Category Archives: Gear

Zippo lighters

Gear talk: Liquid fuel lighters- do they have a place on trail?

Three Points of the Compass has covered his quest for a decent lighter before. I mentioned then that I prefer a mini Bic or Torjet lighter for use with my stove set-up, be that meths or gas. However these lighters can struggle in colder and/or windier conditions. Usually this can be circumvented by keeping the gas lighter in a pocket until required if cold or sheltering if windy but there are occasions where one of the well-built, tried and tested liquid fuel lighters would be appreciated. If you have one at home anyway and are heading out for a day hike at altitude, or on a cold winters day, why not throw a liquid- fuelled lighter in to your pack? Two makes of lighter have proven especially useful in harsher conditions over the years.

IMCO lighters

The lightweight IMCO lighters make a good alternative to the more familiar Zippo lighters even if they lack that satisfying sound while being opened. The company began making buttons in Austria in 1907 but diversified following World War I. The 1918 design of their first lighters was based on used cartridge cases and that can be seen in their design. The most popular of IMCO designs was their Triplex Super, first developed in 1936, improved in the fifties and still made until the business closed in June 2012 (I won’t mention the copies produced subsequently). Many hikers would argue that the original IMCO lighters are a better option than rival Zippo for winter hiking; preserving their fuel more efficiently than Zippos though they are not quite as wind-resistant. Around seventy different designs were produced. It is a shame that original production has ceased but second hand examples can easily be found as they have a long life.

Nickel plated steel IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

Nickel plated steel IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

The IMCO 4700 Triplex lighter was first developed in 1937 and underwent a revamp of its internal workings in the 1960s, following which it was renamed the 6700 Triplex Super. One of the great features about many of the IMCO models is the ability to remove the fuel reservoir and use it as a candle. A handy little wheeze I picked up somewhere was to stuff a bit of cotton wool into the base of the fuel reservoir, this can then be extracted and used as a fire starter if required, lighting it with the sparker even if run out of fuel by putting it where the wick is exposed and opening and closing the lighter a few times. Operation of an IMCO lighter differs from the Zippo, It has a one move operation- opening the lid also strikes the wick. Flints can wear quite quickly but there is a built in well for a spare in the side of the lighter.

IMCO Triplex Junior 6600 in 'candle' mode

IMCO Triplex Junior 6600 in ‘candle’ mode

IMCO lighters have a lighter construction than Zippos, the latter are frequently solid brass whereas an IMCO can dent and ding with ease. There are more moving parts to an IMCO too, so a greater chance of something breaking or wearing. Certainly they will rust more easily if not cared for. As said, all of the originals are pretty old now but can still be picked up pretty easily as there is a ready collector market for them.

Base of Austrian made IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

Base of Austrian made IMCO Triplex Junior 6600

Probably the three best lighters made by IMCO for use backpacking and camping are the Junior 6600, 6700 and 6800 lighters. I have the Triplex Junior 6600 which is a tad smaller and lighter than the other two, but the 6700 does have some flame control. Beware of fakes!

 

 

Clink, clunk- Zippo lighters

Serving in the British Army, Three Points of the Compass purchased this Zippo in 1981. The squadron crest now worn, it is, nevertheless, a much loved memento of those years

Serving in the British Army, Three Points of the Compass purchased this Zippo in 1981. The squadron crest is now worn, it is, nevertheless, a treasured memento of those years

Inspired by the Austrian cigarette lighter made by IMCO, the Zippo manufacturing company was founded in 1932 by American George G Blaisdell and the first Zippo lighter produced the following year. Since those modest beginnings, over 500 million Zippos have been sold. Especially popular with servicemen, it is an icon of design, characterised by the clink sound it makes when opened, lit and closed- clunk. While the company has gone on to make butane lighters and inserts, the original metal cased lighter, where lighter fluid is fed by wick to a metal chimney and lit by sparking an enclosed flint, is a handy thing to have when struggling to light a fire in blustery conditions as the flame is highly resistant to being extinguished. While I have experimented a little with the pipe lighter variety of Zippo, I am not a great fan of these for backpacking as the flame drifts around too much. Also, if alight for any extended period, the metal case of a Zippo can get pretty hot.

Zippo released a slim version of its lighter in 1956. Originally aimed at the female market it proved just as popular with men and is still made today. Lighting a Zippo is a two-part operation, flip the lid and thumb the knurled wheel against the flint. Simple- but an operation that has led to probably thousands of tricks. Though if you want to avoid damaging the hinge it is probably best to stay clear of these.

Just about any good quality lighter fluid can be used in liquid fuel lighters

Just about any good quality lighter fluid can be used in liquid fuel lighters

Lighter fluid  (naphtha) is used as fuel, other fuels can be used but invariably either struggle to light or will emit foul smell or smoke. Even naphtha itself is a broad term for a range of petroleum distillates and it is best to simply use dedicated lighter fuel. There is no need to keep to the Zippo brand. The main problem with these lighters is that over time the fuel evaporates. So unlike a Bic which will retain its fuel for years, within a couple of weeks an originally full Zippo will not light, even if hasn’t been opened and used in that time. They need to be refilled about once a week.

Genuine Zippo spares are easily available

Zippos enjoy a great repair warranty and all the genuine spares you would want are easily available- flints and wicks are cheap enough to keep a couple in a drawer around the house

There are different hacks to slow evaporation, such as sliding a section of cycle inner tube over the body of the lighter. This will also stop water ingress to a degree. A rubber gasket such as this also has the benefit of doubling up as an emergency fire starter. Or you could just encapsulate the entire lighter. Flints do wear, but it is a simple task to tuck a spare or two under the felt flap in the base. Be aware that the flint from an expired Bic is perfectly suitable for use in a Zippo.

