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This article was originally published in Issue 1 of our magazine.
The truth is that dedicated tools are much better than “jack of all trades, master of none” options. A full-sized version of a screwdriver or a saw will yield better results than miniature versions in just about any job you encounter. But, if space is at a minimum, such as in an emergency backpack or a car's glove compartment, dedicated tools are often impractical and, in most cases, impossible to store due to their large size or heft. In those situations, the necessity of having scaled-down tools quickly becomes apparent.
When pocket-sized tools are bundled together into a single unit, they are most often referred to as multitools. Do-it-all multitools may sound nice, but are they too good to be true? Sure, a 4-inch-long saw will take you some time to saw through a tree branch, but it sure beats not having a saw at all. When you need a tool, having your choice of a few smaller ones is much better than not having any. These pint-sized dynamos may not be the masters of their trades, but they certainly can help you get the job done when you're in a pinch and could possibly be a lifesaver.
Multitools are offered in a large variety of styles, boasting myriad features. With all the different multitools on the market, it can be overwhelming choosing one that fits your needs.
First, you need to think about size and weight. Multitools come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and they vary according to design and number of functions. How much space do you have for it, and how much weight are you willing to carry? Sure, they may be relatively small, but opting for the largest one that includes the kitchen sink may not be the best fit for you. There's a saying that “ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.” There's a lot of truth to that idiom, especially when you are considering this tool for an emergency pack that is already burdened with other supplies that you might have to hump for extended distances.
Next, you want to evaluate and anticipate what your needs are. Some mutlitools are designed with special purposes in mind, such as those made for electricians or sport fishermen, or ones that have been created for use on certain firearms. If you're not planning to do extended work as an electrician, an angler, or an armorer, then you can pass on those models.
Another consideration is the tool's ease of use, safety features, build quality, and material. Some have internal tool locks that keep features such as knife blades and saws fixed, so they don't close on your fingers. Some may feature the use of differing grades of steel, aluminum, polymers, and even titanium. The best way to figure how a multitool feels to you is to actually handle it in person. If possible, go to a local store and cycle through the tools to see how they feel in your hands. Each manufacturer has a different safety mechanism, so trying those out to feel which type you are comfortable with is something to think about, as well.
Let's take a look at the most common features offered on multitools to see which functions make the most sense for your needs.
Pliers are prominently featured on most multitools. They are great for gripping, bending, and compressing small objects or materials. Pliers come in different shapes, such as flat nose and needle nose. Needle-nose pliers give the user the advantage of a more precise gripping area for small objects. Many pliers found on multitools also include various-sized crimpers, wire strippers, and cutters.
Knives found on multitools can be either plain-edged, serrated, or a combination of both. A plain-edged knife is excellent for making what are called push cuts, while serrated blades are prime for slicing cuts. A push cut is where you push the blade through what you're cutting like when you skin an apple. A slicing cut is just that, a pull toward you, creating a slicing motion like that of slicing a tomato. Plain blades tend to dull quicker than serrated blades, but are initially sharper. Serrated blades are great to cut tougher objects like rope. Because what you are cutting, and not the type of blade itself, dictates the best use of a blade, it is best to have both types in your tool, if possible.
Flathead screwdrivers are found on virtually all multitools in different sizes, and their uses are obvious. Although flathead drivers can also be used on Phillips head screws, it's recommended that you use a Phillips screwdriver when possible. Some multitools are equipped with dedicated Phillips drivers.
You're not going to feel like you should have a saw until you really need it, and if you don't have one, you'll be bummed. Whether you are gathering wood for fire, building shelter, or need to cut thick webbing and rope, there is always something that you can use a saw for.
Nothing would be more frustrating than having a can of food and not being able to open it. Make sure that you choose a multitool that is equipped with one. Most can openers double as bottle openers, too. If you've never opened a can with one of these tools before, we do recommend trying it just so that you are familiar with the operation.
This is where selecting a multitool is all about your needs and preferences. Manufacturers pack these things full of tools, such as scissors, files, hex-bit drivers, rulers, and even awls. Take a look at the more specialized tools and consider their usefulness when making your choice.