A good multitool can get you out of a number of uncomfortable situations, and provides what amounts to an entire toolbox worth of equipment in a single device that fits in your pocket. I’ve owned about a dozen multitools in my life, varying in size and price while each claimed to be the ultimate solution to life’s challenges. Some have impressed me and remain part of my daily and camping equipment list. Others, not so much.
The best way to determine the best multitool for you is to evaluate your usage situation. A mechanic or engineer might find one set of properties preferable while a computer technician would look for something entirely different. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, though the very idea of a multitool might appear to contradict that fact.
It’s quite all right to have several multitools on you at a given time. Personally, I have one I take with me every day and one I use for situations where I’m working on equipment or camping. While each may have redundant uses, it’s sometimes better to have two of something than none of what you need.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a good multitool.
What Are You Using it For?
Fact is: A good multitool should make your life easier. If you frequently assemble and disassemble computers, the best multitool might be one that includes a number of screwdriver bits, is slim enough to fit in tight spaces, and easy enough to deploy that you aren’t spending the majority of your time trying to pry the various tool components out of the handle section.
Campers and backpackers would likely want a reliable knife, assisted wire cutters, a saw for branch cutting, a can opener, and any number of other gadgets that can help someone survive in the bush.
Even more diverse are the standard geek multitool users, making good use of tools that can be placed inside the space of a credit card, key, or other small and inconspicuous shapes.
Before picking a tool, take a moment to think about what you’re going to use it for. Survivalists will often opt for the biggest and most reliable tool, and some may opt for solutions that add a little extra convenience without taking up too much space in their pocket.
No matter how well a multitool is made, there is a chance that you may need to replace a specific component down the line. Knives get dull, screwdrivers wear down, and wire cutters can become nubs of their former selves. Being able to replace any of these parts can significantly extend the life of your tool, making it a better investment over time.
Leatherman has a useful solution in its Super Tool 300, a multitool which features a replaceable wire cutter that can be repaired or re-sharpened without having to take the entire unit apart. In addition to being an incredibly functional multitool, this feature also makes it a bit more reliable for long-term use.
While this may not be directly related to replaceable components, a good multitool will give you the ability to easily adjust the tension in the handle. This makes it easier or more difficult to extend and retract components, allowing you to adjust for the inevitable loosening that develops over time.
Determining what amount of space you want to allocate on your belt or in your pocket for a multitool you may or may not actually need is a decision different for each individual. Some people prefer a multitool that looks like something else, allowing it to be somewhat canceled among their everyday devices.
For example, the Utili-Key from Swiss Tech is a 6-in-1 multitool that looks like a key. In fact, it’s made to be easily added and removed to your keychain where it will remain until you need it. Inside this space, you have a flat and Philip’s screwdriver, a micro-sized screwdriver for glasses repair, bottle opener, straight blade knife, and a serrated blade. This is a lot of functionality to fit in such a confined space, but it does more than many users need.
On the downside, those tiny multitools have a number of disadvantages. For example, I can’t seem to get the darn Utili-Key open half the time with my pudgy fingers and barely-there fingernails.
Moving up a bit, CRKT makes a great multitool called the Guppy. This tool combines a compact frame with an impressive array of functions. In addition to having a 1/2-inch crescent wrench built right in, you also have the advantage of having multiple standard flat and Philips screwdriver bits that fit in a magnetic port at one end of the device. A two-inch knife, bottle opener, and a carabiner clip rounds out the Guppy nicely. The removable bit carrier also doubles as a flashlight.
Material Quality and Warranty
One important thing to consider when selecting a multitool is the build quality. Not all tools are created equal, even when they include the same components in roughly the same shape and size. Some brands go cheap with thin steel construction while others opt for something more solid.
Rust is another problem for multitools. As you use them day after day, moisture can do a number on it. Rust will weaken the tool, cause it to leave debris on your clothing and hands during use, and otherwise impact your usage experience. While there’s no science to support this, I still believe in the back of my mind that rust is contagious. Call me crazy, but I don’t like working with rusty tools for fear that the object I’m working on might fall to the same fate.
One great indicator of the build quality is the warranty. While any company can stamp a warranty on a box and promise to replace something for “the life of the product,” it’s important to take into account just how long that lifespan really is. Lifetime doesn’t mean your lifetime in all cases. It could mean 5-10 years.
A good warranty covers you for at least 25 years. Leatherman and SOG both have fairly good reputations in this regard. While Gerber may have a “lifetime” warranty, it’s limited after one year. My Leatherman Super Tool 300 has a 25-year warranty that covers quite a lot.
Smooth and Easy Operation
Multitools can range in shapes and function quite a bit. While some, such as the Eat’N Tool by CRKT, have no moving parts at all, others require that you pull blades out of the handle or attach bits from a secondary device. In any case, a good multitool will provide the maximum functionality with minimal effort on the part of the user.
Locking mechanisms are important. I’ve had a lot of problems with a Gerber multitool that featured rough ridges on the side of the handle for unlocking components while other multitools have a quick release system that doesn’t require you to rub your fingers raw during operation.
SOG and Leatherman, among others, have added a simple paddle release to the locking mechanism on several of their more popular multitools. This allows you to unlock a tool and retract it with a light press rather than having to pinch something or use your fingernail to release a mechanism.
Just a quick note here: Too many multitool manufacturers have poor locking mechanisms. This can be dangerous, and even deadly so in some situations. If a knife blade closes on you or something slips, it can cause you to injure yourself very easily. Check reviews of the product and pay attention to what people have to say about the locking mechanism. Cheaply made multitools can have slippery locks and that’s never a good thing.
I’m a picky geek. While computes and tablets are one of my passions, I’m also very passionate about useful unpowered gadgets with multiple purposes. Having owned over a dozen multitools over the past decade, I’ve grown to appreciate the minor conveniences these cleverly designed gadgets can provide.
Whether your multitool of choice comes in the form of a heavy-duty solution, pocket knife, concealable device, or something in-between, the advantage of having one of these gadgets with you on a daily basis can certainly improve your situation.
You never know when you’re going to need a tool. Your car could break down on the side of the highway, a rope or thread can become tangled in you or something you’re working with, or any number of other circumstances that make life a little more difficult for you.