So far, most of my blogposts have been about technology or my work as a consultant. But since my life isn’t all about the job, my blog doesn’t have to be, either. For instance, I love cycling, inline-speedskating, playing the guitar, and thanks to my inner boy-scout, I enjoy the subject of ‘EDC’, or Every Day Carry, whether it be knives, multitools, flashlights, backpacks, watches, wallets, or practical clothing.
I got my first pocketknife nearly 22 years ago, when I found a Victorinox Spartan while playing outside. Of course my parents immediately confiscated it (I was 9 years old) and stored it in a drawer, but after months of pestering them about it, I got it as a ‘gift’ for my 10th birthday. Ever since that day, I have been carrying some kind of pocket knife or multi-tool with me at all times, except when I legally can’t. I have also acquired a fair collection of pocket knives and multi-tools, from brands like Victorinox, Spyderco, Zero Tolerance, Chris Reeve and some others.
But today, let’s stick with the Victorinox Swiss Army Knives, or SAKs. Not because they have better blades than my Spyderco or Chris Reeve knives (they don’t), but because regardless of how awesome my Chris Reeve Sebenza is, it doesn’t have a screwdriver, a can opener, or tweezers. The Sebenza may be all I want in a blade, the SAK has all I need in a blade, and then a dozen of other tools. And at roughly 5-10% of the price of a Sebenza.
Picking the right SAK
Every now and then someone asks me: “What SAK should I buy?” Sometimes they’ll show me a picture of a Swiss Champ. I will then ask why they are interested in the Swiss Champ, and most of the times the response will be “It’s the one that has all the tools”. And it makes sense. If you’re going to buy a pocket toolbox, why not buy the biggest toolbox? Go all out, and get the Swiss Champ XAVT. It has all the tools…
(source: Official Victorinox product photo)
As you can see, getting the XAVT probably will not solve your problems. As with most ginormous toolboxes, the XAVT will most likely not fit in your pocket. But even the regular Swiss Champ with its 8 layers, will not comfortably ride in most pockets. Not to mention the awkwardness when people spot your ‘toolbox’ ;-) (“is that your Swiss Champ or are you happy to see me?”)
To properly pick the ‘right’ SAK, you need to answer a few questions:
Question 1: Storage
Is it going to be a pocket knife? Or a bag knife? Or perhaps a shelf/drawer knife? Or will I use a pouch on my belt? Obviously, your Swiss Champ is not going to do you much good if you end up leaving it at home because it’s too bulky to fit in your pocket. Knowing where you will be keeping your knife will help you figure out possible size constraints.
For instance, I personally don’t consider any SAK with more than 3 layers usable for every day carry, but I do keep a Victorinox Handyman (6 layers) in the glovebox of my car, and I would have no problem taking a Victorinox WorkChamp with me on a hiking trip. I would use a belt pouch.
(source: Google image search. Copyright unclear)
But we’re already venturing into the territory of the second question..
Question 2: Purpose
If you’re going to buy a SAK for every day carry, it’s useful to take a look at your average day. Are you mostly at home or in the office? Or do you work at a warehouse where you need to open boxes or cut shrink wrap a lot? Or are you a fireman? Or a farmer?
Unless you answered question one with “I don’t care, my pockets are huge”, you probably need to decide on what tools you actually really need. It’ll make it easy to cut back on the amount of layers by simply removing the tools you’re not likely to need. Let’s say you work in an office environment, and see if you really need a Swiss Champ:
- Most people don’t need a fish scaler at the office: minus one layer
- Most people don’t need a pair of small pliers at the office: minus one layer
- Most people don’t need a wood saw at the office: minus one layer
- Most people don’t need a metal file/saw at the office: minus one layer
Let’s say you also don’t really need a chisel or a magnifying glass. Suddenly you’re down to 3 layers and can choose between the Climber and the Super Tinker (which trades the corkscrew for a full philips-head screwdriver).
My daily driver doesn’t cut it
Of course, not every day looks the same, and if you take your ‘office optimized’ SAK with you on a hiking trip, it probably won’t serve you well. It doesn’t have a wood saw to prepare your fire, so you’ll end up breaking some branches by hand, ending up with some nasty splinters, which then are difficult to remove without the magnifying glass. And did you know that the small pliers are awesome for handling boiling cans of food or water?
Too bad we just removed those tools earlier because the Swiss Champ was too bulky to fit our pockets. So, now what? Well, you could start wearing larger pants, but given the price of a decent pair of jeans, let’s look at another, more sensible option: the multi-SAK approach.
Let’s be fair, SAKs are pretty cheap. Even the full-blown Swiss Champ retails for under 80 Euros, and smaller knives like the Climber or Super Tinker can be had for under 30 Euros. So why not get multiple SAKs for multiple purposes? They are even cheap enough to just get a specific model to see if the selection of tools works for you.
I have been using the multi-SAK approach for years. I basically have SAKs everywhere, but just one of them lives in my pocket. I have a couple of models that I can choose from as my ‘daily driver’. These are mostly 2- or 3-layer models, like the Pioneer Alox in various colors, the Super Tinker, and the Spartan Lite.
But I have a few other SAKs in other places:
- On my keys I have a Classic SD and an Alox MiniChamp that can cover basic manicure tasks, and have tweezers and a toothpick (which the Pioneer does not have).
- In my laptop bag, I have a Cybertool 34 with a variety of screwdrivers and small pliers.
- In the glovebox, I have a Handyman which basically acts as ‘as much of a Swiss Champ as I need’.
- In the seat-pocket of my car, I have a Rescue Tool which replaces the lifehammer (that is usually awkwardly placed and not very functional). This is a SAK that I hope to use as little as possible.
- In the kitchen, I have a retired SAK, simply because I prefer the Victorinox can and bottle openers to pretty much everything else.
- In the bathroom, there are usually a couple of Classic SDs floating around.
- In my hiking daypack, I have an Explorer as part of the first aid kit.
Then, I have a few models that can become my daily drivers depending on the situation. I have a Farmer (Pioneer + wood saw) which is an obvious choice for a short hiking trip. Or I can upgrade to a WorkChamp for longer hiking/camping trips.
Maybe this is a bit overkill, but even having just a few SAKs in a few key places can have a huge impact on how many tools you actually need on the SAK that’s in your pocket every day.
The Swiss Champ might give you all the tools in one place, the multi-SAK approach can give you all the tools in the appropriate places, while adding some redundancy for core tools like the blade. And it surely is a lot cheaper than up-sizing all your pants to fit the Swiss Champ ;-)