Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Tiny and portable, well made.
Cons: Not suitable for heavy usage.
Best Uses: The best knife for the reluctant knife owner.
Our lead test editor was raised in a practical, outdoors-oriented family. One of his earliest "rite of passage" memories was the gift of his very own Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife. In years of usage and testing, now compared against the best-of-the-best with OutdoorGearLab, this tiny, multi-purpose pocket knife has earned his Top Pick billing. The Classic is indeed a classic. Even as compared to much larger and much more expensive knives, it fares very well. It is nearly the smallest in our test, but only one knife has more features. The features present on the Classic are each very useful and functional, despite their tiny stature. If you are looking for a knife to virtually disappear on your keychain, but roar to functional life whenever you need to tackle some light-duty task (this could describe a significant portion of the world's citizens…), look no further than the Victorinox Classic. If you are looking for more and beefier features, check out the related, but much larger, Victorinox SwissChamp Swiss Army Knife. If you anticipate needing a burly, long-lasting blade for heavy usage, check out Editors' Choice winner Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585.
To compare to other knives that we tested, reference our Best Pocket Knife Review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife is a tiny, multi-purpose, well-made piece of equipment. If you hardly have room in your pocket or purse for more than a car key and a house key, the Classic should slide in there virtually unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, until you need it. Despite the toy-like stature, this little tool packs in function and quality at a very affordable price.
Blade and Edge Integrity
Just as with the Victorinox SwissChamp Swiss Army Knife, the manufacturer brings a long history of well-made blades to the table. The blade isn't suitable for extended cutting or rugged tasks, but for most household and office tasks it is more than adequate. Upon initial deployment the blade seems really flimsy. However, in years and years of usage, our testing team has yet to see any failures. The Swiss Army is well known for two things: Swiss men between ages of 19 and 34 are required to be trained and equipped to defend their neutral country, and the government commissions the construction of official Swiss Army knives from two domestic manufacturers. Victorinox is one of those manufacturers. Both manufacturers are required to mark near the base of the main blades of the official knives. The Classic SD model is labeled there with the simple designation "Victorinox Swiss Made Stainless." This understated description of the blade material belies its sophisticated and reliable construction. The steel is a proprietary blend, but works very well. It holds an edge consistently and sharpens easily.
The Classic SD knife is designed to optimize compactness and versatility. As such, it is not the most ergonomic knife in our test. You won't spend hours cutting with the Classic. You won't choose to saw through thick ropes or dress wild game. However, all tools are easily deployed and can be operated to their intended capacity. Each of the three main tools (blade, file/screwdriver, and scissors) is equipped with a simple fingernail cutout and pulls out smoothly with minimal pressure. Even after years and years of pocket-living, the tools fold out easily and smoothly. Encased in the sides of the Classic SD are a toothpick and pair of tweezers. Each of these pull out completely, and stow away with just a "friction fit" holding them in. It is a testament to the quality of construction that this friction hold remains tight through the life and use of a tool like this. Careful and close manufacturing tolerances hold the tools when necessary, but give them up when the user wishes to use them.
Again, the toy-like specifications belie the durability and quality of this inexpensive knife. Victorinox produces the Classic on an economy of scale. Corners are not cut. Rather, they count on generations spreading the love with gifts of Classic knives. The excellent stainless steel throughout, firmly affixed and colorful side plates, combined with smooth operating hinges, results in a tiny tool that inspires confidence. Aside from misplacing tweezers and toothpicks, our testers have had no trouble with the integrity of the Classic SD knife.
Gerber STL 2.0 Fine Edge. However, the Classic packs in far more versatility and a blade that is just as useful into that package. The Classic comes right out of the box equipped with a tiny split ring. Threading the included split ring onto your existing key chain leaves the knife free to rotate and nest in amongst your keys while carrying. And then in usage you have some freedom from the keys also. The scissors open to the end opposite the key chain. This leaves the keys completely out of the way of scissor usage. The blade and nail file open on the end adjacent to the key ring attachment. In application, provided you're carrying no more than five or six keys, you simply grasp the whole bundle (keys, ring, knife handle) together while using the blade or file.
Victorinox SwissChamp Swiss Army Knife is equipped with far more features than the Classic. However, in day-to-day use, especially for those in more cosmopolitan or business settings, the small suite of tools on the Classic is all one needs. When carried primarily for personal grooming, the Classic is essentially a comprehensive tool in a micro package. The blade, file, and scissors together rival even the most complete manicuring kits. And you can slice an apple with it. And cut your fishing line. And tighten the squeaky screw under your office chair. And tweeze that paper clip from between the keys of your computer keyboard. And trim the corners from your tent repair tape. And the list goes on and on…
The OutdoorGearLab testing team heartily recommends the Victorinox Classic SD knife for everyday carry for those who are otherwise reluctant to carry a knife. If you're the person who asserts that you'll never need a knife handy, we challenge you to stow this diminutive device on your keys and keep tabs of the times your pride requires you to overlook its handiness. Eventually you will relent and fully embrace the productivity and utility you gain as a pocket knife carrier.
We find it remarkable that Victorinox can afford to distribute such a quality piece of equipment at this affordable price. It will last you as long as you can keep track of it, and you'll readily replace it when misplaced. You'll get one for your summer-camp bound niece and two for your new college student. Once someone in your circle or family starts the tradition of gifting little Classic Swiss Army knives, the primary challenge will be keeping track of who else has adopted the idea and who has which color of knife on which set of keys.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Swiss Army Climber II, $41, features more than ten tools, including a small and large blade, two screwdrivers, a bottle and can opener, a corkscrew and a few other tools.
The Victorinox SwissChamp Swiss Army Knife, $90, brings multi tool functionality to a pocket knife format. The SwissChamp has more than three times as many functions as any other knife in our test.
— Jediah Porter
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Most recent review: September 29, 2013
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