The Non-Clothing Clothing That Could Save Your Life

This is clothing?

If you have been to one of my live classes, attended a lecture or seen the first  two DVDs in the “Self-Reliant Series,” you know exactly what I’m talking about, the

This is the first and most important tool that you need to ALWAYS have with you (as in on you, not just in the area). One of my favorite demonstrations of the “have it with you principle” was illustrated in the movie, “Castaway.” (That movie has a few phony Hollywood scenes in it, but on the whole it quite nicely tells the story of a castaway on a tiny deserted tropical island.)
If you have never seen it, get it and watch it; it will be educational. If it has been awhile since you have watched it, watch it again. While I was watching “Castaway” for the first time in the
theater, I found myself automatically feeling my right front pocket for my knife.

My Swiss Army knife is an extremely valuable and convenient tool that I use multiple times every day. However, in an emergency, it’s one of the most  vital things to have with you; it could literally
make the difference between life and death. At the very least it will make life much easier and more comfortable. Watch “Castaway.” It will help drive this point home.

Main Concepts:

Having a pocketknife with you at all times is not just a “guy thing.” Yes I know it’s easy to think of it that way, but you ladies need to have one with you also.
Here’s a list of 10 key points to consider about owning a pocketknife:

  1. Get a quality knife – don’t skimp here. Generally the quality will be in direct
    proportion to what you pay. The $9.85 “14-Function Swiss Type Pocket Knife” (that’s a direct quote from a catalog) with red plastic sides and a symbol on the side is not the ticket. In an emergency it will function very well as a makeshift fish-line sinker, but it will not hold up to rigorous emergency use. Don’t waste your money on an imitation of a high quality pocketknife.
  2. Always have it with you – make it a habit to have it with you all the time. You have probably heard me say that I’d rather teach a class without my pants than be in the class without my knife on me (and I don’t teach classes without my pants, so you know what that means about my knife). This is the first reason that I call my knife “clothing,” I wear it all the time. If you don’t already know, in a later section I’ll cover the second reason why I call my pocketknife “clothing”.

    If you don’t establish the habit of having it with you all the time, then the time you need it the most could very well be the time you forgot to bring it. Make it the same level of commitment and comfort as getting dressed. You can imagine how I feel riding on the airlines since 9/11; my knife is required to travel baggage class.

  3.  Keep it sharp – you must also have the ability to keep the blades sharp. In other words, own and know how to use sharpening “stones.” Nowadays, the best sharpening stones are not really made from stone at all; they are diamond impregnated metal plates. They sharpen blades quickly, are virtually indestructible, last a very long time and can be used wet or dry.
    You should have several different grits plus extras as backup. Learn to sharpen your blades properly and keep them sharp all the time.
  4. Have stones will travel – just like having your knife with you all the time, you must also have your sharpening stones with you. When you need your blades the most is when you will truly need to keep them sharp.
  5.  Tie it to you – your pocketknife must have a ring, loop, or some means to attach a lanyard to it, this way the knife can be connected to you. It’s important that most of the time your knife be attached to you so it cannot be lost. This is especially important in the snow, or over water where dropping your knife could well mean that it is just gone, never to be retrieved.
  6. More is better – have backup knives. Things happen in spite of all you try to do, so have several spares. You will want to have duplicates of your primary multi-function knife if possible (more is better), but, of course, there is the cost to consider. Therefore, you may choose to have a number of high quality, but less feature-rich, and therefore, less expensive backup knives.

    One of the main advantages of having a number of these less expensive quality secondary knives is that you not only have a durable fallback knife if your primary knife is lost, but you can afford to buy more of them. This will more easily allow you to bless the lives of others in a time of real need by lending / trading / giving knives to others who are in serious need. In long-term survival situations, knives will be worth their weight in diamonds. Be sure to also store extra sharpening stones for all of the same reasons.

  7. Get the right features – in reference to the number of blades/tools/gadgets/features, more is not always better. More in this area means: more money, bigger size, more weight. This translates to greater expense in having several of them. Also the much larger gadget filled knife can be like a small brick in your pocket and therefore more likely to be left behind.

    You do want your knife to have more than just a blade, but what is the minimum and most functional tool set to always have in your pocket or purse? I’ll address this area in the following sections, “What I Do” and “My Tool of Choice,” where I’ll explain what I’ve done and why. Of course, this is my opinion. You’ll need to draw upon your experience and do what is best for you. Over time and with experience, what you do will probably evolve and change, just as it has with me. More, as in blade size has its limits, too. You want your primary knife to fit comfortably in your pocket. A big blade that straps on the outside has its place, but obviously it’s not in your pocket. I’ll discuss the big blades at another time, but first start with the knife you can always have with you discreetly in your pocket.

