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Swiss Army Knife Debate

Introduction to the Debate:
On November 1, 2007, Nath Richards of posted an article on his site entitled, The Swiss Army Knife: Just Another Travel Rip-Off, which provoked an entire mob of ardent travelers and knife fanatics to take up arms and stake out their positions on the real usefullness of the Swiss Army Knife. Many travelers and 100,000 knife enthusists bore their attack down upon Mr. Richards and claimed with stubborn pride that the Swiss Army Knife is among the greatest inventions since the wheel, while many other travelers were provoked into rethinking the pedestal upon which the multi-tool traditionally sits and took sides with On this page are the collected articles and comments from this great debate.   
* The Swiss Army Knife: Just Another Travel Rip-Off
by Nath Richards of
* The Swiss Army Knife Revisted by Wade of Vagabond
* Collected Comments by Random Commentors
* The Hobo and the Swiss Army Fairy Video
Now Presenting:'s Article- and the initiator of this great debate- 

Swiss Army Knives: Just Another Travel Rip-Off

By Ubertramp Nath Richards • Nov 1st, 2007 • Swiss Army Knives: Just Another Travel Rip-Off


Packing for an extended trip away usually starts with me chucking everything I think I will need into a large pile. Invariably this pile ends up about the size of Mt. Kota Kinabalu, and invariably at around this point I glance over to an undersized empty backpack propped up against the wall, realise all this stuff will never fit, and let out a bit of a deflated sigh. I know it’s time to get ruthless.

Now, 2 of the first items thrown in the Kinabalu pile would usually be a Leatherman tool and a Swiss army knife - and my first question would always be the same: which one do I take? I realise now the question should really have been: do I actually need to take either? And the answer – if you’re simply doing the general backpackery things that backpackers do - is a hard and fast no.

For years I would take one of these money wasters yet use nothing on it apart from the knife. For years, I tell you. But there could well be a situation where you need one of the other items, surely? No. But you will be doing things a little out of the ordinary and it could be useful. Won’t you regret not taking it then? NO!

I’m sure that these 2 questions alone have made the bosses at Swiss Army HQ very rich men indeed.

OK, I could be wrong, but consider this: a few years back even I worked for a while as an electrician in a Cambodian hotel and still didn’t use the bloody Swiss army knife! I’m serious! And if there was ever I time that I thought I would need one it would have been then. But I didn’t.

The fact of the matter is that there always seems to be something else to hand that will do the job - some other solution – or another way of solving whatever problem you thought you needed the combination tool for in the first place.

Each to their own, but I reckon you’d be better off saving the extra space and weight taken up by the combination of nail files, tweezers, bottle openers, corkscrews, screwdrivers, hooks, saws, magnifying glasses, fish scalers (?!?),hex wrenches, pliers, clocks, digital altimeters, laser pointers and MP3 players and use it instead for something that you may actually stand a chance of needing and, while we’re at it, save a whole chunk of cash in the process.

The only thing that does seem to come in handy – and is used frequently, I must say – is the standard blade. So with this being the case I put it to you: why not take just that? A little penknife for cutting/peeling fruit etc. is ideal and a must have - but bigger certainly is not better. The smaller the penknife is, the less space it’ll take up in your pocket, the less likelihood there is of it painfully digging in your crotch on a long bus journey, and the less it’s going to cost also. And if you’re as cheap as me, you can always wait to buy it at your destination to save even more cash. For instance, markets in lesser developed countries still sell penknives (presumably because they’re handy the world over) and for a half decent one they may only set you back a dollar or 2 – a fraction of the price of their equivalent back home. That alone could make a difference for those travelling on the uber-cheap - every little helps, as they say.

But even if spending a couple of extra bucks on a small knife back home doesn’t break the bank, simply choosing that over the state of the art Leatherman tool will still save you a fistful of cash. The other bonus of a cheap penknife is that if it does fall out your pocket (and I’ve lost my fair share) or it gets confiscated for some reason, then money wise you’ve lost virtually nothing.

