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Top five Victorinox 58mm knives

A top five of 58mm Victorinox knives- my number three choice

Added utility: the ‘Rally’ series

The requirement on trail for any additional tools other than a knife blade is personal and will largely depend on what is carried on a hike. There is little point in carrying tools that ‘may’ be useful for other hikers that ‘may’ be met. However, if you want to tighten the screws on your glasses, cut open backpacking meals, dismantle and reassemble a stove, tighten the locks in trekking poles, open a can or bottle or any number of other maintenance or necessary tasks, then the inclusion of the right tools for the job will benefit immensely.

Combination tool in use

Combination tool in use on trail. This version, the Talisman, has a magnetised Phillips head, wire stripper and cap lifter

The Rally series includes, on the back of the knife, a little combination tool that will often suffice, though it still wont do all of the tasks mentioned above. Early versions of the tool were simply a magnetised screwdriver tip and cap lifter. Later combo- tools included a wire stripper/bender that I confess to never using and never requiring.

The Rally is one of the simplest and least equipped of the 58mm knives produced by Victorinox. However it may be all that is required

The Rally is one of the simplest and least equipped of the 58mm knives produced by Victorinox. However it may be all that is required

Rally

Available since 1995, the 58mm Victorinox Rally is the basic tool on which the variants shown below are based. It is a two layer tool with a typical small drop-point pen blade with 34mm of cutting length opening toward the keyring. This is an annoying feature that makes the knife harder to use while still attached to a lanyard or similar. Beside this is a nailfile, opening in the same direction. This has a flat 2.5mm ‘SD’ screwdriver tip. On the opposite side, opening away from the keyring, is the aforementioned combo-tool with magnetised Phillips head. It is an easily found knife and can be picked up quite cheaply.

My version has translucent red scales in which are located a useful pair of tweezers and a plastic toothpick. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t like these toothpicks and if taking one of these knives on trail, it is potentially more useful to include one of the little Firefly ferrocerium rods.

Rover

While the Rally Combo-tool has a Phillips head, the Rover is a simple variant that has a 2.5mm flat screwdriver tip on the combination tool and a nail cleaning tip on the nailfile. The tip of the nailfile can be used with some small Phillips head screws. This is, I feel, a less useful knife for use on trail. Scale tools and blade are the same as on the Rally.

Victorinox Rover. Possibly the least practical multi-tool from the Wanderer series

Victorinox Rover. Probably the least useful of the multi-tools in the Rally series

The Victorinox Talisman is the third choice of Three Points of the Compass as a knife particularly suited for use on trail. It has a small but useful set of tools- small blade, nailfile with flat screwdriver tip, cap lifter, wire stripper, Phillips screwdriver, tweezers and ball point pen

My battered and well used Victorinox Talisman is my third choice of 58mm knife and is particularly suited for use on trail. It has a small but useful set of tools- small blade, nailfile with flat screwdriver tip, cap lifter, wire stripper, Phillips screwdriver, tweezers and ball point pen

Talisman

The final knife I show from the Rally stable is the most useful I feel. The toolset is exactly the same as the Rally, but the Talisman has a slightly thicker cellidor scale on one side that accommodates a retractable ballpoint pen instead of the useless toothpick. The Talisman is, at a little over 10mm, only a shade thicker than both Rally and Rover but provides a small set of tools with nothing superfluous. A pretty old and now obsolete model, the Talisman is not an easy knife to find and include in a hiking set-up. Three Points of the Compass rates this tool as his number three choice from the 58mm range of knives that Victorinox has produced, providing just a small amount of added utility to a basic toolset which is frequently all that is required on trail.

While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is considerable wasted space in the plastic holder of this version

The Victorinox Talisman has a similar basic toolset to that found in the SwissCard Quattro- blade, nailfile with flat screwdriver tip, pen, tweezers and Phiilps head screwdriver

Model Length Width (at widest point) Height Weight
Rally 58mm 19.15mm 9.35mm 21.7g
Rover 58mm 19.15mm 9.35mm 21.0g
Talisman 58mm 19.15mm 10.20mm 23.0g
Victorinox Talisman in the hand with ball-point pen extended. Opening the nailfile makes the small 58mm long knife more comfortable in the hand for writing with

Victorinox Talisman with ball-point pen extended. Opening the nailfile makes the small 58mm knife more comfortable in the hand for writing with

Top five Victorinox 58mm knives. The Talisman, at number three, is third from left

Top five Victorinox 58mm knives. The Talisman, at number three, is in the centre

Top five Victorinox 58mm knives

A top five of 58mm Victorinox knives- my number four choice

A pocket workshop on trail

My previous post on 58mm Victorinox knives suggested a couple of very simple knives that would be an excellent choice for taking on trail. Of the two shown, one of these, the Victorinox Escort, was identified as the fifth choice of Three Points of the Compass. Some hikers may prefer quite a degree more capability out of a knife or small multi-tool they carry. I would agree. Below, I show just four examples of the most complex of the smaller knives that Victorinox have manufactured. The final one shown is my fourth choice of 58mm Victorinox knife for taking on trail.