Solid brass slim Zippo and the full size well tarnished version that Three Points of the Compass inherited from his father

Solid brass slim Zippo and the full size well tarnished version that Three Points of the Compass inherited from his father

Both Zippo and IMCO are old school lighters from an age when lighters sat in most pockets, were used daily in all weathers and had to work, every time. Because of this reliability they remain a viable option for outdoors folks to consider. These are by no means lightweight options. Bone dry, my old Zippo from army days weighs 59g, both my brass and stainless slim Zippo’s 41g each and the lighter construction IMCO 6600 32g. Charging them with fuel adds considerably. So not lightweight by any means, and the faff of having to ensure they are fuelled up can be a pain to those used to hassle free Bics.

Three Points of the Compass used to be a smoker. I gave that up following the birth of my daughter over twenty years ago. However a number of Zippos still sit around my house, if infrequently pulled out to do duty these days. Next time I am out hiking in below zero conditions on a short day or weekend hike and am expecting to have to battle wind while lighting a stove, I may very well be slipping one of my old liquid fuel lighters into my pack.

most zippos can be dated by deciphering the code stamped on the case

most zippos can be dated by deciphering the code stamped on the case

Dating your Zippo

The year, and often the month, of manufacture of a Zippo lighter can frequently be determined from a code stamped on the base. I have included a guide to these below.

Zippo lighter identification codes- found on the bottom of lighter

Dot and slash method replaced in 1986 with year and month code (A=January to– L=December)

Year

Left Right Year Left

Right

1933

Patent Pending

1990 A to L

VI

1937-c1950

Patent 2032695

1991 A to L

VII

1942-1946

Black Crackle, Patent 203695

1992 A to L

VIII

c1950-c1957

Patent 2517191 with patent pending

1993 A to L

IX

c1950-c1957

Patent 2517191

1994 A to L

X

1958

Patent Pending

1995 A to L XI

….

….

1996 A to L

XII

1959

…. 1997 A to L XIII

1960

1998 A to L

XIV

1961

.. 1999 A to L

XV

1962

.. .. 2000 A to L

XVI

1963

.. . 2001 A to L

01

1964

. . 2002 A to L

02

1965

.   2003 A to L

03

1966

IIII IIII 2004 A to L

04

1967

IIII III 2005 A to L

05

1968

III III 2006 A to L

06

1969

III II 2007 A to L

07

1970

II II 2008 A to L

08

1971

II I 2009 A to L

09

1972

I I 2010 A to L

10

1973

I   2011 A to L

11

1974

//// //// 2012 A to L

12

1975

//// /// 2013 A to L

13

1976

/// /// 2014 A to L

14

1977

/// // 2015 A to L

15

1978

// // 2016 A to L

16

1979

/ // 2017 A to L

17

1979

// / 2018 A to L

18

1980

/ / 2019 A to L

19

1981

/   2020 A to L

20

1982

\\\\

\\\\

Slim lighters

1983

\\\\ \\\ 1957 …. ….

1984

\\\ \\\ 1958 ….

….

1985

\\\ \\ ….

1986

\\ \\ 1959

1986

G to L II 1960

..

1987

A to L III 1961 ..

..

1988

A to L IV 1962 .. .
1989 A to L V 1963 .

.

  1964 .

 

1965  

 

Stove making

Gear talk: making a stove on trail

Like everyone else, Three Points of the Compass is currently social distancing while staying at home on Government advice during the current Coronavirus pandemic. My plans on completing two longer trails this summer lie in tatters. My consolation is that with good fortune I can enjoy them both next year, they will still be there.

I am very pleased that I managed my coastal walk on the North Kent Marshes to Faversham a few days ago as that form of extended exercise is very much frowned upon by the authorities today. Who knows when I, and all of us, will be able to get back out on the trails again. Amongst other things, not least attempting to share the house PC with Mrs Three Points of the Compass while the two of us struggle to fit in enough hours working from home, there is a degree of sorting out of backpacking gear taking place. For a change from that I thought I would practice my stove-making skills.

There are hundreds of YouTube exponents detailing how to make various forms of pop-can/alcohol/meths/penny stoves. I don’t tend to use any of these on trail as I find the well made commercial stoves robust, light and invariably efficient. Admittedly the traditional and bomb proof Trangia, which was my route in to meths stoves decades ago, isn’t the lightest of options however my Evernew Alcohol stove is a truly cracking piece of kit and only weighs some 36g. Three Points of the Compass did spend some time producing a home-made version of screw-top burner with insulating felt inner (Part 1, Part 2) and this has worked well on a couple of trails. But with a couple of hours to spare at the weekend and a break from work, I thought I would indulge myself with a bit of experimentation and see what home-made stove I could produce, with the tools I typically carry with me on trail. It is easy for anyone to knock something out with sharpie pens, robust scissors, dremel, steel rulers, felt wadding, grit paper and work gloves etc. however I wanted to see if I could make a workable option, that I could knock up in the event of unexpected loss or breakage of my stove while actually on trail.

Look in any hedgerow or bin and you will invariably find an empty can of coke, energy drink or similar. My choice for constructing my DIY stove was a single 250ml drinks tin. I have written before on my favourite knife for taking on trail. While I do occasionally switch things around just for variety, nine out of ten times I am carrying the excellent Leatherman Squirt S4. This provides five things for my task- Scissors, knife blade, ruler, a ‘punch’ (in this case, the thin eyeglass screwdriver) and a straight edge.

Everything required to make my 'basic, on trail, pop-can meths stove

Everything required to make my basic on-trail, drinks-can meths stove, with two completed examples

I only required the ruler to identify another item from my regular kit that I required for the job- ‘something’ that was 1.5 inches long. Five years ago I wrote about the small nail brush I carry in my ditty bag. I still include the 7g brush in my kit list. It has often been useful for a bit of clothes washing on grottier trails, even for its intended use of cleaning my nails of trail grit and grime. It has been changed over the years, but I bought a handful of the cheap brushes at the time so have enough spares in a drawer somewhere for another few years yet. It could have been something else from my various bits of kit carried, but this measures 1.5 inches, so made the ideal second tool for my task. And that was it- a 1.5 inch measuring block, my Leatherman and the donor drinks tin.

