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Why Everyone Needs One or More Multitools

A large multitool with a other tools around it
Alexander Borshchov/Shutterstock.com

Preparation can be the difference between completing a task in a few seconds and not completing it at all. But how do you prepare for random events that pop up throughout the day? You get yourself a device that can do almost anything. You get yourself a multitool.

A multitool combines common tools like pliers, screwdrivers, can openers, and knives, into a single small device. The concept dates back to Roman times but really took off when the Swiss decided they needed a single item that could both open canned food and maintain a service rifle.

Some multitools try to be a one-size-fits-all item and specialist tools that may fit your exact lifestyle—the point is, whoever you are, there’s a tool that will make your life a little bit better and give you a simple solution to many of life’s annoying random problems. So let’s take a closer look at why you need one, or maybe a few, multitools and the options you have available.

They Are The Ultimate Back Up Plan

A multitool next to a compass
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Specialist multitools exist. Plenty of people have bought a little Swiss Army knife for fishing, lobbed it in their tackle box, and never even thought of using it for anything else. Electricians might have purchased a Leatherman for their job and purely use it for that. But it’s okay to buy a multitool without having an exact use in mind.

Multitools can accompany you through your everyday life without making too much of an impact. Carrying a kit with the same number of full-sized tools with you would be both annoying and make you look strange, but the larger multitools can sit in your belt or a coat pocket—while some of the smaller ones can attach to your keyrings. And there, the tools stay until you need them, and you’ll need them more than you think.

The handier people amongst you will probably be able to think about the number of times a knife, screwdriver, pry bar, or pair of pliers have come in handy over the past few weeks. You’ll be able to count the number of times you needed one but had nothing on you. Frustration leaves a mark.

They aren’t just for DIY types. I have Swiss Army knives that have spent 90% of their lives opening wine bottles and Amazon packages. If your tool has a tiny pair of scissors, you can be the hero your friend needs to cut the little plastic tag off the shirt they’ve just bought.

The other day, my mother came in with a bottle lid sealed with the same kind of force that kept King Arthur’s sword inside that rock. Amazon reviews from people who have just given up and drilled a hole in the lid. I’m ashamed to say that, despite me being the kind of testosterone-fueled gentleman that can open pickle jars with a stern look, I couldn’t make it budge either. Then I just jammed the lid into the teeth of my Leatherman’s pliers and could open it with one finger.

You may have never used a pair of pliers in your life, you may think you’ll never need to, but you don’t have to be an electrician to find them helpful. The same goes for every little tool you have at your disposal; think outside the box, and 20 tools can become 2000.

Don’t Go For a Cheap Tool

A small cheap multitool in a half broken state

Good quality multitools are expensive, and some of the more prominent names may cost you over $100. If you look around, you might notice something that looks like a Leatherman or Swiss army knife but is a fraction of the price. At less than $10, the price is tempting, and it could be worth the gamble; I can’t recommend taking the cheap option when it comes to a multitool.

Cheaper knives tend to be more prone to rust; the steel used for the blades won’t hold an edge as well, parts of the tool may break or shear, the device might fall apart. A high-quality tool will last years, if not a lifetime, with proper care. It is also less likely to let you down when you need it. You might get lucky and get a good quality tool from a dollar store, but the odds are against it, and I’ve never personally seen a cheap multitool that wasn’t terrible.

Well-known brands like Leatherman, Wenger, Victorinox, and Gerber offer high-quality tools backed with pretty solid, sometimes lifetime, guarantees. You’re better off buying one tool from a major brand that is unlikely to let you down than struggling your way through 10 cheap ones that will likely break, blunt, or fall apart on you.

There is a Multitool For Every Job and Situation

A leatherman being used to open a beer

There must be more kinds of multitool than there are tools on a Swiss Army knife. Everyone’s situation is different, and designers have done their best to provide almost tailored tools to those situations.

Here’s a look at a few general categories and tool variations. Want a compact tool that is perfect for fishing? Victorinox has your back. Are you constantly fixing things around the house? Maybe you need a Leatherman. Then there are various legal aspects to consider, which manufacturers have also attempted to cater for. So let’s discuss the options.

Full-Sized Multitools

A leatherman being used to repair a chair

A Leatherman Wave Plus is an excellent example of a full-sized multitool. They feature around 20 tools, including a pair of surprisingly durable pliers, a couple of locking knives, and a small selection of screwdrivers. While there are plenty of variations, a full-sized multitool is the closest you’ll get to a one-size-fits-all object that can tackle almost anything you can throw at it.

There are some downsides. Weight and size are both issues—if you’re carrying one of these in your pants pocket, you will be aware of it. The tools also tend to have hard, square edges that may scratch up a wallet or phone. Carrying your multitool on a belt is also an option, though you may feel a little self-conscious in certain situations. No one wants to look like a cross between Batman and Bob the Builder.

There are also legal issues relating to the locking blades full-sized tools feature. In the UK, carrying one (including in the glove box of your car) without a “good reason” is illegal and could land you in jail. Things aren’t much better in certain parts of the US. In New York City, if the knife is visible even through clothing, you may be arrested. Police have also argued that well-worn multitools can be considered “gravity knives” and are illegal in certain areas. So check your local laws before picking a full-sized tool for your everyday carry.