Four impressive knives- from left: Original MiniChamp, MiniChamp, Midnite MiniChamp, Alox MiniChamp

Four impressive knives- from left: Original MiniChamp, MiniChamp, Midnite MiniChamp, Alox MiniChamp

There are a handful of other versions of the MiniChamp than those shown here. However items such as a golfer’s divot tool (as found on the XL version of the MiniChamp) are not going to be much use to the average hiker. Those shown here are what I feel are the best versions of this mini work shop specifically for taking on trail.

The first version of the Victorinox Minichamp crams an amazing number of tools in to a two layer knife

The first version of the Victorinox MiniChamp crams an amazing number of tools into a four layer knife

MiniChamp I

While the first version of the 58mm Victorinox MiniChamp contained less tools than later versions it is still a fantastically versatile multi-tool and a shade lighter and thinner. If you have no need for the combo-tool, featuring a cap lifter, wire stripper and magnetised Phillips screwdriver, then the earlier MiniChamp I may be all that you require. The Mk I dates from some time prior to 1994 but can still be found on the second hand market. It is a pretty thin four layer tool and it is pretty astonishing that a diminutive 58mm knife can deliver so much functionality.

The two later variants shown below are much easier to locate than the earlier version and their toolset differs slightly. There are so many tools on these multi-tools that I have Iisted them separately to aid you in identifying the differences between the those shown here. Unfortunately, some tools are suited for tasks such as measuring, personal grooming, or even peeling an orange (yes, really!), and as such are somewhat superfluous on trail, but the remaining tools mean that there is great capability for repair and maintenance when the household toolbox is a long, long way away.

The MiniChamp I features:

  • Pen blade
  • Emergency blade
  • Orange peeler, or cut and picker blade
  • Nail file with nail cleaner tip
  • Cuticle pusher
  • 35mm ruler with 2.5mm flat screwdriver tip
  • Scissors
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Keyring

As you can see, these little multi-tools even provide a secondary blade that can be kept in reserve or used for specific tasks such as food preparation.

Later version of the MiniChamp (formally known as the MiniChamp II) was extended to a five layer tool to include the useful combination tool. This version also includes a retractable ball point pen in one of the scales. However some, if not most, of the tools are superfluous on trail

Later version of the MiniChamp (formerly known as the MiniChamp II) was extended to a five layer tool to include the useful combination tool. This version also includes a retractable ball point pen in one of the scales. However many of the tools are unlikely to be required on trail

MiniChamp

The later version of the MiniChamp (originally known as the MiniChamp II while the MiniChamp I was still available) built on the previous model by including Victorinox’s remarkably useful combination tool that includes cap lifter and magnetised Phillips screwdriver with a less useful wirebender/stripper. This is at the expense of it widening still further to become, at 14.8mm, the only five layer 58mm knife in the Victorinox stable. While it comes with a set of tweezers installed, one of the useless toothpicks is packed in the box should you feel a burning need to trade out something useful for something considerably less so.

The MiniChamp features:

  • Pen blade
  • Emergency blade
  • Orange peeler, or cut and picker blade
  • Nail file with nail cleaner tip
  • Cuticle pusher
  • 35mm / 1 3/8inch ruler with 2.5mm flat screwdriver tip
  • Combination tool
  • Scissors
  • Blue ink retractable ballpoint pen
  • Tweezers
  • Keyring

I have never been a great fan of the toothpick on Victorinox knives. They get pretty torn up and manky and I prefer not to think of what sort of bacteria is being harboured in the slot in the scales. This is another reason why I usually replace the 0.3g plastic toothpick with a thin 1.2g Firefly ferrocerium rod that may prove to be much more useful in an emergency. One of these mini firesteels could just as equally be swapped out with the tweezers.

Midnite MiniChamp

The Midnite MiniChamp adds an LED light to an already impressive set of tools, the opposite scale to the light has a retractable ball point pen. This is the thickest of the 58mm knives from Victorinox

Midnight MiniChamp

If a pair of tweezers is already sitting elsewhere in the pack and we have already agreed that the toothpick is superfluous, then this version of the MiniChamp includes still more useful tools in its red cellidor scales. I do like this particular model as I invariably include a pair of Uncle Bill’s Sliver Grippers in my First Aid Kit. I think these are a better tweezer than those made by Victorinox due to the fine points which, while not quite the ‘Precision Points’ as advertised by Uncle Bill, still enable fine work when removing ticks and splinters etc.

The choice of scale tools highlights one of the decisions that should be borne in mind when selecting a knife to take on trail- is the tool duplicating any part of the kit already being carried and is such redundancy required?

Instead of tweezers and toothpick the more recent version of the Midnight MiniChamp includes a small LED light and a retractable ballpoint pen in the scales. In my mind, while the ball point pen is a useful addition, a small white LED is seldom required on trail and the greater bulk required to add this feature is not justified. Prior to the Mk II version the knife came with a dim red LED which would be more useful however I have not been able to locate an example to show here.

