Story and Photos by Kevin Estela
From 1985 to 1992, Richard Dean Anderson starred as “MacGyver” in a show bearing the same name.
On the main stage of every episode was MacGyver’s knife – usually a Victorinox Spartan model – helping him navigate the world and solve complicated tasks, by modifying resources into sometimes outrageous devices, not limited to: jetpacks, ultralight planes, bio-hazard suits, and booby traps.
Every week, I highly anticipated watching this show and I’ll admit, it was sort of a babysitter in my life when my parents were busy helping my two older sisters with their homework or teen drama.
At the age of 5 when the show started, I got my first glimpse of MacGyver’s knife and, being part Filipino, it wasn’t long after that I had my own waiting for me under the Christmas tree. OK, my first Swiss Army Knife wasn’t even a “real” one but rather a knock off from a mail-order catalog – but it was a pivotal moment in my life. In my adolescent mind, I WAS MacGyver from that moment on.
Throughout my childhood, I hiked local trails with my father and started learning about the outdoors. I carried my Swiss Army Knife proudly and found myself carving a lot of little pointed sticks; because that is all I really understood I could do with that knife.
I closed the blade on my fingers a couple times and while not a good move, I at least learned how a blade could bite me and how not to let that happen again. At times, I even used the various tools on the toys I played with; removing tight batteries from compartments and pushing out stuck parts from snap on components.
As I grew older, my Swiss Army Knife was upgraded with an actual Victorniox knife and I found myself learning how to better utilize the can opener, screwdriver, scissors, saw, etc. that were integral parts of the knife. I gravitated toward the 4- and 5-layer models like the Huntsman and the Ranger and carried at least one with me on extended camping trips, kayaking/canoeing on the Farmington River, and lifeguarding.
Throughout high school, I wasn’t allowed to carry a knife to school, but one was always with me in my car (oh the good ole’ days before good kids were expelled for zero-tolerance policy “violations.”) By the time I reached college, I already had over a decade of Swiss Army Knife carry to my credit.
Throughout my early 20s, I carried a Swiss Army Knife – primarily the Huntsman – while training with the Maine Primitive Skills School, Jack Mountain Bushcraft, and the Wilderness Learning Center (WLC).
When I became a Survival Instructor (with the WLC), I always had a Swiss Army Knife on me and started carrying a small ferro rod on the end of the lanyard attached to the key ring. There were times to pull out the belt knife I also carried and times to utilize the tools found among the layers of my Victorinox for daily sundry bushcraft tasks. Every day for 1-2 weeks at a time in the woods, a Swiss Army Knife was always in my right front pocket or worn on my belt just forward of my belt knife.
As a Survival Instructor, I traveled the country and internationally, from points south of the equator to north of the arctic circle. Whether domestic or foreign, the Swiss Army Knife never earned a second look when used in public, en route to remote destinations. It never once was called a “weapon” and it always came in handy in places like the UK, where locking blade knives are illegal. It came in handy whittling bushcraft projects and slicing up snacks for lunch; like smoked salmon, dried sausages, apples and cheese.
In my early 30’s I started my professional writing career and have close to 150 published and printed articles to my name. Companies gave me access to every possible knife you could imagine. High-end folding knives that cost as much or more than the DSLR camera I used to photograph them, fixed blades with exotic woods from the darkest jungles and inhospitable deserts, and multi-tools with enough gadgets to dismantle and reassemble a car were all thrown at me.
Branching out from the survival circle, I started training in Filipino Martial Arts, achieved instructor ranking, and also started training in every weapon platform including: pistol, shotgun, carbine, and precision-scoped rifle.
No matter how awesome the gear or training was, I never replaced my Swiss Army Knife along the way. It came in handy adjusting firearm optics, cutting material I didn’t want to use my personal defensive blade edges on, and getting pulled out when it was more of a socially accepted tool than the spear-point blade worn as my quick draw.
The red handle scales were far more disarming to the general public than industry-standard G-10, Micarta, or carbon-fiber grips found on most tactical or “tacticool” folders. Those knives have a place, but it isn’t where I carry my coveted SAK (Swiss Army Knife).
To this day – now closing in on 40 years of age – I carry a Swiss Army Knife and consider it one of my most valuable tools in my everyday carry lineup. That one-time MacGyver tool from my childhood has become part of who I am. People know to ask me if I have a knife on me, even though they already have the answer to that question.
My personal preferences haven’t changed much, and I still carry the Victorinox 5-layer Ranger knife. Over the years, I changed the belt knife carried, as well as the larger cutting tool; from ax to machete to big blade and back again with the changing seasons.
My Swiss Army Knife has become part of my daily routine and I feel naked when I have to travel somewhere, with it tucked into my checked luggage instead of on my person. I may put other knives on my person for given tasks, but I always start off loading up with my Swiss Army Knife first.
What’s the point of this somewhat biographic account of my life and blade preferences? Well, what started as a childhood fantasy to be just as prepared as a fictional television character, turned into a lifetime of real adventure, rewarding experiences, and shared knowledge.
The knives we carry can inspire and motivate us to do more. They can be called upon in emergencies to get us out of trouble. They can also set us apart from those who would rather wait for help than be part of the solution to their problems.
The desire to own tools and know how to use them is almost primal and is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. There are some knife users who have developed a false sense of security because of the knife they carry, and sometimes it is best to start with a humble blade and build up confidence from there.
Carrying a simple yet functional knife is better than leaving an expensive knife in your safe at home.
To the naysayer who still doesn’t understand the importance of having a knife, I suggest carrying one and taking note of how frequently you’ll use it. I want more people to be ready for whatever life throws at them, and carrying a blade is part of that formula for success.
I’m a firm believer in the utility of the Swiss Army Knife and considering how it helped me in every stage of my life thus far, I believe we all need at least one. If you’re looking for a place to start, perhaps start with a knife like the one I carried.
Who knows where it will take you?
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Height: 0.9 inchesNet weight: 4.2 ounces
scale material: ABS / Cellidor Size: 4 inchesBlade lockable: No One hand blade: No MSRP: $53.00
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Kevin Estela is a professional Bushcraft and Survival Instructor, Author, Martial Artist, and teacher. He is the former Lead Survival Instructor of the Wilderness Learning Center under Marty Simon and the Owner of Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin’s book, 101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods is an Amazon best seller and his 140 published print articles in 20 different magazines with many more online blog posts make up over a decade of his outdoor-industry writing career. Additionally, Kevin is a Sayoc Kali Senior-Level Associate Instructor and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt. He has trained under top firearms instructors and he enjoys shooting and marksmanship. A knife guy through and through, Kevin has been tapped by numerous companies to assist with knife designing and testing. His company motto was born of his no-nonsense outdoor experience in many countries around the globe, “Trusted information proven in the field”. When not wearing these hats, he is a mild-mannered high-school history teacher in a public school in Bristol, CT.
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