The Derma-Safe folding razor is a low-cost, yet robust utility blade ideal for including in a First Aid Kit, or even as a simple lightweight primary blade while backpacking
To give it the full name, the Derma-Safe SERE razor knife has found favour for decades. SERE in it’s name stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. A mainstay within the U.S. military, the little folding razors are also popular with bushcrafters and those interested in survival. The little blade is ideal for inclusion in compact emergency kits, First Aid Kits and those building small ‘pocket-sized’ Altoid kits that include carefully thought out small and lightweight contents in a small tin, intended to be carried as an Every Day Carry, or EDC.
Derma-Safe was started by ex-soldier Warren Grosjean in 1979. Having previously worked for Schick as Director of Quality Control and instrumental in the development of their stainless steel razor blade manufacturing, he took with him the skills and knowledge necessary to design and manufacture surgical preparation razors for hospital use for companies like BARD from 1979 to the early 2000s. These were patented and sold under the name Derma-Safe Company. His son Paul joined the company in 1995 and family-run Derma-Safe LCC now focus on producing folding utility knives and folding survival saws used by the U.S military as well as manufacturers of survival kits and equipment. It is not possible to buy single units from Derma-Safe LCC and a third party supplier must be sought out.
The Derma-Safe folding razor is very small. Folded it is just 70mm in length, 16mm wide and 5mm thick, or 6.5mm across the blade pivot. The razor blade has a double bevel cutting edge 50mm long and at just 0.26mm thick, it is wafer thin. The thickest part of the blade is the spine that clamps it. This is 2.35mm.
The razor blade itself is made from stainless steel. This is somewhere in the 400 range of steels. It is fairly brittle, with a hardness rating of 52-54 HRC. This is way below the quality steel used in quality knives but is to be expected here. It will strop with a leather belt but these knives are more intended to be replaced when blunt. Never attempt to twist the blade, or lever with it. It will shatter, probably pinging off a viscious shard of sharpened steel at the same time. It is perfectly suitable for light to medium work and should be limited to simple cutting and slicing. The back of the blade has a 2.35mm thick curved plated steel spine that can have a finger or thumb placed against it for guidance or increased pressure. Though untoward flexing of joint or handle is not noticeable when in use.
The blade is a friction slip joint and opens and folds with ease, but is not ‘floppy’. Nothing locks the blade in the closed or open position beyond the friction from its simple pivot. The cutting edge is entirely protected when closed. When open, the spine firms up against the plastic handle and the blade is then in a usable cutting plane. It is very easy to cut flush to a surface with the blade when open. It must be recognised that this is a small folding razor blade. If handled without care, it will bite, slicing through skin with great ease. With the blade sitting tight in the handle, it should be opened and then closed by gripping the spine between finger and thumb. While it can, just, be opened one-handed. Please don’t!
The handle is hard plastic and comes supplied in a small range of colours. I have seen red, orange, black, green and purple handle colours, no doubt others exist. The black handled variety is the one supplied to the U.S. military however the orange handles show up well if dropped into vegetation or snow.
In addition to supplying civilian trade, Derma-Safe LLC supply the U.S. military with an average of 600,000 folding utility knives each year. These are both standard issue and included in military survival kits. The black folding razor is listed with military specification-R-365408, and had NATO stock numbers- NSN#6515-01363-1212 and 5110-01-363-1212 (Black handle only).
There is a version of the Derma-Safe with a small folding saw instead of razor blade. However these are very much aimed at the survivalist and are of limited interest to me as a backpacking tool. There is also a third version that combines both blade and saw sitting side-by-side in the same handle. The folding razor knives are manufactured and assembled in New Jersey. The only part of the folding saws not originating from the U.S. are the Swiss supplied Bosch saw blades.
Could such an item be considered suitable for use while backpacking? Why not? The Derma-Safe has very obvious benefits and limitations:
The benefits of such a little blade are pretty much obvious- it is little for a start. Many hikers do not actually utilise a blade much for food preparation on trail, finding a cutting edge most useful for package opening, or more usually, for first aid purposes. Needless to say, this sharp razor blade will trim tape and gauze, or slice skin around blisters etc. with ease. It is not a sterile blade so should be placed in boiling water, or the blade held over a flame to sterilise it first (try not to melt the plastic!). This brings up one of the limiting factors with the Derma-Safe- where the steel spine grips the razor blade there is step-down ridge in the thickness. Bacteria can easily fester here from food caught up. Food can also linger and rot in the small hole in the blade if not regularly cleaned. A big plus for this little knife is it’s modest cost. Even in the UK you will not have to pay more than two or three quid. Three Points of the Compass feels that the true worth of the Derma-Safe is if one is kept in a First Aid Kit in clean condition, as an extremely sharp, if non-sterile, blade to be pulled out for very occasional use, or hopefully, never.
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.