Stuff You Gotta Have: The Swiss Army Knife

September 21, 2010
What would you include in your own Swiss Army Knife? Our campers have a few ideas.

Odds are you have one. Or had one. Or really wished you had one when you needed to tighten a screw, open a bottle of wine or pull out a sliver while you were camping.

The perfect tool for any camping multi-tool, Swiss Army knives are known for their sleek design, practicality and virtual indestructibility. And they have a history befitting their reputation.

Created by Carl Elsener in Ibach, Switzerland more than a hundred years ago for use by (you guessed it) the Swiss Army, the original tool offered users a single blade, reamer, can opener and screwdriver—the items needed most by soldiers in the field. A second blade, and the knife’s signature corkscrew, were added by Elsener in 1896.

During World War II, GI’s loved the handy knives, but struggled to pronounce the name “Schweizer Offiziersmesser” (Swiss officer’s knife.) They dubbed it the “Swiss Army knife” and the name stuck.

The name of Elsener’s company, Victorinox, is a combination of his mother’s name, Victoria, and “inox”, or stainless steel. Today, the company continues to supplies knives to the Swiss Army, as does Wenger, a former competitor purchased by Victorinox in 2005.

Swiss Army knives are now as diverse as the people who use them. No longer just for the battlefield, they are as common on the in boardrooms as they are on campgrounds. While its simple design, which is part of the New York Museum of Art’s permanent collection, has remained largely unchanged, the knife has morphed to include a variety of tools. Grab the Handyman version and your knife will come complete with a pliers, a wood chisel and hook. The Swiss Champ has magnifying lenses, a fish scaler and multiple bladese. Or for the perfect office tool, grabe the Victorinox Flash—which comes complete with a 16GB flash drive, an LED flashlight and even a retractable ball point pen.

We asked our campers on Facebook what tools they’d include in a Swiss Army knife if they could design their own. Here are a few of the things they told us:

James Wetzel: “Removable sharpening stone to sharpen the blades!”

Serenna Jordan: “Toothbrush [because] I can’t go without it.”

Tommy Frazier: “Tire pressure gauge [and] bear spray.”

Jason Shamroski: “Blow torch.”

Greg Snover: “GPS!”

Roger Bush: “Wi-Fi hotspot.”

Jess Wiley: “An allen wrench.”

Mindy Caplan: “Lighter.”

Rainer Mueller: “A light saber (or at least a laser.)”

Other suggestions included a Blackberry/iPhone, a disintegrator ray, mascara, an extendable stick for marshmallow roasting and an ATM. But one of personal favorites came from James Butler, who suggested, “the dart shooter/bow and arrow thing from ‘Get Smart.’ Now THAT was a Swiss Army knife!”

What’s your favorite Swiss Army Knife story? How long have you owned your Swiss Army Knife? What tools would you add? We’d love to hear what you think!

  • Ron

    I’ve carried a SAK for over 40years. It’s one of my faverite XMas presents. When camping or just traveling I have it with me. It should of been the original “Don’t leave home without it”

  • Eric

    Clock and Bug spray…and for Fun. Paintball gun.

  • Paul Ayres

    I think it is pretty good the way it is, but it could have a AAA flash light.

  • Billy

    they have some models with a spoon on them, how about making that spoon attachment into a combination spoon and fork? i carry a Buck 110 folding hunter when im out in my tent. it can come in handy IF you need to exit your tent in a emergency situation.

  • Chetin

    I have owned and carried a SAK for 50 years. I still have my first. When we travel, there are 4 in the RV, my SwissTool, my SwissChamp, my wife’s Explorer, and our 11 year old daughter’s Camper. They all are frequently used, particularly the SwissTool which is always with me, even at formal dinners and other such occasions. In response to the “extra add-on” question; I have a military belt pouch which holds my SwissTool, a flashlight, small crescent wrench, the sockets and accessories for the SwissTool, a writing pen and what ever may strike me as necessary at the moment. I am adding things all the time. I have performed emergency surgery with that kit and have lost track of the many repairs over the decades. Semper Paratus! Great words to live by from the Boy Scouts and USCG.