The Midnite MiniChamp features:

  • Pen blade
  • Emergency blade
  • Orange peeler, or cut and picker blade
  • Nail file with nail cleaner tip
  • Cuticle pusher
  • 35mm / 1 3/8inch ruler with 2.5mm flat screwdriver tip
  • Combination tool
  • Scissors
  • Blue ink retractable ballpoint pen
  • LED light
  • Keyring
MiniChamp with black alox scales. Other colours are available

MiniChamp with black alox scales. Other colours are available

MiniChamp Alox

Despite the usefulness of a small ballpoint pen and tiny LED light, at 16.6mm thick the Midnight MiniChamp is quite thick in the hand for such a supposedly small 58mm knife. I feel that it may have crossed the threshold and is now too thick for carrying on trail. Three Points of the Compass often carries a separate mini-pen and frequently a mini-light such as one of the Photon Freedom micro LED light. If carrying a Victorinox MiniChamp with me on trail I actually prefer to make do without any scale tools and take the thinner MiniChamp Alox version instead. I have the black scaled Alox version, not only is this a handsome little beast, but it is only a tad over 10mm thick; some two thirds the thickness of the regular Cellidor scaled version. The Alox, or Aluminium Oxide, scales are not only attractive but are also pretty ‘grippy’ in the hand, useful with a small knife.

The MiniChamp Alox features:

  • Pen blade
  • Emergency blade
  • Orange peeler, or cut and picker blade
  • Nail file with nail cleaner tip
  • Cuticle pusher
  • 35mm ruler with 2.5mm flat screwdriver tip
  • Combination tool
  • Scissors
  • Keyring

So good is this multi-tool that even if not being carried as part of my hiking kit, it is invariably sitting alongside my equally diminutive Spyderco Bug on my keychain as part of my EDC. I still don’t need such items as a cuticle pusher and ruler even on a thru-hike of length which is why this tool isn’t further up my top five list. Despite this, for those occasions where a genuine multi-tool is wanted while backpacking, Three Points of the Compass regards the MiniChamp Alox as the most generally suited and well appointed of the small Swiss Army Knife ‘pocket workshops’ as it is still fairly compact and it is my fourth choice of Victorinox 58mm knife for taking on trail.

Four impressive knives- from left: Original MiniChamp, MiniChamp, Midnite MiniChamp, Alox MiniChamp

Four impressive knives- from left: Original MiniChamp, MiniChamp, Midnite MiniChamp with white LED, Alox MiniChamp

Model Length Width (at widest point) Height Weight
MiniChamp I 58mm 18.60mm 11.15mm 35.0g
MiniChamp 58mm 19.55mm 14.80mm 45.2g
Midnite MiniChamp 58mm 19.65mm 16.60mm 46.3g
MiniChamp Alox 58mm 19.55mm 10.20mm 39.4g
Top five Victorinox 58mm knives. The Alox MiniChamp, at number four, is second from left

Top five Victorinox 58mm knives. The Alox MiniChamp, at number four, is second from left

An assortment of SwissCards

SwissCards

Victorinox SwissCards

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools. Shown here are the SwissCard (second generation), SwissCard Quattro, SwissCard Lite (second generation) and SwissCard Nailcare

The Victorinox SwissCards are lightweight plastic ‘cards’ that contain a small range of tools. These can frequently be all that is required on a hike. Three Points of the Compass has a few of these and takes a glance at four of the various cards released by Victorinox since they first appeared in 1997. These are the SwissCard (later SwissCard Classic), the SwissCard Quattro, the SwissCard Lite and SwissCard Nailcare.

There have been different generations of these cards, particularly with the original SwissCard. Also, a couple of varieties, including a money clip, and car visor models that excluded the nailfile to fit respective clips instead. An oddity that I shall not cover here was the Doctor SwissCard that exchanged the tweezers for calipers. All of the SwissCards are small, measuring 82mm x 54m x 4mm. So, a little smaller than a credit card. The smaller dimensions are necessary if you want to slide one into a wallet or purse. I would suggest not storing them in the pocket as the plastic (actually ABS or Acrylnitril-Butadien-Styrol) will crack and break if overly stressed by flexing or being sat on. They will slip into just about any packs hipbelt pocket.

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a good edge to this blade

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, which are often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a sharp blade and it keeps an edge pretty well

Most hikers would probably glance at these little tools and discount them as they don’t immediately strike them as ‘knife’. But the toolset in a SwissCard is very similar to that found on many of the the smaller knives, particularly the Signature, also produced by Victorinox. These tools are mostly of a size that makes them pretty convenient for life on trail.

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted '7 features - 10 functions', but some of these are not worth getting too excited about. It came with Letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted ‘7 features – 10 functions’, It came with letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The first SwissCard appeared on the market in 1997 and while the small range of tools largely remained unchanged, small details in the plastic holder construction were later altered to make it more robust. A rotating sliding lid over the scissors was eventually excluded in 2008 but not before a protractor had been added to the rear of the lid in the second generation of SwissCard.

26.2g SwissCard

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in translucent blue weighs 26.2g. The first two generations of the SwissCard had a sliding door over the scissors

The sliding door on the first two generations of SwissCard was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in solid black featuring an added protractor. The sliding/rotating door was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot. The protractor on the inside of the door can be seen in this image but was of little practical use

The first two generations of the SwissCard weighed 26.2g, this weight increased imperceptibly to 27g when the sliding door was excluded from the design with the third generation. This meant that the protractor on the second generation was now also removed as a result. While the protractor on the second generation SwissCards could possibly be used for measuring snow slope angle, and the likelihood of avalanche, I really can’t see this being carried out in reality. The third generation of the plastic case is much sturdier and robust as a result of the change.

