The Alox Pioneer knives are good looking, well made and robust tools. These two-layer options from the Victorinox ‘medium-pocket knives’ range differ from each other only slightly and one may provide exactly the tool set required.
The Victorinox Pioneer has long been a favourite for Every Day Carry due to its slim profile and selection of tools. This was my EDC for at least a decade when commuting to a London based job. Three Points of the Compass has previously looked at the single-layer Swiss Army 1 and Swiss Army 2 Pioneer knives but those provided little more than a blade. The Pioneer Alox, model 0.8201.26, and Pioneer Electrician Alox, model 0.8120.26, provide just a little extra functionality than those simpler knives while being only slightly heavier and just a little thicker. I will look at two of the even heavier and thicker three layer Pioneer knives in a separate post.
The Victorinox Pioneer is the civilian version of their Soldier model, once issued to the Swiss and other Armies. This has provided us with the option of the thicker and more robust, if heavier, tools found on these models. The history of this knife is complicated and at least one collector has provided extensive and informative information online. So popular and useful is this knife that Victorinox built a quite large range of knives around it with different numbers of layers to accommodate the various toolsets. Many of the models have a specialised tool infrequently found on any other knife in the wider Victorinox range. Most of the Pioneer range have been discontinued but a standard selection of the most popular and best selling remains. Each of the two-knives looked at here has the same large blade, same awl/reamer and same combination bottle opener/cap lifter with flat screwdriver tip. Where they differ most is the fourth folding tool. The Pioneer has a can/tin opener with small flat screwdriver tip while the Electrician has a small electrician’s sheepsfoot blade.
Working through these tools in turn…
The spear shape blade found on both Pioneer and Pioneer Electrician is a little longer and a little thicker than the main blades found on similar length non-Pioneer range knives from Victorinox. This has gained the 93mm Pioneer range the ‘sturdy’ moniker from Victorinox. Despite being a folding style knife the blade is capable of fairly tough work, though tasks such as batoning are best avoided. The blade has an overall length of 68mm with a cutting edge of 60mm. The spine is 2.75mm thick which compares favourably against the 2mm thick blades found on the 84mm range. The blades have an asymmetrical shape to enable them to sit alongside other tools when folded into the frame.
Blades come sharp out of the box and are drop-point, v-ground. All of the tools, including the blades on these two knives, are made from proprietary Victorinox 1.4110 ‘stainless’ steel alloyed with chromium and molybdenum that resists corrosion well, yet also have a degree of carbon content so hold an edge quite well, while still being easily sharpened. All the tools on both knives are non-locking so compliant with current UK knife law.
The awl is 37mm long with a 27mm long sharpened edge and has a sharp point so is perfect for punching a leather belt, or poking through cordura or shoe fabric for emergency repair, however there is no sewing eye on either awl. This is a really effective reamer to drill or widen a hole in wood. A ferrocerium rod can also be struck against it. The pioneer has a keyring attached beside the awl but a bunch of accompanying keys will hinder use, but this knife is too large to hang with keys anyway. All the tools on these two knives have nail nicks, other than the awl, which has a lip under which it is easy to hook a thumbnail, making this the easiest of the four quite stiff tools to open.
The cap lifter/bottle opener on both knives works fine for cracking open a cold one. The wire bender is unlikely to ever be used by anyone for that purpose. Three Points of the Compass has certainly never used it for that task. It can also be used as an electrical wire stripper, so perhaps the one fitted to the Electrician might be used for that purpose. Of much more use is the 6mm wide flat tip screwdriver. Because this tool, like the others, is a bit beefier than normal Victorinox screwdrivers, it better resists twisting under torque. This tool has a half-stop position to so the screwdriver can also be used at a 90 degree angle. Positioned at the end of the tool, this enables the user to impart a considerable amount of torque in use.
The Pioneer has a can/tin opener at the opposite end of the tool. I have never found any difficulty in opening dozens of tins with this and it still looks like new. There is also a small 3mm flat tip screwdriver on this tool that is sadly too large for use with my glasses but I have used this with some Phillips head screws.
A small sheepsfoot blade is fitted to the Pioneer Electrician. Victorinox call this a cable blade. This is 37mm long with a straight v-grind cutting edge of 23.50mm and a curved 12mm chisel grind blade behind that, nearer the tang, for cutting the insulation layer on wires and cables. Though the electrician’s blade could be used for cutting just about anything within the capability of its short length.
The now discontinued Swiss Army Six (aka Rancher) is exactly the same knife as the Electrician, but has a pruner blade instead of the electrician’s blade.
The scales on these knives are Aluminium Oxide, or ‘Alox’. These are tougher than the standard plastic cellidor scales found on the majority of Victorinox knives and more resistant to cracking or breakage. The anodised colour finish can wear and fade with use and pocket carry, developing a lovely patina over time. Some find this unsatisfactory and undesirable but I think it rather attractive. That said, I carried and used the Pioneer shown here for over a decade as a favoured EDC tool and it still looks almost new. Mostly because it was carried in a dedicated pocket inside a pack. The standard colour for these two knives is the silver alox, but other special edition colours have been released on occasion. Most of these Pioneer range knives share a common fault in that the anodised finish toward the edges can often be quite rough. Both of mine exhibit this and it isn’t satisfactory even if a standard problem of manufacture.
The toolset remains exactly the same on special edition releases of these two knives. On the Pioneer and Electrician looked at there, one scale carries the Victorinox red and silver shield, which differs from the ‘Swiss’ shield. The other scale is plain other than a small flat plate where a personalised etching or similar could be placed.
There are no back tools of any description on any of the Pioneer range and the back springs are beefy and it can be a little difficult opening some of the smaller or stiffer tools at times. They get a little easier and I have much less of an issue with my Pioneer that has seen years of occasional use while the Electrician has done far less duty. On both knives, there is a satisfying snap when tools are closed.
There is usually a substantial price difference between these two knives and the Pioneer is often found quite a bit cheaper, no doubt partly due to the larger numbers of that popular tool manufactured and partly due to capitalising on the collector market. The price may differ but the weight of the two knives is quite similar: 70.3g for the Pioneer and 69.5g for the Electrician. Dimensions are similar too: 93m long, 12mm thick and 18.90mm wide across the scales or 22.70mm wide at the extreme point, which is the ‘hump’ of the main blade above the nail nick.
Both the Pioneer and Pioneer Electrician are attractive and fairly well priced knives from a reputable and well-known manufacturer. They provide very similar toolsets and are almost identical in size and weight. Either could make an ideal EDC knife and while a little large and heavy for lightweight backpacking, either would make a handy tool for general kitchen duties if car camping or similar. It all comes down to which of the fourth tool options could be most useful to you. For camping and most outdoor use, the combination opener and small flat screwdriver would be preferable, but for EDC, the electricians blade is a handy little tool for the more delicate or finicky of tasks.
Three Points of the Compass also looked two of the most useful one-layer and three-layer options from the 93mm Pioneer range and links for those and other knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry are linked here.
I really like the different features on the tools of Alox SAKs; the slightly larger blade, bigger screwdriver, and that beast of a reamer…
Unfortunately I find the keyring loop digs into my hand quite a bit, making it uncomfortable to use… I presume the Soldier version of this knife omitted the keyring for just such a reason, as most soldiers usually want our knives on lanyards.
With the lack of any backspring or scale tools as well, my Pioneer just never saw any use.
Or remove the keyring and grind the hanging tab down?
It’s a mod I’ve seen quite a lot, but I would rather have something perfect out of the box.
I plan on getting an actual Soldier model, ideally from 1979, which should solve that particular issue.
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A lovely solution, but a pricey one!