  8. Practice, practice, practice – have it with you and use it often. The basics of knife use are fairly simple and quite obvious. Blades cut, slice, chop and whittle. Openers open, saws saw, files file, punches make holes, and scissors cut. Practice means yours pocketknife skills get better and you will be able to do things more quickly and safely. You will also start finding uses and benefits for the different tools that did not come to mind at first.

    Learn basic knife handling safety. One of the ways you might accidentally learn is by cutting yourself a few times. However, using basic blade safety practices will keep you from doing any real harm. I’ve carried a knife for over 50 years now and I use it daily. On very rare occasions, I will nick myself (usually several years apart), but it happens, and it’s okay as a little reminder to pay close attention. I too keep getting better.

  9. Learn more – after you get the basics of the many things your knife will do, hang around people who use their knife a lot. You’ll probably see them do more than what is obvious – I’ll share a few of these with you in the next sections. With constant use you’ll start trying different things, some will work, some won’t. You might even break a blade (good thing you have a back up, good thing you have Victorinox because they’ll rebuild it for you at a great price).
  10. Study what others do and become exposed to more advance skills and additional uses of the various blades on your pocketknife. Then experiment and practice by using your knife often. It could save your life or the life of someone else one day.
    10) There is no substitute – what about the multi-tools, such as the Leatherman? They are great and I have several of them (Leatherman, Gerber, Victorinox). However, for me, they do not substitute for a pocketknife. For one thing the sturdy ones are too large to go in the pocket, so most people carry them in a pouch on their belt. There are some very nice small compact ones, but they are not beefy enough to hold up (I’ve broken or bent several of the small pocket models). Get a really good knife first, get a few backups, and then buy your multi-tool-box-on-your belt gizmo. They are great to have also, but most people are less likely to carry them with them all the time.

Here’s a low cost tip. Years before the Leatherman and its competitors came on the market, I carried a small (as in 4-inch) pair of pliers or Vice-Grips in my pocket. This combination (a quality multi-function pocketknife plus 4” pliers) will do almost everything that the multi-tools will do, all for the addition of only about $6-8 dollars, and everything still fits in the pocket.

What I Do

My brand of choice for almost 40 years is Victorinox. Along the way I’ve owned and tested many other brands, and there are some other very good ones. The cheap ones fall apart quickly with the heavy daily use I give them, and during a true emergency situation knives will get an even more extreme workout. In an emergency you don’t want to be betting your life on a cheap imitation.

Through the years, Victorinox has been exceptional in quality, durability and functionality. Their knives come with a lifetime warranty and should you wear out a blade or a spring or something else fails, they will rebuild it for free. From personal experience, they really do rebuild it to completely new specification, and I’ve never paid more than the shipping to send it to them.

My Victorinox Ranger model pocketknife is on a lanyard attached to me all the time, with the following exceptions:

#1 – while riding on commercial airlines, my knife is in the luggage compartment (bummer),

#2 – if I’m working around rotating or moving machinery that might catch my lanyard, I disconnect it from my belt-loop and tuck the lanyard into my pocket with the knife,

#3 – I don’t wear it in the shower (no pocket or belt-loop), and for the same reason I don’t wear it swimming, but I have considered adding a belt-loop and pocket to my bathing suit,

#4 – but I do sleep with my knife, a bit excessive for most people, right? For emergency response reasons, I’ve developed the habit of going to bed wearing the next day’s clean socks, long sleeve shirt and clean jeans, and you can guess where my knife is.

For most people #1, #2 and #3 are sufficient, where #4 may be over the top. Just be sure your knife is close at hand with your next day’s clothes or purse.

If you check my backpacks, emergency packs and travel bags you will find backup knives and multi-tools tucked away. Often they are attached to the pack with a lanyard. Along with the
knives you will also find small diamond sharpening stones so the blades can be kept sharp.

In my presentations, many people have seen the emergency tool kit that I carry in my left hip pocket or side cargo pants pocket. I started calling it my “Castaway-Kit” in honor of the movie Castaway. While I sat analyzing the situations in the movie, I was regularly comforted by the fact that in my right front pocket and my left hip pocket I had the solution to nearly all the problems that “the  castaway” was struggling to overcome. I had with me a pocketknife on a lanyard and in a folding leather pouch about the size of my wallet. In it you will find: medium-grit and fine-grit flat diamond stones, fine-grit round diamond rod with fishhook groove, durable waterproof fire-starter, waterproof tender, three large sewing/darning needles, four regular sewing needles, 4” Vice-Grips, collapsible mini-sewing awl with two needles, and waxed heavy weight sewing awl thread – all of this in a folding pouch that provides a supply of leather for repairs or from which to make things.
I started using the diamond sharpening stones back in the early 80’s. At that time, there was only one manufacturer that I knew of and diamond stones were quite expensive. I still have my first diamond stone and use it regularly. It has sharpened blades thousands of times over the past 30 years and although it is getting less aggressive in its sharpening ability, it still does a fine job.
This type of stone is made with industrial diamond grit bonded on the surface of a metal backing. They stay perfectly flat over their lifetime (unlike early sharpening stones that wear down) and work very well either wet or dry.

