I always wanted to have a Swiss Army Knife like the Victorinox Explorer. Even though I have many SAKs, I longed for the Explorer just because of how unique it is.
The Explorer is a 91mm SAK that looks and feels like the younger brother of the highly popular Victorinox Swiss Champ, with all the necessary tools minus the extra bulk. Does it fulfill all my needs? YES, it does, but with a caveat.
The Victorinox Explorer has the potential to be the perfect EDC Swiss Army Knife for many. It manages to pack all the tools essential in an urban environment without adding much bulk.
However, the lack of a wood saw kind of makes the Explorer a bit unsuitable for outdoor activities like scouting, camping, and bushcraft.
If you need a quick conclusion of my findings, here are my likes and dislikes.
- The Magnifying Glass
- The in-line Philips Screwdriver
- The Pocketable Form Factor (almost)
- I miss a Wood Saw (the only thing that is preventing it from being my all-time favourite)
Before I explain further, let’s first have a look at what tools the Victorinox Explorer has to offer.
Tools in the Victorinox Explorer
The Explorer has all the standard tools you can find in any Swiss Army Knife. Plus it adds two very interesting tools, a magnifying glass, and an in-line Philips screwdriver, both very rare tools found only in a select few SAK models. Here is the list of all the tools in the Explorer.
- Two Blades, Large and Small
- Flathead Screwdrivers, 3mm and 6mm
- In-line Philips Screwdriver
- Multipurpose Hook
- Magnifying Glass
- Wire Stripper
The Explorer is a 4-layer SAK. As you can see, apart from the two unique tools, it doesn’t have anything that you won’t find in any other entry-level SAK. And of course, it has scissors, a must-have for me in any EDC.
The regular tools in the Victorinox Explorer cover the basics. I don’t have anything new to say about them, except that all of them work as well as in any other Swiss Army Knife.
But where the Explorer surpasses other similar SAKs is with the addition of those two unique tools.
I love the Magnifying Glass
I won’t lie. The first thing that attracted me to the Explorer is the magnifying glass. Before I got the Explorer, I had at least seven other SAKs, but none had a magnifying glass.
As far as I know, apart from the Explorer, only 2 other SAKs in Victorinox’s current catalog have the magnifying glass – the Swiss Champ, and the Cyber Tool Lite. But both of these were too bulky for me for pocket carry.
I hadn’t used such a tiny magnifying glass before, so was a bit skeptical about it initially. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it performs in magnifying small objects.
The magnifying glass in the Swiss Army knife has a plastic frame with a glass lens having 6x magnification.
Here are two interesting applications of the SAK magnifying glass.
Reading Very Fine Prints
Have you noticed that prints and labels on electronics are getting smaller by the day? Or maybe my eyes are getting worse (showing my age).
Here is an example. It is very difficult to read the voltage and current rating of my phone charger with the naked eye. It’s almost next to impossible. But the SAK magnifying glass makes it easy!
I can give plenty of other examples of close-up work, like reading ingredient labels at the grocery store, observing finer works on crafts, etc.
I guess, the older I get, the more I will need to use the magnifying glass.
Macro Photography With Phone Camera
My smartphone doesn’t have a macro lens. But I could get some pretty decent macro shots by using the magnifier in front of the lens.
The small magnifying glass in the Explorer is big enough to cover the camera lens of any smartphone. Just hold the magnifying glass very steady in front of the camera lens.
Macro photography with a magnifier is a well-known photography trick. The only requirement is that the magnifier should cover the camera lens.
This way you will be able to bring the camera much closer to the object and focus on it, allowing full resolutions photos with a shallow depth of field.
Following are some macro shots with my macro setup. I have compressed the images for upload and hence lost some details, but the images are still very much usable.
Macro photography is fun. The fact that the magnifier allows you to be creative with an average smartphone camera is itself a USP of the Victorinox Explorer.
Starting a Fire with the Magnifying Glass
Is it possible? Yes; but is it practical? Not at all!
While many people have been successful in starting a fire with the magnifying glass in a Swiss Army Knife, all of them have said not to depend on it.
You need very ideal weather conditions – a sunny day with a clear sky, and a very good tinder. Of course, you also need a lot of patience and a bit of luck. You will find a lot of videos on YouTube on this. Here is a good one.
I could never start a fire with the magnifying glass. Maybe I haven’t tried enough times. The few times I tried, I only succeeded in burning some holes in dry leaves with wisps of smoke. If I manage to start a fire someday, I will update this post.
A more reliable and much better way to start a fire is to carry a Ferro rod with you or equip your Swiss Army Knife with the Victorinox Mini Tool FireAnt Set, as explained in this post.
Another option is to use the SAK to make a bow drill fire kit. Once you have your bow drill kit, starting a fire will be much easier than using the magnifying glass.
The In-Line Philips Screwdriver
I have always considered a Philips screwdriver as one of the must-have tools in my EDC SAK. Many SAK models have a Philips screwdriver on the back side. But the in-line Philips screwdriver in the Explorer works much better.
You can hold the in-line Philips screwdriver with a much more comfortable grip than that of the back-side one. It feels much more natural, similar to how would use a regular screwdriver.
