If I tell you I’ve got a Swiss Army Knife, you’re likely picturing a specific item in your head, even if you’re an avid reader of our website. It’s probably oblong, dark red, with a white logo featuring a cross inside a shield. In short, you’re probably picturing the Victorinox Spartan, the definitive 91mm SAK, featuring red cellidor scales, a large and small blade, a bottle and can opener, and a corkscrew. But if we zoom back out to the actual name – Swiss Army Knife – that’s actually a specific item, not a disambiguation. It’s called that because it’s the knife which is standard issue to the Swiss Army. And has been, in various forms, since 1891. And by “various forms” I really mean 4 forms, because the official Soldier knife has only gone through 4 iterations since its inception in 1891 – it started out as a 100mm frame, was shrunk down to 93mm in 1951, redesigned as the 93mm Alox Soldier in 1961 (which still lives on today, albeit with a keyring, as the Pioneer), and finally fully redesigned in 2008 as the 111mm Soldier, with locking implements.
Very few things undergo so little change over the course of 130 years as the Swiss Soldier’s Knife, which either means that the Swiss are very lazy – and have you seen their watches? Seems unlikely – or that these designs are very good from the start, which made me curious as to what the modern Swiss Soldier’s knife is like. Being neither Swiss, nor a Soldier, it’s a good deal easier to acquire the civilian version, which is known in Europe as the Trailmaster, but due to a legal dispute with Cold Steel over the name, is known as the Trekker in the US. My particular tester is an early production One Hand Trekker (OHT) with the flat bottomed thumb hole and less pronounced liner lock release bar, with black nylon scales.
Key Specs: Victorinox One-Hand Trekker
The 111mm OHT has a real, honest-to-god, full sized blade that you can open with one hand and locks in place. This makes it quite different from your usual SAK’s. The blade is a drop point with a high flat grind, and blade specifications are remarkably difficult to pin down, but by my own measurement (with a measuring tape) the total length of the blade is approximately 3.375”, and the sharpened edge is about 3.25”, with two-thirds of that being serrated and 1/3 of that being plain. The primary bevel comes up from the tang at an angle, intersecting the spine about halfway down so you have a nice thin tip, and the entire spine is smoothed off with lightly rounded edges making it soft to the touch.
Here we get to the first eccentricity of the 111mm OHT – the forward edge of the blade is serrated, not the portion closer to the tang like basically every other half-serrated blade in existence. A good amount of googling on this topic has failed to return a satisfactory reason why. But, it’s worth noting that Victorinox’s serrations are much less aggressive than you’ll find on a lot of ‘tactical oriented’ knives- they’re much more like the serrations on a bread knife than on a Spyderco.
Blade steel is Victorinox’s proprietary 1.4110 martensitic stainless steel, which has a full name of X55CrMo14. It’s a very low-carbon steel (0.46-0.6%) with high chromium (13-15%) which has an effective hardness around 56 Rc, meaning this steel is very soft. If you’re used to an S35VN pocket knife that you have to sharpen once a year, this is not that. You’ll need to sharpen frequently, but because the steel is soft, it’s very easy – and sometimes can be done with just a strop, or a couple of passes on a Sharpmaker.
Deployment & Lockup
Deployment quality is an entirely relative term, because compared to other SAK’s, the main blade on this deploys very easily considering you only need to use one hand. Victorinox redesigned the thumb hole on these knives around 2007 from the shape I have (oblong with a flat bottom) to a more round-oval shape to make the knives easier to open. They also made the lock bar release much more pronounced, and the general consensus is that the later knives are easier to open but the earlier knives have much better ergonomics because the huge lockbar release creates an immediate hot spot. Deployment isn’t particularly smooth – after all, there are no washers or bearings to reduce friction, the polished stainless blade riding directly on a polished stainless liner. You cannot ‘flick’ this knife open – but you don’t have to use both hands.
The OHT uses a simple liner lock, but unlike basically every other liner lock out there, the liner lock moves to the left to engage the tang when it opens. This means that the normal closing motion for a liner lock – index finger putting pressure on the spine, thumb pushing the liner to the left – doesn’t work, since you need to push the liner to the right. This effectively makes the knife a one-hand open but a two-hand close, since you need to use your right thumb to press the lock bar and your left hand to close the blade. Of course, it’s perfect if you’re left-handed. This gives me some insight into how frustrating this hobby must be for left-handers. Lockup is solid but not perfect, with slight vertical and horizontal blade play in the open position – this is probably due the lack of a dedicated stop pin, or wear and tear, or build tolerances – hard to tell.
