One piece of equipment that must be carried by race drivers in Alaska’s Iditarod, Michigan’s U.P. 200, Minnesota’s John Beargrease, and any other sanctioned long-distance dogsledding competition, is a knife. Rule 33 of the Iditarod states that a musher who kills a moose, caribou, or buffalo “in defense of life or property” (moose, especially, have attacked dog teams) must gut the animal. And racers who come upon the scene must help him do it, because “no team shall pass until the animal has been gutted, and the musher killing the animal has proceeded.” Most uses a musher might find for his knife are less dramatic, but veterans of the sport unanimously agree that it’s an indispensable tool.

robert_sorlie_and_iditarod_team_near_nomeNot Just Any Knife
Not any knife will do in temperatures cold enough to crack spring-steel snowplows and turn most liquids to solids. It’s a world where LCD screens can be destroyed by subzero temperatures, fresh batteries go dead in minutes, and keeping drinking water from becoming a block of ice is a challenge. A musher’s blade must not become brittle, it should be glove- or numb-finger friendly and it has to withstand abuses like severing steel cables inside the “gang line” that connects dogs to sled. There’s also the need to re-tighten panhead screw-and-nut fasteners that steady a dogsled’s flexible joints when they work loose on a rugged trail. Or unscrewing an iced-up threaded locking sleeve on the carabineer between gangline and sled frame.

Counterbalancing those needs is a universal compulsion by racers to keep the weight of their trail-ready rig as low as possible. Every piece of gear has to be something they can’t do without, and each of those items needs to be as multi-functional as possible. To find out what cutting instrument best serves the array of needs a dogsledder might encounter when he or she is many miles from the nearest checkpoint, TK went to the experts, the weather-hardened veterans of what some say is the toughest racing sport in the world.

Maybe not surprisingly, every veteran musher interviewed elects to fulfill the knife requirement with a multi-tool that can perform as many tasks as possible. Bill Borden, who holds the distinction of being the first musher from Georgia to complete the 1,151-mile Iditarod, tells of how he once used a multi-tool to drill a hole through the hard white ash of a sled runner to repair it on the trail.

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