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Review: Victorinox Pioneer (slightly pic heavy)

Discussion in 'Gear Reviews' started by sungame, Dec 4, 2012.

  1. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    OK, so I guess at least the knife geeks among you know the good old Victorinox Pioneer as the backs of your knife scarred hands. However, imagine for a minute that you didn't. Imagine that you'd never seen, or even heard of this little piece of steel and aluminium before. Hey, if it rocks your boat, you can even cast your mind back to 1961 or thereabout.

    In this review, I will treat the venerable Pioneer as I would any new and unknown model from a tried and trusted brand. 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”.

    [​IMG]
    pioneerNETT by thesungame, on Flickr

    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 a SAK, and I couldn't wait til I was allowed my own.

    On my 12th or 13th birthday I finally got my first own SAK. I believe it must have been a Camper, at least I remember the inlaid “Camping” logo. Sadly, I never really liked it all that much. 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 to heavy and bulky for EDC.

    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 actually EDCed it 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 last decade, I have hardly ever carried a SAK, and, to be frank, I had finally decided they were not for me.

    Then, two things happened. I stumbled across this forum, and 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 SAK 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 than the puny ones in the keychain Leathermen. However, I wanted more tools. Surfing the forum, 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. Thanks to forum member Vesp, I got a great deal on one, and have EDCed it for two weeks now. This is how it works for me.

    Design
    Even though most people may think of a SAK 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.

    [​IMG]
    darkSAKNETT by thesungame, on Flickr

    The Pioneer features two 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.

    [​IMG]
    SAKinnhold by thesungame, on Flickr

    From top: Old Solo Alox, Pioneer, Rucksack. You can clearly see how the blade of the Pioneer bends towards the middle of the knife.

    In order to fit the blade and awl into one layer, the blade has been bent towards the middle 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.

    Handle
    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.

    Blade
    The blade of the Pioneer is 6,5 cm long. That makes it about the same length as that of 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 like 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.

    Performance
    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 as well. 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 isn't. However, as long as it is this sharp, you can safely use it for anything but the hardest wood.

    The small 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.

    Conclusion
    All in all, the Pioneer is a great EDC knife. Of course, it isn't perfect. Like all multi tools, 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 EDC SAK out there today. At least for yours truly.

    A long story short

    Pros:
    • Relatively slim and lightweight
    • Great blade shape for all-round every day use
    • 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
    • Contains both large and small flathead drivers + "Philips driver".
    • Super sharp awl
    • Strong slipjoint action
    Cons:
    • 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
    • The Philips driver solution is not the best.
    Conclusion: A good compromise and perhaps the best EDC SAK out there today.

    [​IMG]
    freemasonSAK by thesungame, on Flickr

    No, this is not the logo of the Swiss Free Masons, but a combination of two very different approaches to the multi tool concept. While the Swiss Tool might be more useful for the soldiers of today, the Pioneer is a much more realistic EDC tool for the rest of us.
     
  2. SurvivePenna
    • GITD Manix 2XL Owner
    • In Omnia Paratus

    SurvivePenna EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    Outstanding review !!! :) Period.
     
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  3. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    Thank you very much! I am glad there's someone out there who finds my long ramblings enjoyable. :)
     
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  4. hisshy0

    hisshy0 Empty Pockets

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    Thanks, that was a great review. I had just started looking at one of these recently. This was certainly helpful.
     
  5. JGP

    JGP Loaded Pockets

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    Great review! I already have the Alox Pox, with a Farmer being my next purchase. After that will be a Pioneer in honor of your review.
     
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  6. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    I believe you won't be disappointed!
     
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  7. mole

    mole EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    i´m not yet infected with alox pox, but very close. you make resisting a impossible task....almost *sigh*:rolleyes:
     
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  8. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    RESISTANCE IS FUTILE (now where is that *borg* smiley when I need it)!
     
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  9. mole

    mole EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    picard knew better:cool:

    but you could convince me, if you send me my personal 7of9

    [​IMG]
     
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  10. Vesp
    • In Omnia Paratus

    Vesp Loaded Pockets

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    Great review sungame! Glad you liked that much. :)
    You are right about the 3rd layer. My scissor modded Pioneer gets just a little too thick and heavy to carry comortable every day.
    The Farmer is just a tad slimmer and lighter than the modded Pioneer, but is as big as I would go for EDC.
    For me it would be Pioneer for every day. Farmer when I go on a small hike. Cadet when I have to dress up, and Electrician when I go for work..
    But If I had to choose one, the Pioneer would be the best overall. :)
     
  11. lnytunes

    lnytunes Loaded Pockets

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    Nice review of a knife I EDC. ;) My only criticism would be about the one con you called out about the blade being off center, it doesn't bother me at all. I think they did that purposely so they could fit the awl without having to make it a thicker unit. As you said it's a compromise.
     
