The majority of backpackers frequently choose one of the excellent smaller knife options from Victorinox for use on trail. Their 58mm Classic is one of the most popular choices, with good reason, as it combines three of the most useful tools. But there are alternatives…
The three main components to a Victorinox Classic are a small blade- most useful in food preparation, scissors, useful for opening food packages and trimming tape or shaping gauze or blister coverings, and a nail file. This last component may seem a tad odd, but nails do both grow and get grubby. It is not so much finger nails that are of concern, mostly it is toe nails. Footcare on trail is ALL important. If toe nails are too long they can cut socks and bruise against the toe box of shoes or boots. Blackened or lost nails is not an unusual occurence for some long distance hikers and an ingrown nail is something to be avoided at all cost.
The Classic to choose is the Victorinox Classic SD, this knife includes a flat Screwdriver tip on the nailfile. The attractive alox versions of the Classic SD lack scale slots for additional tools so are just a little lighter, however the cellidor scales found on the classic Classic have two more tools- a toothpick and small tweezers. Three Points of the Compass has a loathing for the former, which simply harbours bacteria in the scale slot in which it is nested and thinks the tweezers lack true usefulness, being both too flexible and also having a poorly shaped tip for fine work. The most important role for tweezers is probably tick removal and those in a Classic do not do this work well. A cellidor scaled Classic weighs 21g while an Alox Classic, with no tweezers or toothpick, weighs 17g. For those who think the 22mm cutting edge of the blade on the Classic too short, there is the slightly larger and heavier Victorinox Ambassador. Weighing only 35g, the Ambassador has exactly the same toolset as the Classic, just a little larger, offering a blade with a 46mm cutting edge for example.
Can we look at improving on these essential combined tool elements by swapping out to individual tools? Everyone wants something different, some hikers might be happy with just a short blade and nothing else. Let’s look at practical alternatives:
Three Points of the Compass lives and hikes primarily in the UK, so knife law here has to be taken into consideration with this choice. I could just carry a single razor blade or craft blade, which would be fine for trimming skin and other minor first aid duty, but will never tackle food preparation. Any blade I would seriously consider will be of modest length. It cannot be a fixed blade, so I am only looking at short folders. There are some really good and reasonably priced options. The only feature of note on these alternatives is a blade, there are no other tools. To show just two good options:
Deejo 15g– This little ‘naked’ knife weighs 15g (mine actually weighs 14.4g) and has a cutting edge of 64mm. Note that it has a locking blade so does bump up against UK knife law, but if good cause can be proven for carrying…
Opinel No. 3– This extraordinarily light knife is only 7g yet has a wickedly sharp blade 42mm long. There is also a smaller knife in this range, the No. 2, and there are plenty of larger knives too, and from No 6 up the blades come with a locking device. But for 99% of tasks on trail, the little blade on the No. 3 is sufficient. The Opinel knives are also extremely affordable. Like all of the smaller Opinels, this does not have a locking blade.
I have always found the scissors on a small Victorinox or Leatherman keychain multi-tool one of the most used tools. Fortunately there are a couple of really good well-made choices for me to consider.
Westcott Embroidery scissors- These little 7g titanium scissors are small, light and well made. They are a quality yet affordable option for not only opening foodpackaging, but also first aid tasks such as cutting gauze and tape. They will trim most nails but dedicated clippers will tackle thicker nails far better.
SwissCard scissors– The stainless steel scissors found on a Victorinox Classic have a cutting length of 15mm, the 7g scissors from a Victorinox Swiss Card have a cutting blade length of 18mm and are pretty easy to use, though I find these a little small for my podgy digits so simply grasp the whole scissor in my hand. For this reason they are best suited for those with smaller hands or fingers. These scissors will enable fine work and will cut tougher materials than the smaller Vic scissors but it must be realised that no small pair of scissors are going to tackle heavy work.
The textured metal nailfile found on the Victorinox Classic will do the job, but it is not difficult to find better alternatives. The exact same file as on the Victorinox Classic also comes as a removable 2.4g item in the SwissCard, or we could select a stand alone metal nailfile found in any supermaket or pharmacy. Alternatively, small glass files are easily sourced online.
Glass nail files are used by professional manicurists as these give a far smoother finish to nails. Use one and you will notice the difference. Not only that, if anything, they are frequently lighter than their metal counterparts. There is a particular model of the SwissCard that has a glass nail file, this is the SwissCard Nailcare that has a 3.5g glass file. This file is part code: VTA- 7232. There is no need to purchase the entire Swiss Card as some sellers offer this replacement nail file as a stand alone item. The glass nailfile shown here is a far better option than just about any metal nailfile anywhere.
