Tag Archives: Signature

Looking at small light pen options

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

 

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

Fisher Stowaway Space pen in the hand

Fisher Stowaway Space pen in the hand

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

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

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

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

17.3g Victorinox Scribe, with pen extended

17.3g Victorinox Scribe, with pen extended

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

Victorinox Scribe with minuscule pen removed

Victorinox Scribe with minuscule 0.8g pen removed

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

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

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

Pen from Victorinox SwissCard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohto Minimo pen

2.7g Ohto Minimo pen

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

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

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

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

Fisher Spacepen refill with shrinkwrap sleeve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A range of lightweight pen options for backpacking

A range of lightweight pen options for backpacking

Top five Victorinox 58mm knives

Knife chat: A top five of 58mm Victorinox knives- my number two choice

The ‘Classic’ Series and derivatives 

The Victorinox Classic is available with an immense range of scales. Here, the effective if small scissors are shown on the 'A Trip to London' Classic SD from the 2018 Limited Edition range

The Victorinox Classic Swiss Army Knife is available with an immense range of scales designs. Here, the effective if small scissors are shown on the ‘A Trip to London’ Classic SD from the 2018 Limited Edition range

Classic and Classic SD

All of the knives mentioned in this particular blog are from the small 58mm Classic and variants range produced by Victorinox. All are two layer models, all carry the same basic toolset. These are blade, nailfile and scissors. Most differences in the models shown here relate to inclusion or not of a flat ‘SD’ screwdriver tip to the nailfile, the scale material and the additional tools in the scales. There are a lot more variants than those shown here however the knives illustrated do give a good idea on the major alternatives.

Victorinox’s Classic is their best seller, with just reason as it contains a sweet little range of basic tools. There are also hundreds, if not thousands of scale designs but that is of limited interest to me on trail. Despite claims being made that this knife dates to the 1930s, this is incorrect to a degree. Elements of the knife- blade, scissors, nailfile and scale tools, certainly did appear on other knives earlier, but it is not until the 1970s that the ‘Classic’ begins to appear in catalogues.

If the basic Classic set of tools comprising blade, nailfile and scissors is all you want for hiking, take a look at those shown below and rather than simply snap up the first Classic you see, consider if there is a variant that you might prefer. For example, the 2.5mm flat screwdriver tip on the nailfile included in the Classic SD, introduced around 1987, is probably going to be more useful than the nail cleaning tip in the ClassicThree Points of the Compass has his preference amongst the Classic derivatives and it is the final one listed below.

The Victorinox 58mm Classic was a development of the earlier Bijou that lacked a keyring. A further variant on both Bijou and Classic was the addition of a flat 'SD' screwdriver tip to the nailfile. All of these knives come with tweezers and toothpick in the red cellidor scales

The Victorinox 58mm Classic was a development of the earlier Bijou that lacked a keyring. A further variant on both Bijou and Classic was the addition of a flat 2.5mm ‘SD’ screwdriver tip to the nailfile. Clockwise from top left: Bijou SD, Bijou, Classic, Classic SD. All of these knives come with tweezers and toothpick in the red cellidor scales.

Classic SD knife fitted with a Wharncliffe, or Emergency blade. This blade is similar to a Sheepsfoot profile but the curve is more gradual, starting nearer the handle. Every now and then you may come across one of the 58mm Victorinox knives that have this alternative blade fitted. It allows for good precision work

Classic SD knife fitted with a Wharncliffe, or Emergency blade. This blade is similar to a Sheepsfoot profile but the curve is more gradual, starting nearer the handle. The seldom seen 58mm Victorinox knives that have this alternative blade fitted allow for good precision work

Classic SD Emergency

When I covered my fourth choice of 58mm Victorinox for hiking in a previous blog, that knife, the MiniChamp had two ‘proper’ blades. One of those was the Emergency or ‘wharncliffe’ blade. This shape of blade is great for precision work and it is only found on the 58mm series. Away from the MiniChamp it is a far less common and rarely encountered blade. Some Victorinox knives were manufactured with this ’emergency’ blade instead of the standard pen blade and are worth snapping up if you come across an example.  Three Points of the Compass is rather fond of his old Classic SD Emergency blade and has found it useful for detailed or precision work.

Victorinox 58mm Classic SD Alox

Victorinox 58mm Classic SD Alox

Classic SD Alox

While the Victorinox Classic is a simple, two layer knife and not all bulky in the hand, there is an even slimmer alternative. This is where the red plastic ‘Cellidor’ scales are replaced with Aluminium Oxide, or Alox, scales. The textured scales on the Classic SD Alox are comfortable to hold but can sometimes be a bit slippery in wetter weather. Despite being metal rather than plastic, there is little weight penalty with the alox variants. Respective weights are shown below.

Alox scales already exist in a variety of colours and a new limited edition colour is introduced each year. The coloured alternatives do wear quite easily though. Because alox scales are so thin, they do not permit the inclusion of any scale tools such as toothpick, tweezers, pen or LED light.