Resting my knife blade on my one and half inch block, the drinks can is rotated against the edge to produce a scored line

Resting my knife blade on my one and half inch block, the drinks can is rotated against the edge to produce a scored line

Inverting the can and placing my plastic block on it's long edge, another line is scored

Inverting the can and placing my plastic block on it’s long edge, another line is scored

Ends are cut off with the Leatherman scissors, final neat trimming will follow

Ends are cut off with the Leatherman scissors, final neat trimming will follow

Slowly, with care, the two straight edges are tidied up and cut

Slowly, with care, the two straight edges are tidied up and cut

The cut tube, one neat edge, one rough edge, is inverted so that the tidied neat edge is flat against the worktop, then again rotated, holding the tube against the 1.5

The cut tube, with one neat edge and one rough edge, is inverted so that the tidied neat edge is flat against the worktop, then again rotated, holding the tube against the 1.5″ measuring block and knife edge, producing a final scored line

With care the final rough cut edge is tidied up with the Leatherman scissors

With care the final rough cut edge is tidied up with the Leatherman scissors

The metal tube is then rotated in the hands, and folded against my straight edge, producing a ring of creased folds around its circumference

The metal tube is then rotated in the hands, and folded against my straight edge, producing a series of creased folds around its circumference

Two small holes are punched just below the top rim of the tube, these reduce pressure in the stove when burning

Two small holes are punched just below the top rim of the tube, these reduce pressure in the stove when burning

Time for burn tests. 25-30g of fuel. I tried the stove both au naturel and with a 7g titanium trivet that raised the pot

The crimped tube is inserted inside the bottom section of the can and pushed firmly down. That is it, the finished stove. Having made a few more to see if I could do a neater job, it was time for burn tests. 25g-30g of fuel. I tried the stove both au naturel and with a 7g titanium trivet that raised the pot

Pots were a 1lt MSR Titan, and a 900ml Evernew pan, each holding 600ml of water. Stoves were stable and rigid with no evidence of buckling. The trivet raising the Titan pot enabled the meths to boil and burn faster from the centre as well as the jets. The Evernew resting directly on the stove dramatically reduced the burn, producing a far slower and controlled burn

Pots were a 1lt MSR Titan, and a 900ml Evernew pan, each holding 600ml of water. Stoves were stable and rigid with no evidence of buckling. The trivet raising the Titan pot enabled the meths to boil and burn faster from the centre as well as the jets. The Evernew resting directly on the stove dramatically reduced the burn, producing a far slower and controlled burn

With pan resting directly on the home made stove the burn is steady, controlled and slow. The water boiled eventually but takes three times longer than when raised

With pan resting directly on the home made stove the burn is steady, controlled and slow. The water boiled eventually but takes three times longer than when the pan is raised

Cheap and cheerful pop-can stove works. Not a refined tool at all, but it works

Cheap and cheerful pop-can stove. Not a particularly refined stove at all, but it works

So, lessons learnt…

This would be a very easy stove to construct on trail provided I can find a donor can. I am almost always carrying the only two other items required to make it. So, if I ever do lose my meths/alcohol stove and have to make one, this will do the job.

While I do occasionally pack along the little 7g titanium trivet, this isn’t always the case. Using the trivet speeds up a boil time considerably however. But the water will boil given time and I am never one to look for the fastest possible burn. This actually gives the opportunity to simmer as well. I never bothered with recording times as that is largely irrelevant. This project was indoors, with no wind and a stable warm temperature. No doubt a windscreen would aid use greatly if outdoors. But it shows the principle is sound. One final point of note- over sixty minutes I knocked up six of these stoves, their weights were between 5.1g and 5.5g, so truly a lightweight option. A couple of hours well spent while on lock-down.

Map measurer of the month- The Pathfinder Three-in-One

The Pathfinder Three-in-One was a multiple attempt at bringing together a map measure with two other functions. Usually a compass and one other- either pencil, magnifier or plug tester. You will frequently come across examples on the second hand market which is either testament to their robust longevity, or that they were simply thrown in a drawer and forgotten about.

Standard Pathfinder map measure with short handle

Standard Pathfinder map measure with short handle

Purchasers pf the Pathfinder map measure could choose one of two dial options. This is the inch to mile/centimetre to kilometre choice

Purchasers pf the Pathfinder map measure could choose one of two paper dial options. This is the inch to mile/centimetre to kilometre choice

Made in Western Germany, probably mostly in the 1960s, the Three-in-One is based on the stock model Pathfinder map measurer. This is a single needle, dial measure with one of two paper dials inserted in the face. One choice was Statute miles/Kilometres/Nautical miles, the other dial face option was Inches to Miles/Centimetres to Kilometres. Once purchased, the owner could not change the paper dial to the other option. The choice had to be made when bought. There was also the option of purchasing a Pathfinder measure that had two measures, one on each side of the body, each with a different dial scale.

The metal bodied measure has two faces-front and reverse. Map measure on one and if not another measuring dial, then a simple magnetic compass on the reverse. The compass is not liquid filled and the needle fluctuates wildly before settling. However, it works. Cardinal and ordinal points are shown, incorporating 30° intervals, indicated with figures, around the outer edge. Between these, every 5° is included. And that is it. I wouldn’t like to rely on the compass as a primary navigational aid but if such a measure were carried in the glove box of a car then it probably sufficed reasonably well.

This is by no means a unique combination. There are a number of surviving examples of Victorian map measures that also include a compass, so common is the combination that many very cheap and cheerful Chinese made plastic bodied measurers produced today also have a tiny compass included.

Pathfinder with long handle. This has a compass in the reverse face

Pathfinder map measure with long handle. This has a compass in the reverse face and is capable of measuring statute miles, kilometres or nautical miles

Pathfinder Map Measure and compass. Any of the five options of handles could be fitted- short, long, magnifier, pencil or plug tester

Pathfinder map measure and compass. Any of the five handle options could be fitted- short, long, magnifier, pencil or plug tester

A second choice of standard Pathfinder map measure has a long handle. This is a far easier measure to manipulate when following a line on a map, spinning the handle between the finger tips while trundling the measuring wheel along a path or line on a map is a relatively simple task. The same two choices of dial face were available with this as it is only the handle length that has changed. Again, a compass is included on the other side of the measure.