The prices have come down significantly over the past 20 years. My original diamond stone cost almost $50 back then. You can now buy the equivalent for about $12. I recommend that you get a number of them in different grits. For most of my knife sharpening, I use medium, fine and extra fine.

The Second Reason “This is Clothing” 

The other reason I call a Pocketknife “clothing” is because of one of the things it will do in an emergency. If I’m caught, especially in winter and cold weather without the necessary clothing to stay warm, I can use my sharp knife to fabricate insulated clothing (bodywear, head-wear, hand-wear, foot-wear) from materials around me: insulation from foam upholstery, carpeting from flooring to make boot soles, upholstery fabrics for boot tops and mitten shells, harvesting other materials for clothing and windbreakers, wire strands to sew it all together, etc. A sharp knife, and the ability to keep it sharp, makes it possible to produce the cold weather clothing articles that can prevent frostbite injuries, hypothermia, suffering or death.

My Tool of Choice ⇒ Victorinox Swiss Army Brand, Ranger Model – This is my primary pocketknife of choice. It has 12 foldout blades, some with multiple features, and 3 additional tools. The overall length is three and a half inches. Suggested retail is $64, but you can find it for considerably less.

Here is a description of the various blades and their features along with some of the ways I use them:

* Key Ring – Number 5 above explains the importance of this feature, be sure to use it to attach that all-important lanyard. With your knife on a lanyard, if you set it down and walk away, it  automatically follows you (handy for us old guys who forget where they set things). It’s also handy when grandpa is camping (or just visiting) with grandchildren. They will want to whittle with your knife – WARNING, do not unhook the lanyard and give it to them. The first big benefit is that they must sit by you to use the knife, and the second benefit is that they won’t be able to wander off and set the knife down someplace (which they surely will do, if given the opportunity).

Another handy benefit of a lanyard of the right length is that when using the knife repeatedly during a project it can just hang by your side with the big blade extended. It’s just waiting there to be quickly snatched up by the cord for immediate use. There’s no need to fish it out of your pocket again or open it up, it’s available for immediate use and then ready to be used again. Be sure that the lanyard length is adjusted properly. When attached at your waistline and the knife is dropped at your side, it needs to be short enough so that with the big blade extended the point does not hit the concrete and get blunted. Also, you want it short enough so that you don’t stab the top of your foot.

(Helpful Hint: pay special attention to lanyard length if you swap between regular jeans and low-riders – failure to do so could be painful.)

If too long of a lanyard is a problem, then so is a lanyard that’s too short. When using the knife and extending your arm all the way out, you don’t want the lanyard to stop the knife before you come to the end of your arm’s reach. If you are still reaching outward and the lanyard suddenly stops the knife, your hand can slip off the handle and onto the blade resulting in a cut from a blade that you always keep sharp. Simply recognize that you will need to test, try and adjust the lanyard to get it to the correct length to work with your height and reach (one size definitely does not fit all). I’ve also found the lanyard on the knife very handy when sitting, especially while seat-belted in a car. Grabbing the lanyard is a way to pull the knife out of my pocket rather than trying to dig it out of my pocket by hand while seated.

* Large Blade – This is the workhorse blade that I use several times a day for the obvious tasks of cutting, trimming and slicing. It is my go anywhere staple remover. It opens boxes and packages. I use it all the time to cut up cardboard and other packaging materials to either recycle or dispose of them. In the garden, I use it for pruning and harvesting. I cut off large splinters on boards and posts to prevent injury, and it’s great for cleaning the dirt from under my fingernails.

When camping it makes wooden utensils, shapes and sharpens guideline tie-down stakes, cuts string/cord/rope, shaves little feathers of dry wood to quickly start fires, splits small sticks into even smaller kindling to get the fire going quickly. With a medium sized stick as a mallet I can drive the blade through larger pieces of wood to split off pieces of bigger kindling to really build up the fire quickly. Then there are all of the kitchen and culinary uses of cutting up vegetable, meats, bread, cheese, fruits and other thing in the preparation of meals.
* Wood Saw – It’s ideal for when you want to square off the butt end of an item you are carving such as making wooden utensils, tie-down stakes, etc. The saw is much faster and easier for this task than whittling off the end with a blade. I use it regularly in my campsite cutting and carving.

