Tag Archives: small stuff

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

‘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!

Needless packaging

A few grams here, a few grams there… packaging

This is a wheeze for those who cut tooth brushes in half to save a few grams. What I have done here is pull a few medicines from my First Aid kit with a view to cutting their weight.

Three Points of the Compass carries a veritable arsenal of tablets and due to the fact that many tablets in the UK come in blister packs, it was time to remove some of that bulky packaging that is simply adding needless weight to the pack.

Take a look at that packaging above- Before I removed the tablets from the blister packs, it totalled 21.4g. That rubbish in the top picture formed 17.6g of that total. Once decanted in to little baggies, together with small slips of paper detailing the contents and any relevant dosage recommendations, my tablets came to just 3.8g. A worthwhile exercise in reduction.

Repackaged medications, a respectable saving in both weight and bulk easily made

Repackaged medications, a respectable saving in both weight and bulk easily made

So what medicines am I carrying on my Big Walk? Loratadine and Chlorphenamine maleate (first and second generation anti-allergy), Aspirin and Ibuprofen (painkillers), Loperamide (anti-diarrhoeal) and short courses of Doxycycline and Flucloxacillin (broad and narrow spectrum antibiotics/penicillin).

Similar reductions can be made throughout your gear if you take a careful look. I recall reading of one chap a few years back recording a fifty gram reduction from the simple expedient of cutting out the care and material labels from every item of clothing he took. I haven’t gone that far… yet. And no, I don’t cut the handle off my toothbrush.

 

Tiny 3-LED lights with USB connector

A few grams here, a few grams there… in search of the perfect USB LED light

Over the past few years there have been a number of sweet little LED lights appearing on the market that can be plugged directly into a USB port. None are expensive and some of these, with their incredible light weight and minute proportions are perfect for slipping into a backpacking electronics bag.

There are also larger versions that come with a flexible bendable silicone body that suit plugging into laptops etc. but these are far too heavy for inclusion in a lightweight backpacking set-up. Some people use the ones with silicone bodies for task or mood lighting, others as night lights. The smaller ones that I am looking at here, are more suited to being included in an electronics gear bag, to be infrequently pulled out and used in a tent for reading, low lighting for orientation in a hostel or bunkhouse, or, in an emergency, for use on the trail at night when just about everything else has failed, though I wouldn’t recommend that.

I have recently been looking at the really small LED lights that are available with USB connectors. None of them are more than a handful of grams and every one is of quite tiny dimensions. Different configurations of LEDs are available, one, two, three, four, six and more LEDs can be mounted on a small mount board with different arrays of simply circuitry. Not all LEDs are created equal. As well as the amount of practical light that is emitted (brightness), also of importance to the hiker should be the type of light- cool or warm, and how much current the light is taking up. Most of these little lights are made in China and it can be difficult for the layman, i.e. me, to get the exact specifications of each product.

Plastic enclosed 3 LED light, plugged into the USB port of a powerbank, in use

Plastic enclosed 3 x LED light, plugged into the USB port of a powerbank, in use. The plastic surround to the light spreads the light a little further to the sides and slightly behind

Plastic enclosed 3 LED USB light

Plastic enclosed 3 x LED USB light. This only weighs 7.4g which includes the easily lost 1.3g cap

I have occasionally used little plastic three-LED lights with USB connector at night within my tent while backpacking. They measure 58mm x 18mm x 8mm and are almost totally encased in plastic, with a removable, and easily losable, clear plastic cap over the USB connector. Drawing 5 volts at 1.5W, even though they only weigh 7.4g, I still felt this was a weight that could be shaved and eventually excluded them, using either my headtorch or a red or white Photon Freedom Micro button light from LRI.

 

LED lights for plugging into USB ports come in a variety of configurations with differing brightness and function. Their small size and weight make them ideal for travelling and backpacking

LED lights for plugging into USB ports come in a variety of configurations with differing brightness and function. Their small size and weight make them ideal for travelling and backpacking

While the encapsulated LED does have a degree of protection from knocks and just a tad of protection from water splashes etc, the plastic surround does increase the potential of overheating. But this is probably only likely to be a problem if used for longer periods than the average hiker is going to use them for. I don’t think these are in any way suited to night hiking, instead being more useful to see around the confines of a tent or similar. Yes, I could continue to use a headtorch, but these little LED lights spread their light well and have quite useful moderate brightness, hence my re-exploring the lighter options.

