Great Walks offers his advice on using and maintaining pocket tools.
For over 30 years I have been known as “Captain Contingency” by my best man and walking companion, Mark. That moniker came about when we were cross-country ski touring one year and one of our party's pack straps came adrift. Now most experienced walkers carry a small sewing kit; in the Army we called them a “housewife”. I don't know whether they have changed the nomenclature, what with all the political correctness that has pervaded the services now, but I digress.
In addition to a regular small sewing kit, I carried an awl and a small length of waxed linen thread – almost twine. I set to and repaired the pack very well with a small leather off-cut in my “possibles bag” – Google it – and it served the skier well for many more years.
There are comprehensive integrated awls, known as speedystitchers (see image), which I had in that instance, but the same result can be achieved with a scratch awl and blunt leatherwork needle and thread, but it takes a little longer. These little items weigh nothing and occupy virtually no space, but when they are needed, they are a godsend that will amaze your fellow walkers and see you trying to create opportunities to use them.
Talking about weighing nothing, a knife is an indispensable item in the pack. Whether for cutting up your apple on a rest stop or for using in repairs to boots or packs with some patch leather. There is a myriad of uses that will present for your blade, but I would not suggest multi-tools (too heavy if they are to be of use) or a young sword of a heavy-duty sheath knife – a survival-style knife, if you prefer.
My preference is the Opinel No 8 (8.5cm blade) in either stainless steel or carbon steel. Together with a little abbreviated diamond hone, the pair weigh just shy of 100 grams. You give away some ease of sharpening with any stainless blade, but the Opinel's is Swedish Sandvik 12C27 steel with enough carbon content to give excellent cutting and sharpening qualities.
The Yatagan-shaped blade shape was inspired by Turkish sabres of yore whereby the toe of the blade sweeps up slightly. With a convex edge profile, ensuring the strength of the blade for utility cutting chores, it also provides efficient regrinding to restore a good edge. The Beechwood handle is strong and light and the blade locking mechanism is unique in its simplicity and safety; in short the Opinel is the classic “Citroën DS” of pocketknives.
Now even a blunt-bladed Opinel is dangerous to the user, like any knife. Keeping the blade sharp is simple, but many do not know how to. Here is a simple method to keep it working sharp in the field. Practice at home will make you better when you need to do it in in camp. Here we go:
- Get a small piece of square card or paper and fold it double diagonally, so you have two triangle halves, giving you a 45-degree angle. Fold it in half again and you will have a 22.5-degree angle.
- Use this as your honing angle by laying the angled card at the start of the hone and laying the knife blade along it.
- Draw the knife from heel to tip in a smooth motion along the hone, maintaining the 22.5-degree angle as best you can – go back often to check against the card template. Note: You can approximate this angle by placing the knife edge at 90-degrees on the hone, turning it halfway to flat (45-degrees) and halving the angle again to achieve the same result without the template, but it requires a little practice.
- This will deliver a very strong, durable edge for your routine tasks and you can strop the blade when you lose a bit of sharpness. Simply draw the blade backwards at about a 30-degree angle on the suede side of your belt, or even along a cordura packstrap and you will get an unabused edge back to sharpness.
There are all types of angle-guide sharpeners on the market, including electric versions, which can put very fine edges down to 15-degrees on a blade, but this is for high-end special use blades. If you wanted to go down that path some way but not fully commit, I personally love the Work Sharp WKS03929 Guided Sharpening System, a compact, manual bench-top sharpener, which I use in preference to anything else for 90-percent of my burgeoning knife collection. Once bitten, it's hard to disengage.
A note on using knives. Never abuse a good blade by opening tins, splitting kindling by bashing the spine of the blade, or cut food on hard surfaces like rocks. Look after your knife, respect it and it will look after you when you need it.