A friend recently called me, his son had graduated and was to spend a year in the Antarctic at the South African weather station. His query was regarding a suitable multitool for his work as an electrical engineer. We eventually decided on a Leatherman “Charge” as it ticked all the boxes and was also large enough to hold wearing insulated gloves in sub-zero temperatures. The inventor Tim Leatherman started working on multi-function pliers 42 years ago and launched his Pocket Survival Tool in 1983 known simply as the PST. Popularity grew as you could use it for a variety of emergency repairs when travelling as well as around the house for daily tasks. The brand has become the generic name for the multitude of tools that followed. Today Leatherman sell more than $ 100 million each year and the market is growing with all types of new entrants and innovation. So let’s look at the boxes to tick when carrying a multitool.
- The best multitool is the one you have when you need it in an emergency. I have six and one stays in the car permanently. It is useful for me as well as helping others. I recently had to remove a piece of wood in the sidewall of a tyre in Upington. The driver of the vehicle did not have any suitable tool. For keychain carry, I have two smaller versions without pliers, still very useful. If it breaks I can fix it.
- Bigger is not necessarily better, large tools are possibly more capable but not easily carried, that being said I may as well get my full tool kit.
- You need to understand that although you can carry out a multitude of tasks when the work gets serious you will need other tools. Sockets, spanners, hammers and vice grips come to mind. And there is no substitute for the versatility of a water pump or adjustable pliers. So focus on a tool that meets your daily needs and is easy to carry.
- If you need a specific tool then see that it is readily at hand, for my mountain bike I keep a selection of tools in a small pouch that attaches to the seat post. Often using a multitool for a specific task that requires a special tool can result in damage.
- Then if you carry a knife stick to it. A multitool may have a few blades that are good in an emergency. With all the other tools in the handle, the knife is not easy to use often being offset and cumbersome. The design does not allow for ergonomics. If used for food prepping you may end up having to clean all the tools. Stick to a single blade locking pocket knife it’s much simpler.
- Keep it as simple as possible, I love my Victorinox multitool but for everyday carry it is large and heavy if not somewhat over-engineered.What I love about the Victorinox is the small spectacle screwdriver that sits in the corkscrew. However, I prefer my small SOG with its compound jaws that double the force applied to the pliers when used. Or my vintage Leatherman Pulse- and that was engraved by Tim Leatherman himself.
- You want something simple and robust, forget about fire starters, saws, sharpeners etc. Those functions call for dedicated tools, on a multitool they tend to be a compromise. Keep it simple and functional
- The so-called credit card tools are a total compromise only used in an absolute emergency as a last resort. They bulk up your wallet and often crack when you sit on them. I do use my wine companion but keep it in my car. It came in use at a recent function when a corkscrew was required.
- If you are in the market look for quality from the big-name brands over too much functionality. That often results in inferior quality.
- There are a few good keychain brands and these are useful tools, the decision here would be based on the need for small pliers or scissors. In both cases, I opted for scissors as the pliers is too small and finicky.
- Then look to a mid-size tool and examine the options in terms of the available tools. These tools are pocket friendly if you opt not to carry them in a pouch.
- Then you get the larger tools, I pack mine in a daypack or in the car but they are just too heavy for pocket carry and I prefer not to wear them on a belt. In this segment, I have opted for a SOG and Victorinox. The Swiss brand has become extremely expensive though.
- In the long run, you will use the pliers and side cutter extensively. Possibly followed by the bottle opener which often doubles as a can opener. Excessive torque on the flat and star drivers could cause them to snap.
- Lastly, look for a warranty in the case of a failure. The leading brands offer anything from 25 years to a lifetime warranty. This is important as these tools do not come cheap anymore. If they do be cautious as they may be substandard.
Once you have bought a multitool do carry it and do not be afraid to use it. A good tool can take a lot of punishment. But be cautious as overzealous use could break something. If in doubt get the toolbox out!