Whether you’re beginning a life of preparedness in Boy Scouts, living a humble life of knitting sweaters in a 86° living room in a plush cardigan, or anywhere in between, you could easily use and carry a Swiss Army Knife. Often times, it’s the first bladed tool one may have the luxury of owning. Sure, many of us move on to dedicated knives, or bigger, more capable multi-tools, but there’s no denying a SAK will always have it’s place in the world. If it was good enough for the Swiss Army to carry as a true multi-tool, it’s probably good enough for us commonplace citizens in a push-button society. Victorinox is a household name, with a reputation that will likely never lose its presence throughout the world.
And now, in 2020, the Swiss-based company has more offerings in their product portfolio than ever. Between the ever popular Swiss Army Knife choices, kitchen knives, backpacks, watches, and even cologne and perfume, they offer something for everyone. But, within that nearly infinite catalogue, is a tool that harkens back to the origins of the company’s production; the Victorinox Pioneer. In 1891, the Swiss Army issued their enlisted officers the original Swiss Army Knife, for rifle maintenance and multi-tool functionality. And, if you’re looking for the most true-to-original model in their current lineup, the Pioneer is it. The tool set has slightly evolved over time, but it is largely the same as the original in many ways. It has the same overall profile and very similar toolset. And it’s still very fitting for those looking for a medium sized EDC tool, that’s widely accepted in populated areas and social situations, where a dedicated larger pocket knife may draw too much attention.
Key Specs: Victorinox Pioneer
The Pioneer has 8 “tools” in total, and the knife blade is the largest tool within that list. Coming in at 2.75”, the Pioneer blade is a very useful size. The blade shape on the Pioneer is very utilitarian, in a sort of narrow leaf shaped style. Some of the Victorinox “small” pocket knives and multi-tools have a much smaller blade, and feel like a mildly sharpened portion of a toothpick. But the Pioneer has a blade with a sharpened cutting edge similar in length to the Spyderco Para 3. And the Pioneer, along with every other Victorinox tool, is a secret recipe of steel composition. Will it rust with enough neglect? Maybe, but you’d have to almost try to get this steel to corrode.
It’s stainless properties are great, along with its edge retention. With a blade geometry and stock thickness of just .08”, it’s a slicer in every sense of the word. It’s thin enough behind the edge, that even when it’s edge is somewhat dull, it’ll still get through your Amazon box or slice up some fruit without too much complacency. The hardness of the steel doesn’t seem too high, which of course aids in keeping the edge nice and sharp, if you have even the weakest sharpening skills. This is one knife that could easily live its life with a keen edge just using a Spyderco Sharpmaker. Keeping its well rounded usability in mind, the Pioneer utilizes a blade that’s ready for just about any daily task.
Deployment / Lockup
Of course, here’s where we deviate a little from the bulk of our reviews. No Spydieholes, thumb studs, or flippers here, but rather, the old school nail knick. Fortunately, the pull on the blade spring isn’t too heavy, and pulling the blade open in the now-prehistoric two-handed method isn’t too difficult. There’s no half stop, like many modern traditionals of today, so you have to make sure you hold onto that blade while it’s being opened, or you risk having it snap sharply back into the closed position, and potentially a finger.
Once the blade is open, the back spring on the Pioneer holds the blade open with moderate pressure. But there’s no lock, so the spring is the only thing keeping the blade from being pushed back at the users hand. In most common cutting tasks, this is a non issue. But, don’t try to push the blade straight into any random medium, or you may be painfully reminded that this blade can close on your hand with a little push.
Features, Fit and Finish
The Pioneer has 8 tools in its repertoire. A knife blade, reamer/punch, can opener, 3mm screwdriver, bottle opener, 7.5mm screwdriver, wire stripper, and key ring. Some of their “tools” are arguably more a feature or accessory, but we see what they’re getting at. The way that Victorinox has designed and implemented their tools into the Swiss Army Knives is great. The blades and tools fit within their cutouts in the layered handle with precision. Maybe not in the Chris Reeve tolerance level of machining, but it’s all tightly fit with no movement into a nice compact package. When the tools are deployed, they are tight with no play, and snap into position with authority.
Every tool on the SAK Pioneer is well finished. Polished surfaces, and chamfered edges give each tool a smooth, high end feel. Although there are no washers or modern means of friction resistance, the tools open fairly smoothly, albeit after a little break in period. The handles are comprised of aluminum on this particular model, with some texturing found on both sides of the tool. Victorinox calls it their “Alox” line of tools, and I much prefer it to the classic plastic scales. It gives the tool another point toward a well finished product, with more durability than it’s original wood scales, or the more commonly found plastic.
It can take accidental drops onto concrete or asphalt without much issue, when compared to the plastic that is much more likely to chip or crack over time. There are two potential down sides to the aluminum, though; there’s no option to remove the handle scales. Some users like to customize their SAK’s with some aftermarket scales, and this is much less likely to be done on the Alox models because the scales are riveted into place, rather than snapped on like the plastic models. The other down side is that you lose the option for the commonly found toothpick and tweezers on the outside of the tool, again found only in the plastic handled models.
