Survival is often associated with big fixed-blade knives and you must be wondering how a Swiss Army Knife performs in such situations.
A Swiss Army Knife, especially a 111mm or a 130mm model, is capable enough to be used as a survival knife. Of course, the skill of the user will matter a lot. In the hands of a capable survival expert, a Swiss Army Knife can be the ultimate tool that excels at doing almost everything required for survival.
In case you don’t believe this, there is proof!
Felix Immler, who works as a pocket knife educator for Victorinox, spent three months in the woods where he built a campsite. Everything he made there was built from what is available from the surroundings. And more importantly, the only tool he used is a Swiss Army Knife (more on this later).
Necessary Tasks in a Survival Situation
Before we dig deep into how suitable a Swiss Army Knife can be for survival, let’s first have a look at what kinds of things you would be doing if ever you find yourself in such a situation.
Note that survival can mean a lot of things, and no one tool can do everything. But we will look at the most basic requirements that you are most likely to encounter while surviving in the woods.
Sawing/Cutting Wood – The most common tasks are:
- Cutting rope or twine
- Cutting fruits and vegetables
- Sawing/Cutting small trees or branches to build shelter
- Cleaning fish or game for cooking
- Build a trap for small animals
- Build a bow and arrow, or a spear for hunting
Starting Fire – Common tasks include:
- Cutting and collecting firewood, including scraping or shaving bark of dead trees and branches to be used as tinder
- Scraping or striking a Ferro rod to start a fire
- Make a bow drill friction fire kit
Swiss Army Knife as a Survival Tool
A blade is the most important tool in a survival situation. The blade that comes with the Swiss Army Knife performs superbly in most cutting tasks.
Is it the hardest steel in a pocket knife? Of course not. But as a utility knife blade, you will be hard-pressed to find something better in terms of quality and price.
The steel retains its edge for a decent amount of time and can be sharpened quite easily.
And if you go for one of those bigger models of SAKs, you not only get a bigger blade but also a lockable one!
You can read more about the steel that Victorinox uses in Swiss Army Knives in this post.
While a blade is the most important tool in a survival situation, other tools, especially a wood saw and the awl that you will find in many Swiss Army Knife models are remarkably useful.
Yes, it won’t be easy and fast to saw off a tree or a strong branch with the SAK saw. But it is doable. The little saw found in the 91mm SAK models has been successfully used by many to gather timber to build a shelter.
Things become a lot easier and faster if you have the saw of a larger SAK model.
The wood saw in the 111mm SAKs is much longer and more effective. The 111mm SAK also has a much more comfortable grip.
Want something even better? Get a 130mm SAK with a wood saw. This is the best Swiss Army Knife you can get that serves as a survival tool.
The saw on a 91mm SAK is 73mm long. The saw on a 111mm SAK is 89mm long, and that on the 130mm SAK is 100mm long. The longer the saw, the faster it cuts.
Another important task that the saw can do is act as a Ferro rod striker.
Practically anything that is harder than a Ferro rod and has a sharp edge can be used as a striker. Yes, you can use even a sharp piece of stone to strike the Ferro rod. But using the back side of the saw as a striker makes it very convenient to start a fire, and you will feel much more in control of the whole process.
While using the spine of the wood saw as a striker, hold the saw firmly with your fingers. The SAK saw is not a locking tool and has a tendency to fold and close.
Some Swiss Army Knife has two blades (most 91mm SAKs). If you want, you can use the smaller blade as a Ferro rod striker. The reamer can also be used to do the same.
Besides these, don’t forget the other tools that are found in almost all SAKs, viz. the awl, the tweezers, the bottle and can openers.
Some SAKs with plus scales have a stainless steel pin. The pin can be magnetized (if you have the means to do it) and used as a makeshift compass.
These can come in handy in many situations while you are living in the woods. These are some extras you won’t find in any other pocket knife.
How Felix Immler build a Campsite with a Swiss Army Knife
Felix Immler used a Swiss Army Knife to build a campsite. Over a period of 3 months, he built a bed, a table with chairs, a ladder, and even a cooking area at his campsite. He considers a SAK to be one of the ultimate survival knives.
In my opinion, your survival knife has to be in your EDC. With a Swiss Army knife as an EDC, I have everything I need.Felix Immler
Of course, this guy is an expert in bushcraft and in woodwork, but if you can gain even some of the skills he has, you probably wouldn’t find a better knife than a SAK to handle such situations. After all, the tools need to match the skill of the user.
Check out Felix Immler’s book on Amazon where he has documented his experiences of building the campsite with a Swiss Army Knife – The Swiss Army Knife Book: 63 Outdoor Projects.
