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Reviews > Knives > Multi-tools > Victorinox Rescue Tool > Test Report by Rick Dreher
Victorinox Rescue Tool
I enjoy going high and light and most often take shorter "fast- packing" trips; my longest trips are about a week. I've lightened my pack load because I enjoy hiking more when toting less, I can go farther and on tougher terrain, and I have cranky ankles. I use trekking poles and generally hike solo or tandem. I've backpacked all over the west and now primarily hike California's Sierra Nevada. My favorite trips are alpine and include off-trail travel and sleeping in high places. When winter arrives, I head back for snowshoe outings in the white stuff.
Product Information & Specifications
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: Victorinox Web Site (http://www.victorinox.ch/)
MSRP: US$ 90
Listed Weight: 6.4 oz (180 g)
Measured Weight: 5.6 oz (159 g)
Case weight (measured): 0.8 oz/ 23 g
Length (closed) spec: 4 3/8 in/111 mm
Length (closed) measured: 4 5/8 in/117 mm
Main Blade Length (hilt to tip): 3 3/8 in/ 85 mm
Features: Main blade (one-handed, locking), belt-cutting blade, disc (glass) saw, window breaker, pry tool/screwdriver/bottle opener/wire stripper (locking), awl, Phillips screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, lanyard and anchor.
Accessories: Carry case
Victorinox ships the Rescue Tool in a slim cardboard box containing a nylon carry case and instructions (in eight languages). No assembly required.
Materials, Fit and Finish
The knife's materials, construction, fit and finish all are top-drawer. The six hinged tools (blades and bits) open and close smoothly, if a bit stiffly at first (initial stiffness is common to every folding knife I've owned). They were practically dripping with oil, a reasonable precaution against corrosion. Virtually all the metal parts appear to be stainless steel and all blades except the saw are mirror-polished. The plastic grips are textured which, along with the knife's coutouring makes it easier to grip. The lanyard, attached by a small split ring, seems only useful to aid removal from the case. (It's identical to zipper pulls frequently used on backpacks and jackets.)
The Rescue Tool comes in a nylon case that can slip onto a belt. The case has a hook-and-loop flap closure and the belt loop runs the full length of the case, meaning it can fit onto a very wide belt indeed (including many backpack hip belts). It's about 4 ¼ inches (110 mm) deep, and is bright red with bright yellow-green trim. Like the knife itself it's highly visible.
Instructions and On-Line Support
I'd normally scoff at instructions for a knife, but in this instance they're required because I'd never look at, for example, the window breaker or glass saw blade and ascertain their intended purpose on my own. The instructions (available on the maker's Web site) pictorially show the seatbelt cutter, window breaker, glass saw, "crate" opener, and main blade in operation, and illustrate how to replace the glass break bit and glass saw. They do a reasonable job showing the tools' uses, but the online video offers critical additional information. (Note: Victorinox vacillates between "glass saw" and "disc saw for shatterproof glass" in its description of this blade. Either way, I get the point.)
Trying It Out
The Rescue Tool is a folding, multi-blade pocket/belt knife that blurs the distinction between knife and multi-tool. It is foremost a large folding pocket knife with a locking main blade. This main blade has a combination edge, part plain and part serrated. Unlike every other combination blade I own, this one has a serrated tip section, with the smooth section next to the hilt. The entire blade is ground asymmetrically (on one side only) and has an exposed thumb hole when closed, allowing one-handed opening. Fully opened it locks into place. It's also very sharp. I've already cut myself on the serrations, which took surprisingly little pressure.
The Rescue Tool also sports a (disc/glass) saw, a curved serrated belt cutter blade and most uniquely, a window breaker. In homage to its Swiss "army knife" (SAK) heritage, it has a combination pry tool/bottle opener/flat-head screwdriver/wire stripper, an awl, a Phillips screwdriver and the requisite toothpick and tweezers. Of note: the screaming fluorescent/phosphorescent yellow-green, easy-find grip and the user-replaceable glass breaker and disc saw. The knife comes in a nylon carry case with a belt loop.