Classic (above) and Classic Alox (below). The differences in their respective thickness is apparent

Classic SD (above) and Classic SD Alox (below). The differences in their respective thickness is apparent

Tomo

An interesting diversion from tradition was made by Victorinox in 2011 when it released the Tomo designed by Abitax Tokyo. While based on the 58mm Classic and carrying the same toolset- pen blade, nailfile with nail cleaning tip and a pair of scissors, these were enclosed in a radically different set of scales. The scale design did not allow for a pair of tweezers and toothpick so it is difficult to see what advantage this knife offers to the hiker, other than not looking like a knife, which may be important to you. There is no SD version of this knife.

Victorinox 58mm Tomo

Victorinox 58mm Tomo. This has exactly the same tools as the traditional Victorinox Classic but no tweezers or toothpick. It is a less threatening tool to many people due to its shape and not looking like a knife

If you rock up at a bothy after dark, there is a good chance it already has occupants. The use of a small discrete light, if only at first, would be appreciated by sleeping hikers. Maol Bhuidhe bothy, Cape Wrath Trail, August 2018

If you rock up at a bothy after dark, there is a good chance it already has occupants. The use of a small discrete light, such as the one in a Victorinox SwissLite, would be appreciated by sleeping hikers. Approaching Maol Bhuidhe bothy, Cape Wrath Trail, August 2018

First introduced in 1986, the SwissLite has the Classic toolset with tweezers and LED light in the cellidor scales

First introduced in 1986, the SwissLite has the Classic toolset with tweezers, but differs by having an LED light in the cellidor scales. Holding down the Victorinox shield on the scale operates the LED

SwissLite

The SwissLite is simply a Classic where the toothpick has been replaced by a small LED embedded in one of the scales. First appearing in the late 1980s, LEDs in these knives were initially red, replaced by white LEDs from around 2010. Most hikers will be carrying a headtorch or similar with them on trail, so a fairly feeble white LED is of limited use. However I like a small red LED in the tent, bothy or hostel, or when studying a map at night, as night vision is preserved and the light disturbs other occupants less. Not only that, but a battery will last far longer with a red light. A replacement CR1025 3V battery weighs just 0.6g but I have never had to change mine. Usually, Three Points of the Compass includes a mini Photon Freedom with red LED with his hiking gear. Any knife that includes such a red light, such as an early version SwissLite, could replace this. The light in the knife is activated when pressing and holding the shield on the scale. The inclusion of an LED is especially useful for late night note writing as it shines directly on to a page when writing.

Signature series

The Signature series from Victorinox is actually a separate series from the Classic range, but because it only differs due to the replacement of a particular scale tool, I have included a couple of these variants here with the Classic series.

Victorinox Signature

Victorinox Signature has small pen blade, nailfile with 2.5mm flat screwdriver tip, scissors, tweezers and retractable ballpoint pen

The Signature does exactly what I prefer in any Victorinox knife, replaces the useless toothpick with something more useful- a slim retractable pressurised ball point pen. This has blue ink but I live in hope that a black ink version becomes available eventually. A set of tweezers are located in the other scale. If this little knife and its toolset suits you, you could consider instead, the plastic SwissCard which has very similar contents but a marginally more effective pair of scissors.

The Victorinox Signature carries a similar toolset to the very different SwissCard produced by the same company

The Victorinox Signature carries a similar toolset to the very different SwissCard Classic produced by the same company

Victorinox Signature Lite with red LED. The light is operated by pressing down the shield on the scale

Victorinox Signature Lite with red LED. The light is operated by pressing down the shield on the scale

The Signature almost has it. For some people it will provide the perfect set of tools. But for Three Points of the Compass, looking at the range of small 58mm knives available from Victorinox that are based on the Classic toolset, there is another alternative that I prefer. This is the SwissLite version of the Signature, the Signature Lite red LED where the tweezers are replaced with an LED light. As discussed above, while a white LED may be great for sorting out your keys at the front door, I feel it is less useful on trail where you will have a more powerful headtorch or similar, so I prefer the pre-2010 Signature Lite which has a red LED. Admittedly, the white light variant is far brighter than the red, but that is a choice for you.

Victorinox Signature Lite. The best of the 58mm knives based on the Classic

Victorinox Signature Lite. Probably the best of the 58mm knives based on the Classic design

Model Length Width (at widest point) Height Weight
Bijou 58mm 17.05mm 9.40mm 20.5g
Bijou SD 58mm 17.05mm 9.00mm 20.2g
Classic 58mm 17.30mm 9.00mm 20.8g
Classic SD 58mm 17.30mm 9.00mm 21.1g
Classic Alox 58mm 17.30mm 6.40mm 16.9g
Classic SD Emergency 58mm 17.20mm 9.00mm 20.9g
Tomo 58mm 19.00mm 8.95mm 22.1g
SwissLite 58mm 17.30mm 10.90mm 22.7g
Signature 58mm 17.30mm 10.00mm 21.9g
Signature Lite 58mm 17.30mm 12.45mm 23.3g
Signature Lite with white LED. Useful for writing with in the dark, if anything the white LED is too bright for this task

Signature Lite with white LED. Useful for writing with in the dark, if anything, the white LED is too bright for this task

Top five Victorinox 58mm knives. The Signature Lite, with red LED, at number two, is fourth from left

Top five Victorinox 58mm knives. The Signature Lite with red LED, at number two, is second from the right

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.