My Ueli Steck Special Edition Titanium Knife by Wenger has saved the day on more than one occasion. I am lazy about taking care of my gear, which is never a problem until I’m in the heat of it, and realize that I have once again forgotten to file my tools, tighten the bolts on my ice axe or sharpen the edges on my skis.
A few years back, I had started up Telluride’s Bridal Veil Falls when, pulling on my ice axe, I saw the pick slide out of the ice, as if it were a 1930s toothless axe. I slid it back into the pick hole, and cautiously pushed upward to a sheltered anchor. Had I had the Ueli Steck knife, I could have remedied to the issue right then and there. Instead, I resorted to a less-than-ideal solution: swapping tools with my partner.
Though I promised myself that this would never happen to me again, I still found myself at the base of a climb, wishing I hadn’t been so lazy. The Ueli Steck knife seemed like the ideal solution my laziness. This tool has a function for every piece of gear in my backcountry quiver: a sixty-five millimeter blade, file, hexagonal keys, flat- and Phillips-head screwdriver, wire stripper and can opener. For three months, I used the multitool to tune, tweak, sharpen, crank, slice, saw and open a beer at the end of it all.
Having finished my field test, I can say that Ueli’s tool is a fine piece of Swiss craftsmanship that is the ideal multitool for guides or recreational climbers on multi-day trips. Unlike the other Wenger knives in their Titanium line, the Ueli Steck Special Edition knife is designed specifically to meet the needs of alpinists and skiers. As a guide, I always carry some multitool with me so I’m ready for technical issues with my own gear and that of my clients. Recently, I met a client early in the morning and lent her my skis but needed to adjust the bindings, which I was able to do right there at the base of the ski hill. Perfect for this kind of situation, the multitool lives in my pack for occasional gear adjustments and malfunctions.
The knife often sits in the top lid of my backpack, mingled with a myriad other things that I need readily accessible–granola bars, Sharkies, headlamp and navigation tools–so I often wished that the neoprene pouch would come in another color than black, making it easier to spot in that tight and crowded space, but also more fun. Same comment goes for the knife itself, which comes in a dull, military grey.
A more pressing concern I have about the tool is the separation of the bit adapter and bits, which sit in a separate compartment of the knife pouch. The bits clip very neatly into the handle of the knife, yet it’s easy to drop the small pieces during the transition from pouch to adapter. This is especially worrisome when I am wearing big gloves, hanging on a cliff or standing in deep powder–all the times when this tool is actually useful. And at $200 for the knife, I wonder why the pieces weren’t just simply integrated to the knife.
As is, it’s also hard to adjust ski bindings with no ratchet integrated into the bits. When I try tweaking my binding with the screwdriver function, I can only move the screw a few inches before hitting my hand on the ski, and having to pull the bit out of the screw and start the whole process over again. A ratchet would have prevented me from having to remove the bit each time, and made me less likely to loose those small pieces.
The multitool’s partially serrated knife is said to be relatively light due to the hexagonal holes in the wide, moon-shaped blade. But at 100 grams, the multitool doesn’t feel that light to me, and its weight will deter some climbers from carrying this tool beyond the approach. It’s greatest utility comes before or after a climb, when I have time and space to sit down and fine-tune my gear. And with that high price tag, most climbers will prefer to spend their dollars on a full-size, and more functional file, scewdriver, knife and saw.
Another noteworthy shortcoming is the tool’s brand-specific sizing. Likely the result of Ueli Steck’s sponsorship by Petzl, the hexagonal keys are sized to work specifically with Petzl tools. I tested the multitool on Black Diamond tools, and they were not compatible. I have not tried it out on other brands, and would recommend that climbers test the tool for themselves before dropping two Benjamins.
My final gripe is with the knife’s safe lock, which can be disengaged either by pressing on the Wenger cross on the handle or by shifting the liner lock. The blade is advertised as easily openable with one hand, but it’s taken me lots of practice to make the one-handed opening “easy.”
Overall, Wenger’s Ueli Steck Special Edition knife is an appealing multitool because it meets all my daily needs as a guide: sharpening axes, crampons and edges on skis, adjusting bindings, cutting webbing or rope and opening a can of beans while camping or on a wall. But the knife is a little heavy and expensive, and loses some functionality with the separation of bits and the adapter, the lack of ratchet on the bits and its incompatibility with some non-Petzl ice tools. In a cragging context, the knife is not that useful since all its functions are more relevant before and after the climb.
Although parts of the design are not all that well executed, the knife is valuable in that it meets the specific needs of climbers, and addresses most situations I’ve encountered in the field.
Pros: climbing specific; great for expeditions and bivouacs; compact.
Cons: screwdriver bits are easy to drop; most of the functions are not useful on a climb, but rather before and after, so it’s not worth carrying the weight; hexagonal keys are specific to Petzl tools; pricey.