to effect our ability to use the knife.


    What we didn’t like: The standard Kydex sheath is not appropriate for the safari hunter even though it is a very expensive and high quality product beloved by the bushcraft community. The clip point blade may appeal more to traditional hunters but it also means there is not a Scandinavian grind present and thus, sharpening chores require actual competence and technique instead of the “idiot proof” sharpening of a Scandi bevel grind.


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    While neither are traditional bushcraft knives that would normally be in consideration for a safari knife, both the Fallkniven F1 Pro and the Buck Selkirk overcame critiques to achieve strong recognition for their merits in our tests.

    Best Traditional Safari Knife – Arthur Wright Bushcraft



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    The A.W. Wright (Not to be confused with LT Wright!) is a glorious knife for the safari hunter and it will look beautiful in your display case when in repose. Made by trusted hands in Sheffield, England from 01 Carbon Tool Steel and hardened to Rockwell 56/58, this blade was meant for safari use. The Wright also comes in beautiful grip adornments such as Snakewood, Ebony, Horn, Rosewood or our favorite, Stag. With an MSRP of around $300.00 and a street price in the UK of about $230.00 not counting international freight, it is an expensive but beautiful knife. Here’s a great video of the manufacture and history of the Arthur Knife Bushcraft here:


    What we loved: The substantial, extremely hefty 3.9mm blade makes this knife suitable for all forms of torture and the scandi grind made putting an edge back on a straightforward ordeal. The handmade nature of the blade and the one of a kind natural handles give this knife the counterpoint to the Fallkniven’s space age technologies. While some knives one points for innovation, the Arthur Wright caught our eyes for its lack of innovation in its traditional, proven design, known materials and first world hand crafted nature.


    What we didn’t like: Jabbing the knife into some mopane wood was all it took to fold over the tip of the blade at 56 rockwell and striking the spine of the blade with a soft flint for starting a fire did scratch the spine and displace some metal. The lack of a guard is somewhat compensated by the contour of the handle and blade but it certainly is the least sure gripped choice of the lot. The beautiful handle rivets mean the stag scales aren’t coming off anytime soon but neither are you going to easily replace the handle with a piece of giraffe bone, warthog tusk or impala horn from your trophies brought back from Africa. Nonetheless, this is a forever knife and no matter how many times you polish out blemishes or redress the edge profile of the Scandi grind you’ll never wear this knife out.

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    Cutting biltong on the back of the Toyota Landcruiser is one of the most common daily uses of a safari knife. A sharp tool is the only way you’ll get through the tough, dry meat of your favorite bush snack.

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    The traditional Arthur Wright with its larger, heavier blade is contrasted against the ESEE RB3 that is a lighter, more agile option. Both beautiful knives that received excellent marks in our testing.


    Best Safari Knife Overall and Reviewer’s Choice – ESEE RB3 Camp-lore



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    Feast your senses upon the absolute, hands down winner of the 2017 best safari knife competition, the made in America ESEE RB3 Camp-Lore designed by Reuben Bolieu. This fantastic knife got high marks for a great many reasons which we’ll enumerate shortly but first, lets talk about price. The Camp-Lore RB3 has an MSRP of $190.00 and a street price that hovers right around $110.00 in many places. The 1095 steel blade needs a modicum of upkeep to prevent rust but in return it is very easy to keep razor sharp.


    What we loved: The Scandi grind made sharpening the knife idiot proof and the soft 1095 steel was easily stropped on our belt to hone the edge for more than a week of heavy use. Inos, our skinner let out a frightful noise of sheer surprise when we handed it to him to dress an impala ram as he did not anticipate a “surgical sharp” instrument in the bush. Long after the knife had skinned several animals it was still cutting the caps off of very delicate Partagas Serie P No. 2 torpedo cigars without trashing that Cuban delicacy. The no-nonsense leather sheath served as a strop daily and kept the edge wicked sharp for more than a week of heavy use before it could not longer shave hair. The linen micarta handles and grip geometry were stellar and removing the three torx screws that hold on the grips would be easy should you wish to someday personalize the knife with impala horn scales or a giraffe bone scrimshaw from one of your African experiences. We loved the heritage of this knife and its association with “Randall’s Adventure & Training School of Survival” and its known history as a serious bushcraft tool that is all utility and no superfluous gimmickry.


