This year marks the 125th anniversary of the iconic Swiss Army Knife or Swiss Army Officers Knife. To mark the occasion Victorinox have released a limited-edition replica knife based on the first original Officer’s and Sports Knife which is remarkably true to the original including the original design cork screw and can opener. Spoiler – these don’t work as well as the modern ones so it is definitely a ‘collectors’ knife. At a cool £360 we couldn’t see it being relevant to our readers though some may get a giggle out of watching the odd Youtube video of people trying to use the old style can opener! Instead I’ve got the current version of the Mountaineer and as I’ve still got my 38 year old Mountaineer it is a nice demonstration of the longevity of these iconic little tools/knives.
I think I got my current Swiss Army Knife in about 1984 – I certainly had it in 1985 when I dropped it climbing on the Cuillin ridge and broke the bolster/handle off on one side – luckily it came to rest on a ledge about 10m down. A bit of scrap wood and Araldite sorted that and it has been with me pretty much on every trip since.
The Swiss Army Knife has pervaded modern culture worldwide. For climbers it may be Simon Yates cutting the rope to Joe Simpson on Siula Grande (with Joe’s knife) or Clint Eastwood’s fictional Jonathon Hemlock following Ben’s instructions to ‘Now cut the rope above you.’ And let’s not even get started on TV and film from it’s central role in the original 80s MacGyver TV shows to the rather more disturbing with Debbie Harry asking James Woods to ‘Take out your Swiss Army knife and cut me here just a little.’ in Cronenberg’s Videodrome! The little red knife is seen everywhere!
If you look at the 125th anniversary model (or the original itself) it is striking how little has changed, a tribute to how right the original design was. The original had two sizes of blade, can opener, corkscrew, screwdriver and awl. Today on the basic Spartan you get two sizes of blade, can opener with small screwdriver, bottle opener with large screwdriver, corkscrew, awl/punch/reamer and the dinky tooth pick and tweezers. With the Mountaineer model you have all of the above plus scissors (useful for that pre red point manicure) a file which will just about put an edge/point back on your axe after hitting rock or buff up your nails and a new one on me a parcel hook which I’m not sure what to use for – apparently meant to carry string wrapped parcels! I’ve since learned that you can use it to pull up tent pegs or improvise as a phone stand and even as hex bit driver! Another new addition compared to my old version is a small keyring, useful for its intended purpose but also for clipping the knife to things with a mini carabiner. The quality of Swiss Army Knives is beyond reproach and together with the functional design is undoubtably why they have been so successful for so long. The tools provided do the most common jobs perfectly and let’s be honest here, most of us are likely to spend more time slicing cheese, opening bottles of wine or beer and doing the occasional bit of cutting cord on our climbing and hiking trips than we are anything more heroic! All the blades and tools on the Mountaineer and other standard SAKs are non locking which is a potential issue if you want to do any burly cutting or hacking that might collapse a blade but conversely means that you can’t fall foul of the UK knife laws regarding locking blades and everyday carrying. If you require a locking blade for rescue work etc. then Victorinox supply a number of knives including the Rescue Tool and Swiss Soldier Knife (the modern military issue). For pure climbing use then a knife like Petzl’s Spatha that is designed to carry on a carabiner, has a lock and is designed for easy opening with gloves is a better bet but I tend to leave mine permanently on my harness or stashed in my chalk bag pocket so it’s not around for day to day tasks.
I used the SAK Mountaineer every day on my recent month long trip to France and it performed flawlessly. Alright that probably reflects more on the daily evening habit of beers and wine but to be honest my original Mountaineer has worked perfectly for 38 years and the current version will undoubtably do the same. It is difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed in the purchase of a Swiss Army Knife. They make perfect presents and even if they don’t quite cover all of your everyday tool needs you’re far more likely to have one with you in your pocket when the need arises than a heavier and bulkier multi tool.
- High quality
- Durability/longevity (38 years and counting!)
- Easy to carry
- No locking blade
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!