LEGENDARY SWISS ARMY KNIVES: READY TO FACE ANY ADVENTURE HEAD-ON

“Few symbols have that recognizable, iconic quality like the little red knife with a cross and shield, known as the Swiss Army Knife (SAK).”

Arguably the most well-known knife in the world, it’s able to build a raft, perform camp crafts, clean fish and game, maintain the workplace, and more. Few symbols have that recognizable, iconic quality like the little red knife with a cross and shield, known as the Swiss Army Knife (SAK).

Victorinox, the company that makes them, has been around for more than 130 years. No matter how big or small, a SAK has always been considered a multitool of sorts, which is more knife based than a stereotypical Leatherman-style multitool

The author first fell in love with SAK’s flagship knife, the Swiss Champ. The Swiss Champ does it all and is well worth the weight and bulk.

IN SPACE, ON TV

In 1986, after a previous procurement of the Master Craftsman by NASA for official use by its astronauts, Victorinox started manufacturing the Astronaut model with the same tool configuration. This model was also later sold with special handles featuring a metal inlaid image of the space shuttle, causing some to refer to the knife as the Space Shuttle model.

The Victorinox Master Craftsman is a 91 mm Swiss Army Knife with Cellidor (plastic) scales. It’s one of the smaller knives to contain both the metal file/hacksaw as well as the wood saw. The last known variations offer five tools on the back of this medium sized package, resulting in a very high tool density.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield used his Master Craftsman to break into the Russian space station Mir, because the last crew had sealed up the hatch “just a little too enthusiastically.” The Master Craftsman has been discontinued but is very similar to the Huntsman.

The Victorinox Hunter is a larger 111mm model with a locking main blade, wood saw, and a special serrated gut hook. It also features a combo tool for opening bottles and cans.

The popular reality show Survivorman showed the star, Les Stroud, using a Victorinox Huntsman knife for most of Season 2 in some harsh environments on some very intricate projects. He made shelter, fire, traps, and all sorts of camp craft with only his Swiss Army Knife.

MacGyver’s Swiss Army Knife went through a few changes over the early episodes. His first and most often used knife was a Tinker model from Victorinox. In the Thief of Budapest episode, he gives it away. In the next episode he is using a Traveler model from Wenger.

One of the author’s personal favorites is the Camper. It has all the tools the larger One-Handed Trekker has, except it swaps out the Phillips screwdriver for the corkscrew.

TRAVEL COMPANION

In all of my travels, I have never seen an officer or government official look sideways at me for using or having a Swiss Army Knife in my possession. Even where knives are not allowed in checked luggage into their country, Swiss Army Knives are still widely accepted.

For some reason, the red knife and shield instantly disarm people, putting them at ease. In the Philippines, where knives are not permitted to carry in the city, I asked a police officer if my Wenger Traveler knife was OK.

“Of course it’s OK,” he said. “It’s not a weapon. It’s a Swiss Army Knife. All travelers have them.”

The One- Handed Trekker has been with the author on at least three Amazon jungle trips as well as countless backpacking trips. It has all that the Hiker has, but it’s larger and has a locking flat head screwdriver and onehanded blade.

Some countries have X-ray machines as you enter the airport to fly out where they screen for weapons and drugs. Never have I been singled out for having a Swiss Army Knife, only small fixed blades, which are considered weapons (daggers) to them.

HANDY IN THE FIELD

I have been using Swiss Army Knives for well over 20 years in the woods, at home, and on my travels to more than 60 countries. They are super easy to sharpen, widely recognizable by officials abroad, easy to replace, affordable, pocketable and, most of all, practical.

Swiss manufacturing just can’t be beat when it comes to slip-joint folding knives, watches, and chocolate. I was first exposed to the practical real-world applications of Swiss Army Knives by watching the late Ron Hood of the Woodsmaster Series on VHS.

Three 111mm Victorinox knives that have been in hard service with the author for many years. The One-handed Trekker (top), Hunter and Swiss Bianco Stay Glow Onehanded Trekker.