    What we didn’t like: We don’t like to be told no and we don’t care for safety warnings! The first thing you’ll read in the box is that the .125” thick blade is not recommended for batoning wood as it will likely roll the edge of the knife. Acknowledged, we know that batoning any knife with mopane wood as the subject material will devastate the edge but for some reason this thoughtful warning made us feel that the ESEE warranty may not be honored if we do what we know we shouldn’t do to this knife. The sheath was not without a minor issue or two also but we have so much to say about all the sheaths we are going to give that a collective diatribe in this review.

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    The skinning abilities of the RB3 were profound and it managed to handle all chores admirably. The sustainably harvested giraffe above was dressed using several of the reviewed knives and the meat will go on to feed 42 members of the local tribal community for nearly six months.


    A Few Words About Sheaths For Your Safari Knife



    We had an epiphany during our testing that was not a particular good realization: all the sheaths were very disappointing. Lets paint the picture properly:


    · The Fallkniven F1 Pro Sheath has stitching coming undone at the bottom of the sheath, perhaps from the point of the blade cutting the stitch or perhaps a manufacturer’s defect. Not acceptable for a MSRP $55.00 sheath.

    · The ESEE Camp-Lore Sheath was proudly stamped “made in USA” on the back of the sheath. The bad news is that it was embossed so deeply that it creates a perfect “pocket” for the blade to snag on while trying to put your blade away that resulted in us cutting the sheath! Not acceptable for a MSRP $25.00 sheath.

    · The Arthur Wright compatible sheath from “The Bushcraft Store UK” also had a blown stitch and required a prompt replacement from TBS. Sadly, as nice of a sheath as it is the knife falls out of it frequently contrary to their claims that the sheath will work well with the A. Wright Bushcraft knife. Not acceptable for a MSRP $55.00 sheath.

    · The Buck Selkirk provided no leather sheath whatsoever so we had to toil with the cumbersome and gimmick laden plastic sheath trying to move Chicago screws around to get it oriented correctly and ready for use in the bush. It was so profoundly noisy that it deeply frustrated us and the way in which it “over secured” the knife was so tricky that the PH cut himself trying to get the knife out of the plastic sheath.

    · For the additional two dozen knives we initially reviewed there was an even longer list of sheath maladies that we omit from this review to save space and time!


    In short, a sheath is a very personal thing and you must consider the notion that to be truly satisfied you will need to either make your own sheath or have one custom made from a quality sheath company such as JRE Industries that knows how to make a proper safari sheath. Of the bunch, the unsophisticated ESEE Camp-Lore RB3 leather sheath provided the most reliability but all reviewers found the idea of a horizontal sheath oriented in a cross draw or back draw configuration to be the most logical choice for the safari community.

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    Above are several of the sheaths we became frustrated with and managed to break or damage in our rigorous tests. A custom sheath from JRE Industries may cost as much as the knife itself but it would forgo much heartache when on safari.



    ***About Us: As a group of avid hunters, fine weapon collectors and perennial safari tourists we've had a chance to play with a lot of nice tools over the years. Austringer Outfitters requested these knives through industry channels so we could conduct a unique review that had never been done before. Austringer Outfitters does not retail or market any of the products within this review and we provide this review free of monetary compensation for the benefit of the overall sporting community.
     

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  2. Shootist43

    Shootist43 AH ENABLER GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    I'm happy to see that you accomplished one of the goals of your Zimbabwe Safari. Thanks for sharing.

    The question of the day is . . . . which one are you going to give to your daughter when she becomes of age?
     
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  3. rookhawk

    rookhawk AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    All of them sadly have gone to reviewers! Of the bunch, if I were to buy one for my kids or myself I'd buy the Overall Winner, the ESEE RB3 Camp-Lore and I'd have the grips changed out to elephant ivory, giraffe bone or another suitable medium for a lovely scrimshaw. Brass screws or Nitre Blued Screws to affix the custom scales and a hand made leather sheath by Spen Spelzer at JRE Industries in elephant leather or crocodile. That would be my suggested knife.

    Having said all of that, you will not find a superior knife for all around outdoor use and all the duties required for a safari than the $110 ESEE RB3. The only thing I would think that would be better is if you could get @Von Gruff or another qualified master bladesmith to make an identical copy by hand but in a thickness of around 3/16" or thicker instead of the 1/8" it comes as a factory knife.

    P.S. - My daughter is 7 so she already has a quality hunting knife which she has used for over a year now. My sons will be getting them shortly as they all get their first knife, an opinel #7 when they turn age 4. https://www.opinel.com/en/pocket-knives-and-tools/kids-my-first-opinel
     

  4. Shootist43

    Shootist43 AH ENABLER GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    My grandkids are getting a vintage Cold Steel Carbon V Master Hunter. My trouble is that their mother will not let the kids have one until they are at least 16. The fact that I carried a German made Bolker Boy Scout Knife every day from the time I was 8 years old to when I retired it in 1975 didn't cut one bit of ice with her.
     
