Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #7: Swiss Army Knife

What is it: A Swiss Army Knife is a pocket-sized knife with multiple tools that are stored inside its handle.  This entry should probably rather be for a “multi-tool” which is a more generic description, as “Swiss Army Knife” is almost a name-brand; the official “Swiss Army” brands are produced by either Wenger or Victorinox.  Multi-tools such as those manufactured by Leatherman, Gerber, Spyderco, and others are totally acceptable alternatives for the purposes of this discussion.

A Swiss Army knife or multi-tool gives you the basic ability to fix and open a wide variety of things, without having to carry a tool box or tool belt around with you.  I’ve found hundreds of daily uses for mine and I don’t think they are only for techno-geeks who run around fixing things all the time.

Victorinox Swiss Army Champ

Victorinox Swiss Army Champ

I am now carrying a Victorinox Swiss Champ after years of having a Leatherman on my belt.  Having the almost full-sized pliers that the Leatherman-style multi-tools provide was attractive when they first came out and I got my first Leatherman.  But I must admit that I love the Swiss Champ; I use it every day and couldn’t live without it anymore.  I will go into all the tools it has and how I’ve found them useful on a daily basis below.

The Swiss Champ has about 20 stainless steel “blades” (plus a few plastic ones) and more than that number of uses.  As I count them, the tools include a (1) small knife blade; (2) a large knife blade; (3) metal saw with (4) metal file, (5) nail cleaner and (6) nail file; (7) wood saw; (8) fish scaler with (9) fish hook disgorger and (10) ruler (metric and English); (11) scissors; (12) pliers with (13) wire cutter and (14) wire crimping tool; (15) magnifying glass; (16) Phillips head screwdriver; (17) bottle opener with (18) large flat-head screwdriver and (19) wire stripper; (20) can opener with (21) small flat-head screwdriver; (22) reamer with (23) sewing eye; (24) hook; (25) fine flat-head screwdriver; (26) wood chisel; (27) corkscrew; (28) mini screwdriver; (29) tweezers; (30) plastic toothpick; (31) ballpoint pen; (32) key ring (lanyard ring) and finally a (33) pin – which I just found after looking for it for hours (it is stored within red plastic casing underneath the corkscrew).

Most of these tools are really useful as designed.  The pliers on the Swiss Champ are good only for holding in place small things – you can’t really put any torque into them to open a stuck bolt (as you can with a Leatherman). I wouldn’t want to try to start a fire with the sun and the tiny magnifying glass on the Swiss Champ, but maybe I’ll try this Spring and see if it is even possible! And if anyone can tell me how you can sew anything with the sewing eye, I would appreciate that!

Zermatt Belt Pouch

Zermatt Belt Pouch

I also got a belt-pouch for my Swiss Champ, which came with a honing steel, which seems a convenience if you nick up your blade when using it somewhere.  I have a more professional knife and blade sharpener in my emergency kit.

With my smartphone on one side and my Swiss Army knife on the other, I’ve got some extra bulk to carry on the belt.  But I find that these are both small enough to not show underneath a sport coat or suit jacket.  Coatless, the look may not work for you as well, but for me, it is a part of Living Prepared™, and being a practitioner, I can get away with it.  For others, your attaché, backpack, or computer bag may be a good place to carry your Swiss Army knife/multi-tool.

Utility on a Daily Basis: I use my Swiss Army knife on a daily basis; as I’ve said, so much so that I can’t imagine living without it anymore.  Just this morning, I used the scissors to cut the tag off a stuffed animal for my daughter – she hates tags on anything and I am constantly removing them from clothes and toys for her.  Yesterday, I recall using the small knife blade to cut open two boxes that had been delivered to the house.  I use the scissors, knife blades, and screwdrivers constantly, but have found uses for most of the other tools as well.  In December, I used the wood saw to remove some lower limbs from the Christmas tree we had bought such that it would better fit into the tree stand.  I’ve used the hook to pull an elastic waistband tie on a pair of pajamas that had retracted into the waist.  I also used the hook once to reconnect something else that I thought would never go back together.  (I honestly never thought I would use the hook but now find it has a ton of uses).  I have used the ballpoint pen to open a locked bathroom door; I have used the ruler to measure things; I used the magnifying glass last week to get the serial numbers off of a watch that needed repair under warrantee; I have used the tweezers to pull a splinter out of my foot; I have even used the toothpick to get some food out of my teeth.  And of course, the corkscrew has been used to open a bottle of wine or two when I couldn’t put my hands on one in the kitchen.