There are six hinged tools. The main blade swings open a full 180 degrees, as do the glass saw and belt cutter. The blade can be opened one handed while holding the knife, and with either hand. It's a little easier to open with my right hand, as the blade is closer to my thumb than when in my left hand. The pry tool has a click-stop at 90 degrees, and also opens to a full 180 degrees. Both the blade and pry tool lock into place when fully open. The pry tool is opened from the side via a traditional nail groove, meaning no opening with gloved hands. By contrast, the saw and belt cutter blade overhang extend beyond the knife ends and are easily opened from there, even with gloves.
The pry tool/flat screwdriver's 90-degree position would provide extra leverage turning large slotted screws. The awl and Phillips blade open 90 degrees only. The Phillips screwdriver is exposed when closed and easy to access, while the awl must be opened via a barely exposed nail groove. The tweezers and toothpick tuck into small openings at one end of the handle, and are removed by pulling at the ends with a fingernail. They can be switched side to side. The short nylon lanyard attaches to a split ring anchor at the same end. At the other end protrudes the glass-break bit--a wide steel flange with protruding nub to initiate the break by concentrating the blow's force.
The main blade and pry tool have liner locks, which deploy automatically on opening and are released by pressing to the side, freeing the bit for closure. They differ from more common blade locks that release by pressing at the back of the knife. While it's tricky I find I can unlock and close the main blade one-handed, at least with bare hands.
I will carry the Rescue Tool on hiking, snowshoeing and camping trips through the test period to ascertain how well it fits the bill as a camping pocket knife. I'll also monitor wear and tear folliwing common camp tasks, and see whether the bright color means I'll still have it by next spring.
The Victorinox Rescue Tool is an unconventional knife or multitool for backpacking. The big main blade has obvious camping applications, as do the screwdriver/opener, awl, etc., but what about the disc saw, belt cutter and glass breaker? What uses can they possibly offer? At about a third of a pound, this beefy folding knife will have to prove its usefulness to earn a permanent place in my kit.
From a completely different perspective, the Rescue Tool is a very prudent device to keep in my car. I live in a river and delta region with hundreds of miles of levee roads, where a missed road bend can mean a quick excursion into the drink. Local law enforcement and rescue teams recommend keeping a window breaking tool in vehicles that travel on these roads. I intend to keep this water escape function untested, but the Rescue Tool earns a permanent place alongside my driver's seat, regardless.
I have a long, painful track record of losing things camping and hiking, so am a fan of absurdly bright-colored important gear. I have no qualms stating the Rescue Tool is the easiest knife to find in poor light or dropped in forest litter I've ever encountered--it looks like a giant trout lure. That's a major plus in its favor. The phosphorescent aspect is a bit lost on me, but I'll explore the glow-in-the-dark quality further. The lanyard's not long enough to anchor the knife to a belt loop or slip over my wrist. Of course it can easily be replaced with something longer for use as a dummy cord, as I like to call them. A tethered knife is a kept knife.
I sincerely thank Victorinox and BackpackGearTest.com for the opportunity to test the Rescue Tool.
Field Locations and Conditions
I've taken the Rescue Tool on numerous hikes and walks, as well as kept it in my car since first receiving it. It accompanied me on half a dozen photography trips in the Sacramento Valley, four day hikes in the Sierra foothills and four snowshoeing trips in the northern Sierra Nevada, including two overnights.
I either attach the carry case to a pack strap or hook the knife itself to an attachment point using an "s-biner" clipped to the knife's split ring. Either scheme keeps the large knife within easy reach without removing my pack. Another option is to attach a dummy cord to the split ring and keep the knife in my pants pocket, with the cord anchored to a belt loop. It's not always comfortable to have a knife of this heft in my pocket, however. I keep it in my car's driver's door pocket, in the case so it doesn't rattle.
Test weather has been the usual California winter array: from sunny and 70 degrees F (21 C) to rainy and 40 F (5 C) to cloudy and 20 F (-7 C). These varied conditions have helped show how easy the knife is to retrieve, open, use, close and stow with warm, dry hands; cold, wet hands; gloved hands and frozen hands.
Performance in the Field
Accessing, Opening and Closing
The Rescue Tool is pretty easy to use with gloved hands due to the large, shaped handle and textured grips. I have plenty of knives that simply slip out of gloved hands, at least gloves lacking grippy palm material, so I appreciate the thought that's gone into this knife.