Ron and his wife, Karen, used Huntsman and Rucksack models for camp crafts such as drilling through wood, antler, and bone with the awl. They sawed through bone and wood with the famed SAK saw. They cleaned fish, made traps, and did all things for camp and survival. In addition to Ron’s large knife and handy smaller fixed blade, he used a Swiss Army Knife.

I followed suit. Of course, I went big. I opted for the thick Swiss Champ for woods use and to accompany me on my overseas trips abroad. It served me well over many years, and last week when I returned from a four-month trip, it was there still.

Choosing a corkscrew or Phillips screwdriver is what most models come down to. Each has its uses, although the corkscrew is more versatile and holds a Victorinox eyeglass screwdriver.

However, for woods use, the thickness was too much like holding a deck of cards, only thicker. I went with the smaller, more manageable Hiker/Camper models for real woods use where a main blade, saw, and awl were the most useful tools. Light weight and stash ability are important during woods travel.

On my first trip down and up the Grand Canyon, first and second climb of Mount Whitney, through deserts of Arizona, Nevada, Middle East, as well as every jungle trek through the Philippines, Thailand, and Peruvian Rainforest, rest assured a Swiss Army Knife was always with me. As a matter of fact, there is one in my pocket as I write this.

In the Southwest desert, a Hiker or Camper is all that the author needs for cutting utility and camp craft. An awl, saw, and main blade are perfect for desert treks.

UNLIMITED USES

Over the years, Swiss Army Knives have proven to be my all-purpose woods, survival, and field craft knives. Starting with the super sharp main blade, the edge is thin and narrow, making it ideal for intricate carving and whittling. This one tool is responsible for making more fires possible than any knife I own.

The thin edge makes the curliest, thinnest, longest fuzz sticks for tinder and kindling during fire starting. I listed them as two separate elements because they are. Tinder must be thin and have lots of surface area to catch a spark from a ferrocerium rod. The SAK blade can do that, with a lot of control.

In the jungles of Bora Bora in the South Pacific, the author trekked with his Swiss Champ only. It’s bulky, as seen in the hand, but fit for hotels as well as the tropical outdoors.

The main blade (91 mm and larger) is perfect for stirring coffee, slicing meat and vegetables for stews, spreading butter, cleaning fish and game, as well as carving cooking utensils, requiring nothing more than a quick dunk and whooshing around in a creek to clean it.

The large bottle opener/flathead screwdriver does a lot of work not only popping caps off bottled beverages, but also serving as a light pry bar tool, within reason.

Another place it proves to be useful is for splitting small, dry rounds of wood from finger to broomstick thickness by jamming the flathead into an existing crack and giving it a twist, as split wood burns better.

The author displays the amount of work a Swiss Army saw and awl can do. It drills into wood, and saws for making splits and trap notches.

The bottle opener part is a natural hook for carrying hot pots and kettles by their bale. I had a friend modify the straight portion of my flathead to a 90-degree flat edge for striking a ferrocerium rod. On some larger 111 mm models, the bottle opener/flathead actually locks in place, making it better for all tasks mentioned.

AN AWL FOR ALL

One of the most loved features on any SAK is the awl/reamer positioned on the back of most knives. It has made many holes on leather belts and axe sheaths over the years.

When making cooking utensils and some traps (mainly Ojibwe bird trap) a hole is a must, and the awl is the first step in achieving this. From there, the hole can be widened with the small and larger blades.

Drilling through antler, wood, and bone for making buttons is best done with the awl. I have used the awl for poking holes in bamboo and plastic water bottles for making water filters during survival classes.

When cooking containers are scarce, I will cook in the can itself, especially if I am making beans or soup by using the awl to drill holes on either side and running a small length of wire through to make a bale for hanging over the fire or sitting it in the coals. The wire bale gives an easy way to lift and reposition the can.

The perfect tinder and kindling maker basking in a sea of fuzz sticks created with the large main blade of the Camper model. The thin “V-grind” is perfect for this task due to the thin edge geometry.

In some cases, the awl makes a good striker for a ferrocerium rod, but the awl is often positioned on the back middle, which is a strange place for it to be used in such a way.