Features, Fit & Finish
Of course, there’s much more to a Swiss Army Knife than just the blade, and the 111mm OHT packs a lot of functionality into its three layers of tools. Most notable is the cap lifter/large straight screwdriver/pry tool/wire stripper, a beefy enlarged version of everyone’s favorite SAK implement which shares the other side of the liner lock with the main blade. Having a locking bottle opener and pry tool is pretty smart, giving added stability to one other tool that potentially needs it. It opens with a traditional nail nick, and also features a pronounced half-stop in the slipjoint mechanism to use it at a 90 degree angle for more leverage.
Opposite the bottle opener is a can opener, with a sharpened forward edge and a small straight screwdriver integrated into the tip, opened by a nail nick. It is located by a slipjoint, with no half stop (as that wouldn’t be useful on a can opener.) Finally, the last main layer is a full length, very aggressively toothy wood saw, with a slipjoint to keep it open, accessed by a tab that sticks out of the end of the butt.
There are two tools on the back side, a sharpened reamer/awl, and a dedicated Phillips screwdriver, both of which open perpendicular to the handle – allow you to use them like a t-handle for increased leverage. Finally, the major difference between the army and civilian versions are the scales: on this OHT they’re black polyamide, and have the traditional tooth pick in one scale and tweezers in the other. On the Soldier 2008 (military issue) they’re green and black dual-density scales with a combination of Polyamide 6 and TPE-U for a better grip, but no scale tools. On the One-Handed German Army Knife (OH-GAK) they’re olive drab with the German Army Eagle and no scale tools as well.
My One-Handed Trekker came in a snazzy leather carry case complete with a AAA Maglite in a side slot, a very nice sheath which ultimately struck me as unnecessary. The OHT weighs only 4.6 ounces, and measures 4.4” long when closed, so it’s approximately normal pocket-knife shaped, just a little wider between the scales. Of course, it lacks a pocket clip so it does sink down into the pocket and usually lays flat across the bottom. It would carry better with a clip or with a narrow leather slip case (which would help keep it oriented) but it’s still an entirely reasonable thing to slip into your pocket. A homemade lanyard on the key ring helps retrieve it.
The most unique aspect of the OHT relative to other SAK’s is the one handed locking blade, and it’s an improvement over a nail nick but certainly not perfect. The backwards action on the liner lock (which travels from left to right to unlock it) never feels natural, requiring two hands if you’re being safe, or one hand and pressing the spine of the knife on your leg if you’re feeling adventurous. The forward serrations on the blade certainly work, they just don’t make sense being out there: I’d want the serrated half to be up against the rear of the blade where I have better control over them, like most other half-serrated knives. They do cut well, not as aggressively as some serrations you’ll see on other knives (CRKT’s old Veff serrations come to mind) but they chew through fibrous or stretchy materials (like cardboard or the packaging on water bottles) with relative ease. Ergonomics are quite good when using the blade, though – the curved handles give your fingers a nice grip and the thumb ramp on the blade locates your hand securely. Much easier to use this as a real knife than older SAK designs.
The rest of the implements on the OHT have the same polish and excellence you expect from 130 years of building pocket tools, through multiple waves of evolution. The bottle opener/pry tool, for instance, is almost as good as a dedicated bottled opener at popping the top off a beverage, offering a generous hook and plenty of leverage – lots of multitools offer bottle openers and a lot of them are terrible. Victorinox’s is very good. The half-stop of this tool also makes the straight screwdriver even more useful, able to apply more torque as well as fit in tighter spaces. Ditto the 3D Philips driver on the rear of the tool, which deploys perpendicular to the tool allowing you to use it as a T-handle, making it much easier to apply force than, say, the Philips on the Explorer which deploys in line with the handle.
I will freely admit to never using the can opener (as we have a real can opener designed to do that) but it’s generally well-regarded in the camping community. And finally, the wood saw: an extremely toothy and aggressive tool that will cut through saplings and branches with ease. I only wonder why the lock bar wasn’t placed between the saw and main blade, considering the saw benefits from a lock much more than a bottle opener does. You can really accomplish a lot with the OHT considering its relatively low weight: it’s a fantastic tool to have in your pocket as an EDC item or when camping.
