Does a blade by any other name still cut as sharply? My wounded finger says yes, but my heart says no. If you’re like me, you may not have given Wengers their due: somehow it felt like I was buying a generic, or at least less than the best. I have no rational reason for this, just the result of years of Victorinox lovin’. I’m a die-hard Victorinox Farmer fan, and I’ve definitely never been left wanting in the woods with either it or my Rucksack model. They hold up just fine under years of use, and look pretty good doing it. Recently, however, I had the chance to play with a couple of very interesting new models, Wenger’s RangerGrip series, that slightly upset my prejudice. I wasn’t sure of the full history between Victorinox and Wenger, and found it to be as follows: Wenger was actually the very first company to receive a contract to produce a knife for the Swiss Army, in 1893. Fifteen years later, however, the Swiss decided to split the contract between two companies, with the other being Victorinox. Hence there are two companies that have produced Swiss Army knives, but Wenger was simply first. These days it’s a bit of a moot point, as Victorinox acquired Wenger in 2005.
There are a few aspects of the Wenger SAK that are immediately noticeable as compared to the Victorinox versions. First, the insignia differs: it’s a simple cross. Secondly, the newer Wengers have what they call the Ergo-grip. Basically it involves the addition of rubber inserts and small contours to the handle, to improve grip and in-hand security. This is one aspect that did make a difference in use, but I’ll talk more about it later. Also quite different is the method of the blade lock. Both employ a ‘slipjoint’, but on a Vic Rucksack, for example, there is a small tab that must be moved downward in order to unlock the blade for closure. On the Wengers however, the blade is locked into place by a liner-lock. Unlike a normal liner-lock, it isn’t moved by the thumb: you move the liner out of the way by pressing down on the Wenger emblem. How cool is that! Having both an X and Y chromosome, I completely ignored the directions (opting to learn by experience) and it took me more than a few seconds to realize that Wenger wasn’t sticking us with a really awkward-to-deactivate liner lock.
The edges on both blades came in great shape, very sharp but just a little bit toothy. A few strops and we were really screamin’. Both SAKs came with different sets of tools, so I got to get a taste of different setups. The RangerGrip 75, wearing red, has something most people feel they need to seek a Leatherman for: a functional set of pliers! They are quite robust, though I only used them for what I would call moderate tasks, like shaping a coat hanger and lifting a hot lid off my fire pit. The con to the pliers is the same as with any multi-tool, in that there is added weight and bulk. It certainly fits the hand less well than its green brother. Past the main blade (on which they’ve tastefully placed a few gentle thumb grooves) and pliers, there is an awl, Phillips screwdriver, can opener, and token bottle opener/flathead screwdriver. The lockup on all the tools is tight and secure; there is no worry about losing a finger!
The second RangerGrip was probably the more favored, and the more spartan. It consists of a main blade (except unfortunately serrated), a very aggressive saw, corkscrew, can opener, and bottle opener/flathead screwdriver. I would have to confess that I’ve never fully understood the corkscrews being on the SAKs. I realize there are other ‘off label’ uses, but they really are a far cry in utility from a good awl. That issue aside, this model felt much better in the hand. It was more comfortable during carving and sawing, and it would surely ride a bit easier in the pocket (though it could be easily argued that a folder this size deserves a belt pouch). One of the most valuable aspects of this model versus the previous is that the blade comes with a thumb hole! The ability to open a folder with one hand drastically increases its ‘usability’ in my opinion. I did mention the serrations in a negative light, but for those who enjoy them these are actually of a good design. Not so absurdly toothy that they mimic a saw, and made for some efficient cutting of various strings (namely jute twine and paracord). The serrations take up all but the distal one-third of the edge. I find I’m more able to tolerate the serrations when the situation is reversed such that the plain edge is nearest the handle, so I can still carve carefully when needed. As before, it’s got the awesome push-button liner lock release.
So at the end of the day, how likely am I to pick up one of these versus my beloved Vic Rucksack? Like most things I’m forced to say, “It depends!” The RangerGrip 75 would make a great tool to keep in a pouch or pack when you’re out mountain biking, or doing anything that involves some mechanical equipment. That’s about the only time I need a good set of pliers, but when you need ‘em, you really need ‘em! For a standard day hike or jaunt through the backwoods however, it’s just a bit too bulky. The leaner, greener model would be great for such activities though! There are times when you just want to travel light, or even when a fixed blade is verboten, and this would be an admirable substitute.
Having played with these two RangerGrip series knives, I’m actually a bit sad that I haven’t sought a Wenger blade in the past! These have every bit the quality that I’ve come to love from my Victorinox folder. They are no less rugged and hearty than their Vic counterparts. However, when you get one in your hand, you’ll quickly feel that these aren’t attempting to merely ‘come up to par’ with the Vics: the contoured handles offer a secure and comfortable grip that frankly gives my Rucksack model a run for its money! They even have a classier locking mechanism. As icing on the cake, quickly perusing the Wenger website shows more than a few options for blade & tool arrangements! Betcha can’t pick just one!