Box and instructions for the basic Pathfinder map measure and compass

Box and instructions for the basic Pathfinder map measure and compass

Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure- with magnifying glass

Based on the basic model Pathfinder, there were three further ‘three-in-one’ options available. These were easy for the manufacturer to create, instead of including a short or long handle with the standard body, one of three alternative handles was attached. The first Three-in-One shown here has a combination that has also been produced by just a handful of other manufacturers. Three Points of the Compass has seen Victorian and later measurers that also offered a magnifying glass as an option however surviving examples of the Pathfinder Three-in-One with magnifying glass are testament to the relatively large numbers produced and sold.

Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure with compass and magnifying glass

Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure with compass and magnifying glass

Glass magnifier on map measure is perfectly functional

Glass magnifier on map measure is perfectly functional

Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure- with pencil

Compass on Pathfinder Three-in-One with pencil

Compass on Pathfinder Three-in-One with pencil

This is a pretty handy little combination. I would think more drivers utilising a map measure on a trip would want a pencil than magnifying glass. I doubt many cyclists or hikers would be using it much as they will not be carrying a map measure on trail.

Twisting the barrel reveals the propelling lead/graphite. Sadly this is not a particularly well made product as the barrels frequently split on this measure, indeed my example is also split toward the end as a result of internal pressure and most I have seen for sale also exhibit similar failure. It still works though and the lead is replaceable.

Pathfinder Three-in-One with propelling pencil

Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure with compass and propelling pencil

Pathfinder Three-in-one showing split barrel of propelling pencil. A frequent point of failure

Pathfinder Three-in-one showing split barrel of propelling pencil. A frequent point of failure

Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure- with plug tester

This final example of the Pathfinder Three-in-One is an oddity these days. I do wonder if it were ever actually popular or of much practical use beyond as a map measure or basic compass.

I confess to never having used the plug-tester. In fact I cannot even find instructions on how it should be used. Even the instructions that come with this model actually fail to give any instruction. Is this because everyone knew how to use these? Three Points of the Compass has quizzed a few ‘old boys’ who run classic cars and has yet to come across anyone either with actual experience in using one of these or able to give any indication on how effective this particular tool is.

Pathfinder map measure and compass with spark plug tester

Pathfinder map measure and compass with spark plug tester

Plug tester variant of the Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure showing the little oblong test window in the handle

Plug tester variant of the Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure showing the little oblong test window in the handle

I am guessing that you simply touch a spark plug or tip of a lead running to one while an engine is running and it lights the little oblong window in the black handle to indicate a proper electrical charge is being delivered to the spark plug. Though I could be very wrong in this. The label on the box says ‘for running order‘, but again, I am not at all sure how this can be achieved or checked with this tool.

The Pathfinder Three-in-One is an interesting range of map measures. The company has deliberately sought to diversify a pretty standard piece of kit. I am not sure that anyone would go and buy more than one of the variants and all are possibly more suited to the motorist rather than the hiker. The name Pathfinder has been used with other makes of map measurer, though none seem to be of any noticeable improvement over the examples shown here.

Electrical contact on Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure

Electrical contact on Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure

Enclosed instructions for Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure

Enclosed instructions for Pathfinder Three-in-One map measure

 

safari trooper poster, cropped

Knife chat: Victorinox 108mm German Army Knife and Safari derivatives

Victorinox German Army Knife and Safari Hunter

108mm Victorinox German Army Knife and slightly better equipped Safari Hunter

Three Points of the Compass has written before about his old British Army Knife found  languishing at the back of a drawer. Another knife provided to the armed forces offers a different tool set and is possibly of more practical use to a hiker, backpacker or those drawn to bush-crafting. This is the 108mm long Victorinox German Army Knife. It is especially suited to those who use a small wood stove to heat water or cook with on trail. Note that I am not referring here to the larger and heavier Victorinox model supplied to the German Army that replaced it in 2003.

Original 108mm Victorinox German Army Knife and the one-handed opening 111mm version that replaced it in 2003

Original 108mm Victorinox German Army Knife above and the 126.1g, one-handed opening, 111mm version that replaced it in 2003 below

The original 108mm German Army Knife, and the Safari series derived from them, have a number of special features not found elsewhere within the Victorinox stable that make them both interesting and practical. It is a peculiar series and Victorinox did not elaborate on the design much beyond those mentioned here. Sadly, the company has now discontinued the 108mm series but most of the quite small range can still be found on the second hand market.

Victorinox German Army Knife- second generation, with nail file

Victorinox German Army Knife (GAK)- with olive green nylon scales. 108mm two layer knife  featuring a large blade, combination tool- with woodsaw, can opener and flat screwdriver. This is the second generation with a nail file on the combo tool. Back tools are corkscrew and awl/reamer

The German Army Knife carries the German Eagle on one scale. The civilian version had a blank space where a name could be inserted

The German Army Knife carries the German Eagle on one scale. The civilian Trooper version above has a blank space where a name could be inserted

The 84.9g German Army Knife, or GAK, was produced in its millions, by both Victorinox and other manufacturers. The specifications for the army knife were laid out by the German military in the 1970s and Victorinox was initially awarded the contract. There were many other manufacturers of the knife over its lifespan however and some twenty other makes have been identified.

Some people have rated the versions of German Army Knife made by Klaas, Adler and Aitor as being almost of comparable quality. Other makes of the knife have received scathing reviews. If you have any doubts, simply look for the Victorinox version, with Victorinox tang stamp, these are of uniformly high quality though some may have had a hard life before finding their way on to the second-hand market.

Unfortunately there have also been some cheap, fake knock-offs produced since production of the originals ceased and whereas the construction and material quality of the original and authentic produce is pretty high across most of the authentic suppliers, the cheaper fakes are of dubious quality- caveat emptor!