The Farmer, Pioneer, and Electrician models feature the awl at the end of the tool, much like the can opener, which is in the perfect position for use as a striker.

MANDATORY SAW

For me, no Swiss Army Knife is woods worthy unless it has a wood saw. It is small and very effective. I compare every folding saw to the SAK saw, which is usually only 2 ¾-3 ¼ inches long for 91 mm and 111 mm SAK knives.

The utility of a small saw for making notches and fine, precise cuts cannot be understated. I found a great way to split wood by making a series of cuts on a length of wood about a third to halfway through the wood and then whacking it over a large rock or dead tree stump.

It will create a split and expose the drier wood inside. This is a good technique for splitting damp wood for a fire and getting at some dry kindling.

The larger 111mm SAK knives feature a 3 ½-inch wood saw that is second to none for its size. It is always sharp and doubles as a fire steel striker on the spine of the saw.

On the topic of fire, the saw teeth are very good at fraying out tinder such as poplar bark, cedar bark, and cotton, especially when treated with Vaseline as it needs to be frayed out to create surface area to catch a spark.

As if the saw wasn’t amazing enough, it just happens to be the best striker for a ferrocerium rod I have come across. However, it doesn’t lock and can be a dangerous way to cut yourself if not used at the right angle.

I use leather gloves when holding the SAK and using the saw blade as a striker, but there are some tips to help keep safe. Place a small stick in the palm as a safety lock while doing this. Either perpendicular or parallel will work.

While camping in the Eastern Sierra Mountains, the author was using only his Swiss Army Hiker for the entire trip. It proved to be all that was needed for the trip above 9,000 feet.

STAYING POPULAR

The Swiss Army Knife has shown no sign of slowing down in popularity. There is no reason why one shouldn’t be in everyone’s utility drawer, glove compartment, survival kit, or pocket.

Featuring an array of sizes and tool options, there definitely is one for everyone—possibly two or three. The little red knife that can do almost anything has turned into a global icon with staying power.

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MORE THAN A BLADE

One-Handed Trekker/Stay Glow

  1. One-hand non-serrated locking blade
  2. Phillips screwdriver (Stay Glow corkscrew)
  3. Can opener with small screwdriver
  4. Bottle opener w/ large screwdriver & wire stripper
  5. Reamer
  6. Key ring
  7. Tweezers
  8. Toothpick
  9. Wood saw

Length (closed): 4.37″

Hiker

  1. Large blade
  2. Small blade
  3. Phillips screwdriver
  4. Can opener with small screwdriver (also for Phillips screws)
  5. Bottle opener w/ large screwdriver & wire stripper
  6. Reamer
  7. Key ring
  8. Tweezers
  9. Toothpick
  10. Wood saw

Length (closed): 3.5″

Camper

  1. Large blade
  2. Small blade
  3. Corkscrew
  4. Can opener with small screwdriver (also for Phillips screws)
  5. Bottle opener w/ large screwdriver & wire stripper
  6. Reamer
  7. Key ring
  8. Tweezers
  9. Toothpick
  10. Wood saw

Length (closed): 3.5″

Hunter

  1. Large lockblade
  2. Corkscrew
  3. Wood saw
  4. Gutting blade
  5. Cap lifter with can opener (combo tool)
  6. Screwdriver
  7. Wire Stripper
  8. Reamer with sewing eye
  9. Key ring
  10. Tweezers
  11. Toothpick

Length (closed): 4.37″

Swiss Champ

  1. Large blade
  2. Small blade
  3. Can opener with small screwdriver
  4. Bottle opener w/ large screwdriver & wire stripper
  5. Scissors
  6. Pliers with wire cutter
  7. Wood saw
  8. Fish scaler with hook disgorger and ruler
  9. Metal saw with metal file & nail file
  10. Magnifying glass
  11. Reamer with sewing eye
  12. Phillips screwdriver
  13. Corkscrew
  14. Hook
  15. Wood chisel
  16. Fine screwdriver
  17. Mini screwdriver
  18. Ball point pen
  19. Straight pin
  20. Toothpick
  21. Tweezers
  22. Key ring

Length (closed): 3.5″

Weight: 6.5 oz

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