The Best Swiss Army Knife models for Survival
By now, you must have gotten an idea of what kind of Swiss Army Knife can be ideal for a survival situation. The absolute minimum you should look for is a 91mm model or larger, that has a wood saw. A reamer is also a desirable tool in a survival SAK.
Avoid models that are too thick and have a lot of tools. Those are difficult to grip properly which will reduce the effectiveness of the tools. You need something that is easy to hold and work with for long periods of time.
Here are the best three SAK models for survival, based on utility and popularity.
The Victorinox Camper is the thinnest and smallest Swiss Army Knife that has all the attributes of a survival knife. It is a 91mm SAK that has a wood saw! Plus, it is small and light enough to be carried comfortably in your pocket.
The reason for recommending the Victorinox Camper is that it is the most popular model for boy scouts, and, you guessed it, for occasional campers.
The cover of Felix Immler’s book “The Swiss Army Knife Book: 63 Outdoor Projects” features the Victorinox Camper.
Here is the Amazon link for Victorinox Camper if you want to get it for yourself. If you want a similar model but with a Philips screwdriver, the Victorinox Hiker (Amazon link) is the one you are looking for.
The primary reason why the Victorinox Soldier is held in high regard by many is the fact that the Switzerland army uses this model as a standard issue. Being a 111mm SAK with just three layers, it is one of the thinnest and grippiest SAKs around.
The blade in the Soldier can be opened one-handed, and also it is thicker and stronger than that in a 91mm SAK. But what makes the Soldier a very effective survival tool is the long wood saw.
I got the Victorinox Soldier quite cheap from this Amazon listing.
Victorinox Ranger Grip 79
Want something bigger than the Victorinox Soldier? The Ranger Grip series provides the ultimate in terms of size and strength in a Swiss Army Knife. One model that is specifically suitable to be used as a survival knife is the Victorinox Ranger Grip 79.
It is a 130mm SAK and has the largest blade and wood saw you will ever find in a Swiss Army Knife. This is the model that Felix Immler favors as a survival knife and has used to build his campsite. I haven’t got it for myself yet, as I always find it out-of-stock on Amazon.
One good alternative to the Ranger Grip 79 could be the Ranger Grip 78 (Amazon link), which replaces the corkscrew with a Philips Screwdriver.
Apart from the above three, there are many other models of SAKs which might have just the right combination of tools you are looking for. You can get a curated list in this post where I have discussed some suitable SAK models for the outdoors.
What to Avoid Doing With a Swiss Army Knife
Don’t use a SAK as a Weapon: If you are thinking of using a Swiss Army Knife to fend off wild animals in the woods, think again. SAKs are not specifically designed to be used as weapons. While it is difficult to use a SAK as a weapon (more info here), you will have a better chance if you go for those bigger models with a locking blade. That might give you a fighting chance.
Don’t use a SAK for Batoning: A Swiss Army Knife is not strong enough for batoning. If you want to split wood it’s much better to create a wedge for batoning than to damage your SAK.
How to Better Equip a Swiss Army Knife for Survival
Want to make your Swiss Army Knife a complete fire-starting kit? You can do it by adding a little extra to your SAK. Victorinox Mini Tool FireAnt Set is the thing you need.
You can get it from this Amazon listing. The following video from Victorinox clearly explains how it works.
The set consists of very small fire steel and tinders that can be attached to the corkscrew of your Swiss Army Knife.
Victorinox claims you can start 100 fires with one FireAnt. Felix Immler did some tests and found it to be true! (Check here)
by the way, if you want to know more applications of the corkscrew in SAK, I have written a complete post on it.
What if your Swiss Army Knife does not have a corkscrew?
Well, then you have another option, but it’s not from Victorinox. This is known as Firefly, and it’s actually a small piece of fire steel that replaces the toothpick in your Swiss Army Knife. You can get a pack of eight here on Amazon.
There are many examples where people have used a Swiss Army Knife to get things done, especially in the outdoors in a survival situation.
What gives a SAK an edge over other bigger survival knives is the extra tools that you get along with the blade, especially the wood saw and the reamer/awl. However, given an option, a larger Swiss Army Knife (111mm and 130 mm model) is better suited as a survival knife than a 91mm model.
Most survivalists will like to carry a SAK as a secondary knife to a fixed-blade primary knife. But emergencies aren’t planned in advance. What if you find yourself in a survival situation with only one knife with you?
Unless you are trying to fend off a bear alone in the woods (not recommended), a SAK can probably do much more than a single-blade knife in a survival situation.