All SwissCards include a small ruler- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent blue. All SwissCards include small rulers- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

The 27g SwissCard Classic is a simple tool that carries much of the toolset found in the little 58mm Victorinox Classic folding knife. That is- small blade, nailfile, scissors, tweezers and toothpick. The SD version of the Classic knife has a small flat screwdriver tip on its nailfile and this is what is also found in the SwissCard. In addition, there is a stainless steel pin and useful, if miniscule, pressurised ballpoint pen in the SwissCard.

The 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards

The 21.3g 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards. This is the Edelweiss scaled version, there is a huge variety of scale designs found with these knives

Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when new models became available

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent red. Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when other models also became available. The Classic also differs from the first two generations of card by not having a sliding door over the scissors

The 22.2g SwissCard Quattro was released in 2000 and this saw the handy little four-way Quattro screwdriver made available for the first time. This is so small and convenient that even if I am not carrying one of the cards with me while hiking, one of the 2.6g screwdrivers is often sitting in my ditty bag. Sadly, the inclusion of the screwdriver was at the expense of the scissors, which are excluded from the SwissCard Quattro. A hole was added to the corner of the card enabling it to be hung from a keyring or lanyard.

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro in solid black. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox. this solid black colour is 20.6g compared to the very slightly heavier translucent Quattro cards which are 22.2g

In 2003 a small LED light was incorporated and the 26.7g SwissCard Lite appeared on the market. Essentially, other than differences in case colour, there are two variants of the Lite- early models had a red LED, these were changed to a white LED in 2009. While the white LED is far brighter than the red and ideal for urban use, Three Points of the Compass feels that red is often more useful on trail, especially if stumbling around a crowded hostel or bunkhouse room and trying not to disturb slumbering occupants.

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red.

A hiker normally carries a primary white light headtorch or similar, however a small red LED can be useful at times for discreetness. Early models with the red LED can be difficult to find now but are still available through eBay etc. if now over-priced. Though it must be admitted, the red LED is very dim whereas the white variant is far brighter, but still no where near bright enough for night hiking or similar.

Red and white LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite

White and red LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite. The brighter white light is distinct

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The SwissCard Lite hits the sweet spot by including both scissors and the handy little four-way screwdriver. Incorporating both of these at the expense of losing the nailfile is a reasonable trade off I feel.

The LED switch is a rather clever and simple affair, being a removable slide that contains both LED and the battery. The drain from the modest LED means that battery life is considerable, though a spare battery could be carried on a particularly long multi-day hike.

The SwissCard Lite has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass could be useful as an aid when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers

Victorinox SwissCard Lite in transparent black. This 26.7g card has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass is helpful when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers. Both four-way screwdriver and scissors are present in this card

The flat four-way Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

The flat four-way 2.6g Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

In 2015, the SwissCard Nailcare was released. While both four-way screwdriver and scissors are incorporated, the little knife blade is replaced by a glass nailfile.  As a result, I think the 26.6g Nailcare is the least useful of the SwissCards for taking on trail, unless personal grooming really is that important to you. Unfortunately the cutout for the nailfile is reduced in the nailcare card, otherwise the nailfile could have been swapped for a knife from another card.

The 6.7g scissors from a Victorinox SwissCard are are an excellent efficient choice for a First Aid Kit

The 6.7g scissors found in most variants of the Victorinox SwissCards are a useful choice for a First Aid Kit

SwissCards were manufactured in a range of solid and translucent/transparent colours only some of which are shown here. Ice Blue (shown here) was only available with the Nailcare. The pin and small tweezers are useful for removing splinters and as with the other incarnations, the spring loaded scissors do a good job, though I find my digits a tad large for the small single finger hole so frequently simply grip the whole of the scissor in my hand when using.

While well-appointed, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

26.6g Victorinox SwissCard Nailcare in translucent Ice Blue. While well-appointed and great for day-to-day urban carry, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

I normally carry a small knife or multi-tool on trail, however it is probably time that I gave these little cards more attention. They include many of the items that I already carry but could remove from my gear list- scissors, blade, pen, tweezers, and depending on which variant is taken, could provide a couple of other useful items. Three Points of the Compass feels that of all the available SwissCards, a SwissCard Lite is the most suited for backpacking. As to the choice of colour of LED, that is up to you but the earlier red LEDs are becoming pretty difficult to source these days.

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle

The British Army Knife

A blast from the past- the British Army Knife

Oil the joints…

Having yet another tidy up of some drawers a few days ago, I came across a relic from my army days. I am pleased I hung on to this knife as it saw a lot of miles with me and a lot of sentiment is associated with it. I lost my previous issued knife and this replacement was issued to me in 1980, the same year it was manufactured, the date also being stamped on the side.

Crows foot, date of manufacture and part number were stamped on to the side of each knife issued

Crows foot, date of manufacture and part number were stamped on to the side of each knife issued

Three Points of the Compass was in the Royal Engineers, well known as the very finest of the British Army Corps. Whereas most British soldiers were issued with a simplified version of this knife, in my time, the version Engineers were issued also had a tough marlin spike on the opposite side to the blade.

