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Opinel pocket knife : Quick Review

18 August 2014

Trekking deep into a volcanic cirque on an island in the Indian Ocean was inspiring. But as we progressed into the evening, the vegetation became more dense.  And soon there wasn’t even enough space for us to put down our mats and sleep. Not expecting this we had no machete of the kind you see in Hollywood movies, nor a Bowie knife nor any kind of hunting knife, to help us clear a patch of undergrowth and make a place to sleep…

Cirque de Mafate, Reunion Island, Indian Ocean

But we did have, and ordinary workman’s pocket knife: And we set to work. Shash & I cut large fronds from the thick lush vegetation, laid them in the space we created; about 1 meter x 2 meters. And we spent a very comfortable night in our Gortex bag, until disturbed the following morning by the French army practicing their manoeuvers.

Opinel No7 penknife

Opinel No7 penknife – latest edition with 7cm stainless steel blade & lock-closed feature.

Cutting the fronds took a little more focus with the Opinel than with a machete, but the razor like cut of the carbon steel blade was quick and effective, and at less than 40 grams required far less effort to carry over several days, in the heat and humidity, than a half kilogram machete.

So this is more of a short review, than a quick one, as I’ve been using this particular model of knife for more than thirty years.

The key features:

  • Sharp/Durable: Available with a carbon steel or stainless steel blade.
  • Light: The one in the picture weighs 38 gram
  • Safe: Several features help make it safe:
    • Sized by measuring the spine of the blade in centimetres, most people will find the 7, 8 or 9 offers them a sure comfortable grip. And the 10 & 12 offer a wider range of uses.
    • Well shaped wooden handle: traditionally made of plain polished beech, now available in a variety of hardwoods. I think this one is probably of pressure impregnated European Hornbeam which gives a grain with a fine even texture, and is easily gripped with a sweaty palm
    • Locking ring (Virobloc). Unique to Opinel, you can lock the blade closed or open. It makes it very safe.

Fit for purpose

It’s a lightweight knife, costing less than €10 in France and a maximum of £15 in the UK. Though the more recent versions with exotic wood handles and superior stainless steel blades will cost a little more.

It will do most of the jobs you’ll need when out walking or trekking. You can cut and eat your food with it (the stainless has less of a taste than the carbon blade),  use it for foraging food or fuel, and as in the picture below, use it to flake your tinder when all around you is wet.

OpinelTinder

Accidentally caught on camera: Early morning brew. I used the knife to flake some tinder to light the wood in the Kelly Kettle. Whilst waiting for the mountain mist to lift.

Drawbacks:

  • It has limited strength. But thousands of French artisans, shepherds, farm workers, railway workers, have used them every day for almost 125 years without undue fuss. You have to recognise it is just a pocket knife, rely on the blade to do the work, keep it sharp and don’t abuse it. Don’t, for example, try levering apart the well-stuck parts of dis-used farm machinery (experience).
    .
  • The wooden handle is subject to humidity. So it may occasionally stick. The trick is to choose one wisely (ie where the resistance suits you) when you buy it, or adjust it yourself to suit the ambient humidity. I tried a half-dozen before I chose the one above; but they are not difficult to adjust, as you can see in the video below. Just be careful with the very sharp blade. Then when necessary, make sure the locking ring is open and use the Coup de Savoyard (Savoy Tap/Savoi Tap) to start the blade opening. (And again, watch the very helpful video below).

The coupe de Savoyard

Holding the knife for the Savoy Tap

Holding the knife for the Savoy Tap

The traditional, and effective, way to open your Opinel is with the Savoy Tap. So called because, made in the region of Savoie in France, the locals ( the Savoyard) after unlocking the blade, take the the closed knife by it’s fattest part, holding it between thumb and first finger, and with the locking ring/ferrule pointing into the palm.  They then tap the end of the sabot (clog/wooden handle) on a hard surface and the leading edge of the blade pops out, allowing you, very easily,  to extend it fully – not forgetting to lock it open. Again it’s demonstrated very well on the video below.

I’ve seen French mountain men take the knife in one hand, use the tap to start the open; and then in one seamless action, rotate the knife in the hand, open the blade on their work, and lock it with a flick of their thumb. Probably whilst pinning a ewe or a nanny under the other arm.

Video

Here’s a great little independent and very entertaining YouTube video with a few tricks about looking after your knife. Including advice on how best to adjust the pivot.

A short video of my own to show you how to open and close the knife with one hand

Conclusion

It’s my first choice for an all-around trekking/backpacking and day walking knife. If it’s very important to keep a sharp edge I use a carbon steel blade, though things are changing and modern stainless alloys offer great all around performance. So if I’m concerned it may start to rust whilst in the wet of the mountains, or ambling along a coast line, I choose to use the stainless steel.