I think I’ve said my piece already, but just for the statistics lovers among you I’ve even compiled a ‘past battle honours’ list for my trusty and so-called useful Swiss Army Knife:-

Beer bottles opened: 0

Use a lighter/edge of a wall/spine of a book/almost anything know to mankind – it’s truly amazing how creative you can get when desperate for beer. Nb. When combined with cigarettes, a lighter also doubles as a way of looking really cool. Dual purpose bonus!

Wine bottles uncorked: 0

Either use a pencil or a stick or something similar to push the cork down into the bottle or, if the cork just won’t budge, use the blunt, narrow edge of a solid implement and repeatedly run it up the neck of the bottle and across the ridge at the top (each run a little harder than the last) until it the light chinking sound turns to a crack. You can then carefully pull the top half inch of the glass away with the cork still in it - but don’t do this with your bare hands! Of course, you will now need something to drink the wine out of as, curiously, the neck of the bottle is now rather sharp - but you have Tupperware, right? ;-)

Branches cut: 0

I’ve never felt the need to cut them away from their rightful owners, but I’m sure I could find a way of detaching them if my life depended on it.

Beetles burnt (magn. glass): 0

I’m certain there must be alternative ways of doing this, but c’mon, who wants to burn a little beetle? Even if you just need to magnify something, unless it has teeth and/or highly potent day-ruining venom there’s generally the option of actually moving your head closer to it.

Nails filed: 0

Teeth, anyone?

Fish scaled: 0

Little penknife/upturned beer bottle crown tops

Splinters removed: 0

Little penknife

Pretty shapes cut out of paper: 0

Little penknife

Food prepared: 0

Little penknife

Sticks sharpened: 0

Yeah, that trusty little penknife again.

Stubborn items removed from horses hooves: 0 in 33 years and counting.

So there you have it – my reasons for not bothering with an expensive combination tool. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but I hope it goes some way to showing that if armed only with a tiny penknife and a bit of imagination you can normally find a way past many perceived obstacles. And remember, in the unlikely scenario that you can’t find a solution to the problem in hand, just ask to borrow someone else’s Swiss Army Knife – there’ll be plenty knocking around…

As ever, I speak as I find and can only base this on my own experience. You’re story may be different. Whilst on the road, have you ever needed (and I mean needed as nothing else would’ve done) a Swiss Army Knife? Has it got you out of a sticky situation as nothing else could’ve? If so, we’d love to hear your story.

Or, like me, were you one of those people who would always carry it “just in case” but only ever use it to a fraction of its potential? In fact, maybe you still carry one because you strongly believe that one day all those gadgets really will come in handy.

So, do you think the the good old Swiss Army Knife is a backpacker essential or a complete bullsh*t waste of money?

As ever, I’d love to know your thoughts…

Ubertramp is the brainchild of freelance travel writer and inveterate cheapskate Nath Richards. On occasion, he's been known to write for cash, food or friends - but never to flash for coins or publicity. If you enjoy his articles and want one for your own publication then drop him a line. Unless hungry, he's quite approachable.
Email this author 

Swiss Army Knife Revisited

. . . and a playful rebuttal to

By Wade from

I love my Swiss Army knife. It is a real one too, and has Victorinox etched into the blade and the Swiss flag stamped proudly on its handle. I paid a pretty penny for it, but I use this tool a dozen times a day, and it has not let me down yet. Never afraid of being cliche, I will state with assurance that my Swiss Army knife has every tool that I normally use daily in one package:

A good blade to cut stuff
A can opener to eat stuff
A bottle opener (no, I cannot open a beer with a phone book, Ubertramp)
A corkscrew
A usable flat-head screw driver
A saw that I have actually used on a few odd occasions
Tweezers for picking out toe gunk
A tooth pick for tooth gunk
and . . .
A punch that I am still trying to find a real use for

In all, my Swiss Army knife removes the need of having to clumsily cart around a dozen separate implements, which will just toss about, and probably get lost in, the innards of my rucksack. I asked a Swiss girl the other day how she feels about the knives of her army. She gave me an astonished look, seemingly taken aback that I would even ask such a blasphemous question, and responded very seriously and bluntly with, “They are indispensable.”