There were actually four different knives issued to the British forces. Each had its own Nato Stock Number (NSN). These were:

Folding heavy duty sheepsfoot blade

Folding heavy duty sheepsfoot non-locking blade

  • NSN 5110-99-301-0301 (with locking blade and can opener)
  • NSN 5110-99-794-0491 (without can opener)
  • NSN 7340-99-975-7402 (with can opener and no marlin spike)
  • NSN 7340-99-975-7403 (with can opener and marlin spike)

As you can see, my example is the final one on the list. Made in Sheffield of stainless steel, these ‘squaddy proof’ tools are incredibly tough pieces of kit. They had to be as they put up with a lot of punishment. The back spring to the blade is equally tough. No nail nick is built in to the blade, instead, the metal scales are shaped to permit a good grip of the back of the blade to open it. This is a 60mm blade and could hold an edge pretty well. I see that my knife still has a good edge though I cannot recall the last time I sharpened it. Probably a couple of decades ago.

Huge and effective can opener

Huge and effective can opener

The can opener found on this knife has to be one of the largest found on any pocket multi-tool. Wickedly sharp, it’ll open any can put in front of it. A shackle is fitted to the opposite end to the can opener and would be attached to a lanyard.

Sappers carried the knife in the breast pocket and it was a chargeable offence to be caught without one. This was our EDC, or Every Day Carry, and was used for any task imaginable on a daily basis. On exercise they were indispensable- cutting para cord, batoning, opening tins and cutting up the awful, pale sausages and bacon grill found inside.

 

1984 and 1985 was spent in Northern Ireland. There was little room in the cramped cab of an armoured Allis Chalmers wheel loader. Occasionaly an SMG could be thrown behind the seat while working, but invariably, all that we were armed with was our clasp knife

1984 and 1985 was spent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. There was little room in the cramped cab of an armoured Allis Chalmers TL645 wheeled tractor. Occasionally an SMG could be thrown behind the seat while working, but invariably, all that we were armed with was our clasp knife. Though it was more frequently used when accessing the engine cowlings or adjusting the winch

Nope, its not for getting stones out of hooves, the marlin spike is an essential tool for splicing ropework and loosening knots in heavy cordage

Nope, its not for getting stones out of hooves, the marlin spike is an essential tool for splicing ropework and loosening knots in heavy cordage

The marlin spike was intended for rope work. Put to considerable use when in training in the late 1970s, less so when it came to later service. Though I do recall using it when engaged in improvised rafting. This is not a lightweight knife coming in at 120g. While it went everywhere with me back then, I cannot see my ever resurrecting it as an EDC item, and will never take it backpacking. It is in need of a bit of a clean up now so I’ll probably just give it some attention, hone the blade, oil the joints (as per the instruction stamped on the side!) and once again consign it to a drawer somewhere.

The wide flat screwdriver was used for anything from stripping down a 7.62 L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR) To prising the lids off paint tins

The wide flat screwdriver was used for anything from assisting in the stripping down of a 7.62 L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR) to prising the lids off paint tins

 

 

 

A useful piece of kit- in its day

‘Oil the Joints’- A useful piece of kit- in its day

 

 

 

 

A winter walk on the South Downs Way

A winter wander on the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile National Trail between Winchester and Eastbourne. it follows the northern escarpment within the South Downs National Park for most of its distance and is a fairly gentle walk along the chalk downs with only occasional drops to cross river valleys.

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay overnight. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be 'the oldest bar in England'

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay there overnight prior to commencing the South Downs Way. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be ‘the oldest bar in England’. Building of the cathedral commenced 1079 on the site of an earlier Saxon Church. The pub dates from around 1002

Three Points of the Compass completed a five month 2000 mile hike in 2018, much of that time was taken as unpaid leave so consequently still had a few days holiday left to fit in before the end of the year. So I decided to knock off another of the National Trails. I walked this trail decades ago when I was in the British Army, but the memory has dimmed. Not only that, but it used to be considerably shorter, originally extending only as far as Buriton until the circa 25 mile extension to Winchester was approved in 1989.

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

I decided to complete the Way as a winter thru-hike, doing a mix of camping and accommodation. My Z-Packs Duplex had been worn out completely on my Three Points hike earlier in the year so I took my Nigor Wikiup 3 pyramid tent instead. In a nod to the colder conditions expected, instead of simply using a bivi-bag inside the shelter as I have in the past, I took a small one person nest to make the nights a little more comfortable. This was the Hex Peak single inner V4A. It worked brilliantly and the three nights slept inside were all very comfortable despite winter arriving with a vengeance while I was on trail.

The paraphernalia of an evening meal- now soaking in boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration in the interim

The paraphernalia of an evening meal on the South Downs Way- sitting in freshly boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration while waiting. There is plenty of room within the Wiki-up 3 shelter to enable cooking inside while it rains outside

My complete gear list can be found here. Accepting that the weather had turned, I carried a few more comfort items of clothing in addition to those I usually take on longer hikes- a mid-layer, puffy trousers and jacket, down beenie etc. Base weight was 9615g but because it was a pretty short hike I carried much of the food I would require. This meany less reliance on infrequent shops, less time spent hunting down meals when the daylight hours were short and less miles added to my total. Cooking was simple- lentil curries, hot drinks such as tea and OXO, granola for breakfast, plenty of chocolate. Tortillas and tuna pouches for three lunches. A few flapjacks were also stuffed in. For this trip I carried the little 25g BRS 3000-T ‘bumblebee’ stove and a 110g  gas cartridge.

