Wenger knives have a long history dating back to their founding in 1893. In 1901 they started providing knives to the Swiss Army and they’ve been famous for that ever since. Amongst the many milestones they’ve had over the years are teaming up with NASA in 1992 to send Swiss Army Knives to space, as well as partnering with the America’s Cup in 2007 to send them to sea.
2009 saw yet another partnership, this time with the intent of sending the venerable Swiss Army Knife into the mountains. This isn’t your granddaddy’s SAK though; the latest model is a collaboration with world-renowned explorer Mike Horn. The Mike Horn Knife is a special model that was prototyped for Mike and tested on his 2007 Himalayan expedition. That model became what is now the Mike Horn Knife and Mike has continued to test it out during his Pangaea expedition, which began in 2008. The Pangaea expedition is a three-year journey traversing both the North and South Poles, seven continents, and passing through a variety of islands and sailing several oceans. It should be a grueling trek and provide ample opportunity to really test out the new Ranger and see what it can do.
Even if you aren’t Mike Horn though, and don’t intend on embarking on a multi year world crossing journey, you can still check out the new Mike Horn Ranger as Wenger has made it available to the general public for you to use on your own adventures. The Mike Horn model takes the basic Ranger design and adds some unique features. If you’re already familiar with the Ranger, especially the newer models, you’ll know that it’s a big knife. This is no dinky SAK Classic; it’s a fair sized folder capable of doing serious work around camp. At 5.1 inches closed and weighing in at 8.8 ounces. The Horn Ranger isn’t exactly petite, especially when you factor in its rather broad 1 ¼ inches width. So what do you get for that size and girth? Quite an array of tools as it turns out.
First and foremost, you notice that the Horn carries not one, but two one hand opening blades. One is a 3.9 inch plain edged, non-locking blade, and the other is a locking, slightly shorter, fully serrated, blunt tipped, sheepsfoot blade. Pushing in on the Swiss cross emblem on the side of the knife scale disengages the lock. It’s a handy and clever way to release the blade. It’s also entertaining to watch your friends try to unlock it if they aren’t familiar with the system. Nestled between these blades is a set of needle nosed pliers. When folded, they’re fully encapsulated by the handle scales but once opened they provide you with a solid set of spring loaded pliers with a nut wrench and a wire cutting notch. Adjacent to the plain edge blade are a combination metal saw/metal file on one end of the knife and a can opener on the other. On the backside of the Horn Ranger is a combination reamer/awl with a sewing eye. This is a great awl. It’s big, sharp and round, unlike the flat awls found on many SAKs. On the base of the Horn Ranger is a key ring. I found this rather amusing, as this would be a monstrous knife to attach to your keys. It is a handy spot to attach a lanyard to however.
Inset into the right handle scale of the SAK is a ¼” bit holder and the Horn comes with both Phillips and flathead bits. Speaking of the scales, the Horn knife carries unique tan colored scales made of a 100% recyclable mix of wood and plastics. The scales feature the traditional Swiss cross, which doubles as the lock button, as well as the Mike Horn logo emblazoned on the scales. The scales are both textured and contoured to provide a secure grip. The Mike Horn Knife comes with a sturdy nylon belt sheath with an attractive Wenger logo on the front and a large drainage hole on the bottom. There is a pouch for the included screwdriver bits and a Velcro equipped belt loop. While secure, the loop allows you take the pouch on and off the belt without removing it, and also worked for attaching the pouch to the MOLLE equipped CamelBak TriZip pack that I tested recently. With a knife of this size a good sheath is important, as this isn’t a knife you’re likely to just drop in your pocket and carry comfortably. Wenger seems to have put some thought into this one, though, and it’s a good solution for carrying the knife securely.
Did I mention that this is a big knife? When you handle the Horn Ranger you can tell it’s a stout knife. The weight sits solidly in your hand and the 1 ¼” wide handle is a lot to hold on to. While the blades are both one hand openers, I found it a little awkward to do so, I think in large part because of the girth of the handle. It was hard for me to get proper leverage to roll the blades open smoothly. You can certainly do it, but I’ve found it easier to accomplish with the thinner Rangers. That’s a trade off you have to make for having all of the tools in one place though. I did find that it got a bit easier with practice, and wasn’t an issue at all if I braced the butt of the knife with my offhand. While that did make the knife a two hander I suppose, it was still fast and easy to do and you still had the option of true one hand opening when need be. The blades themselves compliment each other nicely. The locking sheepsfoot blade is a good choice for rough work like cutting rope, cardboard etc. The lock gives you some additional comfort for when you really need to bear down or apply pressure to a cut. The big 3.9” plain edge blade can be kept with a fine edge for detail work and is even big enough to do some impromptu camp kitchen work. The pliers are well designed and the fact that they’re spring loaded is a nice touch.
Aside from the traditional use for gear repair, they’re also handy for lifting pots off the fire or camp stove. The can opener doesn’t seem all that relative in today’s world of vacuum packed backpacker meals and pop top cans, but depending on where you travel, or what you take with you, it can still be a handy item to have. On my last camping trip I didn’t have much time to shop for grub and I ended up swinging by the local grocery store and getting a can of corned beef hash. Sure enough it was an old style can and I needed a can opener! I tried out the awl on wood and leather and tested out the metal saw/file. Both worked as advertised. I’m still especially impressed with the big awl. It’d be great for bushcraft use like making utensils, starting a pilot hole for a fireboard and tasks such as that.
Personally, although pliers are handy at times, I don’t generally use them enough to justify the space and weight they take up. They really add a lot of weight and bulk to the knife. I know this is a personal issue however, and lots of folks like and want them there, which is why Wenger includes then. I really like the overall features of the Horn Ranger though, and would love to see a version substituting the excellent Wenger wood saw for the pliers and omitting the one hand opener hole on the plain edged blade. This would make for a much trimmer knife and still be a darned handy woods tool. Maybe the folks at Wenger would consider a Woods Monkey Ranger in the future!
The Mike Horn Ranger carries a retail price of $175.00. That’s quite a bit for a SAK, but this is a rather unique model. As always though, with the usual judicious online shopping you should be able to find it a fair bit less than that. While not a small knife, the Horn packs a lot of features into a relatively compact space. It’s still much more compact than carrying the individual tools separately that the Horn Ranger has all in one place, and it’s put together into a rather well thought out package. The excellent sheath makes carrying it easy too. Even if you can’t live the life of adventure that Mike Horn does, you can still take advantage of the collaboration that he and Wenger have come up with for your own journeys.
Visit: (North American site) www.wengerna.com
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