Backpacking/Climbing Knives of the 1960s, 70s and 80s?

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dave.m

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So, I ran this question up the flag pole in the traditional forum but thought I'd post it here to see if I could pick up some different perspectives.

QUESTION: What knives were popular for backpacking, hiking and mountaineering during the 1960s, 70s and 80s?

Obviously, the Swiss Army Knife (SAK) is almost synonymous with backpacking but it's not clear when it gained broad acceptance among backpackers. Nor is it clear to me what other knives were popular and when.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not looking for advice on what sort of knife to carry or buy today. I'm really only interested in hearing about knives in use in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

My hunch here is that most people got their knives from some place other than a backpacking and climbing store and I'm trying to get a bead on this.

If you were hiking and climbing during that era or if you were working in shops catering to backpackers during that time, I would love to hear your reflections.

If anybody has or can point to catalogs outfitters of the day that would show what knives were carried, that would be ideal.

Some specific questions:

SAKs - When did they start to become popular among backpackers and climbers? What stores carried them? Which models were the most commonly seen and used?

Boy Scout Knives and Traditional Pocket Knives - These include "Boy Scout Knives" made by Ulster and Camillus among many others. This also traditional "jack knives" like those made by Case, Schrade, Boker and others. Were these commonly used? What brands to you recall being sold in backpacking stores or catalogs?

Buck Knives - These are the large, wood and brass folding hunting style knives like the Buck 110 and 112, as well as the numerous knives of the same style sold by other manufactures like Schrade, Ka-Bar, Camillus and Case. Did you see this style of knife in use during that these times periods? What backpacking or climbing stores carried them?

Multitools - The first Leatherman tool appeared in the early 80s and the Early Winters catalog carried them in the 1982 or 83 time frame. Did you see multitools on the trail during the 80s? Which brand? What stores or catalogs carried them?

Tactical Folders - The Spyderco CO1 Worker was introduced in 1981 featuring a large hole in the blade allowing for one hand opening. Did you see similar tactical folding knifes on the trails during the 1980s? Did any backpacking or climbing stores that you know of sell knives of this sort?

Traditional Fixed Blade Knives - These include hunting knives like the Buck 119 and military knives like the classic Ka-Bar. Did you see them in use backpacking or climbing and were they carried by backpacking and climbing stores?



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I'll start... I was just a boy in the 1960s, which meant goofing around in the Scouts or raising havoc in the neighborhood with a BB gun. I got my first Ulster made Scout knife when I was 8 and lost several. I recall going to Sears stores to buy replacements with my folks, usually with a sterm lecture to take better care of my knife. This continued through the early 70s. I lived in teh mid-west and had never heard of backpacking or climbing. Just camping.

In the mid to late 70s, I discovered skiing and backpacking. I also discovered the REI mail order catalog, which tooks its place on my reading stand next to a stack of Herter's catalogs. Herters sold hunting and fishing supplies. While I still have an old SACS Millet rucksack that I purchased in 1978, I don't recall ever seeing a knife in an REI catalog. I did order a Buck 110 from Herters though, as well as a cheap Barlow.

I remember visiting "mountain shops" in Vermont in the 70s when we would visit in the summer and I remember buying various bits of "gear" like a down jacket (Mountain Lion) and my first real hiking boots (Lowa) but I don't recall seeing knives for sale. Just have no recollection.

I saw my first dedicated brick and mortar outdoor store in the early 80s when I went to college there. There was Wilderness House on Comm Ave and across the street, the big Eastern Mountain Sports. My interest in visiting those stores was more towards things like crampons, sleeping backs and stoves. Again, I just have no memory of what knives were sold there.

I do recall getting my first multitool towards the end of the 80s; a SOG Paratool which went into my pack for a long time.
 
In the late 1950's , I had a multi tool knife I bought at an Army/Navy store. It had the basic blades plus a folding out knife and spoon. I used that on my adventures cooking out in the woods, as they were, in Boston. In the Boy Scouts, I had an official BSA folding knife that served me well on the weekend trips to the wild places our troop did weekend overnights at- the wooded suburbs of Boston and Cape Cod, and summer camp in NH. I had a couple of 6 inch hunting knives which mostly rode on my belt and served to whittle wood. Since the 70's , I have used SAKs for general use at home, at camp, and on hiking trips. I have yet to try a Leatherman.
 