More Compact Options

A traditional swiss army knife on a rock

If carrying a full-sized tool seems uncomfortable, or you’re worried about legal issues, then a more compact knife is what you need. The classic Swiss Army knives all fit into this category, with Victorinox and Wenger being the major players. The positives include the tools being lighter, smoother and surrounded in plastic. This means you can throw a Swiss Army knife in your pocket and almost forget it is there. You don’t have to worry about your tool gouging lumps out of your wallet or phone.

The downside is Swiss Army Knives tend to feature fewer tools, and those tools aren’t as robust or easy to use as the ones on a full-sized multitool. Companies make up for this by offering a larger variety of products; you can essentially find a tool with the exact number and range of tools you’re likely to need. Tools can range from a “Spartan” that features a pair of knives, a bottle opener, and a corkscrew to a “Fieldmaster” that adds a wood saw and swaps the corkscrew out for a screwdriver. There are also options with locking blades and mini-versions of the full-sized tools described above.

There are options like the Victorinox Swiss Champ that feature a ridiculous number of tools, but those tools aren’t going to be as ergonomic as those on a full-sized multitool. An even more extreme example is the now difficult-to-find Swiss Army Giant from Wenger, which is so large it has no practical use. Cramming that many tools into a knife also makes it far from compact. I feel that a Victorinox Ranger is as much “tool” as you can have while still staying reasonably compact. On the other end of the scale, you can find keyring knives with a small selection of tools.

Some Tools Come With Tech

A victorinox Traveler's digital display

Multitools are primarily mechanical, but the companies making them have dipped their toes into the digital world in recent years. If you don’t see yourself using an awl or a fish scaler, consider picking a tool with a flash drive or LED light.

However, tech and knives might not always be a great mix. Flash drives function perfectly well, and the tool’s body adds some protection. Though if your job doesn’t allow bladed objects on the premises—this could be a standard company policy and is something you’ll often see in courthouses and prisons—then the flash drive may not be of much use. You can’t access data if your storage device gets confiscated as soon as you enter the building. The LED lights aren’t very powerful; they’re great in a pinch if you need to find something in the car or locate a keyhole—they’re useless when you get lost in the woods.

Swiss Army knives are synonymous with outdoor activities, and it’s here where the addition of technology makes the most significant impact. The Victorinox Traveller Lite features a digital display, clock, alarm, altimeter, thermometer, and barometer—which are all nice to have on a hike or a camping trip.

The Best Multitool of Each Type

Full Size: The Leatherman Wave Plus

If you’re in the market for a full-sized multi-tool, weight isn’t too much of a concern. The Leatherman Wave Plus features 18 useful tools, with the option of purchasing additional screwdriver bits.

The Wave Plus features pliers, wire strippers, wire cutters, straight and serrated knives, scissors, bottle and can openers, and screwdrivers. The tools are of high quality and I haven’t seen any signs of failure or damage on mine after several years of use. If your Leatherman does break, the company has a 25-year warranty. Simply fill in an online form, send in the broken tool, and the company will return or replace it.

Leatherman Wave

A high quality full sized multitool with a 25-year guarantee.

Compact: Victorinox Climber

There are “compact” knives with more tools, but too much weight defeats the purpose of getting a compact knife in the first place. The Victorinox Climber is light, slim, and perfect for everyday carry. It is basically a Victorinox Spartan with the addition of some scissors and a parcel hook.

I’ve owned many Swiss Army knives over the past 21 years, I’ve found a use for every single tool on them, I’ve even used the wood saw on one to fell a small tree. However, most of the tools on the larger models just add weight 99% of the time. The scissors tend to see as much use as the knife blades and are one of the few tools that are worth the extra bulk.

Victorinox’s multitools also feature a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects.

Victorinox Climber

A compact Swiss Army knife that includes some essential tools.

Tech Heavy: Victorinox Traveler Lite

As I mentioned earlier in the article, USB sticks are nice but they’re cheap and probably more useful when they aren’t attached to a bladed object. The Traveler doesn’t have a USB stick—instead, it has a digital display and features that are great for hiking and camping. Those features are: a barometer, thermometer, and altimeter. There are electrical components that are handy for day-to-day use as well, like a clock, alarm, and timer. The small USB torch is great for everyday use, but a bit useless when camping or hiking.

Beneath the tech, you still have a functional Swiss Army knife with two blades, scissors, screwdrivers, can and bottle openers, a parcel hook, an awl, and a corkscrew. It is worth noting only the metal parts of the knife are covered by Victorinox’s lifetime warranty. The electronic components have a separate two-year warranty.

Victorinox Traveler Lite

This tool is a mixture of tech and tradition that is ideal for hikers.

Dave McQuilling Dave McQuilling
Dave McQuilling has spent over 10 years writing about almost everything, but technology has always been one of his main interests. He has previously worked for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites, and television stations in both the US and Europe. Read Full Bio »