In my use, the aforementioned knife blade is great. So long as you’re not looking to stab into a material like you would with a fixed blade, it’s extremely versatile and useful. My 3 part test was passed with flying colors with the Pioneer. Cutting an apple was pleasurable in use, with just enough cutting edge to complete the cut all the way across the apple without having to perform any hand acrobatics to reach all the way through. The thin blade stock helps the blade pass through the apple without even coming close to splitting the slices. And, with it’s stainless properties, just rinse the blade in tap water, dry it on the Levi’s, and put it back into the pocket. Cardboard is also no problem with this sweet little blade.
Cuts initiate easily with the somewhat decent factory edge, and pass through even double walled cardboard without binding. Making a small pile of feather sticks with a Swiss Army Knife is probably something not many will do on a routine basis, but it’ll definitely complete the chore if you’re ever looking to push into that level of task with your multi tool.
The reamer/punch is a tool I personally wanted to have on my example of a Swiss Army Knife. It’s doubtful I’ll ever need to drill a hole through wood in a situation where I can’t get to my Dewalt, but it’s a useful tool in some cases. This is one tool I recommend using just as much caution as when using the knife blade. The first time I used it, I was trying to make a small pilot hole in a wood frame for a screw. The tool partially closed, but luckily it just stopped on my finger and didn’t cut me. Yes, this is my fault and is avoidable. But it’s easy to forget that these tools don’t lock open when you use a modern folding knife the majority of the time. The edge is chisel ground, for drilling, but it can double as a secondary knife blade too. I’ve punched a hole through my belt (after losing a couple inches off the waist), and it worked great.
The can opener, with its small flat head screwdriver end, is useful and functional. There aren’t many times I’d prefer to open a can with a SAK, but it’ll definitely get the job done, with a little effort and patience. It, along with the large screwdriver / bottle opener, both have the half stop, that’s lacking on the blade and reamer. I do appreciate this, where there are times that the tool is better utilized with more leverage in the half stopped position. In the open position, the screwdrivers are great to have handy, when running across a random loose screw, or when deciding not to use your $150-450 pocket knife to pry open something like a small paint can, or prying apart some Legos for your kids without breaking a fingernail.
The wire stripper is something I just don’t see myself using. I’ve tried to use it on a couple jobs I’ve been on, and it seems to be more difficult to use than any other tool, even the knife blade. Closing the wire stripper on the tool with the wire pinched between the handle and V-shaped wire stripper seems to work, as some online enthusiasts suggest to try, but it’s still awkward at best. I unintentionally cut more wire than I stripped in my personal usage.
The key ring, counted as one of the 8 tools, is polarizing to some users. I’m in the neutral position; I don’t really care if it’s there or not. The tool, in my option, is too heavy to hang on a key ring, with its propensity to swing noisily along, when carrying keys on the belt (my personal favorite method), or when dangling from the ignition of your car. With these factors in mind, it makes sense that many people like to remove the key ring, and grind off the tab that holds it. I will admit, with this key ring tab delete, the handle is more ergonomic, without the protuberance digging into your palm.
There are probably hundreds of multi tools available today. Victorinox is one of the oldest, and arguably the original. And the Pioneer is the evolution that most closely resembles the first generation tool. There are many other Swiss Army Knives that closely compare to the Pioneer; the Pioneer X is the absolute most similar. It’s the same tool as the standard Pioneer, but with a 3rd tool layer, comprised of a singe additional tool: scissors. I think scissors are often much safer to use than a knife for small tasks like cutting string or opening a small package, so that’s a great alternative to the standard Pioneer.
The Cadet model is also quite similar to the Pioneer, but with a couple small differences. The Cadet is also in the Alox lineup, but is slimmer and shorter in stature. The only tool difference between these models is the nail file found on the Cadet in place of the reamer on the Pioneer. The Cadet also has an easier time living on a key ring than the Pioneer, if that’s something important in your consideration.
Leatherman is a multi tool company that rivals Victorinox in many ways. The Leatherman Wave is one of their most popular models, with good reason. Is it really a possible alternative to the Pioneer? Maybe a bit of a stretch, but it’s something most online savvy researchers will consider in this tool style. The Wave model has 17 tools in total, including pliers, and is much more substantial overall. It’s also almost 3 times as heavy as the pioneer, coming in at 8.5oz vs the Pioneer’s weight conscious 2.75oz. The Leatherman is around $100 vs the Pioneer’s much more tolerable $35. It’s definitely a different animal altogether, but still an alternative with its history and proven reputation.
The Victorinox Pioneer is a great multi tool. I view it as a secondary blade, or companion tool to a dedicated folder. It can easily be carried in the pocket or annoyingly on a key ring, without too much aggravation to the user. It’s somewhat light weight, with a versatile tool set. It’s priced very well for it’s level of quality, and fit and finish. It can be carried and used in public without invoking fear into the office lunch room, or breaking ridiculous knife laws in most areas (of course, do your research here and we always recommend complying with your local law ordinances).
Yes, it takes two hands to open any of the tools, and none of those tools truly lock open. But the majority of real world usage just doesn’t require those features in a true EDC tool. And if it does, Victorinox has a tool that does it, as they offer some multi tools and dedicated folders with locking mechanisms. If you want a tool that you can take virtually anywhere, use with confidence and without worry of corrosion, and have most of what you need in a pinch out of your toolbox, the Pioneer is a great choice.
- Perfect for pocket, very functional, light weight and decent quality
- No substitute for primary EDC, non locking