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  12. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    Good to know! Seems like I made the right choice, then!

    I believe you are right about the blade being bent on purpose in order to fit the awl in the same layer. I think I mentioned that in the full text above. It seems to have absolutely no practical consequences, and doesn't really bother me all that much. However, to me, there is still something "wrong" about a bent blade, and I cannot help thinking that I would rather trade the awl for a straight blade.
     
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  13. znapschatz

    znapschatz Loaded Pockets

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    It's called "crinking," a common knife making practice to efficiently accommodate multiple blades. It doesn't bother me enough to even think of giving up an awl, which I consider a multi-tool essential. Even though it is not my most used implement, having one available is a serious enough consideration for me that I almost passed on a Leatherman Charge until I lucked into a decent awl mod that fit into the pocket/lanyard clip slot. Apparently, my preference is not shared by most customers or Leatherman would not have omitted it on their flagship m-t, but I notice they include good ones on their "heavy duty" models that tradesmen prefer. That makes sense.
     
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  14. xbanker
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    xbanker Geriatric Admin
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    Superb review with great photos (as usual). And I always enjoy the personal experiences you weave into your reviews. [​IMG]
     
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  15. xbanker
    • Administrator

    xbanker Geriatric Admin
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    It's not everyday that I encounter a never-before-seen term in the knife universe (far from expert, but thought I'd seen it all) ... but you've managed to broaden my horizons ... thanks! :)
     
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  16. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    Ah, thanks for the info! I guessed it was rather common in SAKs, but had never seen it before. I believe Victorinox doesn't use this method on their thicker, bigger, multi-layer models. Anyway, as stated in the review, I've been out of the entire SAK game for years, so I probably wouldn't know.

    It doesn't really bother me all that much, I just think it looks strange.

    When it comes to full size multi-tools, I actually share your preference. In fact, the great locking awl is the fourth most frequently used item on my Swiss Tool, after the knives, pliers and screw drivers*. I use it whenever I build or repair something at home, or hang pictures, for example. In these situations, I usually have my battery drill and bit kit close at hand, but I don't always lug around the entire tool box. When I find myself suddenly needing an awl, it is way easier to reach for the Swiss Tool on my belt than to go up in the attic for the awl in my tool box.

    However, in my day to day life, I rarely need an awl. Also, when I need one, I want one that I can trust not to fold on me. All in all, I agree that Leatherman's approach makes sense. A sturdy, locking awl is a must on a heavy duty or even all-round multi-tool, but IMHO, a non-locking one is just a waste of space on a slim, lightweight EDC tool.

    *It might not be entirely fair to count two blades and a plethora of screw drivers as two tools...
     
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  17. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    Thanks! I finally went ahead and bought myself a new camera:D!

    Great! When I write these reviews, I am always afraid that I am straying to far from the core of the matter, and worry that I will bore you all to death with my little stories. It is good to know that at least some of you actually enjoy them!
     
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  18. znapschatz

    znapschatz Loaded Pockets

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    Include me in as one of your story fans. I definitely enjoy them! Next to the useful information we (sometimes ;) ) get from these and other posts, one of the main reasons I continue subscribing is for the anecdotes and personal experiences of members. Aside from the entertainment value, much can be learned from them (although there is nothing wrong with entertainment :D ).
     
  19. Lone Airedale

    Lone Airedale Loaded Pockets

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    Great review! I have the damascus version and love it.
     
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  20. Buzzbait

    Buzzbait Loaded Pockets

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    Great review.

    After years on knife collecting, all of my high dollar knives mostly just sit in a box now. The Striders, Sebenzas, Spydercos and Doziers, have all taken a back seat. My carry for last couple years is an old used red Pioneer I won on eBay. It's one of the old brass liner versions. It's beautifully scuffed and pocket worn, but the tools all still look like new. The steel isn't quite as stainless as the newer Pioneers, but the blade holds a much better edge.

    I carried a Farmer for a few years before the Pioneer, but the saw didn't get used enough to justify the extra thickness.

    I guess I've come full circle. My first knife as a kid was a scout pattern slip joint. I'm now back to a knife with the same exact set of tools. :)

    Some people hate on SAKs because of the steel. It holds a good enough edge for me. And I don't even need a special sharpener to maintain it. And old belt with some a stropping paste, or a rough cardboard box, seems to be enough to give it a good edge. A piece of wet dry paper may be needed after a hard day.

    Other people hate on the lack of a blade lock. Maybe it's because I grew up with a slipjoint in my pocket, but I just don't feel the need for a lock. A little common sense and patience seems to be more effective at preventing finger cuts.

    --
    'Buzz

    [​IMG]
     
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