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  5. Von Gruff

    Von Gruff AH ENABLER GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    A good leather sheath that is hot waxed and boned to the knife shape will hold the knife securely and be almost as hard as kydex. It should allow for easy one handed withdrawl and return with about a third to a half of the knife handle above the sheath for a secure hand hold when withdrawing it and when worn just behind the hip will not catch on brush (or bang against a slung rifle, but the sheath can be bought more to the side/front of the hip when skinning or dressing an animal for easy and accurate return of the knife when two hands are needed so you dont have to put the knife on the ground ) . You should be able to hold the sheath upside down an shaking it, not have the knife fall out but it should be easily withdrawn one handed when needed.
     
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  6. Adam S

    Adam S AH Veteran

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    Thank you for the very thorough and interesting review. I enjoy reading about knives about as much as hunting and rifles.
     
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  7. Art Lambart II

    Art Lambart II AH Fanatic

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    @rookhawk thanks for the review, of your four finalists I agree the ESEE is the best option. I looked at the buck Selkirk for my safari knife, I loved the feel and balance of the knife, the ferro rod is a plus but with so many quality American made knifes on the market the made in China was a deal breaker. Why did the F1 make your final list and the coldsteel SRK not, they are almost the same knife but the SRK is half the price.

    Based on your criteria I'm sure you tested several Mora knifes, why didn't one of them make your final list.

    I went with a Knifes of Alaska Bushcamp for my safari knife and couldn't be happier.
     

  8. edward

    edward GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    good job,very precise.
     

  9. rnovi

    rnovi AH Enthusiast

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    Heh, this is my Safari Knife. Splinters, frayed threads, bottle opener, toothpick. Brilliant!

    :)
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  10. rinehart0050

    rinehart0050 GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Great report @rookhawk! Thank you for the detailed run down on these knives.
     

  11. Ray B

    Ray B AH Elite

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    My cutlery education started at age eight when I was conscripted into our family meat jobbing business. I learned that knives are special tools, each designed for specialized tasks. they are not designed to perform tasks best left to other tools. If someone wants to take one knife on a trip, leaving other tools at home, that is their choice. However, I prefer to take tools best suited to particular tasks. When I head into a wilderness area, generally in pursuit of elk in addition to my Randall #5 - 5" (which is used only for the elk) I take a Leatherman Wave and a Wyoming 2 saw (with both bone and wood blades).
    When my boys were of suitable age they each got a Ruana knife ( I'd have to look up the model number) and instructions on how to sharpen it and what a sharp edge looks like.

    thanks Rookhawk for the informative report- even though I consider some of the uses applied to the knives on the verge of being capital sins, :);)(y)(y)
     
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  12. Ray B

    Ray B AH Elite

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    I looked up the Ruana catalog and see the models that I got for my sons is the 21-A. I recall that they were less than $100 each, but then, that's been a few years back since I see the current price is $429. Oh well, I guess they appreciated better than most of my other investments.
     

  13. CAustin

    CAustin AH ENABLER BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Ambassador

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    You get what you pay for or In Some cases you don't pay much but get a serviceable knife.
     

  14. Rule 303

    Rule 303 AH Fanatic

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    Roohawk thanks for an informative report.

    I have a Fallkniven F1 -the survival knife - and S1 Hunting knife based on the F1 but shaped like the F1 Pro you tested and larger. The F1 blade shape is more like the buck blade.

    I also have a custom made skinner/flaying knife. I have used this knife for everything over the last 10 years, now I have the F1 that will be doing most of the work. I appreciate good functional blades and the ESEE-RB3 sure has that in spades. No I wont be ordering one as I have too many knives now.:)
     

  15. rookhawk

    rookhawk AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    The SRK and the other knives discussed didn't make it to 2nd round testing because they are large hunting and / or survival knives. I limited the review to practical and portable all-around knives in the 3"-4" blade length.

    In summary, I picked durable small knives that were best suited for the tasks at hand in lieu of classic large hunting knives that are more specialized.
     

  16. Buckdog

    Buckdog AH Enthusiast

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    Rookhawk very nice review of some nice blades. I gave up on sheath knifes long ago and far away as a PIA to deal with on a belt sticking me in the side, crappy sheaths etc and went to folding lock blades of which there are many nice ones. I am interested why none seem to meet your criteria? I would wager that more folding lock blades a sold than sheath knifes.
     

