Tag Archives: can opener

Ditty bag contents in 2020

Gear talk: ditty bag contents

On longer lonelier trails, with habitation potentially days away, a handful of carefully thought out simple and lightweight pieces of gear can solve a problem, make life a little more comfortable, or even prevent injury or worse

On longer lonelier trails, with habitation potentially days away, a handful of carefully thought out simple and lightweight pieces of gear can solve a problem, make life a little more comfortable, or even prevent injury or worse, photographed Scottish Highlands

It is a number of years since I showed the contents of my hiking ditty bag. That place where I keep this ‘n’ that, bits ‘n’ pieces, spare stuff, repair stuff, essential stuff, non-essential stuff and ‘where the hell else can I keep this?’ stuff while on trail.

Ditty bag

Ditty bag

I am not going to delve much into weights here. These contents are the type of thing that is personal to everyone. What I show here is pretty lightweight and what I have evolved to what I like to have with me. Every single item listed here has been used by myself on trail but I am more than aware that many would not even bother to pack along the type of things I do, fine.

Quilt cords and line

Quilt cords and line

Three lengths of cordage are packed in the ditty bag. The two yellow lengths are quilt cords for me to attach my Katabatic quilt to the pad on colder or draughtier nights.

Quilt cord used to hand food bag away from rodents in bothy on South West Coast Path

Quilt cord used to hand food bag away from rodents in bothy on South West Coast Path

It is seldom that these have to be used as my quilt is wide enough to tuck around the small of my back etc if there is a lazy breeze working through my Duplex shelter. I usually have a door or two on the shelter open at night to keep down condensation and give me a view outside. The cords are occasionally used around the pad in shoulder seasons and in winter. One of the cords has had to do double duty on a particularly long hike a couple of years back- over two thousand miles I lost so much weight that my non-elasticated town trousers, with no waist draw cord, were so loose that I had to tie them up to prevent them falling down.

I have also used one of the cords as a rough and ready way of measuring a distance on a paper map. Simply flex the cord around the bends and turns and trails of tomorrows path, pinch where you get to between finger and thumb, then measure off against the scale at the base of the map. Old school, but easy and reasonably accurate.

Quick and easy attachment method for thin drying line. Can also be used as an extra guy

Quick and easy attachment method for thin drying line. Can also be used as an extra guy

The 6g of green cord shown is usually used as a washing line, often strung between shelter and whatever is nearest. My hiking shirt is often sweat soaked at the end of a day’s hike. I will also try and wash or at least rinse skiddies and socks each evening.

300lb breaking strain braided line. A lifetimes backpacking supply

A lifetimes backpacking supply of line

The green cord is actually 10 metres of tough and thin braided fishing line with a 300lb breaking strain. Really slippery stuff, I could use a knot but tend to rely on a couple of little plastic ‘thingies’ slid on, to which the line is simply returned and wound around a couple of times. This holds it securely.

Gear drying on final day of The Ridgeway. Town Farm campsite, below Ivinghoe Beacon 2016

Gear drying on final day of The Ridgeway. Town Farm campsite, below Ivinghoe Beacon 2016

On a five mile hike in 2018 Three Points of the Compass lost so much weight that town trousers became too loose to wear and had to be cinched up with a quilt cord to prevent offending sensibilities

On a five month hike in 2018 Three Points of the Compass lost so much weight that town trousers became too loose to wear and had to be cinched up with a quilt cord to avoid offending sensibilities

Peaty brown water may look unpalatable but is fine to drink, particularly after the addition of a couple of chemical sterilisation tablets. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, NW Scotland

Peaty brown water may look unpalatable but is fine to drink, particularly after the addition of a couple of chemical sterilisation tablets. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, NW Scotland

I use a Katadyn BeFree water filter on trail. I touched on that in a recent post looking at my hydration set-up. But, accidents and loss of filter can occur, so I also pack along a half-dozen or so chemical water treatment tablets. These are Chlorine Dioxide, each tablet will treat a litre of water.