There is a still lighter option. Emery boards are incredibly lightweight. These short-term use boards can also be cut down as required. Light, but not a particularly great choice for longer hikes.
Drawing from these choices, shown below are a couple of alternatives to the tools found in the Alox version of the Victorinox Classic. Even including the better option of nailfile still comes to just half a gram more than the Alox Classic.
We have looked at alternatives to the main fold out tools found in a Victorinox Alox Classic SD. These three are all that are present in an Alox version (other than a screwdriver tip on the nailfile), however the standard cellidor scaled version of the Classic has two further tools in the scales- tweezers and toothpick.
First we need to determine what tweezers are used for on a hike. The most common and crucial purposes to consider are splinters, thorns and ticks. Alongside that would potentially be removing barbed bee stings, manipulating flaps of skin or picking wounds clean of gravel etc.
No one pair of tweezers will fulfill all of these roles well. Three Points of the Compass feels it best to carry two sorts of tweezer. One of these should be dedicated Tick Tweezers, particularly during tick season. The risk of severe illness from ticks should not be underestimated. Small yet functional plastic tick removers are so lightweight that they tend to sit in my first aid kit all year round regardless of any ‘tick season’ as I wouldn’t like to get caught out by not having them should the need arise. My preferred tick tweezers are the green O’Tom Tick Twisters shown below.
In addition to tick tweezers, another pair of tweezers is required for ‘picking’ duties. The tweezers found in the SwissCards are actually shorter and just as ineffectual as those found in the various Victorinox knife scales so we can rule those out. These are not a good design anyway. Their tips are too wide, too flexible and not capable of properly gripping things. There are many alternative options and we need not look much further than the ones shown here.
Found in various formats in ‘pound shops’ are little kits for maintenance of glasses. Two examples are shown here. The little tweezers included in some of these may be extremely cheap and churned out by the million in some chinese factory but, crucially, they do the job fairly well. These weigh a single gram. The tips on these tweezers are also fine enough to use for tick removal duty. Do note that these are in no way robust or quality items.
A well known small tweezer is Uncle Bill’s Sliver Grippers. These 5g tweezers have an enthusiastic following but care needs to be taken with which model is purchased as not all come with serrations at the tip. All of the Sliver Grippers can easily be improved for use on trail.
There are better options than both of these however. Cheap lightweight tweezers are available online that can be pinched between finger and thumb and are purported to be made from titanium. 45mm in length, these Chinese made tweezers are perfectly functional for use on trail.
These tweezers come in two sizes suitable for consideration, both are small and they have slightly different tip widths. The blue one shown here weighs 1.5g and the slightly larger gold one weighs 2.2g though both sizes come in a large variety of colours. A pair of the smaller tweezers have recently replaced my Uncle Bill Sliver Grippers in the first aid kit taken on my multi-day hikes.
Nope, not happening. I’m not carrying one. For those who insist, there are options and I show a couple here, I do not carry any and if I do have a cellidor scaled Victorinox with me I have swapped out the useless toothpick for something much more useful.
What I do with every Victorinox I carry that has a toothpick fitted in the scales, is change it to one of the tiny ferrocerium rods made by Tortoise gear. This is for emergency use only as I already have a lighter, either a Torjet or mini Bic, plus another firesteel or lighter. If I do have one of the smaller Victorinox knives with me it would normally be one of those that has more useful scale tools such as an LED light or pen.
Further tool alternatives:
The Victorinox Classic is a convenient package that brings together most, if not all, of the tools likely to be needed on trail. It is small, handy and affordable and not everyone will want to break it down and consider the alternatives suggested above. For others however, even the Classic isn’t enough and they carry one of the slightly better equipped small knives from Victorinox or another manufacturer. Three Points of the Compass has previously shown what he feels is one of the best small Victorinox options. This was the 33g Midnite Manager, which combines the tools of the Classic with three additional tools- a neat little combination tool, a small LED light and a tiny pen. It also removes the useless toothpick and almost useless tweezers. I shall look at breaking down that tool in the next post.
If the idea of carrying separate implements doesn’t appeal and you prefer the simplicity and convenience of an all-in-one tool, there are many more configuations than that available on the Victorinox Classic. Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.