Certainly, most of these tools are often within easy reach in most people’s kitchen drawer or somewhere else in the house, but to have them all conveniently located in one tool, in one place (on my belt), is invaluable to me.  I think once you get used to carrying one around with you, you’ll agree with me.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Yes.  I do try.  I must admit to leaving my Swiss Army Knife home just last week as I was off to see the Sam Roberts Band play at the Bowery Ballroom and didn’t know whether they screened for anything that could be construed as a weapon like the airlines do.  They didn’t, but I left it home anyway that night.  When traveling by air, you can carry these multi-tools in your checked luggage but not on your person or carry-on bags, so for those traveling and bringing only carry-on luggage, we’ll need to find you a DHS-approved alternative.

Criticality after a disaster: The all-around utility of a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool is pretty obvious in the aftermath of a disaster.

But let me tell you about functions that were critical for me to have included in my tool, which led me to the Swiss Champ.

Most of all, I wanted a decent wood saw/serrated blade.  I wanted to be able to cut through the limb of a tree (a small one, anyway), or a plywood wall, if I had to.  Picture being trapped somewhere due to a building collapse, tree falling on the house, or other accident – and without carrying around the jaws of life with me, I wanted to have the ability – even if on a limited basis – to cut through something.  Similarly, the metal saw is pretty valuable to be able to do some limited cutting of metal conduit or pipes.

For getting at nutrition, a can opener, especially, is an essential piece of emergency gear and you’ll always have one with you if you carry a Swiss Army knife.  I recommend practicing opening actual cans with it from time to time, as it can be a bit trickier than standard kitchen tools to work your way around the lid successfully.  A bottle opener falls into the same category here (as does the corkscrew for me).

Of course, a sharp blade is useful for cutting through many things, though this is not a serious knife.  A locking blade is essential if you are to do any serious cutting with a knife, to avoid really messy accidents involving the loss of fingers or parts of fingers or sizeable chunks of fingers (accompanied by a lot of bleeding).  A Swiss Army knife blade is really good at cutting open boxes fastened with tape, string, or plastic bindings and that’s its primary purpose for me.  One thing I have learned that after disasters, whether you are responding to them or just surviving them, you are going to be opening a lot of boxes.  It’s an emergency, which by definition means that you are going to be reacting in ways and doing things and needing things which are not in daily use, in quantities that are not normal.  So those things that you need are going to be packaged in some fashion – whether it is emergency rations you store in your own basement, or relief supplies donated by the Red Cross to the shelter where you find yourself staying and/or volunteering.  You are going to need to open those packages and a Swiss Army knife excels at this task.

I’ve also sterilized the blades and used them to dig out deeply embedded splinters, but I wouldn’t want to gut a fish with it.   I also suppose that someone trained to do so could use a Swiss Army knife to perform a tracheotomy or other minor surgery in an emergency as we see on TV – but I am not trained to do so, so do not plan to use mine in this way; I also don’t plan to use the wood saw to cut my own leg off at the ankle if chained to a water pipe by some maniacal killer or otherwise perform amputations – but who knows?  Larger and longer serrated knives are an essential piece of emergency equipment more appropriate to all of these and many other tasks but these are better stored in your go bag or household emergency kit.  You don’t need to carry such a knife on a daily basis and never leave home without it.  (For me, this falls into the category of: if you need to carry a 7-inch serrated knife with you whenever you leave home, maybe you should consider moving somewhere else; same is true for weapons of any sort).

