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.
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.
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.
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.