Apologies, Ubertramp, but I side with the Swiss army on this one. But I do admire your bravery for challenging the sacred ground upon which the Swiss Army knife traditionally sits for nearly every traveler on this planet. Wade from Song of the Open Road sends you a big high five for treading such an unblazed path. My only regret is that I must astutely defend one of my most trusted sidekicks- the Swiss Army Knife. (Hmm, what is Andy’s take on this? Traveling Chris, are you out there? Byron? I know you are out there; Loren? I don’t think he will waste his time reading this; Erik the Pilot? I know you carry your Swiss Army knife next to your shotgun).    

dont need a cork screw

swiss army knife

swiss army knife replaces this junk

What do you now think about the Swiss Army Knife? Do you think that it is a backpacking essential, or "just another travel rip-off?" Make your opinion known on this most sensitve travel topic!

Just copy and past the comment form below and email it to and I will publish it here!

Leave a comment on this page


Reader Comments:

Name: Rory Doolan

Rochester, New York, USA

Website Link:
Rory the sedentary office hero 


Now I am no wordly traveler mind you, but I have carried a swiss army knife every friggin day since I got out of high school and was allowed to carry it (about 7 years now).  Even though I am not often braving the wilds of the rainforest or the back alleys of a far off city, I use my knife almost daily and cant beleive that someone who doesnt have the convenience of a toolbox in the basement while traveling wouldnt appreciate having a small swis army knife... nobody says you need a huge one with magnifying glasses and laser pointers.  The philips head screwdriver is priceless and I cant tell you how many times I use my scissors as wire cutters or nail clippers.  I have used the tweezers for slivers and tics (dont know how upset I am since i lost my tweezers after getting that tick) and can opener for cans of tunafish and obviously bottle opener for all sorts of bottles...  I worked with your dad doing sheet metal for a few summers and used that damn knife for five years until it was beat to hell (I used to use the flat head screw driver as a wedge and beat the other end with anything heavy like a rock or hammer).  I love my knife and can proudly say that it saves my skin in ways that no regular pocket knife could... this coming from a guy who spends most of his time working at a desk all day (oh yeah, and those knives are great for fixing laptops on the go and cars too).  I tried a leatherman but do beleive that they are way too big for convenience and the only bennefit would be the pliers... not worth it most of the time. 
Name: Byron  James

Location: California, USA

Website Link: The Road Less Traveled

I always carry my Swiss Army knife in my backpack wherever I go, even to class. I think I have honestly used every tool on it. You never know when you may need it; opening a beer at the beach, opening a can of beans while camping, knife for cutting rope, I have even used the little scissors. It is just an extremely useful tool. I mean, why would you carry all those things seperately when they are all included in one multi-purpose tool? I can see why you might not need it if you were staying in hotels all the time, but for the backpacker or camper it is essential.

Name: Andy
Location: Traveling
Website Link:

Originally posted in Swiss Army Knife: Just Another Travel Rip-Off 

You are a dangerous man!.. hehehe This was great, honest advice is impossible to find, I found this page by following a path of Wades. Honesty will get you hurt faster, and encourages hate mail…

I have traveled for 10 years and can say, the Swiss Knife is a very bad value for the money, however would carry if they sold for 2 dollars, then dump it when I needed space in my pack.

The pen knife is not good for Pineapples, so I buy a table knife and try not to put holes in the side of my bag. Truth is, I borrow knives most of the time, everyone seems to have this need to have a knife. I did carry a sword in Thailand for protection for a while, but found a sock full or rocks is easier.

Keep up the good work, please go after the Camel Water bag, or maybe you already have, this is an the wire mesh cover for bag where they can still put their hand in and be a temptation, casual thief. Please, we need more bad guys of travel to debunk some of this travel gear crap that is worthless.
Andy of HoboTraveler.comSubmit Hotel URL

I ask people questions, do you have a swiss knife, do you carry a water bag, etc, I want to know how smart the person is, and how trendy…

Swiss Army Knife Debate
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