Victorinox Trooper (civilian version of GAK) – olive green nylon scales. Two layer knife. (Victorinox designation:0.87 70.04). Large blade, combo tool- woodsaw, can opener, screwdriver. Back tools- corkscrew, awl

Victorinox Trooper (civilian version of GAK) – olive green nylon scales. Two layer knife. (Victorinox designation: 0.87 70.04). Large blade, combo tool- woodsaw, can opener, screwdriver. Back tools- corkscrew, awl/reamer. Note that there is no nail file on this civilian version. Red scaled civilian versions of the original German Army Knife are more common

So popular was the German Army Knife that a civilian version was later released by Victorinox. With the same olive drab nylon scheme (what Victorinox termed a ‘military’ handle) but no German Eagle on the scales, this was known as the Trooper. I have no idea why but my one comes in just a tad heavier than the actual GAK on which it is based, weighing 87.1g, including 1.4g saw guard. Another variant has ‘NATO’ on one nylon scale and is known as the Nato Trooper. Also released with red nylon scales, the knife was then called the Safari or Safari Trooper. You will frequently see these names interchanged or combined with no heed as to scale colour. These were all two layer knives. Such was their success that Victorinox tweaked the features and released one and three layer 108mm variants. Some of these are shown below.

Specifications

The 108mm German Army Knife was the first released by Victorinox with textured nylon scales, these are not only robust but also provide good grip. The use of nylon scales was an unusual step for Victorinox and the first time that they had used this material. The size of handle is good in the hand and not at all fiddly, it can be held with confidence and in comfort. One specification made by the army was that all tools open in the same direction, away from the lanyard hole, creating another Victorinox oddity however they all feel very natural to use in this manner. No key ring or shackle was fitted by the manufacturer on any of these knives other than on a few of the uncommon Fireman model.

Heavy duty folding blade with lots of belly found on the original 108mm German Army Knife

Heavy duty folding blade, with good usable length, found on the original 108mm German Army Knife

All of the 108mm variants have an 84mm long spear blade. This is a good size blade with lots of belly and a 75mm cutting edge. Victorinox advertised this as a ‘double thickness jumbo size’ blade

The peculiar Victorinox combination tool that appeared on the German Army Knife and Safari derivative

The peculiar Victorinox combination tool and saw guard that appeared on the German Army Knife and Safari derivative

The combo-tool is a combination of an efficient woodsaw with a flat screwdriver tip and can opener/bottle opener at the end. The woodsaw, that cuts on the ‘pull’ stroke, was frequently covered with a removable, light (1.4g), folded tin blade guard that protects the hand when opening cans/bottles etc. A nail file was added circa 1985 to the combo-tool, this created a second-generation German Army Knife (GAK 2). This file can also be used for striking matches.

Combination tool with and without nailfile

Combination tool with and without nailfile

Mini Victorinox flat tip screwdriver stores easily and neatly on a corkscrew

Mini Victorinox flat tip screwdriver stores easily and neatly on a corkscrew

The five turn corkscrew is longer than is normal with most Victorinox knives. A corkscrew is largely superfluous these days, especially with the growing prevalence of screw-top bottles of wine. A corkscrew was included on the original Victorinox Officer’s Knife in 1897. I find a corkscrew of more use these days for loosening knots in cordage. Beside that, it is a handy place to store one of the micro Victorinox screwdrivers that are so useful for tightening the screws on my glasses.

Long awl/reamer found on German Army Knife

Long awl/reamer found on German Army Knife

The German Army Knife has a 50mm awl/reamer with a wickedly sharp 40mm edge. This is longer than the awls found on most other Victorinox knives and will puncture cordura, trail shoes and boots for repair or leather belts with ease. Opening centrally on the handle it can be grasped and twisted into whatever it is puncturing with little danger to the person holding it. The only thing that would make it better, and I do wish it had one, is a sewing eye.

Different manufacturers, different finishes, varying quality

Different manufacturers, different finishes, varying quality. Mil-Tec made original knives ‘back in the day’ but more recently have switched to poorer quality reproductions.

A further variant on the Safari Trooper is a three layer knife that has a clip-point blade added between spear blade and combo-tool. This was made with olive green scales for the Mauser company (around 240,000 units) and had the weapon manufacturer’s name on the additional blade and side of scale. A similar and very rare (4972 units) version of this extended version was also produced for the Walther company which had black scales.

The two-layer 77.4g Safari Pathfinder is a simplified version of the civilian equivalent to the second generation German Army Knife. As with the first generation GAK, there is no nail file (or match striker) on the combo-tool. However the back tools are excluded. There is no awl/reamer or corkscrew. So it makes for a good, compact tool that retains considerable functionality.

108mm Victorinox Safari Pathfinder (8750)- red nylon scales. Two layer knife. (designation: 0.87 50). Large blade, combo tool- woodsaw, can opener, screwdriver. There are no tools in the scales, as usual with military knives and their derivatives

108mm Victorinox Safari Pathfinder- red nylon scales. Two layer knife. (designation: 0. 8750). Large blade, combo tool- woodsaw, can opener, screwdriver and no back tools. There are no tools in the scales, as is usual with military knives and their derivatives

Victorinox Hunter, showing gutting blade

Victorinox Hunter showing gutting blade, part opened below main blade. Note that the saw is folded away here

A heavier option is the three layer 112.3g Safari Hunter that adds another blade to the Safari Trooper. This is a special curved gutting blade, equally useful for slicing vegetables and fruit in the hand. The rounded tip to the gutting blade (69mm cutting edge) makes it safer to use where there is a risk of stabbing someone, perhaps cutting off seatbelts, pack strap or clothing in the event of accident or trauma etc.

The gutting blade on the Safari Hunter was also made available with a serrated edge on the uncommon (2380 units) Fireman version. This featured crossed fireman’s axes behind the Swiss Cross logo on the scale. The fully serrated blade on this variant was intended for emergency cutting of seat belts etc. This ’emergency’ blade was also fitted to other larger knives later produced by Victorinox.