It is not often that I chemically treat water, preferring to filter. But it is a fool that doesn’t try to look to ensuring that water is safe to drink. Regardless of stomach upsets that may occur, there is growing incidences of viruses in our water supplies and the former reliance of a ‘cast-iron’ stomach wont cut it today.

The orange items are ear plugs. Some hostels and bothies, and close camped pitches too, can get pretty noisy with snorers. I confess to hating using these but they are included for last, desperate, resort. These are kept clean in a small baggie.

Ear plugs can also be helpful in trying to get a good nights kip when the wind is blowing and the tent is rattling and flapping like a good ‘un. Though I tend to just pull a beenie further down over my ears instead.

Infrequently required

Emergency water treatment and ear plugs. Infrequently required but extremely useful on occasion

Another tiny baggie keeps a plethora of little ‘stuff’. My sewing kit comprises two needles; a No. 7 embroidery/crewel needle (that has occasionally been pulled into blister duty) and a large eye No. 18 chenille needle. These are kept in a small plastic tube with end caps, along with a trimmed needle threader and a back-up pen. I say pen, this is one of the tiny 1g pressurised pens that pops into a 58mm Victorinox knife scale.

Small stuff

Small stuff

The remainder of my sewing kit comprises a single medium sized button and around five metres of black Gütermann Extra-strong polyester thread on a 0.4g bobbin. I have overdone the sewing kit in the past but am happy with what I have pared down to. The larger chenille needle will still handle tougher fabrics that will shrug off the No. 7 embroidery needle.

On longer hikes, some damage and wear to clothes and gear will occur. Sewing the crotch of my shorts midway along the Cape Wrath Trail

A sterilised needle passed through a blister and the thread left behind, stops the holes closing up and enables the blister to drain overnight, a bit of tape over the blister the following day enables a hike to continue almost pain free, provided the problem that caused it has been dealt with

The needle and thread can also be used for work on any blisters, though I seldom suffer from these there has still been the combination of events that has led to problems. I think the last time was walking through the surf on sloping beach shingle for more miles that I would have preferred to. Catching it way too late to tape over, the sodden skin had become loose and hot. Increasingly I find I am having to assist fellow hikers as few seem to have any clue how to prevent blisters, deal with them, or carry anything with which to treat them.

I carry a little P-38 tin opener, not often used, but if I have an infrequent opportunity of finding a tin of food that lacks a ring pull, I want to get into it. I have learnt my mistake on this, and for the sake of 4.5g, I’ll continue to pack it along now.

Bobby pin being used to hand a washed Darn Tuff sock at tent door to allow it to dry

Bobby pin being used to hang a washed Darn Tuff sock at tent door to allow it to dry. Another sock hangs from the other door

Two bobby pins are used as simple clothes pegs. They work adequately well. Also tucked in to my ditty bag is a spare o-ring for my BRS-3000T stove. If that were lost or damaged and I have no spare, it is goodbye to hot meals and drinks for the remainder of my walk. My final item carried is a spare type 400 bottle cap (shallow, one thread turn).

Three Points of the Compass carries a small knife or multi-tool on trail. For many years I have favoured the key-chain sized Leatherman Squirt S4 because the selection of tools on this is almost exactly what I want. Usually, the only tools I require are scissors, modest blade, small screwdriver for my glasses, nailfile and a bottle opener on occasion. Just occasionally I have required a screwdriver to fix a stove or trekking poles. The S4 is now discontinued though it has been replaced with others in the Leatherman line up. If I am not carrying this I am invariably carrying one of the terrific little 58mm Victorinox tools.

However I am currently looking at returning to what I used when I first started off backpacking decades ago, taking separate dedicated tools. More on that in a future post.

Leatherman Squirt S4 multi-tool

Leatherman Squirt S4 multi-tool

I carry a little wallet. I am on my third of these as zips do fail and they hole quite often. They have varied in material from X-Pac to 70D Liteskin to my current which is DCF Cuben Fiber. These are all simple zippered pouches containing travel/bus/train tickets (and Gold discount card if necessary), house key (and British Waterways water key on occasion), cash and a variety of cards- I probably carry more cards than most as I like to visit places on my trails and you never know what you may unexpectedly happen upon. Current cards are YHA membership, English Heritage, Museums Association membership and bank card.