The nice thing about Victorinox products is that you can first pick which frame suits you the best, and then determine what your actual use case is for the knife to narrow down which tools you want, and chances are there’s a knife that fits your exact need as they make an absolutely staggering array of knives. The toolset on the OHT seems best oriented to outdoors and camping, lacking the scissors and corkscrew that are the hallmarks of SAK household usefulness, and it doesn’t have the bit driver or pliers of a Cybertool for DIY purposes, but all the implements are robust and simple, great for emergencies or outdoor use.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.Determining alternatives for multitools is a tough task because there’s so much variability. But all of the multitools I review end up getting compared to the excellent Leatherman Skeletool CX, my favorite pocket-friendly EDC multitool. These two are a good comparison, as they’re both a similar size but offer much different toolsets. The Skeletool is a good bit more expensive, currently retailing for around $89 at time of writing compared to the OHT’s $60, but it does include more premium materials: a 154CM blade and carbon fiber scales. The toolset on the Skeletool is a lot more concentrated, but it does have a set of pliers which the OHT lacks, as well as a bit driver and bit storage allowing you to have 4 different types of screw or bit drivers on the tool (as the Leatherman bits are two-sided) whereas all the drivers on the OHT are fixed: Philips ½, 3mm straight and 7.5mm straight drivers. Of course the OHT has a much larger blade, a wood saw, a can opener, tweezer and toothpick, an awl… so it depends on which toolset fits your intended use better. The OHT is slightly lighter than the Skeletool, 4.6 ounces versus 5.
Another option would be something from the 130mm Delemont collection, formerly Wenger SAK’s that are now sold by Victorinox after the merger. The 130mm models use dual-density “RangerGrip” scales and have a similarly ergonomic handle, with the model 178 offering the same toolset as the OHT (a partially serrated one hand blade, can and bottle openers, a wood saw, awl and Philips driver as well as tweezers and toothpick in scale.) The RangerGrip 178 is bigger (5.1”) and heavier (6 ounces) than the Victorinox OHT, but on the plus side the serrations on the blade are much more aggressive, and they’re arranged at the rear of the edge rather than the front. It’s also more expensive with an ~$80 MSRP.
The Leatherman Free K-series doesn’t get a lot of attention in the EDC community – we usually like our knives to just be knives, but it is a compelling SAK alternative. The Free K4X offers a full sized, one hand open, half-serrated blade: 3.3” long in 420HC steel with a useful wharncliffe blade shape, and a whole complement of tools that fold out of the rear. There’s a 3D Philips bit with a bottle opener, a set of sprung scissors, a small straight screwdriver with an awl, and a combination package opener/pry tool/medium straight screwdriver, all of which open one handed with Leatherman’s magnet-based Free architecture. MSRP on the Free K4X is $100, and it weighs in at 5.5 ounces with a closed length of 4.5 inches.
It seems to me like the 111mm Victorinox lineup has never gotten the attention and recognition it deserves, outside of dedicated SAK fan groups. While the standard 91mm Victorinox line is the most universally recognized, the 111mm group brings a lot of modern updates to the concept of a Swiss Army Knife – a full sized locking blade, one handed opening, and improved ergonomics being the main ones. It’s an imminently useful implement, with a toolset that would be well suited to outdoor activities or camping. As an around-the-house multitool for a wider range of tasks, I’d go with one of the thicker 111mm variants like the Hercules or Work Champ, to get the scissors and the pliers. The thicker tools would definitely benefit from being holster carried, which is fine for a multitool. For pocket carry, I might step up one size to the Locksmith, which has a plain edged one hand opening blade as well as a file and metal saw. But the One-Hand Trekker, as a daily use knife, packs a lot of utility into a light package, even if some of the ergonomics are confusing.
- Fits a whole array of outdoors-oriented tools with 12 functions into a pocketable 4.6 ounce package, a SAK with a one hand opening locking blade, extremely useful perpendicular Philips driver, good grip, nicely assembled as all Victorinox tend to be.
- Action on knife is terrible, liner lock is backwards, serrations on the front of the blade make no sense, soft steel.