In the 80s I was a kid (entered high school in 1987). The idea of a special knife for camping or hiking was foreign to my family, and they weren't climbers. My cousin was learning to climb, but didn't own his own gear, and didn't carry a knife to climb. I remember that on hikes there would usually be at least one Opinel for cutting the sausage and cheese and making a picnic. (Those things were dangerous - had a nasty tendency to fold unexpectedly. Later they introduced models with a rotating collar, but those collars could still rotate to an unsafe position on their own.) At least my uncle had a swiss army knife (I remember using the tweezers to extract thorns from somebody), and I soon had one too in addition to an Opinel. I often had a jack-knife in my pocket, whether camping or just hanging around. (I got in trouble once when a SAK fell out of my pocket in gym class - that was sixth grade, so about 1984).
I remember a heavy bowie-style fixed-handle fishing knife was brought car-camping at least once, but it didn't get much use: we were lousy fishermen. A couple people I knew had reef knives for sailing or diver's knives for snorkeling, but didn't take them camping or hiking.
 
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In the late 1950's , I had a multi tool knife I bought at an Army/Navy store. It had the basic blades plus a folding out knife and spoon. I used that on my adventures cooking out in the woods, as they were, in Boston. In the Boy Scouts, I had an official BSA folding knife that served me well on the weekend trips to the wild places our troop did weekend overnights at- the wooded suburbs of Boston and Cape Cod, and summer camp in NH. I had a couple of 6 inch hunting knives which mostly rode on my belt and served to whittle wood. Since the 70's , I have used SAKs for general use at home, at camp, and on hiking trips. I have yet to try a Leatherman.

Does this look like that Army/Navy knife?
democookusmc1.jpg


Could you hazard a guess where you bought the BSA knives in the 60s?

Lastly, where did you buy the SAKs in the 70s?
 

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When I started hiking in the 70s, I carried a Swiss Army Knife. It was probably purchased at Clapp & Treat. I preferred the SAK to my brother's scout knife because his would get rusty. I still have that SAK today.

Paul K
 
My first Swiss Army knife was purchased in Zurich, Switzerland on my honey moon in the late 1970' s; if I recall correctly the BSA knife would have been purchased at Filenes downtown Boston- they had a BSA shop there, as well as a Red Sox ticket office; the army style knife had a faux wood handle and a folding spoon n fork. The knife you show was a common steel military knife from the 60's.
 
In the '60s Boy Scouts carried folding pocket knives and hatchets on their belts, presumably bought from official scout suppliers which were often department stores. Woodsmen often carried sheath knives presumably bought at sporting goods stores. Ordinary people often carried knockoffs of the 4-blade Scout knife which you could buy at a 5&10. I think military knives became popular in the late '60s with veterans returning from Vietnam. Of course back then EMS and LLBean had one store each and REI was West Coast or mail order. In communities too small to support a sporting goods store, you could buy camping supplies at a hardware store or general store. (And yes, I got a useless knife with fork and spoon for Xmas one year.)
 
Dad's old Ka-Bar Boy Scout sheath knife from the 1930s used to sit on a shelf in the basement when I was a kid, but I don't know what happened to it. I carried it on a few hikes in the early 1970s. My current backpacking knife (other than the ubiquitous swiss army knife I carry everyday) is a 1970s era Puukko knife Dad bought from Brookstone.

By the late 1970s everybody was selling those "survival knives" with the built in compass and storage inside the hollow handle, but most if not all were cheap junk with a Rambo style blade that no serious backpacker would own.
 
I always carried a fixed blade of considerable size. There are many uses for a knife in the backcountry and the better quality of knife, the better it will serve you. About 20 years ago, I bought a new fixed blade while living in CO. It was made by Muela a Spanish company, stag handle with 440 stainless blade. This fixed blade was smaller than my typical knife, but it proved just as useful. 5 years ago, I switched to the famous and extremely well made Buck 110 folder. I have been extremely happy with this knife and is an excellent backcountry knife.
 
A quick reminder that the state of NH surplus government surplus store in Concord sells items turned over to the TSA at Manchester and elsewhere at the "White Barn" on Monday mornings. They have bins of name brand knifes and multi tools. Out in back they have other large bins filled full of other than name brand knock offs for even less.
 
A quick reminder that the state of NH surplus government surplus store in Concord sells items turned over to the TSA at Manchester and elsewhere at the "White Barn" on Monday mornings. They have bins of name brand knifes and multi tools. Out in back they have other large bins filled full of other than name brand knock offs for even less.
I have heard of this and need to get there one of these days.
 
I received a red, Swiss Army knife as a wedding present. Still have it. Replaced as a hike-carry with a variety of multitools, including one very large one too heavy to carry in the field. The small, micro-tools all have needle-nosed pliers and I've dequilled my last dog 7x and those of others another 3x so they are in every hiking pack.
 
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