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for my hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for this hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Having enjoyed a pint in one of Winchester’s older establishments, I followed this with a meal in the local Wetherspoons. A big mistake, going for cheap and plentiful calories I waited over an hour for my food which was dire and even the selection of beers was poor. A shame as I can normally rely on a ‘Spoons to deliver what a hiker needs.

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preffeirng to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preferring to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

The following day, a Friday, I left my hotel at six-thirty, an hour or so before dawn and it was a short walk to the start of the trail beside the City Mill, from there it was an easy well-marked trail, following the River Itchen out of town. I crossed the M3 and was immediately into the countryside. I was carrying around 1.5 litres of water as I set off as I was unsure on how water supply would be. I had been told that many taps are turned off from the end of October. I’ll do a separate blog on the water sources I used.  Suffice to say, I had no problems sourcing water throughout the hike. Highlights of that day were lovely leafy tracks, mostly soft walking, deer, partridges and around a million pheasants…

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

With sixteen miles completed by 11.40, my first halt was a little later for lunch at the Bronze/Iron Age site on Old Winchester Hill, just one of many National Nature Reserves I passed through. I knew that with short day light hours I was going to have to get a move on to that night’s halt. But I still took a break for a mug of tea at the fly fishers little cafe adjoining the tackle shop at Meon Springs. Friday’s camp site was at the Sustainability Centre, Wetherdown Lodge. Arriving at 14.40 after slightly more than twenty miles, I had a winter pitch booked which still meant I had a warmish shower and compost loos to use. There were no other campers and after pitching the tent, I managed to get to the cafe on site minutes before they closed for a pint and a bag of crisps. Back to the darkened tent for lentil curry and instant mash. With a long night before me, I settled down in a warm quilt at 18.50.

I slept well, the campsite was silent beyond a few owls, a mouse rustled through my rubbish bag outside but cleared off when I muttered at it. I rose at five as I had a twenty four plus mile day to complete to where I hoped to wild camp that night. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was pleased I had bought a full set of insulated clothing as camp wear. Quite a bit of condensation on the inner surface of the shelter, nothing within the nest however. I wiped this down while the tawny owls set off again, breakfast, ablutions, packed and away prior to seven. A bit later than I had hoped but I frequently faff around a bit too much on my first morning. It wasn’t long before I was into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. it was good walking through the wooded park until the wonderful long and sweeping descent down to the crossing of the A3. I held a gate open at the bottom for a couple of horse riders who after thanking me, set off at a fine gallop up the slope toward the ancient field systems below Butser Hill that were very evident that morning with the misty low sun and long shadows.

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

I had held faint hope of a bacon sarnie at the cafe in the visitor centre beside the carpark but that didn’t open until ten. I wasn’t waiting around for two hours so after a brief chat with a marshal setting up for a Park Run taking place later (it was a Saturday), I walked on through the park and out the other side. It sounded as though World War 3 had kicked off as there were shoots taking place in all directions. The path was pretty stony today and the feet felt it a bit in my mostly worn out Altra Lone Peaks. Time for a new pair perhaps.

The mist cleared a little in the afternoon but soon gathered again as the early evening approached, so views were modest. My planned halt that night was at Glatting Beacon but I found that there was a cold wind whistling up the slopes so hunted around for a bit looking for shelter. I eventually settled for a quiet little flat space immediately next to the entrance to the compound containing the masts. It looked as though the place had few visitors, as evidenced by what appears to be arson attempts to the buildings within the compound.

Saturday night's camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Saturday night’s camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Another lentil curry and plenty of chocolate. I had a good signal there so was able to chat to Mrs Three Points of the Compass for a while as I sank hot drinks, first an Oxo, then tea, finally a hot chocolate, then early to bed as I could feel the temperature dropping.

I didn’t sleep fantastically that night. I was warm enough but the cold was evident in the morning with a heavy frost. My alarm failed to sound at five thirty, possibly affected by the cold, but I woke soon after anyway. Hot mug of tea and granola followed by ablutions. I had picked a pitch away from the cold wind but condensation was heavy, this immediately froze as soon as I opened the tent flap in the morning. Being frozen, it was easy to shake this off when packing up. It was a lovely clear morning when I hit the trail a little after seven.  It was Sunday and this was the busiest I saw the trail with quite a number of dog walkers out.

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating through the wooded slopes

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating from the wooded slopes. Quite a few pheasants would not see another morning

There were quite a few deer in the fields, running as soon as they saw me, stopping to gaze at me from a safe distance, then turning and running again. Partridges cher cher cherred away in low loping flights. Yesterdays Buzzards were now joined by numerous Red Kites. It was a good days walking with the best views so far on trail.