Finally, I wouldn’t want to be without a Phillips head and a flat head screwdriver… ever.  Things break, and access hatches to places where things break are often, if not usually, fastened with screws of some sort – whether it is something as simple as a light switch or as complex as a generator; the battery compartment of a kids’ toy or a radio.  I use the screwdrivers on my Swiss Champ more than any other tool on a daily basis; I can’t imagine it would be any different following a disaster.

There are a lot of great Swiss Army knife and multi-tool models out there – even ones geared towards the techno-geeks with lots of micro-tools for working on electronic devices.  My advice is to get one that is going to be useful to you to use but has the essentials that you are going to need after a disaster.

The bottom line is that you’re going to be able to get at things better with the proper tools and if you carry a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool, chances are you will have the right tool with you.

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The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Swiss Army Knife

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES

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So, carry a Swiss Army Knife with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.

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9 Responses

  1. I agree that you should never be without a swiss army knife. Mine has come in handy too many times to count. I would only disagree with you about which one to bring. I feel that the Victorinox Alox Farmer is the all around best choice. It comes with every thing you need and none of the tools that are basically for looks. The large blade is all you need for most cutting jobs. The saw blade can cut down most anything that you wouldn’t need a chainsaw to take down. The usefulness of the awl, can opener, and bottle opener goes without saying. There are no twizzers or toothpick due to the lack of space with the Alox handles. The twizzers are usaually too weak to be of any real help. I will admit that I do miss the toothpick.

  2. For the record, Victorinox is also producing its own line of multi-tools. There are several versions of their full-sized SwissTool and the scaled-down SwissTool Spirit.

    I agree with you as far as how handy a Swiss Army Knife can be, as well as a locking blade being safer than the slipjoint on most SAKs. This is probably the reason that Victorinox and Wenger now produce a number of models with locking blades. This is also why I carry a dedicated locking folder.

    As far as your thoughts on weapons and neighborhoods, just remember: bad guys can go everywhere you can even if they don’t live there… 😉

  3. […] you are going to need one of the 10 Things You Should Never Leave Home Without.  Today, my trusty swiss army knife saved me time and hassle while navigating our nation’s capitol’s metro system. […]

  4. THE CHAMP IS THE VERY BEST KNIFE/TOOL ON THE MARKET BAR NONE INCLUDING THE LEATHERMAN WHICH TO ME IS SECOND BEST.

  5. I’ve carried a Swiss Army Knife of one kind or another (both Victorinox and Wenger models) since I was in high school… about 40 years now. I currently carry a Victorinox Deluxe Tinker model. I wouldn’t be without one (and it pains me to leave it at home when I travel by air!)

    To sew with the sewing awl on a Swiss Army Knife: Thread heavy thread through the eye. Push the awl through the material being stitched and pull the free end of the thread through. Pull the awl out, and push it back in a short distance from the first hole. Pull the awl back out leaving a loop of thread. To form a chain stitch, pull the free end of the thread through the loop you just created. Pull the thread tight. Repeat with a new loop and pull the thread through again and pull tight. Repeat until the length you want to stitch is complete. Tie off the thread with a square knot. This is meant to sew heavy materials like canvas or leather.

  6. Well i Have a swiss champ

    Its a must for me. Wherever I go it goes on the pouch then on my belt.

    It is a very good tool Thanks Victorinox for building such tools.

  7. As far as how to use the sewing eye it is used to sew together canvas or light leather/ nylon. you punch it through and run a thick string or thin leather strap through the whole and sew the material together in the fashion described. Here is an explanation of the reamer and sewing eye.

  8. sewing…Imagine you just killed some large game with your swiss army knife, and you want to make a leather coat with it’s hide….after preping the hide with your swiss army knife and cutting out all the pieces for the coat with your swiss army knife, including some hide leather string. you the poke the awl through the hide, run some leather string through the hole in the awl and pull it through the hide. you repeat this through all of the assembly process of your coat.

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