Mini LED lights can be plugged into any USB port, here, one is in use combined with my Nitecore F1

Mini LED lights can be plugged into any USB port, here, a three LED warm light is in use combined with my Nitecore F1

A hard bright white is emitted from this two sided LED light

A cold bright white is emitted from this two sided LED light. It will work well to give a low current draw flood light within the confines of a tent or bothy

There is also a minuscule double-sided LED variant of the plastic encapsulated LED light to be purchased. This is a pretty tough little option that draws very little current and is an excellent option for anyone that wishes to include one of these lights but is worried about exposed circuitry on a more minimalist board. It cost less than a pound and weighs 5.2g, including the easily lost 1g cap. Measuring 42mm x 18mm x 8mm, this light will flood an area with light and works well with one of the lightweight lantern diffusers available, such as the 7g crush-able one made by Montbell.

This light is fitted with a single 5730 LED on each side. Illumination is 7500 kelvin cold white light. This is bright and quite harsh, you wouldn’t like to look straight at the light by any means.This USB LED light has a single LED on each side which cannot be directed in any effective manner. It will work well to give low current draw flood light within the confines of a tent or bothie

This USB LED light has a single LED on each side which cannot be directed in any effective manner. Other, slightly lighter LED lights with USB connectors can be purchased that have no plastic covering to them and LEDs on only one side of the circuit board..

Luffy 3-LED USB light

Luffy 3 x LED USB light.

The little three-LED light from Luffy cost me a grand total of 12 pence on eBay, including postage and packing. You can’t even send an empty envelope by Royal Mail for 12 pence, someone explain that to me. This little light measures 30mm x 12mm x 3mm and weighs just 1.5g, which is just about the same weight as the plastic cap of the previously mentioned LED light.

It is advertised as being fitted with three 2825 (but more probably 2835) SMD LED chips (Surface-Mount Device Light Emitting Diode). The small dimensions of these LEDs are only too apparent when compared with those shown below, however it is the current drawn that mostly defines the brightness. This LED light has~80 lumens and works at 0.5W, ~5V with a ~40mA current draw. The LEDs emit 6000K xenon cold white light, I will cover types of white light later in this post.

All of these little lights are advertised as being suitable for hanging from a keychain or similar but I reckon they are too fragile for this. In common with many such LED lights, the three x LED Luffy light has everything mounted on one side of the board, a plain back being exhibited on the reverse and the light can only be inserted into a USB one way, so is not reversible.

Some of these little LED lights are truly minute. While I could find virtually no specification to the two shown below, they are of even smaller dimensions than the Luffy; each weighing just 1.2g and measuring 29mm x 12mm x 3mm. I don’t think you can get any smaller than these lights while still being practical. All I know of the specs to this light is that it is, again, fitted with three-2835 LEDs, emitting a 6000k cold white light. These lights are advertised as drawing a lower current than the Luffy versions- 0.2W ~5V.

Anonymous manufacture. Tiny 3-LED USB light with single sided contacts

Anonymous manufacture. Tiny 3 x LED USB light with single sided contacts

For very little additional expense, and with the addition of a bit of extra circuitry, you can have exactly the same type of light but with contacts on each side of the board and a reversible capability. i.e., they can be plugged into a USB connector in one of two orientations. It is worth considering that with a totally open board on these lights, that if including more circuitry, there is more to be potentially damaged on the trail. I do think the usefulness of being able to put a LED light, in either orientation, into a plug or wall USB point outweighs the increased risk of damage to the extra circuits. If simply plugging one of these lights into a power bank, then two sided contacts is an irrelevance.

3 LED dual contact reversible USB light

3 x LED dual contact reversible USB light

The additional circuitry adds a minuscule weight to the double-sided contact LED lights. They now come in at a whopping 2.2g! Still small, each measures 31mm x 12mm  x 3mm. They are apparently RoHS compliant, which doesn’t appear to be difficult to attain for such a product but is, nonetheless, good to hear.

As usual, there is little information to be found on these lights. The one shown is fitted with three-LED (possibly 5730 SMD). The warm LEDs are powered by 0.5W, ~5V and these LEDs emit around 55-60 lumen.

The addition of contacts on each side of a circuit board means that lights can be turned either inward, to face the wall, or outward to provide greater light

The addition of contacts on each side of a circuit board means that lights can be turned either inward, to face away or toward the wall, or outward to provide greater light. This a dual contact 3 x LED warm light

The Soshine six-LED Power ‘Night Lights’ I purchased include still further complex circuitry. Again, perhaps more to go wrong, but it makes these lights far more practical to use. Each has a small amount of touch sensitive circuitry (capacitive touch sensor) on the reverse, also another set of connectors which again means that each LED light can be inserted in any orientation into a USB port, i.e. pointing either way, which is more useful in a practical context. These were substantially more expensive than the simple Luffy lights but still no more than around a quid each, and I have seen them even cheaper. These measure 42mm x 12mm  x 3mm and weigh 3g each.