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Sunday was a nineteen and a half mile day to Truleigh Youth Hostel. I hadn’t been able to book it as it was on exclusive hire but emailing them, the warden had kindly informed me I was welcome to camp in their field opposite- “hide in the field, by the pond or under the trees”, she had also left the campers w/c and shower unlocked for me. I made sure to leave a generous donation in the charity jar when I left the following morning.

Sunday night's camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

Sunday night’s camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

When I arrived at the hostel, quite a few of the group that hired the hostel were outside the entrance smoking. What they were smoking I had my suspicions. Drinking and dancing was taking place on the first floor. In chalk smeared outdoor clothes, I felt alien to what was going on but stood chatting to the small group on the steps. I was asked where I had camped the previous night, I told them it had been a wild camp- “wow, that’s awesome”, I quietly demurred- “it was just the one night, not much of a pitch, no view to speak of…”, he interrupted ” yeah, but wild anything, that’s  cool”.

A couple of them were unloading a large sound system from one of the vans- “its a fiftieth birthday party, it’ll be going on ’til the morning”. Oh great! I held out little hope of any sleep but as it was, barely heard anything tucked away some 100 metres away. I slept pretty well that night and condensation was limited in the morning.

The weather was cold with clear skies and good views for much of Monday mornings walking. There were a couple of highlights to visit today. Having crossed the Hulking escarpment, it wasn’t long before I was passing through scrubby downland above Devils Dyke; Britain’s largest single coombe of chalk karst, this is a steep dry valley. Through Saddlescombe, the Hikers Rest cafe closed at this time of the year, then a leisurely halt at the Shepherds’ Church at Pyecombe. The village itself was hit badly by the plague in 1603 and is now split with part of the village now situated half a mile away from the remainder.

The Norman built Shepherds' Church, Pyecombe

The Norman built Shepherds’ Church, Pyecombe

Famed for the Pyecombe Hook, a particular design of shepherds’ crook, I was only slightly more fixated on the dedicated room newly built on to the rear of the church specifically for pilgrims. I declared myself a pilgrim and stopped in to use the facilities and make a cup of tea followed by a hot chocolate. Eating flapjacks and bars  and chatting to a parishioner meant this was a prolonged halt.

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds' Pyecombe Hooks. These were made for around 200 years

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds’ Pyecombe Hooks. These hooks were made for shepherds and Church of England bishops for around 200 years. A tapsel gate is made of wood and rotates through ninety degrees on a central pivot. Unique to Sussex, only six such gates survive

Then on to the equally famous Clayton windmills, better known as the Jack and Jill windmills. I diverted slightly off trail to go and see these. Jack, a dirty black smock mill is a pretty poor sight now. It has no sails and is a private residence. The nearby Jill, a white painted post mill looks superb.

Post Mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles

Post mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles. She was originally sited in Dyke Road, Brighton and was bought to its current site by a team of horses and oxen in 1852. Occasionally open to the public, she was closed during my visit

 

The uncommon circular tower at Southease church

Southease church tower

handstamp impression from my journal

Hostel handstamp impression from my journal

Despite my halts and diversions, Monday was still a hike in excess of twenty one miles but I was less concerned with finding a camp site as tonight’s halt was YHA South Downs. It was still cold but dry, however the blue skies were clouding over and it was obvious that a change in the weather was imminent. I still made time for a halt at a roadside caravan where two huge bacon rolls were consumed. Also a brief halt to admire Southease church with its rare circular tower. There are only two others in Sussex.

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Having booked in to the attractive Youth Hostel, situated on a farm, I found myself sharing a room with one of the most taciturn men I have ever met, also one of the friendliest! Showered and clean, I made my way to the hostels courtyard cafe where the two young wardens- Chaya and Steph, provided me with a series of good beers and the unhealthiest of food options.

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

I slept well in an overheated room, only a little snoring from the other two occupants. Both were contractors and were away early to their work. On my final day, Tuesday, I had breakfast in the campers kitchen and was away soon after eight for my walk to the coast, I enjoyed second breakfast at the Singing Kettle Tearoom at Alfriston. I was headed toward the lovely walk along the Seven Sisters via Cuckmere Haven. My final day also had the greatest amount of ascent- 4892′. This was all easy enough though and would make for a great finish to the hike.

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

However the weather had indeed changed and it was rain for much of the day, if it wasn’t raining, it was mostly sleet or hail, such fun! It didn’t really bother me as it was driving in to me from behind or my left, so I was able to keep the hood of my Velez Adventure Lite smock up and was warm and dry to the great extent. My legs got wet but never cold, if it briefly stopped raining, the Montane Terra trousers dried quickly in the stiff wind. This was almost twenty two miles from the Youth Hostel to Eastbourne Pier where I was finishing my South Downs Way hike. Then about face and another long ascent back out of town to that nights halt at YHA Eastbourne. I arrived before five  and had to stand outside until the warden unlocked. This remains a ridiculous YHA requirement that has been largely done away with by independent hostels. I was also less than pleased to find there was no food provided on site and there was nowhere in the vicinity. Not fancying another slog back down into town that night, I was able to rustle up sufficient from my almost totally diminished food supplies supplemented by a little pasta left in the kitchen to make an ‘OK’ last meal. The warden even found a bottle of wine for me, bonus.

