Tag Archives: SwissCard

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

Victorinox shop display

Knife chat: My annual pilgrimage to Victorinox

Victorinox's Flagship London store

Victorinox’s Flagship London store

The iconic red handled Swiss Army Knife makes a suitable display the height of three floors

The iconic red handled Swiss Army Knife makes a suitable display the height of three floors

Each year, Three Points of the Compass makes a pilgrimage to Victorinox’s Flagship store in New Bond Street, London. This was the first flagship store that Victorinox opened in Europe. While it displays and sells watches, travel gear and fragrances, mostly on show as soon as you walk in the front door, it is the lower floor that attracts me. This is where over 400 models of Victorinox knives and some 650 household and chef knives are displayed.

As you descend the stairs, you are immediately presented with the repair table where customers can drop off their battered and damaged possession to be expertly repaired by the on-site craftsman.

Kitchen and household ware do not necessarily draw me, it is the central cased knife displays and wall mounted models that draw me to them.

Repair work was underway

Repair work was underway

Some of the 400 or so pocket knives that are on display

Some of the 400 or so pocket knives that are on display

I always have a small shopping list pre-prepared. To wander into such a shop without such discipline invites disaster. In London for a small planned walk later with a couple of friends from work (more on that in a future blog) I had an hour to spare in the morning to indulge in drooling over various knife models and variants that will never make their way in to my meagre collection. I am afraid not being in possession of deeper pockets has its disadvantages (or advantages as Mrs Three Points of the Compass might feel).

Victorinox released a number of models with walnut scales in August 2019, the Classic SD was one I was on the look out for

Victorinox released a number of models with walnut scales in August 2019, the diminutive Classic SD Wood (0.6221.63)  was one I was on the look out for. Being a natural product, every knife is slightly different

While Three Points of the Compass does have representatives from the various lengths of knife that Victorinox has and does produce, it is mostly the smaller knives, especially the 58mm range, that has attracted me over the years. There were a handful of 2019 releases that I had in mind for this visit.

Each year, Victorinox releases a small range of their knives with special alox scales, 2019 offer was 'Champagne'

Each year, Victorinox releases a small range of their knives with special alox scales, 2019’s offer was ‘Champagne’

Swiss Card and 58mm ranges

Swiss Card and 58mm ranges

As a subscriber to the Victorinox newsletter, I had been sent the offer of a free Victorinox chopping board. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I picked up mine from the downstairs till, the helpful lady who proffered this to me, also followed in my wake as I made my way round the store selecting my small number of purchases. She spread the walnut scaled knives across the counter so that I could select the one that was ‘just right’. I won’t relay here how much my choices cost but an applied discount made a welcome reduction.

A couple of my purchases will feature in some 2020 blogs where I take a closer look at some particular tool sets in the handy smaller knives that Victorinox offer the backpacker. But more on those next year.

My small haul from my 2019 visit to the New Bond Street store

My small haul from my 2019 visit to the New Bond Street store

 

Its not knives you know...

It’s not all knives you know…

An assortment of SwissCards

Knife chat: 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

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.