Ask 10 outdoors enthusiasts, guides, first responders, or emergency managers what they consider their most essential piece of gear, and you’re liable to get 10 different answers. Outdoorsy types have developed a vast array of gadgets and devices to make life in the outdoors safer and easier, and each one has a claim to “essential” status. A good flashlight or headlamp will be at the top of some people’s list of indispensables. Others might say portable shelter—a tent, a tarp, a bivy sack. You need to protect yourself and your loved ones from insects and the elements, right? Water purification technology could be considered crucial, since water is mandatory for survival. And, of course, specific projects have specific needs—if you’re trekking in the wilderness, you need a map and a compass [note to Publishing: if Witt’s land navigation article is published, please add a line and link to it here]; if you’re backpacking, you need to carry food and a stove to cook it; if you’re camping in the winter, you need a heavy-duty sleeping bag. And there are the electronic devices that have been incorporated into bug-out bags and recreational gear kits, including handheld GPS units and two-way radios.
They’re all amazingly useful, and a great many experts wouldn’t want to be without any of them. But what if you had to pick one tool, one gizmo, one device you want in your pocket or pack no matter the situation? I vote for the multi-tool.
OK, maybe being “multi” disqualifies it from consideration as “one” tool. But the very fact that a multi-tool is a unitary piece of equipment, one thing that does many things, is precisely why it’s so valuable. Slipping one device into your pocket or pack that can open a bottle, cut a bandage, remove a splinter, loosen a screw, tighten a nut, gut a fish, shave kindling, start a fire, lift a hot cooking pot, saw a splint, write a note, and uncork a bottle of wine gives you a feeling of confidence and peace of mind. And in any number of emergency situations, having a multi-tool really can make life a lot easier. Or even save a life.
For many, the venerable Swiss Army Knife is the multi-tool of choice, for solid practical reasons and, perhaps, a little sentimentality, too. We’re talking here about the real Swiss Army Knife made by Victorinox, not some cheap wise-buy bin knock-off. The company makes an extensive line of high-quality pocket knives and multitools. The SwissChamp Pocket Knife is as good a place to start as any—and let’s look at the one with the classic polished red cellidor handle. Start folding tools out of this guy, and you marvel that so much stainless steel can fit in one 3.6", 7-oz. unit. There are 33 tools in all, including all the ones you’d expect plus a magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler—you get the idea.
There may be just one tool not found (except in miniature form) on Victorinox’s beautiful pocket knives: a pliers. It was when toolmakers realized that foldable pliers could hold a number of tools in their handles that what we think of today as the multi-tool was born. You’ll find many fine models in stock at B&H and, in particular, I like the Gerber Crucial Multitool, with its small selection of essential tools. Its knife blade has a partially serrated blade made more for chopping and slicing than piercing, which strikes me as more practical in many situations, such as preparing food. It closes down to 3.6", weighs just 5 oz., and is made in the U.S.A.
A multi-tool won’t do anyone any good if it’s at home in a drawer or on a workbench because it’s too bulky to carry around. If you’re thinking of a slim, portable but versatile device, consider the Guppie Carabiner Multi-tool from CRKT. Designers Launce Barber and Tom Stokes packed a lot of great functionality into this handsome little unit. It doesn’t have pliers, but it is outfitted with an adjustable wrench that opens to ½" wide, plus a driver with two Phillips and two flat bits—and the bits live in a holder that’s also a detachable LED flashlight. The bit holder/light sticks to the main tool via two strong magnets. The plain edge, hollow-grind knife blade can be opened with one hand and stays open with a slip-joint lock for safety. The whole tool is designed like a carabiner so it can be hung easily on a pack, belt loop or anywhere else—but at 2" long and just 4.1 oz., it’s easy to carry in a pocket, too.
Still too bulky? Have a look at the Tool Logic Survival Card, from SOG. It’s about the size of a credit card and is easily carried in your wallet, yet it can be used to navigate, start a fire, or signal for help. The Survival Card comes with a partially serrated stainless-steel knife blade, a magnesium fire starter, an emergency signal whistle, compass, 8x magnifying lens, tweezer, and a toothpick—all in a 2.1 x 3.4" card that weighs just over one once.
When it comes to emergency preparedness, the key attribute of a multi-tool—its versatility—is what makes it so valuable. Even if all goes well and the emergency never happens, you’ll probably find yourself reaching for your multi-tool on a regular basis, at home, at work or at play.
Do you keep a multi-tool handy, on a daily basis? Let us know your own favorite multi-tools in the Comments section, below.