Review: Victorinox Pioneer
Most knife nuts probably know the good old Victorinox Pioneer as the backs of their knife scarred hands. However, in this little review, I will treat the venerable Pioneer as I would any new and unknown model from a tried and trusted brand. If you are not familiar with the Pioneer, you might learn a thing or two. And even if you are, I hope to provide at least a mildly amusing read.
As usual, I do ramble a bit in the introduction. If you like the cold, hard facts as soon as possible, skip to “A long story short”.
I grew up in a world where every folding knife was a Swiss Army Knife. As a small child, I took it for granted that all grown men carried one, and I couldn’t wait til I was allowed my own.
I believe it must have been my 12th or 13th birthday when I finally got my first Swiss Army Knife. I think it must have been a Camper, at least I remember the inlaid “Camping” logo. Proud as I was, I took it to every cub and boy scout trip, and pretty much everywhere else as well. However, I never really found it all that useful. I was accustomed to using bigger, sturdier fixed blades in the field, and never got quite used to the smaller blades of the Vic. Neither did I find the handle scales very comfortable, and even if I insisted on carrying it in my pocket, it was actually both too heavy and bulky for EDC. All in all, I guess it wasn’t a very good compromise between size and utility – at least not for me.
Is bigger better, or is less more?
When I was about 15, Victorinox came out with their line of 111mm locking models, and I bought a Rucksack. I just loved the bigger, locking blade and contoured handles, as they made the tool so much more useful as a knife. Huge as it was, I liked it so much I carried it in my pocket for years.
Then, I got a Leatherman Micra for Christmas, and it totally blew my mind. If so much utility could be carried in such a small package, why bother lugging around the Rucksack? For the next ten years, I limited my EDC to Micras or a Style CS. Some years later, I got a Swiss Tool, and that replaced my Rucksack for camping, outdoor and DIY use. For the last decade, I have hardly ever carried a Swiss Army Knife, and, to be honest, I thought I had finally seen the light and decided they were not for me.
Then, a relative gave me a gift. My late grandfather’s old Solo! I had all but forgotten about these old style, slim alox knives, but finally handling it after all these years brought the memories back. With its single, non-locking blade, it seemed like a bad joke – a Swiss Army Knife with only one tool! However, for sentimental reasons, I started carrying that humble knife. Over the months, it started to grow on me. I began to see the usefulness of carrying a somewhat more substantial blade on my person than the puny ones in the keychain Leathermen. Still, I wanted more tools, primarily screw drivers. Surfing the EDC forums, I found out that I could apparently have my cake and it it too – at least if I were willing to give up scissors. The answer had been there all the time, in the beautifully simple shape of the good, old Pioneer. I found a great deal on one, and have carried it ever since. This is how it works for me.
Even though most people may think of a Swiss Army Knife as something fat and heavy with red plastic handles, for many knife lovers, the Pioneer is the very definition of a Swiss Army Knife. As far as I know, it is the civilian version of the 1961 model actually issued to Swiss soldiers. As I have absolutely no military experience, I have no idea how well it served its initial purpose. In this review, I will treat it as a civilian EDC tool.
The Pioneer features two tool layers and the famous alox handle scales. Apart from the blade, it contains Victorinox’ incredibly useful bottle opener/large screw driver and can opener/small driver/Philips driver combination tools. It also features an awl.
In order to fit the blade and awl into one layer, the blade has been bent towards the center of the knife. While I would have preferred a straight blade, I do like the two layer design. Three layers would have made the knife just a bit too big and heavy for actual EDC. Esthetically, the sleek profile goes very well with the silver alox, making this classic knife look even more at home in the hands of a sharply suited business man than in those of a battle weary soldier.
The alox scales are grippy, yet surprisingly comfortable. Also, the two layers of tools don’t protrude enough to make the grip uncomfortable, except when you try to use the knife for hard, prolonged tasks.
The blade of the Pioneer is 6,5 cm long. That is about the same length as the Opinel no. 6, but with a slightly shorter cutting edge. However, the blade is significantly thicker and stiffer than that of the Opinel. That makes it more suited to slightly heavier tasks like whittling or other wood working tasks. The blade on my specimen came hair shaving sharp straight out of the box. It might not be made from the hardest steel out there, but unless you truly abuse it, it will hold an edge pretty well. Also, apart from carbon steel Opinels, Victorinox pocket knives are the easiest knives I have ever sharpened. It takes hardly any effort at all to get them screaming sharp.
It could be my imagination playing tricks on me, but it feels as if the back springs on the alox models are a bit stronger than those of the plastic ones. If so, that is a good thing, adding to the usefulness of the blade.
As expected, the blade of the Pioneer is right at home cutting twine and tape, opening mail, bags and boxes and removing tags from clothes. However, it performs rather well at heavier tasks too. Light whittling and wood working is a breeze, and it even cuts rather thick cable ties without much trouble. It still isn’t the knife I would bring for a week in the woods, but it can comfortably handle everything a semi rural keyboard jockey like yours truly can throw at it in real day to day life.
Not only did the blade come shaving sharp, both the can opener and the awl came sharp as knife blades. I was not quite comfortable with the idea of a folding, non-locking awl – and still am not totally convinced. However, as long as it is this sharp, you can probably safely use it for anything but the hardest wood.
The small screw driver on the can opener is sharp and well defined. It works great on small flathead screws, and can be used on Philips screws of various sizes. However, I believe the thin, sharp driver might damage the Philips screws, at least if you have to put any significant amount of force on it.
The large driver on the bottle opener is more rounded. That means it doesn’t give you as firm a “grip” on the screws, but on the plus side, I guess it also makes it less likely to damage them.
All in all, the Pioneer is a great EDC knife. Of course, it isn’t perfect. Like all multitools, it is a bunch of compromises packed together in one set of handle scales. On the one hand, I would gladly give up the awl for a straighter blade. On the other hand, I would very much like a pair of scissors in there. Then, again, that would probably call for a third layer, making the knife to heavy and bulky for EDC…
As it is, the Pioneer might be the best Swiss Army knife out there for EDC. At least for yours truly.
A long story short
- Relatively slim and lightweight
- Great blade shape for all-round every day usefulness
- Decent steel, sharp out of the box, easy to sharpen
- Grippy handle scales
- Very useful combination tools with decent screw drivers, great can and bottle openers
- Super sharp awl
- Strong slipjoint action
- Alox scales might add a little bit of weight
- The blade is not straight, but slightly bent to the left
- No lock on blade or awl
Conclusion: Perhaps the best EDC SAK out there today.