The monstrous Swiss Champ Knife (pictured above) weighs 6.5 ounces.
I think I’ll pass on that.
Most backpackers consider the smallest, most basic Classic Knife to be the best for the trail.
It’s a good argument – the Classic Knife is the most ultralight.
And that should mean case closed, nothing to see here.
But I disagree.
Let’s Look at the Swiss Army Classic Knife
At first glance, the Classic Knife appears to have everything you’d need for a day hike, or even for an extended backpacking trip.
It weighs just 1.3 ounces, so I know your little ultralight heart is just drooling at the efficiency.
You can clearly see its features, but I think I’ll spell it out for you:
- Stainless Steel, 1.5 inch Blade
- Standard (Flathead) Screwdriver
- Nail File
- Keychain Ring
And that’s it.
I carried one of these on the Appalachian Trail. There was a time when I regularly carried it on my key ring, too (Maybe I should consider doing so again!).
This classic model whittles the Swiss Army Knife down to its most basic, most useful functions.
A Swiss Army knife’s uses for hiking and backpacking are self-evident. For me, they mostly fall in the realm of first aid and simple grooming. For example, tweezers are necessary for plucking ticks and cactus spines. Scissors have infinite uses – everything from trimming bandages to keeping a thru-hiker’s unruly mustache under control.
You get the idea. Let’s just say that it’s awfully handy to have a multi tool.
What More Do You Need?
If we go in the opposite direction of the basic Classic Knife and look at the ultra beefy Swiss Champ knife, we might be convinced that we need quite a bit more. Maybe a nice serrated edge, or, ooh! Pliers! Shiny!
The Victorinox Swiss Champ XXL is the most useful Swiss Army Knife in existence, but that definitely doesn’t mean that it’s the best for backpacking. After all, you have to carry the silly thing up and down mountains all day.
Maybe, like me, you decide you’d like to bridge the gap between The Classic and The Champ. So you start looking at what’s available, and immediately get overwhelmed. The listings on REI keep it fairly simple, but it’s easy to get decision fatigue, even on there.
As if that’s not enough, you don’t want to make the mistake of looking at the full selection on the official Victorinox page – it’s seemingly endless.
I like to have a few more tools
Here’s what I like to have in addition to what the Classic Knife provides:
- a beefier blade
- a can opener
- a bottle opener
- a corkscrew
Though it’s stainless steel, the blade on the Classic Knife is a little thin and flimsy. I don’t exactly need a giant Daniel Boone knife, but it wouldn’t hurt to have something a little more sturdy. For example, I once used a Swiss Army Knife to build a denatured alcohol stove, and it just about ruined the blade.
It’s nice to have the can opener, especially for car camping and longer thru hikes. Often your cravings will get so strong that you don’t mind carrying a little canned food here and there.
The bottle opener is great for random bottles of beer (of course). I was never macho enough to master the Bic lighter technique, and only a fool would use his front teeth.
The corkscrew opens bottles of wine (with a little elbow grease). It’s good for undoing stubborn knots, and I’ve used mine for cleaning underneath my fingernails, too. Simply put, it’s convenient as a small, solid, blunt point.
Introducing the Swiss Army Evolution 14
The Evolution 14 has everything from the Classic Knife, plus everything else I just listed above.
The only extra, unused item on it is the “reamer/punch and sewing awl.” If I knew what I was doing with
a needle and thread dental floss, then I imagine that this would come in handy, too.
The ergonomic handle helps with leverage when using the blade and can opener, and I think it also (ever so slightly) cuts down on the weight too!
Old timers have pointed out that the design of the Evolution 14 is identical to a Wenger brand knife. Victorinox bought out Wenger in 2005. Wenger was a similar company from Switzerland that also manufactured the iconic Swiss Army Knife.
The Evolution 14 weighs 2.7 ounces. If you balk at that (versus the Classic Knife), well, that’s okay. I suppose you could add this multi tool to my list of “luxury items” that I like to carry!
Are there alternatives that fit the criteria?
Yes. When I overhauled my gear list in 2019, the Evolution 14 was the best tool I could find that had everything I wanted (and little extra).
The Swiss Army Climber Knife has an identical lineup of tools to the Evolution 14, with the addition of a Parcel Hook. The Climber Knife, however, weighs 3.5 ounces (versus 2.7 for the Evolution 14).
Yes, it’s legal to carry a Swiss Army Knife
Generally speaking, it’s legal in the USA to carry a blade that’s 2.5 inches or less.
All of the knives listed on this page meet that criteria, even The Champ.
It may be illegal, of course, in restricted areas like an airport or federal office building.