Wallet and contents

Wallet and contents

A squirt of gel super glue kept a trail shoe that was coming apart from progressing further

A squirt of gel super glue kept a trail shoe that was coming apart from progressing further

Another baggie contains repair tape. This varies according to length of trail but is currently a 11cm x 7.5cm rectangle of clear tenacious tape, 10.5cm x 8cm rectangle of clear DCF (Dyneema Composite Fabric) repair tape, 30cm thin strip of camo DCF repair tape, that matches my shelter, and a single square of Thermarest fabric repair patch for my sleeping mat. On occasion I have added some self adhesive hook and loop velcro.

Like many others, I keep a few turns of duct or Gorilla tape around the shafts of my trekking poles. This gets changed out each season.

I also include a tiny 1g tube of super glue gel. I have tried the 0.5g tubes but they do not include enough to effect most repairs and the larger tubes contain too much. I also find the gel easier to control than the runny glue. At a pinch, this could also be used for skin repair in the event of a particularly bad injury.

Repair tape and glue

Repair tape and glue

Disaster averted. When a guy pulled out on my shelter, leaving a large hole in the side, it was only having a large patch of adhesive repair cuben tape that prevetned a series of damp nights following. Offas Dyke Path

Disaster averted. When a guy pulled out on my shelter, leaving a large hole in the side, it was only having a large patch of adhesive repair DCF tape that prevented a series of damp nights following. Offas Dyke Path

The small journal that Three Points of the Compass carries will vary according the to the length of trail, but is always pretty small

The small journal that Three Points of the Compass carries will vary according to the length of trail, but is always pretty small

Three Points of the Compass seems to be amongst a declining number of hikers who still likes to keep a written journal. Most people simply record their memories on their phone, if at all. Size of journal varies according to how long a trail is, but it is usually a modest sized journal that will be filed away on my shelf back home, dedicated to that trail and those memories. It takes dedication to fill out a days record each evening, and I have skipped days when simply too tired or finishing late. I will also have a hostel or museum stamp a page, ask people to write their contact details on occasion, record train and bus times. Phone numbers for hostels, draw small town maps on exactly how to find a place. Record insects, birds and animals seen, tuck in receipts, feathers. I have even glued in volcanic dust from the trail. On occasion, I will sketch a church, a sea stack or the view before me. To accompany the journal, I have a simple pen.

Fire kit in baggie

Fire kit in baggie

In the shoulder months and winter I also include a small emergency fire kit. This contains just a small selection of items that may get me out of a sticky situation. I used to also carry this in summer months when carrying an alcohol/meths set-up as I would then also have the ability to set up for wood burning for cooking. However the past couple of years have seen some extraordinarily dry periods with bans on both open and meths cooking in favour of a cooking set-up that allows for it to be instantly extinguished, which means gas. So I find that I am now using a gas set-up for the majority of my backpacking excursions these days.

The simple and minimal contents of my fire kit include tinder and matches

The simple and minimal contents of my fire kit include three Tinder-Quik fire starters, a little tinder, Lifeboat or stormproof matches, with sealed match strike card, and a minute ferrocerium rod

These are the contents of the ditty bag being carried by Three Points of the Compass in 2020, not that any of us are getting out much in this coronavirus year. I used to include a spare pair of glasses in this but I now pack them deep within my clothes bag for added protection.

The ditty bag will no doubt continue to evolve in the future, though I suspect little will change much. My next post looking at the smaller pouches and bags carried on my backpacking trips will peek inside my hygiene pouch/wash kit.