  17. rookhawk

    rookhawk AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    If you look at reviews for serious knives for most any purpose, you'll note that folding knives almost never make a list:

    -skinning (fixed)

    -Survival (fixed)

    -bushcraft (fixed)

    -filet (fixed)


    The reasons are a many but here are some: folding knives break. Folding knives can defeat their lock under stress resulting in amputations. Folding knives are difficult to sterilize. Folding knive handles are by their nature more likely to crack/break due to many small pins.

    Not only did we test only fixed knives, all the finalists were full tang knives as that's what you need if you are going to truly abuse the knife and have it endure.

    For my own personal interests, I did look into a spectacular folding bushcraft knife (can't remember name but K stamped on the blade) that looked promising, but at $600 and a year wait I passed on it.

    Keep in mind the tests aren't perfect, but we did our best and we tested more than 30 knives at a cost of $5000 in fine cutlery and we were willing to attempt to destroy that $5000 in cutlery. If anyone feels their knife should have been tested please send it over and we'll abuse it for you. I assure you if it's a folding knife we will find the means to break it into many pieces using the same test criterion we used on the fixed blade knives!

    In conclusion, we think a very thick, small, fixed blade knife carried in a horizontal cross draw or back draw configuration is the most reliable, quiet and snag-proof choice for a safari hunter or photo safari expedition.
     

  18. Von Gruff

    Von Gruff AH ENABLER GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    @rookhawk, when you say a horizontal or back draw sheath, do you take into account the ease of return to the sheath one handed without cutting the sheath? Not disputing your findings but would like to see an explanation of how you came to the decision. A vertiacl carry sheath for a 3-4 in blade only has that much below the belt and a couple of inches above and will not impact on comfort sitting in a vehicle, (at least it never has for me) and worn behind the hipbone would be my own thought as to the optimum carry and usage position with easy and accurate extraction and return of the knife to the sheath without danger of damage to the sheath and in my understanding of horizontal carry, a more secure method. Having said that I feely admit to never having carrierd in this manner and have not been privy to the testing you have done so an exposition of the methods and results would be enlightening.
     

  19. rookhawk

    rookhawk AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    @Von Gruff Thanks for your reply to the thread as I'm grateful for the questions and healthy debate on the options. The vertical sheath has a single big compelling reason/benefit that I saw over other options and that is that gravity keeps the knife from falling out.

    The things I particularly did not like about vertical sheaths:

    1.) I had to find the knife...it moves around a bit on the belt
    2.) I had to find what angle the knife was at today as the vertical sheaths rocked back and forth
    3.) I was clanging against rifles, slings or binos a lot and that served as an irritant
    4.) The occasional jab in your gut from the handle
    5.) I got physically stuck in an armchair three times as the knife handle went under the metal arm of the chair. When I got up I walked around with the chair still attached to me!
    6.) We broke two vertical sheaths, One broke/got cut because the razor sharp knife was put in and it wasn't perfectly, perfectly, perfectly straight so when we dropped it it grabbed the side of the sheath interior and cut it pretty good. That then was a snag point that only got worse. The second one we dropped in via gravity and the weight of the knife poked and cut the first thread at the bottom of the sewn edge from the inside compromising the sheath.
    7.) Jess bushes snagged between the handle of the sheathed knife and our shirts resulting in more than just a "wait a bit" moment along with a whimper or two.


    For those reasons and more, we really liked the cross draw approach. With these smaller knives they did not protrude and held close to the body. They did not snag. You knew exactly where your knife was. Since it is cross-draw it is on the opposite side of your body than most of your equipment like rifle, sling, binos. Other holsters, Ammo pouch or culling belt, etc.. The cross draw is the easiest of all knife sheathing options from which to remove the knife rapidly with one hand. Usually the vertical sheaths required two hands so that the sheath could be held in place while the other hand removed the knife.

    The back draw may appeal to some people that want to keep things AWAY from snagging in any condition but it is the hardest one to put the knife back in the sheath and it is the one that hurts the most if you sit down against a hard chair as the whole knife presses against your lower back.
     

  20. Von Gruff

    Von Gruff AH ENABLER GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    So from that @rookhawk I take it you found that for a right handed person the prefered placing for the sheath is in front of the left hip at about a 30* angle for a knife like the Esee camp lore.
    I hadnt been considering a camp chair when I opined on the sheath position and had been going more on my experience of vehicle seats so I can readily see (and can sympathise with) your reasoning
     

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