Multi-tools are simply miniature engineering marvels, and if you understand their applications and limitations, they can literally save the day in a wide variety of situations ranging from quick-fixes around the house and office to more serious mechanical and other survival-type breakdowns in the always unpredictable Great Outdoors. As a compromise device, the pocket multi-tool obviously isn’t the first choice for minor auto repairs, emergency shelter fabrication, whittling camp furniture or skinning fish on an afternoon hike that turned into an unplanned three-night lost-in-the-woods adventure. But, a good one can take on all of those in a pinch if it has to, and it has the advantage of being small enough to ride along pretty much everywhere, when the 200-pound tool chest, the 12-inch Bowie knife, the set of tiny jeweler’s screwdrivers and the fillet knife don’t, won’t and can’t.
Multi-tools, fortunately, do appeal in sufficient numbers to people in all walks of life, male and female, old and young, mechanically inclined or not, to keep the better makers producing tried-and-true classics as well as developing new models, and in variations and sizes to fit just about everybody, from pockets to purses to belt pouches and backpacks. I can and do highly recommend them, and no good survival kit should be without one. The key is to determine what applications might fit your lifestyle best. Do your research on what’s available to cover those areas, and above all else—buy quality!
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Bear Jaws Locking Multi-Tool
The Bear & Son Bear Jaws Locking Multi-Tool packs 18 stainless steel functions into a 4-inch (closed) package. Among the multi-tool’s features are a standard clip-point blade, a serrated sheepsfoot blade, a 3-in-1 file, a bottle and can opener, screwdrivers, handle rulers (in inch and metric), a wire cutter and pliers. This model opens the tools up from the inside, leaving only rounded outside solid surfaces for better gripping comfort. This multi-tool is one of the most hand-friendly models out there and comes with a ballistic sheath. (bearandsoncutlery.com; 256-435-2227)
Best Glide Pocket Camper & Survival Tool
The Credit Card Survival Tool is widely sold at flea markets, military surplus stores and camping equipment outlets, under varying names. The Pocket Camper from Best Glide Aviation Survival Equipment is stamped out of stainless steel with cutouts to handle light work on several small-sized nuts and bolts and includes a bottle opener, a butterfly/screw wrench, a button compass bearing plate, a small screwdriver corner, a knife/scraper edge, a sawblade edge, a short ruler edge, a lanyard hole and a thin plastic carry case. Got room for your wallet? You’ve got room for this to go along, too! (bestglide.com; 888-834-9971)
The Columbia River Knife & Tool CRKT Tool pushes the traditional multi-tool envelope with its “switchblade-type” push-button activation; the multi-tool’s flat and Phillips screwdrivers swing out at the midpoint for strong T-handle torque. The CRKT Tool also includes nine screwdriver bits, a nylon sheath, a straight-edge main blade and secondary saw blade with liner locks, four different wire-stripping gauge holes, 11 box wrench sizes in the handle, a bottle opener and a deep pocket clip. With its push-button operation and thumbstuds, CRKT has a one-handed winner with this one. (crkt.com; 800-891-3100)
Gerber Multi-Plier-600 Needlenose
Gerber was an early pioneer in the multi-tool field, and its stainless 14-tool Multi-Plier-600 Needlenose carries on the patented one-hand-opening, slide-out plier jaws featured of the originals, combined with both serrated and straight-edge blades, a file, three sizes of flat-blade screwdrivers, one Phillips screwdriver, a can-opener, a bottle opener, a ruler, a wire-cutter, and so on. Handy, slick and quick to get into use! (gerbergear.com; 800-950-6161)
Leatherman is a top contender in multi-tools with several models ranging from full-sized to keychain versions. With its adjustable locking jaws, the stainless steel Crunch can clamp onto pipe up to 1 inch in diameter. The Crunch features 15 tools, most of which fold inside the unit’s handles. Among these features are a serrated blade, a wire cutter, a wire stripper, a pin vice, a bottle opener, screwdrivers, a 0.25-inch hex bit driver and a ruler. (leatherman.com; 800-847-8665)
At the other end of the scale, the diminutive and affordable 10-tool, stainless steel Leatherman Micra features four screwdrivers, tweezers, scissors, a nail file, ruler and a cutting blade with a small split-ring for attaching to a larger keyring or lanyard, all in a 2.5-inch package. (leatherman.com; 800-847-8665)
Real Avid Gun Tool
Real Avid’s Gun Tool is a firearms-dedicated, 18-function unit that features three Torx wrenches and two Allen wrenches, four magnetic hex-head bits (two flat screwdriver, two Phillips screwdrivers), a pin punch, a short “claw-point” cutting blade, and a choke wrench in six gauges with a wider windage and elevation drum scope adjustment tip. All of these features are presented in a sturdy stainless/polymer frame. This is one product that always travels in my range box. (theguntool.com; 800-286-0567)
SOG PowerLock V-Cutter
SOG is another well-known name in multi-tools, and its gear-driven, compound leverage stainless PowerLock V-Cutter carries 22 tools (all of which lock in place) in its flip-open handles. The PowerLock V-Cutter’s features include one half-serrated/half non-serrated blade, a saw blade, a wire cutter, a three-sided file, an awl, a blasting cap crimper, a bolt-grip channel, screwdrivers, can and bottle openers, and the V-Cutter blade for seatbelts and webbing. This multi-tool another quick opener with an interesting strap-cutting feature. (sogknives.com; 425-771-6230)
Topeak ALiEN II
For the biking crowd (mountain, racing or touring), Topeak’s 26-tool ALiEN II with its two-piece body is the one to have along for all sorts of road or trailside tighten-ups, from chains to screws and beyond. Complete with Allen, Torx, pedal, box and spoke wrenches, along with screwdrivers, a short blade, tire levers and the ever-useful bottlecap opener for end-of-ride celebrations, this one should be in your pack or on your bike for every long-distance or remote backcountry ride. If you can’t get your bike back on the road with the ALiEN II, you should probably just bury it where it lies. (topeak.com; 800-213-4561)
Victorinox SwissTool Spirit
Arguably the oldest name in the popular multi-tool movement with its Swiss Army knives, Victorinox has a wide range of sizes and models in its multi-tool lineup. The SwissTool Spirit is a larger model, cramming 21 functions into its 5.75 ounces, including scissors, wood saw, metal saw, metal file, awl, wire stripper, wire cutter, reamer, multi-purpose hook, bottle and can openers, screwdrivers, combination-edge blade, and needlenose pliers, among others. History speaks well of Victorinox’s quality and durability. (victorinox.com; 800-442-2706)
This article was originally published in the Survival’s Edge ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.