1978 safari trooper poster, also showing the stag handled model

1978 safari trooper poster, also showing the stag handled model

The  Hunter was alternatively available with real Stag antler scales (0.8780.66), later replaced by imitation antler (0.8780.06). I have never been a fan of these scales and have not sought one out. The real stag handled versions are quite uncommon, probably less than a thousand units, and may have been a trial or premium offering before the company switched to large volume production with imitation material.

The 1978 advertisement shown here illustrates just some of the range of 108mm knives on general sale to the public at that time. Presumably the less well-equipped Solo and Pathfinder didn’t find much favour with the hunting or ‘sportsmen’ fraternity.

108mm Victorinox Safari Hunter (8780)- red nylon scales. Three layer knife. (designation: 0.87 80). Large blade, gutting blade, combo tool- woodsaw, can opener, screwdriver, no nail file. Back tools- corkscrew, awl

108mm Victorinox Safari Hunter (designation: 0.8780)- red nylon scales. Three layer knife. Large blade, gutting blade, combo tool- woodsaw, can opener, screwdriver, no nail file. Back tools- corkscrew, awl/reamer

If the 112.3g Hunter is amongst the heaviest of Safari options, then the single layer 50.4g Solo is the lightest and simplest variant in the 108mm range. You couldn’t get any simpler. It just has the large single blade. If this is all you require, a blade, and no extras that make it into a multi-tool, then this is a comfortable, well sized option. This size of knife fits well in my hands and provides a blade of usable size with no great weight penalty. There was also a 52.5g Solo Plus variant (US designation- 53843) that had a corkscrew as a back tool (no awl). This last knife was originally called the Adventurer (0.8710).

Extremely rare (fifty units) was the two-layer Swiss shArK released in February 2011. This combines the tools of the Solo Plus with an extra blade- a serrated edge blade with rounded tip. The odd name is etched onto the main blade. Three Points of the Compass doubts he will ever see an example of this 81.3g knife, which is  shame as it looks a great combination. Though it would be even better if the corkscrew were exchanged for the reamer.

Victorinox Solo- red nylon scales. One layer knife. large blade, no back tools

108mm Victorinox Solo- red nylon scales. One layer knife with large blade and no back tools

So, in summary, the Victorinox 108mm range is a small yet interesting range of knives and provides just enough tools to be useful in the backcountry. No scissors, which is a game changer for many, and the knives often include a corkscrew, which is of decreasing practical use these days. However these knives remain a favourite of Three Points of the Compass if seldom actually taken on trail. I much prefer one of the smaller 58mm range from Victorinox or a Leatherman keychain tool, especially for longer hikes.

Some of the interesting ranger of 108mm knives from Victorinox

Some of the interesting range of 108mm knives from Victorinox. With either one, two or three layers. Top to bottom: Safari Solo, Safari Hunter, Safari Pathfinder, Safari Trooper, German Army Knife second generation

Many genuine Victorinox versions of the original 108mm German Army Knife and some of the latter variants are still available at reasonable prices second hand and are worth snapping up while you still can. Be aware that some of the more uncommon variants may be more difficult to track down and a premium price may be asked.

Victorinox German Army Knife and Safari derivatives

Victorinox German Army Knife and Safari derivatives

Three bamboo toothbrushes from The Environmental Toothbrush

Gear talk: A few grams here, a few grams there… still looking at toothbrushes

Is it really worth shaving off a couple of grams by adopting a different toothbrush? Three Points of the Compass would argue that anyone with a bit of savvy looks to replace light with lighter whenever a simple replacement or renewal is required, so long as any drop in functionality is negligible or acceptable.

It is five years since Three Points of the Compass last looked at toothbrushes for hiking. At that time, I settled on the lightweight offering from Muji, keeping it full size and eschewing the option of adopting the much ridiculed chopping off half the handle. So good was the small headed toothbrush that Muji makes that I have been using them generally, at home, as well as on every hike since. There remains nothing wrong with them as a good lightweight option for backpacking and there is little hesitation in continuing to recommend them for that. However I have often heard of the bamboo handled options that many hikers seem to be adopting, so seeing as they are available for a good price, it was time to switch it around a little and give them a go. Was this primarily for environmental concerns? I’ll be honest, not really, but if I can find something that is just as functional while ‘doing my bit’, then why not?

Three options of bamboo toothbrush from The Environmental Toothbrush- Child, Soft and Medium heads

Three options of bamboo toothbrush from The Environmental Toothbrush- Child, Soft and Medium heads

I purchased three of the options available from The Environmental Toothbrush, via eBay. A couple of Soft and Medium bristle heads were purchased to see which I prefer for home use. I also thought I’d try the Child size as that looks a good option for backpacking. These were all £2.99 each but buying four or more brings them down to £2.39 each so I ordered two of the Child brushes. That is with free delivery. Note that these are from an Australian company and there are no doubt other options from companies closer to home. But I had heard good things of their products so decided to give them a go.

Toothbrushes from Muji and The Environmental Toothbrush. Full size above weighs 14g, Child option below weighs 5g

Toothbrushes from Muji and The Environmental Toothbrush. Full size Muji above weighs 14g, Bamboo handled Child size option below weighs 5g

Weights are remarkable. Being made from a natural product there seems to be some variability in handle weights. My full size soft head brush weighs 6.2g and the medium head brush weighs 7.9g. The two child brushes, which also have soft heads, weigh 5.1g and 5.4g respectively. The moso bamboo handles, a temperate species of giant timber, are a natural cellulose and are obviously recyclable (as is the card packaging). For those that care about such things, they are BPA free, Fair Trade and Vegan Friendly. After removing the bristles the brushes can simply be chucked in the compost once they wear out. Bristles are nylon polymer and I wait to see how they will hold up. I’ll report back…

Adult and Child size toothbrush heads compared

Adult and Child size toothbrush heads compared

Looking at small light pen options

Gear talk: A few grams here, a few grams there… in search of the perfect pen- again!