A notebook forms an important part of the contents of my ditty bag. A scrappy sketch of High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way in 2018 takes me back to the moment I made it, above, the carefully scrawled name of the little girl who spent that night in Gregs Hut with her father and me, reminds of Lexi's overwhelming excitement at toasting marshmallows that night

A notebook forms an important part of the contents of my ditty bag. A scrappy sketch of High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way in 2018 takes me back to the moment I drew it. Above, the carefully scrawled name of the little girl who spent that night in Gregs Hut bothy with her father and me, reminds me of Lexi’s overwhelming excitement at toasting marshmallows that night with ‘daddy’

Lightweight tin opener options for backpacking

Gear talk: carrying a tin opener on trail

While it is doubtful that many backpackers would dream of packing such an item, Three Points of the Compass advocates carrying a tin opener while on trail, especially on a multi-day hike. Most of us will either pack along dehydrated pre-prepared meals to eat, or rustle up a meal with some easy prepared foodstuffs- couscous, powdered potato, noodles, my particular favourite on trail is preparing a lentil curry. However, especially in the UK, there is often the opportunity to supplement this type of dried and lightweight food with heavier tinned food. Particularly if staying the night on an official pitch, with either on-site or local shop selling simple goods, if usually at an extortionate price.

Not every tin of food comes with a ring pull. Without a tiny lightweight opener, gaining access is difficult

A welcome tin of protein purchased in a Youth Hostel while on trail. Not every tin of food comes with a ring pull. Without a tiny lightweight opener, gaining access is going to be difficult away from the hostel’s ‘campers kitchen’. This opener weighs just 4.1g

Not all tins come with ring pull tops and few of us are packing any sort of large multi-tool that includes a tin, or can, opener. Rather than attempt to bash a way into a tin with a tent peg, or slice open a finger attempting to gain access via a small folding penknife or simply do without the contents, why not simply pack along a tiny lightweight opener. There really isn’t much else that will perform the task they do and for a handful of grams weight penalty, such ‘food-joy’ could be appreciated…

The contents of my 'ditty bag' photographed on a longer multi week hike in 2018. The contents of one small baggie here are further shown below

The contents of my ‘ditty bag’ photographed on a longer multi week hike in Scotland. The contents of the small baggie bottom right are shown below

When it comes to lightweight openers, the military have our backs. And it is to the various tin/can openers that have been produced by the armies of the world that the backpacker should turn. I seem to have an assortment of these around the house and have pulled together what I could find for the header photo above. One I won’t be covering is the large Czechoslovakian Army issue ‘Perfex’ opener shown above. While well made and effective, there are simply too many alternatives to this folding 26g tin and bottle opener.

Some of the contents of my backpacking ditty bag- Money, sewing kit, house key and British Waterways water key, emergency fire starter kit, spare water bottle cap, hair grips, to be used as clothes pegs, and a small tin opener

Some of the contents of my backpacking ditty bag- Money, sewing kit, house key and British Waterways water key, emergency fire starter kit, spare water bottle cap, two hair grips (used as clothes pegs), and a small tin opener. This is the 4.5g P-38

One of the largest viable options that a backpacker could consider is the Field Ration Eating Device, or FRED. This pressed steel device was introduced during the Second World War and issued to the Australian military. It has the Defence Stock Number: 7330-66-010-0933. Still manufactured today, mine was made in 2007. Various clone rip-offs have been made in recent years. As well as the effective tin opener, one end of the tool has a bottle opener and the other end has a shallow spoon. The 90mm length makes the tool easy to use and twist in the hand. While you can eat with this, its short spoon length means that you put yourself at risk of cutting yourself on the edge of a freshly opened tin, while the shallow bowl is useless for more liquid foodstuffs. It has not endeared itself to everyone forced to use it and earned the unfortunate sobriquet- ‘Fucking Ridiculous Eating Device’. For backpacking, there are better options.

Australian issue FRED

Australian issue FRED weighs 11.6g but also incorporates a simple spoon

There are quite a few small, but actually medium sized opener options. These include the well known P-51, centre in the image below. Supposedly given this designation due to its 51mm length, mine is actually a 53mm long British Army equivalent. Every 24 hour ration pack I had while serving in the Army had one of these included, it came in a paper sleeve wrapper with printed instructions on how to use it. I had dozens of these ‘Baby Can Openers’ but they have all gradually gone and this 1981 example is my sole survivor. Stamped with- ‘1981 – W.P.W ‘crows foot arrow’ 129 – 9982′, it has opened hundreds of tins and is still in perfect operating order. There are many clones (BCB- second left) and alternatives both used by other armed forces and subsequently manufactured for the civilian market. The Highlander Survival opener shown here, combined with a bottle opener, is widely available however I don’t like it. It doesn’t operate particularly well, ripping open a tin rather than piercing and cutting easily. Also the bottle opener section makes it uncomfortable in the hand while opening tins. The opener on the right in my hand was issued to the Swedish Army and these work well. However the larger military opener on the left is a horrible tool with a very blunt and barely usable cutter, it is only the slightly longer length that enables sufficient force to be applied.