6-LED USB lights, with dimmer function, with warm and cold lights

6 x LED USB lights, with dimmer function, with warm and cold white lights. Additional USB connectors on the reverse means that each light is reversible

These lights are advertised as being RoHS compliant. They are also CE Certified. Do note that none of these little mini LED lights are in any way encased and are therefore not waterproof and are more susceptible to damage. Lightly touching the back turns them on/off and can also dim or brighten the lights to any degree between lower and upper limits.

Little information is supplied with the two lights I purchased. These are six-LED (possibly 5730 SMD). They run at ~0.6W, ~5V. Brightness is around 110 – 150 lumen when on maximum. But do note that cooler whites will emit slightly more lumen than warmer white. Why did I buy two lights and not one? Because I wanted to compare the warmth of the light emitted.

This 2.3g LED light is fitted with light sensitive circuitry that causes it to switch on as daylight fades. The 5v 0.5W light has three LEDs emitting 3200 kelvin. However I feel this is the least suited of LED lights for backpacking use

This 2.3g LED USB light is fitted with light sensitive circuitry that causes it to switch on as daylight fades. The 5v 0.5W warm light has three LEDs emitting 3200K. I feel this is the least suited of LED lights for backpacking use

There is also a light sensitive version available, measuring only 32mm x 12mm x 4mm, however I exclude this light from any final choice I would make as I think application for this facility  is extremely limited in the back-country.

Colour temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). A warmer white light would be around 2700K to 3500K. A natural white light is between 4000K and 5000K. A cooler white would be around 5000K and upwards to around 6500K. Note that this is not a measure of brightness, which is measured in lumen. The two 6 -LED lights I purchased emit different temperatures of light, one is warm, the other cool  (warm around 3200K and cool around 5000K) . Despite a cool white being more akin to daylight, my personal preference is for the warm light as it is less harsh. If using an LED light in the confines of a tent, I think warm light is gentler on the eyes and appreciated more over longer periods of use, causing less eyestrain. This is why fire can be so relaxing or soporific, a candle flame is around 1850K.

Two 6-LED lights plugged into a two-port Mu wall plug. These are on their lowest brightness. The lights can be switched on and off, or brightness changed, by lightly touching the back of the LED

Two 6 x LED lights plugged into a two-port Mu wall plug. These are on their lowest brightness. These lights can be switched on and off, or brightness changed, by lightly touching the back of the LED. Warm white light at top, cold white below

There is a, hard to find, version of this light available with six-LEDS, three being warm, three being cold light and you can choose and switch between them. If I were really struggling for a reason to use this- warm light helps to relax us, preparing the mind to sleep. Cool white on the other hand, is more useful for when we want to be alert. So perhaps if rising before dawn, a cool white may help us to prepare for the day, encouraging alertness. Am I convinced on this as a reason for including both types of white light? Perhaps not.

These LED lights can be plugged straight into a USB wall socket, or USB plug such as the folding Mu plugs I use when backpacking and travelling, or, alternatively, straight into a powerbank. Their draw is so low that they may not suit all powerbanks, some of which fail to recognise them. I have also seen some LED lights that will plug into a phone’s headphone jack or mini USB connector but not only do they seem to be much heavier alternatives but I feel you may as well use the torch app/facility if using your phone for light.

Some LED lights can get warm after extended use. Here, I have allowed 6 LEDs to light for an hour and then pinched it between finger and thumb, despite being very warm to the touch, it is not uncomfortably hot

Some LED lights can get warm after extended use. Here, I have allowed 6 x 5730 LEDs to light for an hour and then pinched the board between finger and thumb. Despite being very warm to the touch, it is not uncomfortably hot

Due to the lack of any decent heat sink, some users have reported problems with the LEDS heating up over time, this is certainly far less of a problem with the smallest and dimmable versions which are drawing less power. Personally, I am averse to leaving any of these examples on throughout the night, and certainly never unattended. Even though they are often advertised as ‘Night Lights’, I would be loathe to use them as such around the home.

I haven’t looked at every type of mini USB LED light available. There are some with larger 5050 LED chips on the market for example. But this post has probably been sufficient to whet your appetite, or bore you to tears!

It probably isn’t possible to get much smaller than these little lights while retaining any degree of actual practical functionality. If made any smaller they would be too fiddly to handle. There are also LED lights that can plug into Micro USB ports. I am sure brighter LEDs will make their way onto the little circuit boards eventually but for the confines of a tent, hostel, bunkroom or similar, I am not sure that is required. Newer and more efficient LEDs that draw a lower current, possibly. In the meantime, I have slipped one of the 3g dimmable LED lights, with double sided contacts, in to my electronics gear bag that accompanies me on backpacking trips.