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Deer Stalking Kit

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Drop Leg Panels for Bushcraft Knives

Drop leg rigs are the topic of this months gear review, they will also aim to teach in this review a little bit about how to choose a knife for bushcraft and how to set yourself up to comfortably carry your bushcraft knife.

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Drop leg 'rigs' are normally associated with tactical equipment; pistol holsters and the like. I am normally dead against using 'tactical' style equipment for bushcrafting but for the last year I have been carrying my bushcraft knife on a drop leg rig and have become firmly converted, it has turned out to be a very practical solution to knife carry even if I'm not really keen on the way it looks. Aesthetically I'd much prefer a leather sheath on my belt, but I have found drop leg carry to be very practical.

First lets consider what to look for in the sheath of a 'user' knife; these criteria will be important as the review progresses. Next month I will address the difference between a 'user' knife and an 'ideal' knife as although the criteria below set out what I look for in a knife I would need for every day use a knife I would really WANT may be slightly different.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A 'USER' KNIFE
  • A hygienic sheath which will not soak up blood, fat and other contaminants from skinning and butchering game or preparing food (realistically this means a plastic like kydex)
  • A sheath which will not be uncomfortable when worn in conjunction with the hip belt of a rucksac (so no 'scout style' which honestly is a ridiculous way to carry a knife whether you are wearing a rucksac or not (sorry Tom Brown Tracker fans)) .
  • A sheath which is accessible without unnecessary 'faf' even when wearing winter clothing.
  • A sheath which I can wear directly on my person  (ie; on a belt or around my neck or on a baldric style over the head under the arm arrangement) rather than strapped to my rucksac. This is important so I can't be separated from my most important survival tool if I was to loose my rucksac.  
  • A sheath which is easy to detach from my person without un-threading my belt so it can be stowed in a rucksac while I'm travelling to and from places or situations where I need or can justify wearing it on my person.
  • A sheath which is secure and doesn't dangle, swing, rattle or bump (ie; securely on my belt not around my neck or on a baldric under my arm).
  • A sheath which is easy to access without unnecessary contortion.
So these are my basic requirements of a bushcraft sheath, notice that none of those requirements is that the sheath also contain a fire steel, sharpening kit etc... sometimes that is nice but it's not essential. I've come to realise that a drop leg arrangement is the best way to meet all these requirements. I have been using Maxpeditions 'low profile drop leg PALS panel' to mount knives on for about a year now and I'm as happy as I have ever been with my bushcraft knife carry arrangements.  
Maxpedition Low Profile Drop Leg PALS Panel
Maxpedition low profile drop leg PALS panel
Image result for blade tech molle lok
Blade Tech MOLLE LOk
These panels come in two parts a nylon belt loop which can be threaded onto your belt and forgotten about and the panel it'self. The two can be joined by  a robust plastic buckle. The panel also has a loop at the bottom to allow a cord to be threaded through to be tied around your thigh to secure the panel in place. Because these panels are equipped with 'PALS' or 'MOLLE' attachment points some sheath will not immediately fit them. A lot of quality Nylon sheaths are already MOLLE compatible so can be easily attached to these panels without modification but as I have mentioned before they are not my favourite option as they are very absorbent and can easily soak up fish slime, blood, fat, plant juices, oil and other contaminants presenting a potential food hygiene risk which would be undesirable at best. Avoiding that hygiene risk and making your knife compatible with these panels if it originally came in a leather sheath is a simple fix though; Blade Tech Molle LOk's can be easily attached to most kydex sheaths and used to secure your sheath to the panel. As kydex (or at least some non-absorbent material, zytel or other plastic material is equally acceptable) is one of my requirements for a general purpose bushcraft knife I haven't had to think about how I would attach leather sheaths to one of these panels and it isn't a problem I intend to spend any time solving or thinking about as if I intend to use the knife for general bushcrafting I will always make a kydex sheath for it if it doesn't already come in one. I know this might go against the grain for those who like their bushcraft kit to have that 'traditional' appearance and there is a lot of good to be said for traditional materials like leather, canvas and oilcloth but as I come from a deer stalking and gamekeeping background the need to keep my knife clean and hygienic is really important and something I always stress with my students that good practice requires them to use knives with impervious handles to avoid contamination of the meat they may be selling into the food chain. This has stuck with me and although I wont dispute the beauty of a full grain leather sheath my personal preference for reasons of practicality and hygiene is a plastic sheath. 

So now that we have our kydex sheathed knife firmly attached to the drop leg panel lets see if this carry option meets all my requirements;

  • A hygienic sheath which will not soak up blood, fat and other contaminants from skinning and butchering game or preparing food (realistically this means a plastic like kydex). Yes we've already discussed this one at length above. 
  • A sheath which will not be uncomfortable when worn in conjunction with the hip belt of a rucksac (so no 'scout style' which honestly is a ridiculous way to carry a knife whether you are wearing a rucksac or not (sorry Tom Brown Tracker fans)). Yes; On a drop leg panel your knife will hand well clear of your rucksack waist belt and the fact that the nylon belt loop is so thin is important as well as a bulky strap would cause irritation even if the knife it'self hung clear of the waist belt. 
  • A sheath which is accessible without unnecessary 'faf' even when wearing winter clothing. this arrangement allows the knife hangs well clear of even quite long Winter coats. 
  • A sheath which I can wear directly on my person  (ie; on a belt or around my neck or on a baldric style over the head under the arm arrangement) rather than strapped to my rucksac. This is important so I can't be separated from my most important survival tool if I was to loose my rucksac.  Yes it's attached to a belt and is therefor independent from a rucksac, I could loose my bag but still have my knife to hand. 
  • A sheath which is easy to detach from my person without un-threading my belt so it can be stowed in a rucksac while I'm travelling to and from places or situations where I need or can justify wearing it on my person.
    The picture to the right shows the panel detached from it's belt loop and showing the buckle for attaching the two pieces together. This can easily be undone to allow the knife to be stashed in a rucksac while you are on the way to the woods or until you reach the jumping off point of your expedition.                      
  • A sheath which is secure and doesn't dangle, swing, rattle or bump (ie; securely on my belt not around my neck or on a baldric under my arm). With a leg strap these drop leg panels are easy to secure and do not cause the frustration that carrying knives around the neck does. 'Dangler' style sheaths have become popular among bushcrafters but I personally can't get on with them, they bump against your leg and need to be held still with one hand while the knife is removed and replaced with the other. Among the Sami people living in the Northern latitudes of Scandinavia dangling knife sheaths are popular but the way they carry their knives is very different, generally outside of winter clothes rather than on a belt threaded through a pair of trousers so the bump, bump, bump of the knife against your leg isn't an issue and oriented more to your front than to the side so it's more accessible. An excellent picture of this kind of sheath can be found HERE.  

The top of the handle sits
right next to your pocket. 
  • A sheath which is easy to access without unnecessary contortion. The handle of the knife secured to a drop leg panel sits roughly at the level of your trouser pocket (although this can be adjusted depending on the position of your attachment between sheath and panel) which is an ideal position to reach it without having to reach all the way up to the handle of a knife in a deep carry sheath mounted directly to your belt.  








So all my criteria are met and I'm entirely happy carrying my standard bushcraft knife on a drop leg panel. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to other styles of carry, in actual fact from an aesthetic point of view I think it looks a bit silly, but it just suits my needs better than any other options. 

Real Steal Bushcrafter, Eikhorn Nordic Bushcraft and Viper Tank all on drop leg panels ready for carry. 

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