Walking toward Birling Gap

Walking toward Birling Gap on my final day on the South Downs Way

With my little diversions off trail and the extra couple of miles up to my Youth Hostel from Eastbourne Pier, I completed 108 miles over my five day hike of the South Downs Way. It had been a cracking walk. The mist had obscured views at times but it added another element to the walk in itself. This has to be one of the finest chalk downland walks to be found anywhere. I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry but am pleased to have completed it.

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England's National Parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, al of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England’s national parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, all of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty beside dog walkers never more than a mile from their cars

‘back of the drawer’ EDC- the BCB mini-work tool

Stainless steel pocket tool from BCB. This probably dates from the 1990s and is a better credit card sized tool than the cheaper copies that followed

Stainless steel pocket tool from BCB. This probably dates from the 1990s and is a better credit card sized tool than the cheaper copies that followed. Despite that, it has been supplanted by more useful pocket tools today

Having a clear out the other day, I came across a ‘blast from the past’, a little metal tool from BCB that I used to carry for around a decade or so before switching out to more useful tools for my Every Day Carry, or EDC. This little card sized tool would even accompany me on the odd hike a couple of decades ago, but at 30g, or 40g with its vinyl sheath, it offers too little practicality today so will probably go back into the drawer.

This little tool, measuring 69mm x 40mm x 2mm, has been updated then cloned by numerous other manufacturers in the intervening years. The modern copies, the majority of which seem to be Chinese made, are pretty shoddy in comparison. Every equivalent card tool I have seen of recent years has any number of extra ‘useful’ functions incorporated, few of which are actually useful. Always of most use to me was the corner flat screwdriver (mine is pretty torn up now), bottle opener (or cap lifter), the point of the tin (can) opener, which was always useful for opening packages etc. and the the ‘knife’ blade. I can’t really call it a blade as it is more a 45 degree sharpened 29mm edge at one end of the tool but it would still cut cordage with a bit of effort. The cut-out hex wrenches on these tools are never any use as you usually need to access from above the nut instead of from the side.

My old BCB pocket tool to the right of one of the cheap modern versions. The addition of a few extra functions hasn't really added anything to the usefulness of these little credit card sized tools

My old BCB pocket tool to the right of one of the cheap modern versions. The addition of a few extra functions hasn’t really added anything to the usefulness of these little credit card sized tools

Cheaply made, pressed stainless steel pocket sized tool is of limited use today. The finish on these bits of kit is extremely poor

Cheaply made, pressed stainless steel pocket sized tool is of limited use today. The finish on these bits of kit is extremely poor

I really do feel that the more modern versions have lost much of the capability even though they seem at first glance to offer more. More recent versions often have a bearing plate for a button compass, but not the actual compass. The tin opener has become far less aggressive, and as a consequence, far less practical in use. This was probably because the piercing point on the earlier version protrudes further and is therefore more likely to cause injury to the unwary. Another reason why a nasty little camo vinyl holder was supplied. The saw blade on the early version is, while very short at just 31mm, actually well cut and aggressive. Recent versions have a far less effective saw. The wire stripper has also been excluded from the bottle opener in the modern version. All of these changes mean that modern rubbish versions can be picked up for a pound or two. I don’t carry one of these credit card sized tools with me now, preferring the greater versatility provided by a proper, fairly small, multi-tool from Victorinox or Leatherman, supplemented by other tools in my EDC on occasion. But on trail, I usually settle for something far simpler, more on that in a future blog or two.

The Firefly can be ordered in different pack configurations, I ordered two Firefly and two Firefly Mini. Toothpicks can be stored in the pack when swapped with the firesteel

Firefly- a simple addition to your kit

I recently received a sweet little package through the post. I ordered the Firefly firesteel when I came across it on Kickstarter. It is one of those simple ideas that you wonder why no-one had produced before. A very small, very slim ferrocerium rod that takes the place of the toothpick in a Swiss Army Knife.

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

One of these fire steels is not going to last any great length of time. Instead, they work well as an emergency carry, for those times where you get caught out for some reason, wet matches, ineffective lighter etc.

A good edge is required to raise a spark so not every tool in a Swiss Army Knife is effective. You will see me use the back edge of a saw in a Wenger Swiss Army Knife in the film below. But scissors, awl and fish scaler are effective too. The suppliers of the Firefly, Tortoise Gear, say that a can opener or file tool could also be used, however I have had less success with these. The knife can also be used but I’m not wrecking my blades attempting to do so. The back of a tool in a Swiss Army Knife can also be filed to give a good ninety degree angle for striking a steel, but likewise, I’m not butchering the tools on my knives.

There is an additional technique required when using these mini firesteels, you have to support the steel with a finger to stop it being broken. Also, strike along the thin edge rather than the wide edge, this stops it being worn away during use and no longer fitting tightly into the slot in the scales of your Swiss Army Knife.

Should you be interested, the larger 52mm Firefly weighs 1.7g , and the smaller 44mm Firefly Mini weighs a paltry 1.2g. So if you carry a Victorinox with you on trail or as an EDC, you may like to consider these. Alternatively, simply slip one into your ditty bag along with a small striker. One word of warning though, if living in the UK, watch out for those customs fees!