gear-classic french wooden handle opinel folding pocket knife
Classic French Opinel® folding knives, #8 (top) and #6.

Gear – Knife

Opinel® Folding Knife, N° 06 — 28 grams

A knife is among the most basic and useful tools and one of the essentials I carry.  Say “pocketknife”, and you’re likely to think of the famous Swiss Army knife from Victorinox®.  Though undoubtedly useful for one thing or another, they have never been my first choice.

A basic Swiss Army knife weighs 75 grams (2.7 ounces) and has two stainless steel blades – 55mm and 35mm (2 inches and 1.4 inches). It also has various screwdrivers, an awl, toothpick, scissors and tweezers. In my experience these last two are the most useful gadgets on board, but overall, these ubiquitous red tool kits are stuffed with too many little gadgets that I don’t need; the stainless blades are too short and they don’t hold a keen edge very well. And did I mention 75 grams?

My favorite is the little pocket knife made by French manufacturer Opinel®.  The company is still privately owned by descendants of Joseph Opinel, who founded the company in 1890, and is very proud of its commitment to ecologically aware manufacturing practices.

the classic hand and crown trademark is stamped into every opinel blade

Opinel produces 4 million knives a year, which are available in many countries, including the USA. The most common is the medium-sized “Number 8”, which is basically the same standard issue wood-handled pocketknife used by la Légion étrangère française, or French Foreign Legion.

These knives are inexpensive and readily available all over France in shops such as the tabac or agence presse. They have a fine, sturdy steel blade, and whenever mine needs sharpening, I just ask the butcher to keen the edge when I stop in at the charcuterie for a piece of sausage. They always seem to appreciate that I use one. They all do…

The handles are made made from various woods, such as oak, walnut and olive, and have a simple and ingenious ring that rotates to lock the blade open or closed. They are easy to keep handy, and make short work of all the usual tasks such as cutting bread, cheese, sausage, and cord.

For years I’ve carried the N° 08, which weighs 49.8 grams and has an 83mm blade (1.75 ounces/3.25 inches). At the end of my last walk (from Paris to Bordeaux), I picked up the smaller N° 06, which weighs 27.7 grams with a 72mm blade (1.0 ounce/2.8 inches). That’s a difference of 22 grams, yet it works just fine for all my pique-nique and other longwalking needs. The N° 06 Opinel blade is almost an inch longer than the Swiss Army knife, so it’s both smaller and bigger at the same time — all in all a safer, sturdier, cheaper, and lighter choice.

Bottom line:

It doesn’t get much simpler than the Opinel. I’ve loved my trusty N° 08 for twenty years, and was pleased with the lighter, smaller N° 06 I carried in 2009. You can’t go wrong with either of these timeless everyday knives, and on my next walk, I’ll take the N° 06. Highly recommended by Longwalking.

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