Also, the way you hold the back-side Philips reduces the length of the tool, making it difficult to reach tight spots. No such issues with the in-line one.
The slip joint spring on the in-line Philips is also much stronger than that on the back-side Philips. As such, it is less likely to fold on you while using it than the back-side one.
In addition, the in-line Philips has a 90-degree detent position.
So you can change your grip accordingly while working on screws at various angles.
Form Factor and Ease Of Carrying
The Victorinox Explorer is a 4-layer SAK. I have always considered a 3-layer SAK to be the biggest I would carry in my pocket. Anything bigger has to go inside my bag, or in a sheath on my belt.
But surprisingly, I found the width of the Explorer quite manageable. At first, it may feel a little bulky, especially if you are accustomed to carrying thinner 2-layer or 3-layer SAKs. But the brain quickly accommodates the slight increase in the bulk, and you will forget about it.
The Victorinox Super Tinker is the one that I have carried most in my pocket. It is a 3-layer SAK and my main reason for using it are the scissors and the Philips screwdriver.
The Explorer adds one more layer and two additional tools to the toolset of the Super Tinker.
I have mostly favored a Philips screwdriver over a corkscrew, but nothing better than having both in the same SAK! As compared to the Super Tinker, I get a better Philips screwdriver, a super useful magnifying glass, and a corkscrew in the Victorinox Explorer.
Considering how useful these extra functionalities are, I am mostly happy to accommodate the slight increase in bulk.
One of my favorite SAKs, the Swiss Champ (reviewed here), has many more functions than the Explorer.
But it also has some tools that I seldom use, and the width and bulk of the Swiss Champ are just a little bit more than my comfort level for pocket carry.
Is There a Victorinox Explorer Plus?
There used to be a variant of the Explorer with the plus scales, the Explorer Plus. It had two additional scale tools – the pressurized ballpoint pen and the stainless steel pin. Unfortunately, Victorinox discontinued this model.
With the plus tools, the Explorer can be a much more compelling option for EDC. I guess Victorinox didn’t want the Explorer Plus to adversely impact the sale of their other popular SAKs, notably the Compact (reviewed here) and the Swiss Champ (reviewed here). Hence they decided to discontinue the plus variant of the Explorer.
You can, of course, modify your Explorer to an Explorer Plus. There are aftermarket plus scales available. The ballpoint pen and the stainless steel pin can also be purchased separately. Also, if you already have the Compact or the Swiss Champ, you can swap the scales with your Explorer and add the plus tools.
What I miss In the Victorinox Explorer
While I can add the plus scale and the plus tools in the Victorinox Explorer, I cannot add a wood saw. The addition of this one tool would have made the Explorer a perfect EDC pocket knife.
The lack of a wood saw is also the reason why SAK enthusiasts do not recommend the Explorer for outdoor activities.
Outdoor activities like camping, hiking, trekking, etc. are mostly associated with some form of bushcraft or working with wood and timber. A wood saw is a necessary tool in such situations.
I have always favored bigger SAKs for the outdoors, especially in the woods. While some smaller SAKs can also do a decent job for light to medium-duty tasks, a wood saw is almost always a must-have tool. Sadly, the addition of a wood saw will add another layer thereby making the Explorer less comfortable for pocket carry.
Also, sacrificing one or more existing tools to accommodate the wood saw will change the very nature of the SAK, i.e. it won’t be an Explorer anymore. The closest such SAK model is the Victorinox Huntsman, which loses the magnifying glass and the in-line Philips and adds the wood saw.
If interested, you can have a look at this Amazon listing for the Huntsman.
Alternatives to the Victorinox Explorer
There aren’t any other close alternative that provides a similar toolset as the Victorinox Explorer, except the Swiss Champ, which has everything the explorer has and more.
I have written a complete review of the Swiss Champ where I have detailed my experiences of using it along with its strengths and weaknesses.
If you want something similar in terms of the form factor of the Explorer, the closest I can think of is the Super Tinker (Amazon link). It is also considerably cheaper.
On the other hand, the Victorinox Compact (Amazon link) is the slimmest SAK you can have without compromising much functionality. In fact, I have written about all these SAKs in this post. Take your pick!
Who Should buy The Explorer?
You should buy the Victorinox Explorer if you want the ultimate Urban EDC SAK that is comfortable to carry in your pocket. A perfect 5-star rating on Amazon is a testament to its popularity. You cannot get a better 4-layer SAK than this, especially for office, home office, or traveling for work.
Are you one of those who cannot decide between a corkscrew and a Philips screwdriver? Then the Explorer is the SAK you are looking for.
Do you absolutely need a magnifying glass in your pocket? Explorer is the slimmest SAK that offers this.
You should avoid the Explorer if you primarily want a Swiss Army Knife for outdoor activities. Have a look at these posts for those purposes:
The toolset of the Victorinox Explorer ticks the most boxes for most people. If you rarely go out into the woods, you probably won’t need anything more than what the Explorer offers.
The Super Tinker has been my primary EDC SAK for a long time, till I got the Explorer. Now I keep on switching between the two, mostly depending on my mood for the day.
It’s mostly about what tools I use more and how many layers I am comfortable carrying. But I must say, the Explorer has been more fun.
The perfect Urban EDC Swiss Army Knife that money can buy!