If necessary I carry a small ingot of sharpening stone to help keep the edge, but where I’m really trying to keep the weight down, I carry a very small piece of wet and dry paper and lay it on a smooth boulder of flat rock to hone the edge if really necessary. I will talk about sharpening a knife in some future post for “The Outdoor Handbook”, because normally, I don’t carry any other knife.

Effilé

Meaning rather more than “Slimline”, it’s English name, Whitby & Co the Opinel distributors in Ireland and Britain have provided me with a very elegant evolution of the Opinel pocket knife described in this review. The Effilé with a dense ebony wooden handle and a highly polished Sandvik 12C27M stainless steel blade. I’m using it now as I continue to research walking in Ireland. It’s a beauty, and I’ll be writing the review, it  rapidly became my favourite …
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001457 knife copy(1)

Opinel Effilé No 8. With Sandvik 12C27M stainless blade and ebony wood handle

Outdoor

Update 2016: This summer for a day-walking/car camping  trip across France we purchased one of the new specialist editions: The Outdoor. With a 12C27 stainless steel drop-point blade (unpolished), featuring both a  plain and serrated section of blade, a shackle key (slot in the blade), and a synthetic handle with inbuilt alert whistle and short lanyard.

Shash loved it, and it wasn’t long before she’d substituted it for the 7cm orange hornbeam handle shown above, and we took it to around 3000m backpacking.  Full review to come.

ndeg8_outdoor_green_brown_web_edited

The stainless steel Opinel Outdoor with synthetic handle.

Links…

The Opinel knife collections

A thorough Wikipedia article

Opinel’s own history page – nicely presented

Whitby & Co. Opinel distributors in Britain and Ireland

Marketed in the UK & Ireland as “The No8 Trekking Knife”
this one in blue. From Whitby & Co. …

More Than Just Surviving”
reviewed the 8cm version in September 2014

Updated: 15 September 2016

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 September 2014 10:23

    Your knife is awesome and fit for every purpose.

    Like

    • 8 September 2014 10:50

      Thanks Grace… It is just a knife, but usually all that I need… and because you can lock it open it generally works well with a fire steel.

      I hope things go well on your twitter account 🙂

      David/Dáithí

      Like

  2. 16 September 2014 16:10

    Never heard of the Savoy Tap before, video makes it look very easy & I can see why its a popular deployment method.

    Like

  3. 18 September 2014 11:11

    An update on legalities. Some countries/localities do have a problem with knife crime & it’s been pointed out to me that carrying a knife might be deemed unlawful, and subject to both imprisonment and fine. (4 years & a £5000 fine in Britain, including Scotland, and in Northern Ireland).

    So I’ve begun a series of enquiries. First here are a couple of links. They are helpful in the sense that they are explicit about the law, and unhelpful as they offer little in the way of interpretation for the use and carrying of a knife outside of work or exhibition.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knife_legislation
    https://www.gov.uk/find-out-if-i-can-buy-or-carry-a-knife

    So I’ve been seeking some real-world interpretation and have just received my first response from An Garda Síiochána (Police, Republic of Ireland). I visited the local Garda station and took three knives. Two quite substantial, used shore-side and boat-side for sailing, but with serial numbers registered in my name. And the ebony handled Opinel Effilé illustrated above, which I use for day walking and backpacking – it has both a locking blade and one measuring 7.9 cms (longer than the British limit of 7.62cms).

    The local sergeant took details of the knives and several days to consult with the relevant Guarda department. He gave me the official view today. It’s all about how a guard will perceive your intention. It’s all about “time”, “place”, “purpose” and “behaviour”. Specifically I was told that I’m perceived as a responsible person. If I am going about my work or my hobby, the possession of the knife on my person would be understood as legitimate. But, if I was found to be carrying any of those knives in my back pocket at 23:30 on a Saturday night whilst in a Dublin pub, my intentions would be perceived very differently. I understand that in the Northern Ireland I would be automatically presumed guilty of mal intent.

    Waiting to hear back from my local English constabulary. After which I’ll follow up with the PSNI (Northern Ireland) and An Seirbheis Phoilis na h-Alba (Police Service of Scotland) if it seems appropriate.

    So my interim advice is keep your knife at home (not in the glove box of your car) when not engaged in your rambling/trekking/outdoor hobby. And don’t display it openly in a scabbard or sleeve attached to your clothing or gear, unless you are deep in the wilderness, or at least an hour’s walk from a metalled road.

    Regards to all
    David/Dáithí

    Like

  4. 2 November 2016 10:55

    The current UK government guidance on buying and carrying a knife
    http://wlk.re/KnivesUKlaw

    Like

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