I need bare fingertips to open the pry bar/screwdriver and awl, because they have nail grooves and store pretty flush, with little exposed. Likewise for the toothpick and tweezers. I can open the Phillips screwdriver wearing thin gloves because it's pretty easy to access. The pry bar has a liner lock like the main blade and must be unlocked to close. I can safely do so one-handed.
Overall, the blades have all loosened and are easier to open and close now than when new. The quality of construction and materials really comes through after the Rescue Tool has been used for awhile.
I've tested the blades and tools on a variety of tasks, some camping related and some, not.
My main use of camping knives has always been cutting and preparing food. The Rescue Tool main blade slices various food items with ease, with the usual limitations of a serrated, asymmetrically ground blade. It hacks through sausage, cheese, bread, meat, vegetables, whatever I've attacked with it, with the same ease as the magic kitchen knives the guy demonstrates at the state fair. To reiterate my initial report, this blade is SHARP and the serrations increase its slicing prowess. The limitations are in fine slicing, such as thin-slicing garlic or cheese. The blade tends to track at an angle, following the grind bevel. The results are messier and less even than what I can get with a plain blade sporting a symmetrical grind, but still usable. One pleasant surprise is the plain edge near the hilt proves a boon to peeling things like kiwifruit. My other combination blades have the plain section at the tip and the serrations by the hilt, where they make peeling very difficult and a threat to my thumb (it takes very little pressure for a serrated edge to pierce skin). Design kudos to the Swiss.
"Campcraft" here means cutting and shaving wood, either for fire building or making small items like stakes, anchors, etc. The Rescue Tool main blade works fine for shaving and shaping softwoods, at least with my crude skills (I was never the Boy Scout who could whittle a five-piece table service from a hunk of Doug fir in twenty minutes). With it, I can shave tinder and whittle ad hoc tent stakes and the like. The large, stable, locking main blade is better and in my opinion, far safer for these tasks than the tiny blades I usually take hiking. The glass saw easily cuts through green hard- and softwood branches up to perhaps thumb thickness (3/4 inch/2 cm). Larger than that and it binds up. It's slow cutting through dry hardwood. The saw blade cuts on the draw stroke only. I've not found a camping use for the belt blade. The awl/punch can cut holes into wood, fabric, webbing and the like, filling a role the main blade's rather broad tip can't supply. The tweezers can grip and pluck items, but doesn't grab buried slivers or thorns. The toothpick is pretty good in its named task. I've not needed the other tools for camping related things, but the stout bottle opener is a match for the stubbornest bottle cap.
The straight and Phillips screwdrivers work well on larger screws, and the 90-degree positions of both really increase leverage on tight screws. The Phillips driver is precise enough to not ruin screw heads, and the straight blade when locked into the 180-degree position will pry pretty stoutly.
Loose Item Roundup
The webbing blade easily and safely cuts through nylon and polyester webbing, and will surely make fast work of a seatbelt. As noted, I've not found a camping use for this concave-curved, serrated blade. The glass breaker cracks glare ice without much force, for what it's worth. While I can envision its use in self-rescue by someone who's fallen through thin lake ice (I watch too much survival television) (a) they'd have to already have it in hand and not drop it during their plunge and (b) I'm not planning on a personal test.
Left in direct sun or lamplight for a few hours, the grips glow noticeably in the dark for a couple of hours. The textured grips are easy to hold with gloves, mittens and wet hands, at least compared to standard smooth-finish grips.
The replaceable glass breaker is easily removed using a standard pair of pliers. Removal and replacement takes just a few seconds, and the blade snaps into place with a distinct click (no tool required—just press it in place by hand). The replaceable glass saw comes out after a fight and several re-looks at the directions. It's a tool-free process but I needed to press it out by forcing the tip on a hard surface; the directions show it coming out strictly by hand. My "a-ha" moment was realizing I have to do this with the blade barely open. Yes, I'm that slow.
