For quite a few years the Victorinox Mauser was my outdoors SAK of choice. I hadn’t been introduced to the beauty of alox models yet and there was something about the 108mm size that felt just perfect. When I learned about the collection value of a Mauser I promptly retired it, it had served me well from age 10 and it was time to find a replacement.
I found a couple of GAKs (German Army Knife) at
a collectors meeting in excellent shape, and for a good price. The seller
didn’t know much about them but after checking the tang stamps I bought two,
they would replace my beloved Mauser in my outdoors roaming.
The GAK’s tool combination is excellent for woodsbumming, and it’s only two layers thick. It has a main blade, with the usual Victorinox spear-point design, saw and combo-tool (some models have a nail file, too), corkscrew and awl (with no hole, at least in mine). The saw/combo-tool looks strange at first, but you it grows on you.
It doesn’t have tweezers or a toothpick, but that’s why I combine it with the Victorinox Executive. The Executive gives you scissors, tweezers, toothpick and the all important orange peeler (seriously, it is handier than you would think). See, anything can be solved by carrying enough SAKs.
Walk and talk was excellent, but you’ve got to
be carefull since these are mostly used knives. Check them thoroughly before
buying or deal with a very trustworthy seller. There are some new GAKs and OD
Safari Troopers (the civilian version, same exact tools) out there for good
prices, you don’t have to worry about wear with those. Just check out the
stores here at sosakonline.
Enough rambling, let’s get to the tests. My other favourite outdoors SAKs are the Farmer and the Hunter (I’m a SOSAKer, I need to have three favourite SAKs for every task). Any other SAK that wants a place in my backpack has to compete with them to get it, they set the standard of what I need in a woods knife. So they came along to my archery club for some work.
The tests were simple, lots of branches and small trees needed cutting to open shooting lanes for a 3-D field tournament we are running next Sunday. Paracord and other cordage had to be cut to secure the targets and make some rigs for moving targets. A few small log bridges and tree-stands had to be built, and more stuff like that. If the GAK could handle all of those chores (with the help of other tools, I don’t intend to saw through a 12” log with my pocket knife), it would be more than enough. My father and my brother came along. My father used the Hunter, my brother used his new Farmer and I used a Victorinox GAK and a Safari Trooper (it just arrived so I need to play with it, OK?).
The knife felt very comfortable in my hands. I have big paws, so sometimes regular sized SAKs feel a bit uncomfortable if I work for too long (and 84mm models took a lot of getting used to), the 108mm GAK felt great from the get go. The textured handles are very grippy. I wasn’t concerned about the lack of a locking mechanism, since I carry a fixed blade when I’m outdoors. I’ve been using slipjoints all my life and never had a problem. Green scales are easy to loose in the woods, so I made a bright lanyard. I’m seriously thinking about ordering a red Safari Trooper.
Sawing was the first test. Besides the main blade, saws are the most important thing in a SAK that will be going on hunting or hiking trips. And since the GAK’s saw teeth are bit different from the standard Victorinox or Wenger set-ups I wanted to try them out side by side with my two proven SAKs. The length of the saw (measuring just the portion occupied by the teeth) is around 60mm, while the Farmer’s is around 64mm and the Hunter’s is around 83mm. The GAK’s saw is short because the combo-tool needs to fit at the end.
We sawed dry wood (I think it was pine), almost an inch thick. The fastest of the three was the Farmer. I expected the Hunter to be the best performer, but it took a bit longer that the Farmer. The GAK finished last, but just by a couple of seconds. The saw takes a little getting used to, since it only cuts when you pull and has very agressive teeth. My father, who is more knowledgeable in sawcraft than me, managed to cut faster, but still not as easily as with the other SAKs. The cut with the GAK wasn’t as clean as the other SAKs, I guess that it has to do with the more agressive teeth.
Green wood was a whole different ball game. The GAK just tore through small trees like nobody’s bussiness! The saw design seems to get less clogged with sap and sticky saw dust from green wood. While the Hunter and the Farmer performed to their usual high standards, I was surprised by the GAK’s chainsaw-like cutting.
Luckily used GAKs tend to have new or almost new saws, soldiers don’t seem to use them that much. One of the Victorinox knives I bought even had small metal shavings near the edges of the teeth that you only see in a brand new saw, since they dissapear with the first use.
Cordage cutting was a great way to try out the blades (food prep was done later). I wasn’t expecting much difference between the SAKs so I threw in a Bark River Mountaineer and a certain high end tactical folder. My father’s Hunter was the first to need some stropping after a few minutes work. It would still cut rope, but it wouldn’t shave anymore. The next to loose its shaving edge was my expensive tactical folder!! Why did the Farmer and GAK keep on cutting so well? Easy, convex edges. I had convexed the edge on my GAK and my brother’s Farmer before giving it to him. Convexing SAKs is easy, you can buy a cheap used one to practice, and it increases the performance a lot. It is easy to field mantain, to boot. The Mountaineer kept its shaving edge long after we were out of rope. I don’t know what Mike Stewart does to his blades, but I’m sure there is some black magic involved.
After so much hard work, a proper “asado” (Argentinian barbecue, our official religion) was in order, and with it a chance to try out the rest of the tools. Corkscrew work was hard and demanding, but the GAK opened all the required bottles of Syrah and Malbec (and then some more). The only bad thing about the corkscrew is that the mini-screwdriver doesn’t fit. The combo-tool opened a few beers for those heretics that didn’t drink wine and opened cans of peaches and fruit salad for dessert, it worked just as well as any other SAK can opener I’ve tried. The extra length gives it some awesome leverage for those bottle caps that don’t want to come off.
While the meat cooked I cut tomatoes and other vegetables for salads. The size and blade geometry of the GAK is great for this. The Farmer was a bit short for some things and got a lot dirtier inside (plus my little brother isn’t that handy around the kitchen).
I used the awl to punch some cans before opening them (I find this makes it a lot easier to use the combo-tool) and to help me carve a pipe. It works well, but the awl on the Farmer is just so much better than any other SAK awl, it’s a freaking hand drill! I like the GAK’s awl more than the standard Victorinox or Wenger ones. It has a very nice, easy to sharpen, chisel grind. The edge isn’t as easy to damage as the one on regular Victorinox awls.
To sum up, GAKs and Safari Troopers (the civilian version) make excellent outdoors knives. They have the right size, the right tools and are very compact with just two layers. Remember to check them well if you get them used, or to ask a trustworthy salesman. For urban everyday carry, a SwissCard or a small SAK (74mm or 58mm) complements the GAK very well.
Note: I’ve only had experience with used and new Victorinox GAKs and new Aitor GAKs.