 

Three Points of the Compass implores anyone venturing out on to a significant hike over multiple days to document it. If only for your own use. Scribbled notes, how you feel, the people you meet, weather, the sweat on a climb, the shivers on a ridge, the ache in the feet. Anything. Believe me, in the years to come you will read those scribbled notes and many of those recorded moments will come flooding back. That said- you need something to write on and something to write with.

Fisher Stowaway Space pen in the hand

Fisher Stowaway Space pen in the hand

While I still ring the changes on which notebook I take with me on a hike. In 2015 I thought I had found my solution as regards a pen. The Fisher Stowaway was a great, lightweight little solution with a huge ink reservoir. My only issue with it was the cost. It is not outrageously expensive but not a cost I want to be shelling out too frequently. I am not one for losing things on trail, I am pretty careful and methodical. However, when I undertook a five-month hike in 2018 I lost only one item of gear the whole trip. That was my Fisher Stowaway pen, twice. I took a couple of zero days a thousand miles in to my hike, exploring the beautiful city of Chester with just a notebook and pen, the latter came adrift somewhere. I cursed and ordered another to be picked up later in the hike. A hundred miles after receiving that one, I lost it again. I won’t buy another. They are too pricey to keep replacing. This rankles with me and strange as it may seem to those who do not fret over such things, I was determined to find the solution.

Roaming the streets of Chester on a rest day, I walked unencumbered by pack and simply carried a notebook and pen. The latter was lost. The only piece of kit lost on a two thousand mile

Roaming the streets of Chester on a rest day, I walked unencumbered by pack and simply carried a notebook and pen. The latter was lost. The only piece of kit lost on a two thousand mile hike

Over the last couple of months I have been looking again at what lightweight, reliable options there are, pen-wise, for use on trail. I could simply use a nasty little throwaway bic pen, which have broken, smudged or leaked on me too many times, or a pencil. I have many great little mechanical pencils and one of the terrific Koh-i-Noor options would be fine, but it is a pen I am after.

17.3g Victorinox Scribe, with pen extended

17.3g Victorinox Scribe, with pen extended

I wasn’t exhaustive in my investigations by any means. Three Points of the Compass is a big fan of the 58mm series of knives produced by Victorinox over the years and I first considered whether to rely exclusively on one of the Swiss Army Knives that include a pen in their toolset, or even just the pen, removed from the scales, as my main writing implement.

Victorinox Scribe with minuscule pen removed

Victorinox Scribe with minuscule 0.8g pen removed

I frequently carry a 32,5g Midnite Manager from Victorinox on day hikes or of a few days, and they are great for keeping notes then; piggy-backing on the back of other tools I want with me such as blade and scissors. But the ink reservoir is tiny. It will never last the thickness of a moderate notebook. There are a number of 58mm Victorinox knives with pens, mostly in the Signature and Manager series. Probably the lightest of 58mm SAK with a pen is the Victorinox Scribe. Because it eshews scissors, only sporting a small blade, nailfile with screwdriver tip and tweezers (or toothpick) accompanying the retractable pen. This little knife comes in at just 17.3g. It is actually quite comfortable in the hand to write with. By opening the nailfile, it rests in the hand well.

Victorinox Scribe, a very basic toolset that includes a small pen

Victorinox Scribe, a very basic toolset that includes a small pen

Pen from Victorinox SwissCard

Pen from Victorinox SwissCard, this larger option from Victorinox weighs 1.2g

The pens in the 91mm range of knives and SwissCards are longer but still just as thin. There is a larger amount of ink in these but really not a great deal. If using just the Victorinox pen removed from the knife, they are great for just a few scribbled notes but I find them, quite literally, a pain to use for any extended time as their narrow width makes them uncomfortable to hold for longer note taking sessions- the end of a day write-up for example. All of these are pens are pressurised though and write quite well. Which is why I actually include one of the smaller 0.8g spare pens in my ditty bag. If I lose (again) my main pen, or it goes dry on me, I think a less than one gram spare is acceptable if probably superfluous addition. Do note that the Victorinox pens only come with blue ink, always have and it looks like they always will. I prefer black ink and blue is always going to remain a less favoured option for me.

The Victorinox 2019 SwissCard Swiss Spirit comes with a handy set of tools that includes a pen

The 26.8g Victorinox 2019 SwissCard Swiss Spirit comes with a handy set of tools that includes a pen

The True Utility telescopic pen is a lovely robust piece of kit, but the ink reservoir in the pen is tiny

The True Utility telescopic pen is a lovely robust piece of kit, but the ink reservoir in the pen is tiny. One of the replacement refills is shown next to the pen

I then looked at the most minimalist pens I could find. I keep a True Utility telescopic pen on my keyring. Reasonably priced, great for note-taking but surprisingly heavy. Now 8.2g may not sound a great deal but containing such a tiny ink reservoir, I do not think this great keychain pen is suited to backpacking.

True, it does telescope out to a decent length, but the slippery tapering barrel is not particularly comfortable to write with for longer periods. Also that cap in which it is posted, if not attached to anything it is very easy to mislay. I had the same problem with the Inka pens I used to use while backpacking a decade ago. A pen to keep confined to my Every Day Carry I believe.

Even if not suited to backpacking, the True Utility telescopic pen makes a great EDC item, here on my keychain next to a cut down Blackwing 602 pencil

Even if not suited to backpacking, the True Utility telescopic pen makes a great EDC item, here on my keychain next to a cut down Blackwing 602 pencil

The Ohto Minimo is probably the smallest retractable ball point pen on the market

The Ohto Minimo is probably the smallest retractable ball point pen on the market

Ohto Minimo pen

2.7g Ohto Minimo pen

Next up was the cheap-n-cheerful, aptly named, Ohto Minimo ball point pen. This has a 0.5mm line width, is tiny and also comes with a thin little plastic card with pen sleeve that can be slotted into or stuck to just about anything. The clear plastic card is a little larger than most western business cards or credit cards so needs to be trimmed before it will fit a wallet. The work of just a few seconds with a pair of scissors. Refills for the pen are easily available but as the body of this pen is only 3.7mm thick, I again found it too thin to write with for extended periods. It’s weight though is incredible- less than 3g!

