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.
Little penknife/upturned beer bottle crown tops
Splinters removed: 0
Pretty shapes cut out of paper: 0
Food prepared: 0
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…