I remain impressed by the Rescue Tool's design, construction and materials. The knife is easy to keep handy, access and use, even in lousy field conditions. The main blade is a very good hiking and camping tool, and the other tools come into play from time to time. I can't really name a task I've tried that the knife hasn't accomplished, although it's not a substitute for a chef's knife or a pruning saw-items I don't hike with in any case. The overall layout, shape and balance seem very well thought out, and the textured grip makes it unlikely to slip out of my hand in use. I've deliberately dropped it in snow, forest litter, dirt, etc. to see how easy it is to find, and the fluorescent yellow basically shouts, "I'm right here!" So bravo on that as well.
The Rescue Tool hasn't lost any weight, but using an s-biner to anchor it does mean I can skip the case and keep it handy, a loss of a few grams anyway.
In sum, there's enough overlap between the tools provided and the demands of camping that the Rescue Tool has proven itself to be a useful camping knife. I'll continue to look for tasks for the still unused tools.
Please watch this space for the long-term report in a couple months.
I don't have any suggestions how to improve the Rescue Tool to make it better in support of its prime intent supporting fire and rescue personnel. Its unique selection of tools seem well suited to this civilian. As a camping knife it does the job well at a relatively high weight and with certain tools that are unlikely to see use in the woods. The shape and design are very supportive of wintertime use with frequently frozen, gloved hands.
Long-Term Test Locations and Conditions
During the long-term test period I carried the Rescue Tool on several day trips, both local and in the Tahoe Sierra Nevada, and on two overnights, also in the Tahoe Sierra. Temperatures ranged from 25 F to over 100 F (-7 to +38 C) and elevations ranged from sea level to 7,500 feet (2,300 m). It rained on a couple day trips, while all the other trips had fair weather.
Performance in the Field
I didn't add any significant new camp tasks during the field report, using it for the same cutting, trimming and prying functions. I've used the screwdrivers more around home, and also made pilot holes in wood using the awl. Care is required, as the awl can close unexpectedly if a sideways force is applied. No bloody knuckles to report, thanks.
My most important use is prepping food, and I've learned to use the peculiar main blade configuration to my advantage for paring, etc. I definitely like the main blade for its easy opening, dependable lock and sharpness. It's still shiny enough to use as a mirror when applying sunscreen to my face.
The glass breaker and webbing blade remain little used, as I've not found common camping tasks for them. The webbing blade is pretty handy for cutting in the garden, however, where the easy open blade is also a boon for gloved hands.
I find that the textured grip is useful for sweaty hands as it is with cold wet hands. I still appreciate bright color, too.
Wear and Tear
The Rescue Tool remains in great shape, with no loose blades, rust spots or any apparent damage. I tried sharpening the plain segment of the main blade to see how it would go. The asymmetrical bevel is tricky and the 1-inch (25 mm) length of this section doesn't give a lot of space to work. My best results have been with a ceramic rod sharpener. A flat stone seems a lot harder to use. The blade is still sharp, but if I ever have to get the whole thing sharpened it will be commercially, as I don't have a way to do the serrated portion.
I suspect I've dulled the saw blade by using it on wood. It is hard to tell how much it has dulled versus new of course, but seems to require more effort now. It also gums up with sap cutting green wood and I clean it with solvent back at home. I never gave the saw a workout on auto glass, which is a bit of a disappointment but not a surprise. The blade is replaceable if I need a new one.
The beefy straight screwdriver blade has proven quite tough and is still in great shape, as is the Phillips bit., which has proven to be nice and precise so it doesn't strip the screwhead slots like a worn or cheap screwdriver often does.
Evaluating the Rescue Tool through the filter of whether it's an ideal backpacking knife I give it a passing grade, but just that. It's rather large and heavy and some of the tools don't translate well to trail and camp. Perusing the vast Victorinox catalog, there are other knives this size and shape and with the same main blade, but that have a better mix of tools. Nevertheless, the knife is beautifully made and a pleasure to use, and has unique capabilities provided by the glass breaker and glass saw.
As I note earler, the Rescue Tool has a permanent spot in my car due to the safety aspects, especially any unplanned aquatic adventures, and I'll likely take it on day hikes because I'll have it handy at the trailhead. Most of the year for overnight backpacking I'll carry something lighter; however, I will likely continue using it in winter where the ease of opening and handling with gloves, dayglo color and yes, the glass break tool all make sense.
This concludes my Rescue Tool test.
I thank Victorinox and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the Rescue Tool.This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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