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In 1897 Karl Elsener created the Original Swiss Army knife in the small village of Ibach, Switzerland.  Ever since then, two things have remained true of Swiss Army knives: they’re red and they contain multiple blades.  The Pioneer is no exception to these rules, but it’s different than any other knife I’ve seen bearing the familiar silver cross — and it’s the only Swiss Army pattern I’ve ever carried daily. 

Even so, I haven’t carried a Swiss Army knife since I was a Boy Scout.  But this last week I was reunited with a childhood friend.  Read on past the jump for the rest of the story.

Unlike most Swiss Army knives which cram an absurd number of blades between the handle and liners, the Pioneer sports only four blades.  Some blades serve multiple purposes, which yields a total of 7 tools:

  • a drop point large blade
  • a reamer
  • a can opener
  • a small screwdriver
  • a bottle opener
  • a large screwdriver
  • and a wire stripper

Thus it’s significantly thinner than most Swiss Army fare, disappearing in jeans pockets — instead of announcing “I’m happy to see you!”  Its handle is made of studded (read: textured) metal, which gives it a solid, heavy feel.  Steel liners and steel pins hold the knife together in a very attractive and ergonomic package.

I had one of these knives when I was a in Scouts and loved it.  But being the kid I was, I managed to lose it somewhere between childhood and knife-collecting-adulthood.  When I searched for one a few years ago, I was crestfallen to learn that Victorinox had stopped producing them.  As a replacement, Victorinox slid its sister knife the “Soldier” into the gap.

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While the Soldier (pictured) is made of exactly the same material and follows the same blade pattern, the Soldier is missing one key feature in the eyes of a traditionalist like me: it’s not red.  It’s silver.  Laugh if you want, but in my mind, Swiss Army knives are red and that’s just how the world works.  So my choices were limited to either finding one of the older red ones or sucking it up and buying a Soldier.

I did neither, of course.

But when I heard that Victorinox had brought the red Pioneer back, I had to have one.

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As you can see in the picture of my new Pioneer above, it’s the appropriate shade of Swiss rouge.  You can visually separate the new-release model from older ones; the new ones feature an engraving plate on the back of the knife, and they include the late-model shield/ cross logo on the front handle instead of the old-school plain cross.

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I’ve been carying it for a few days now, and it’s just as useful and practical as I remembered.  The blades are sized for common use, and it’s just heavy enough that you can feel it in your pocket without a bulge.  When I get a chance I’m going to attach a short lanyard to it, which makes it easier to grab from a pocket with gloved hands.  In short: I love it.

The red Pioneer is a bit hard to find, but if you persevere you can have it instead of the silver substitute.  Of course, if color isn’t important, you can pick up a soldier version at almost any knife shop for around $25.  But red or silver, the model 53960 is a solid knife well worth carrying. 

Pioneer Model 53960 [Victorinox]
Street Pricing [Google Product Search]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]

 

15 Responses to My Sweet New Swiss Army Pioneer

  1. jgb says:

    I may have to pick one of those up. Still have the Victorinox I carried since cubs scouts, and currently carry a small Wenger with the money clip on the back. Can’t really recall ever not carrying some type of Swiss Army knife on a daily basis.

  2. fondomatic says:

    Some Swiss Army Knives have a philips screwdriver, that has a slit thru it; can anyone identify the purpose of this slit?

  3. Chris Byrne says:

    Yeah its for twisting or shearing wire.

  4. Old Donn says:

    Got that very one in my pocket as I type. Had it so long the red’s wearing off. I’ve gone thru 3 of them in the past 35-40 years. And they are hard to find. On line’s about the only way any more.

  5. Michael W. says:

    Buy a Soldier and powder coat the handle red?

  6. Uncle Flea says:

    I have a Soldier that has been on several backpacking/fly fishing trips and has gutted many a trout without fail. BTW, the silver handle still looks great after 15+ years..

  7. nx99 says:

    Twenty years ago next month, I found a red one at Lake Texana State Park. I was 14 then and have carried it nearly every day since.

  8. jay s says:

    I have a red soldier that I picked up in switzerland about 15 years ago. The red is definately wearing, but still a very solid knife.

    For work tho, I carry a USB swiss knife or a swiss card. The usb knife has a light, a pen, scissors, small blade and the flash drive (for the documents i need).

    The swiss card is nice too, and is so flat, i can put it in pocket of my suit without any problems.

  9. porkchop says:

    The slit in the phillips screwdriver is for opening food tins.

    Back in the dark ages before the pop top can, SPAM and other meat products were opened with a little key that you used to wind up the metal strip sealing the tin.

  10. ambush27 says:

    I carry a similar knife that I don’t think they make anymore called the driver, the only differences are that the red part of the handle is plastic and contains a toothpick and tweezers and the reamer is replaced with a small knife.

  11. Kurt Schwind says:

    I have a ‘cyber’ version of the Swiss army. I’ve carried since it was given to me as a gift and it comes in handy. It’s not red, it’s just useful as all get out.

    Hard to beat a good pocket knife.

  12. Keith says:

    I know I’m late commenting, but couldn’t get to it earlier. I’ve carried a Victorinox Super Tinker for about 17 years now, and have to say that it is often the first tool I reach for to work on something. I used to carry other “pocket” knives, but would always end up bending/breaking blades trying to use them as prying tools or screwdrivers, so I figured it was about time to get a tool better designed for the type of uses I put it to. As for being big, the Super Tinker is a bit wide, but I like having scissors (the standard Tinker is a bit more slender, but no scissors). All of the tinker series (Tinker, Super Tinker, and Deluxe Tinker) come with the phillips screw driver, which I find much more useful than the more typical cork screw (as a southpaw, I find the cork screws on pocket knives about as useful as mammary glands on a chicken). If you’re really into swiss army knives, check out the Secret Order of Swiss Army Knives (SOSAK) @ http://www.sosakonline.com .
    P.S. I’m going to have to try out a lanyard; haven’t had one up to now, but it looks useful.

  13. william larsen says:

    the buck knife is a drop point.the swiss army knife is not.it has a spear point.look at them together there is a difference.like your sight.bill

  14. Harv says:

    I am a big fan of the Soldier and have collected several models from 1974 to the last stamped production models issued to the Swiss Military (2008). They are all the silver color. In fact, The original one that Elsner created (1891 Model) had wood scales. This was the original model actually issued to Swiss troops. The next model (1908) had an early version of plastic scales but they were more brown than red. This is the model that U.S. troops bought while stationed in Europe during/after WWII and made famous in the U.S. The next model was the 1951 which just changes the can opener (I think). The following model (1961) introduced the silver alox (aluminumm) scales and is the model you are referring to. It was issued until 2008 when the Swiss Army finally went to a larger locking blade knife (still made by Victorinox) patterned after the knife already issued to German Army soldiers.
    Even though the red plastic handles are typically the hallmark of a swiss army knife (even the knockoffs) to my knowledge, the Swiss Army has never issued a red handled knife to it’s soldiers.

  15. Echo63 says:

    That “old style” one in the pic (with the small sheepsfoot blade) is an “electrician” model.
    The curveed bit in the small blade is a wire stripper (works better on big thick wire than thin stuff)
    I found a store selling their last few off really cheap, and grabbed all I could, one has lived in my pocket every day for years

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