Also, this saw is the best way to cut through larger rope as it is much quicker than trying to cut through the rope with a blade.

* Metal Saw & Metal File – On earlier versions of my knives, I did not have this blade, and when I got one with it, I wasn’t sure if it would be all that useful. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. The metal saw and file have been very useful. I use them quite often to file and de-burr metal edges, or cut grooves and notches in mild steel, copper and aluminum. I’ve used it to fashion points on emergency needles I’ve made from heavy gauge wire. Of course, it will also function as a nail file.

* Small Blade – I use this blade for precision work. The blade is shorter, thinner and has a sharper point. I keep it extra sharp and ready for those special jobs of removing splinters and fine detailed cutting and trimming.

* Can Opener – Of all the different types of knife can openers I’ve had or used, this one works the best of all. It has a small flat-blade screwdriver at the tip. It is also an excellent box staple puller, (you know, those big steel staples that hold box flaps together). To pull them out, slip the can opener into the crack between the flaps, hook the can opener under the metal staple, and jerk it out. (CAUTION –turn your head and close your eyes, because sometimes they pop out and go flying.)

* Large Screwdriver – This large flat-blade screwdriver also has a wire stripper notch and bottle cap opener. The screwdriver feature is useful on slotted screws and as a wedge to pry things apart.

* Scissors – Very handy for the small cutting and trimming jobs on paper, plastic and fabric. I’ve used them very often as a fabric slitter when full-sized scissors are not handy or I don’t want to take the time to hunt for them. They do well on fingernails and toenails, too.

* Tweezers – I’ve pulled a lot of splinters out of others and myself with these handy tweezers that tuck into the side of the knife.

* Toothpick – When you’ve got something really stuck in your teeth, which is bugging the heck out of you and there is no regular toothpicks in sight or not even a twig from which to whittle one, you’ll be glad you have this handy plastic toothpick slipped into the side of your knife.

* Corkscrew – Most of us don’t pull many corks out of bottles, but once I stopped looking at it as a corkscrew for which I had no use and saw it as a hook to catch things with, it became very useful.
For one thing, it makes a wonderful thread pick. The fine point on the end lets you snag threads, string, and soft objects very nicely. There is also an optional very small eyeglass screwdriver that is stored inside the spiral by twisting it down into the corkscrew.

* Wood Chisel – A small-but-handy little chisel and gouge for digging down into wood that you are shaping. It’s also great for cutting notches, grooves and larger holes in wood and plastic.

* Small Screwdriver – I don’t remember ever using it as a screwdriver, but it has been useful as a wedge when trying to pry small things apart. Just slip it in the crack and twist.

* Reamer / Punch – Very useful for boring small holes in leather, plastic, soft metals and wood. I’ve used it to drill a hole for the eye of an emergency sewing needle. The punch itself has an eye in it so it can be used for sewing heavy-duty threads in leather or rubber. When carving wooden items, it works great to drill a hole through wood up to a little over 1” thick.

* Hook – Useful to snag strings, small cord and wire. It’s great to use instead of your bare hands to pull heavy-duty threads and small cords tight. Doing such a task with bear hands can result in cuts to your palm and fingers. It’s very useful when you need to really pull your bootlaces tight. The hook extends out the back of the knife at a 90° angle forming a ‘T’ handle that you grip in your hand with the hook extending out between your fingers. In this way you can really tug on things with it.

* Lifetime Warranty – I’ve never had one of these knifes break, but I’ve worn blades out after many years of use and they rebuild the entire knife without charge.

The High Quality backup ⇒ Victorinox Swiss Army Brand Tinker Model – If you cannot buy more of the Ranger model to have for backups, then this is my lower cost backup option. It has 6 foldout blades, some with multiple features, and 3 additional tools. The overall length is three and a half inches. Suggested retail $24.

The blades and features include the following:

*Key Ring
*Large Blade
*Small Blade
*Reamer/Punch with Sewing Eye
*Can Opener with Small Screwdriver
*Large Screwdriver with Bottle
Opener & Wire Stripper
*Lifetime Warranty

In Closing

I trust that this information will help you in your decision making about this most important tool. May it also help you get more experience and utility from your knife in preparation for a time when it may make all the difference in the world. To me, it’s all about having it with me all the time with the right tools and features in a compact high quality package, and like I say – “This is clothing.” I never leave home without it.

Have a great day and wonderful adventures in life.


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