Medium sized openers

Medium sized openers. Weights left to right: 13.0g 7.7g, 7.7g, 8.6g, 7.0g

The small holes punched in many of these openers enable them to be hung from a keyring however the cutting tip can swing open and rip holes in pockets. An easy solution to this is to use a small rare earth magnet to keep it closed when not in use.

Rare earth magnet on my army issue opener

Rare earth magnet on my army issue opener keeps it closed when not in use

Most backpackers constantly strive to remove excess weight from their packs. Even the lightest option shown above, the Swedish 7g opener may cause some to baulk. Despite this, Three Points of the Compass suggests that one of the lighter and smaller tin openers should still be seriously considered. Ranging from around 4 to 7 grams there are truly lightweight options.

Smallest and lightest of the opener options

Smallest and lightest of the opener options. Weights from left to right: 6.6g. 4.2g, 7.2g, 4.5g

These are tiny, the smallest here is only 38mm long though the shorter length does mean that it is uncomfortable to use for any extended period. However none of us are using one of these for an extended period on trail. All we want to do is open the odd tin on occasion. The rounded ‘Weekend’ 6.6g opener shown on the left in my hand is probably the best of the small military issue openers. However they are not the easiest to find. After these, the famous P-38, on the right in my hand, is a superb choice and weighs under five grams, this is stamped ‘US Shelby Co.’ indicating that it was made by Mallin Shelby Hardware inc. These openers were developed in 1942 and are still made today. Smaller than the P-51 shown above, these are not quite so comfortable to use but are just as simple to operate. The P-38 has a wide and loyal following. For a good deal more information on these, there are a number of sources online, one of the more informative can be found here.

The 84mm Victorinox Alox Cadet weighs 45.9g and includes a really efficient tin opener

The 84mm Victorinox Alox Cadet includes a really efficient tin opener but weighing 45.9g it is not the lightest of options

Some pocket knives come with a tin opener amongst their toolset. Three Points of the Compass has looked before at two of the military knives that include an opener, these were the British and German options. For myself however, if not carrying one of the small keychain sized multi-tools from Leatherman, Three Points of the Compass prefers one of the smaller 58mm long knives produced by Victorinox for backpacking trips. Sadly, none of the 58mm Swiss Army Knife options includes a tin opener amongst their tools. Some of the larger knives that Victorinox has produced do include fantastically efficient openers but for most hikers, they are probably either too heavy, or equipped with tools not required on trail. The 28.8g Alox Bantam and 45.9g Alox Cadet from Victorinox both have excellent tin openers, however the first has a combination opener on a single layer knife that lacks scissors, which some may regard a necessity on a Swiss Army Knife, while the second is a better equipped two layer knife, with an even better dedicated tin opener, yet also lacks scissors. Interestingly, these two types of opener work in opposite directions.

Victorinox's instructions on how to use its combination tool, as found on its 84mm Alox Bantam

Victorinox’s instructions on how to use its combination tool, as found on its 84mm Alox Bantam

While all of these openers are easiest to use by right-handers, left-handers can also use them- holding them in the left hand and working round a tin in the opposite direction. So, to carry a tin opener or not? That is your choice. I do. If you do decide to pack along a small opener I suggest don’t bother with any of the civilian clones. Instead choose one made for the military, they number in the millions and were specifically produced to be both durable and efficient. Most of those shown above can be found, with a bit of searching, on the second hand market so simply buy the real thing.

6.6g Weekend opener in use

6.6g Weekend opener in use

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 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.