I wasn’t getting far in my meagre examination of miniscule pens. Rather than splash out on yet another, I decided to review where I was. I want a lightweight pen, I want black ink, I want reliability, I want affordability and I want it to last a reasonable write length. This all bought me back to my original Fisher Spacepen. Fisher do a pretty good range of pens but it was only the minimalist Stowaway that was ticking all the boxes. How about simply using a refill, by itself? The large ink capacity means that the body is thicker than the tiny little pens I had been looking at. I experimented for a couple of weeks using one to write with every day at work and home but still found the body too slim and a pain to hold for any length of time. Also the smooth body meant it would slip in my grip meaning I had to grasp it more tightly, making it more uncomfortable for extended periods.

Fisher Spacepen refills are easily available, in different ink colours and line thickness

Fisher Spacepen refills are easily available, in different ink colours and line thickness

Fisher Spacepen refill with shrinkwrap sleeve

Fisher Spacepen refill with shrink-wrap sleeve- weight: 3.7g

Some time ago I bought some electricians shrink tubing for wrapping the tops of my shepherds hook tent stakes, the bright red colour increasing visibility in long grass. What if I tried shrinking some of this around the refill body? Five minutes later I had my answer- result! It is easy to do this, cut a length of shrink-wrap, slide over the pen and gently run a hairdryer over it while turning the pen.

The pen is now very slightly wider-  some 6.5mm.  And doesn’t slip in my grip. I originally tried shrinking a length along the whole body, while this worked, I wondered if I could shave off another gram by trimming it to the essential.

Reducing the amount of shrinkwrap on the Fisher refill makes very little difference to the end-weight

Reducing the amount of shrink-wrap on the Fisher refill makes very little difference to the end-weight, this weighs 3.6g

A bare and unencumbered Fisher Spacepen refill weighs 3.4g, shrink-wrapping its length increases this to 3.7g, shortening the shrink-wrapping to a minimum had the negligible effect of reducing it to 3.6g, so barely worth it.

At least for the foreseeable future, that is it for me. For multi-day hikes I have a reliable pen at a decent weight that I can write with for reasonably extended periods though it shall never be as comfortable as a ‘proper’ barrelled pen. In addition, cos I’m a belt’n’braces guy, I have a little Victorinox refill in my ditty bag. For shorter hikes I can favour one of the Victorinox knife options that includes a pen, or if carrying a knife other than a Victorinox (it has been known), take one of the Victorinox pen refills.

It is of course possible to keep a recorded account of a hike on your phone- either as film, audio or in digital note form. However there is genuinely something tactile and pleasant in a dog eared, stained notebook, complete with bits stuffed into the flaps and hurried notes on bus and train times, who it is you have to meet when, resupply lists and phone numbers. I ask, write it down rather than relying on the digital- analogue rules in this format.

A range of lightweight pen options for backpacking

A range of lightweight pen options for backpacking

Opisometer in case stamped Edward Stanford Charing Cross

Map measurer of the month- Stanford’s opisometer

 

Bone handled opisometer with finely turned finial

Bone handled opisometer with finely turned finial

An opisometer is a curious instrument. As soon as you handle one it is pretty obvious how it works. A handle, in this case made of bone, probably from a cow, with a small milled wheel that turns easily on a supported fine thread. There is also a small metal pointer to aid in locating whatever it is you are measuring.

An opisometer is easy to use with irregular lines on a map or drawing

An opisometer is easy to use with irregular lines on a map or drawing

What is essential is a scale to read off against once a line has been precisely tracked. You wind the wheel to one end of the thread, then wheel it along a line on a map, or along any distance you are measuring, then turn the wheel backwards against a known scale. With maps, the scale usually appears at the bottom. Simple to use and effective. Opisometers are still made today but seldom for use with maps, more as an aid in the medical or surveying worlds.

Stanfords Opisometer in small leather carry case

Stanfords opisometer in small leather carry case

Opisometer advertised in a 'Dictionary of British Scientific Instruments', by the British Optical Instrument Manufacturers' Association. 1921

Opisometer advertised in a ‘Dictionary of British Scientific Instruments’, by the British Optical Instrument Manufacturers’ Association. 1921

Having first stated as an employee of Trelawney Saunders at 26-27 Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, London in 1848, Edward Stanford became a partner in 1852. This business relationship never lasted the year however and Stanford became sole proprietor in 1853, expanding his shop, that sold maps and charts, to 7-8 Charing Cross. The business further expanded and a printing works in nearby Trinity Place was purchased. Stanfords became the map maker and seller in London. Now situated at 7 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, they still enjoy an enviable reputation to this day supplying maps for countless expeditions across the globe.

As well as maps and charts, Stanfords sold many accessories including map measurers. The opisometer shown here is unlikely to have actually been made by Stanfords. It was likely supplied to them by a manufacturer of fine mathematical or surveying instruments. It is difficult to date, certainly they were being sold in the 1870s and the example shown probably dates from around then, but examples were still available for purchase for much of the first half of the twentieth century. Though an all metal construction became more in favour at the turn of the century.

The opisometer is pretty generic in design. Other sellers of surveying and mathematical equipment would also have stocked these, each seller having their own address stamped onto the bespoke leather case that held these quite delicate instruments. The Stanford example is quite small when compared against others that were available. It measures just 97mm (3 13/16″) in length. The turned and pointed finial on the end of the bone handle shows that this is an English made instrument as each country had their own particular design. It will measure a line 958mm (37 3/4″), so over a yard/almost a metre, which is quite remarkable for such a small instrument.

Small Stanfords opisometer (top) with larger opisometer supplied by Elliott Brothers who were making these instruments in the late nineteenth century

Small Stanford’s opisometer (top) with larger similar opisometer supplied by Elliott Brothers who were making these instruments in the late nineteenth century. The bottom example dates between 1853-1873