Swiss knives
Also called Swiss army knives.

Le 19 octobre 2002, par James

A test and report on Swiss (army) knives.

The Swiss Army knife, is indeed one of the most used knife for outdoors purposes.

This term regroups all the knives made by two brands : Victorinox and Wenger. These maker provide the Swiss army in equal parts since 1908. Originally Swiss army knives were ordered in Germany (since 1886), and in 1891, the future Victorinox company made the first Swiss delivery. Read the whole story here : Swiss Army Knife. By being official providers of the Swiss army, these two brands have the right to call their products Swiss army knives. Of course, only the most basic models are effectively contracted to the Swiss army (the soldier and officer models) I therefore prefer the name of Swiss knives.

I got my first one around 1975, at a time They were only found in Switzerland, and I have used, lost, given, owned, a numerous amount of them, in different models since that time.

My goal here is not to do a detailed discussion of some model, there are hundreds of them, and everybody can find one he really likes, but to present some big lines of the different collections.

Victorinox is generally reputed for it’s better quality, and better adjusted work, but in my opinion, all things are relative and really depend of the specific model considered. Victorinox excels on some, Wenger on others.

Here are some Swiss knives


From left to right :

  • Victorinox pioneer.
  • Wenger Soldier (the upper one, aluminium scaled)
  • Wenger (the lower red scaled)
  • Wenger Stainless steel scales.
  • Victorinox lock blade
  • another Victorinox lock blade.
  • Wenger Ranger lock blade.

As you can see, Swiss knives come in a wide variety of sizes (58 mm, 65 mm, 75 mm, 84 mm, 85 mm, 91 mm, 111 mm, 120 mm), with or without locking blades, saws, files, plastic, aluminum, or stainless handles, etc..

Different sizes


Hardness of different parts [1] :

  • Blade : 56 HRC
  • Saw : 52 HRC
  • 3 mm screwdriver : 53 HRC
  • 7.5 mm screwdriver : 52 HRC
  • Philips : 51 HRC
  • Blade separators : 53 HRC
  • Springs : 48 HRC

The formula would be a 0.4 carbon, 12 chromium, and variable molybdenum content [2].

Springs are designed to sustain a minimum of 26000 opening/closing cycles per tool. The life span of a model is estimated to 40000 cycles, for all elements [3].

The more tools they have and the thicker and heavier they get, to a point you cannot call them pocket knives anymore (unless your pockets are Kevlar reinforced). The following picture illustrates this :

Different thicknesses


I personally always have a pioneer or soldier (the first two on the left of the previous picture) in the pocket, because they are minimalists, light and flat. They have an awl which doubles as a scratch blade.

A Pioneer


But I like the locking blades too, and especially the Ranger model with its 10 cm liner-lock blade, and it’s curved safety blade with a blunt point.

The ranger


A view of the locking blades, on the side of the release buttons


Among the tools I really find useful in Swiss knives are :

  • The main blade, which I prefer if it can be locked, but this is available only on bigger models.
  • The curved blunt point blade. Originally designed for hunters as a gutter, it is very useful for emergency situations, when a layer of material needs to be cut, and not anything else. The edge is finer too, and the recurve allows to cut well by pulling.
  • Big flat screw-driver and bottle opener combo.
  • Small flat screw-driver and can opener. Also used as an emergency philips / posidrive.
  • The awl or punch. Some are just points (Wenger Ranger), some have a hole, some have a sharpened edge and can be used as a wood drill (Victorinox lock blades), some can in addition be used as a scraper, because mounted as a blade (Soldier, Pioneer). I prefer the latest.
  • The wood saw. This is something I use a lot, The bigger the knife, the most efficient the saw.

Then there are tools, I do not find essential :

  • Pliers
  • Scissors
  • Metal file
  • Phillips screw-driver
  • Lens
  • Teeth pick
  • Tweezers
  • Nail file
  • etc etc, there must be at least 100 different tools available from the two makers.

This list is very personal, for my outdoors use. Another person will end with another list, and chose other priorities than mine (weight). A lot of people swear by the WorkChamp, SwissChamp, CyberTool, normal or XL models, which I find personally much too big.

There are also some survival combos available from Victorinox, with knife and emergencies, including compass, whistle, pen, basic first aid, mini mag light, in a leather belt pouch.

Some knives now come with a watch or an altimeter built in the scales, some others include a rigid flame lighter, a laser, or a led...

Prices range from 10 Euro to 150 Euro [4], and retention chains, clips, pouches, repair kits, are available for little extra money.

Swiss knives almost never rust [5]. They need to be oiled now and then, as they accumulate lots of dirt, but else than that, they are easy to take care of.

The blades are not the best edge-holding ones I have seen, but they take a fine edge, are rust proof, and are easily sharpened [6].


Let’s face it, for hiking, there is no need to carry more knives than one of these, in general. I found that I only need a few tools, and rarely use the others. This saves weight. Also, I prefer the knife being in my pocket, than in a pouch of a back-pack or bag.

Swiss knives are very valuable pocket knives (as long as they fit in the pocket). The wide range of sizes, functions, tools and combinations available, allows everybody to find his Swiss knife, on both the price and function aspects. The only difficulty there is into finding what you want, but you are the only person to know how you will use it.

A Swiss knife will last at least some 10 years, and probably some 20 years if taken care of.

Updated 24-09-2003

Here are some pictures of the Ranger after I dressed it in macassar ebony and rosewood)





Notes :

[1] Victorinox data

[2] Victorinox data

[3] Victorinox data

[4] 1 Euro =1 US $

[5] and I carry them in salted environment, they do need a clear-water soak, after salted water use though

[6] a burnisher is useful there, as the steel being soft, the edges generally only need to be realigned to be perfectly sharp again

par James



Le 4 juin 2004

I really love the wood scales on the SAK

Is this a hard procedure ? Any helpful input appreciated.

Le 5 août 2005
Some update : Victorinox and Wenger have recently announced their merging.
Le 13 décembre 2005
I carry a Wenger daily (I’d feel nude without it). The model I have has a serrated main blade, perhaps a pariah to some but for what I use a SAK for it works great and isn’t hard to keep a sharp enough saw type edge. A couple of the tools you don’t have need for I find quite useful : the scissors for when you don’t have nail clippers and the tweezers. The tweezers with their thin, pinching form will grab a small splinter quicker than full sized tweezers.
Le 16 novembre 2006

I really don’t think there is a merger in the works. This is over a year after it was "announced" and nothing has happened yet.

I would vociferously disagree with the phillips screwdriver as a non-essential. I probably have used that more than any other "blade", except maybe the main cutting blade. I also use the tiny little screwdriver that threads into the corkscrew a lot. Once people know you have these you always get asked to fix something. The ironic thing is that the people who tease me the most about my love for knives are the first ones to ask for help or tell others to ask me when they need something done.

Le 17 novembre 2006

I’ve had experience with both brands since the mid 70’s and have carried large Victorinox daily (in my pocket)since the mid 80’s (and yes I to feel nude without them) Currently I carry a Cybertool 29, But am looking forward to the day that I can afford a XLT. More tools, more better.

I do hope that the merger will take the best features of each and merge them into one knife. The spring system on the scissors/pliers of the Wenger are superior. As are the can opener, multi-bit screwdriver and general tool selection of the Victorinox. I could be a match made in the proverbia heaven.

Le 17 février 2008
Which is better victorinox or wenger ????

Le site est affiché en français avec ses sections françaises seulement, sachez qu’il existe cependant beaucoup à découvrir dans la version Anglaise.

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