The idea behind a multi-tool is simple: always be prepared. And one of the most important things about planning for an outdoors trip is being prepared for any eventuality or emergency.
The name says it all, a multi-tool provides multiple pieces of equipment but in compact size.
Whether you need a screwdriver, knife, saw, pair of pliers or just a bottle opener, it’s your one-stop-shop for any task.
Multi-tools are eminently useful and range from 5 to 50 different tools and functions, preparing you for all sorts of eventualities.
With such a variety on the market, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by choice. To help you choose which one is right for you, we’ve compiled a list of our top eight recommendations and put together a buying guide further below.
Let’s take a look at some of the best multi-tools on the market right now.
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- Weight: 77 grams
- Number of functions: 13
First up is this cheap and cheerful device from Victorinox that is exactly what most people picture when they think of multi-tools.
Compact and sturdy, it has just enough things you need on it without being cumbersome.
If you want something small and light, then this is a good option.
Perfect for those who want to be able to carry it in a top pocket or attach to your belt in the enclosed pouch, the dimensions of the knife are just 19 millimetres by 90 millimetres.
The tweezers, bottle opener and needle are all things that we think would get plenty of use on even the most basic camping trips.
Its 13 functions are everything you need as you wander through the wilderness, including a miniature wood saw, scissors and Phillips screwdriver, making it the perfect companion for hikers.
Both the small and large blades were really sharp out of the box, as was the miniature saw – allowing us to cut through a small branch with ease.
Having been manufacturing pocket knives and tools for over 100 years, Victorinox can certainly be trusted to get it right.
But with a limited range of applications, this one is best suited to camping or even a day of walking but couldn’t be counted on as a survival tool.
- Weight: 205 grams
- Number of functions: 17
Victorinox’s Spirit X is at the other end of the spectrum to the Swiss Army Knife. With an incredibly slick stainless steel design, it is a full-sized butterfly-style tool.
The Spirit X has all of the tools you might need whilst hiking. Though it won’t come cheap, its Swiss history and design results in a precise and smooth mechanical product.
The manufacturer claims 27 functions, though we counted just 17 – a classic example of feature inflation that can be found across plenty of multi-tools on the market.
It has a frame-lock plain edge knife, along with two separate saws for wood and metal. The scissors are particularly good and the pliers are great.
Unlike its Gerber equivalent, its ergonomic design protects your little finger whilst holding the handles to manipulate the pliers.
The tools lock into place, until released by a small lever. You can use virtually all of the tools without opening the handles which is handy too.
Only two of the four handle corners are rounded for comfort, but it was still comfortable enough to use and the squared corners don’t impede its function.
Alongside the mandatory tools (can and bottle opener, a Phillips head and two flathead screwdrivers), the addition of a multifunctional reamer and crate opener are a bonus.
Due to its compact size, the wire cutters on the pliers’ jaws have such little area that can cut, making them almost redundant but not a deal-breaker.
The needle-nose pliers aren’t spring-loaded, but they are functionally long, with different-sized teeth and built-in wire cutters.
For not much more you can splash out on the Spirit and ratchet version, giving you even more ways to use it.
Super polished and logical by nature, any Victorinox multi-tool will serve you well, even if it does come with a price tag.
- Weight: 265 grams
- Number of functions: 16
SOG is another reputable manufacturer of multi-tools and its PowerAssist model is the closest thing you’ll get to a portable tool box.
It is suitably strong for everyday use on a multitude of tasks. If you’ve got this in your kit you’ll be prepared for any repair or maintenance issue whilst out in the field.
Unique to SOG’s PowerAssist (but not any of their other models) are the assisted opening blades and geared pliers.
A gear-driven Compound Leverage mechanism allows this multi-tool to be opened with a one-handed flip of the wrist and doubles its force when cutting.
Made of 420 steel, the knives and saw are razor sharp and hold their edges well.
Alongside the obvious functions, the PowerAssist also features a blasting cap crimper, bolt grip channel, fuzewell spike, hard-wire cutter and leather sheath.
The deep wire cutters are able to cut through the largest of wires and the handles and pivots all held up to very rugged use.
Our only gripe was that the lock and opening mechanism is a bit fiddly and accessing the various non-blade tools is time consuming.
Best suited to heavy-duty tasks, only the most committed users will justify the bulk and mass.
4. Gerber Dime
- Weight: 65 grams
- Number of functions: 10
The Dime is one of the best miniature multi-tools on the market with an impressive list of features.
If you’re after a well-manufactured butterfly tool that is small enough to fit on your keychain, the Gerber Dime is for you.
Measuring less than seven centimetres when closed, the Dime has all your pre-requisite functions such as stainless steel pliers, wire cutters, a fine-edge blade, and flathead screwdriver.
This model is a perfect travel companion, offering a package opener, tweezers, solid bottle opener, spring-loaded scissors and double-grind sheepsfoot blade.
Gerber have been sure to only include tools that will all find at least occasional use.
The main negatives are the weak plier springs and the anodisation rubbing off after multiple opening and closing actions on internal edges.
Available in multiple colours, Gerber also have a bladeless version on offer – perfect for kids. If you are a loyal Leatherman user, then their Squirt model is the miniature equivalent.
For daily carry and occasional use, this tiny tool is a budget-friendly option and comes with Gerber’s lifetime guarantee.
- Weight: 245 grams
- Number of functions: 12
As the name suggests, this rugged-looking product is a collaboration between Gerber and survival expert Bear Grylls.
As well as being a bit of a novelty, this multi-tool brings together Gerber’s 70-plus years of knife expertise with Bear Grylls’ knowledge of what is needed to survive and thrive in the outdoors.
With 12 stainless steel weather-resistant components, users have access to needle nose pliers, both fine-edge and serrated knives, a saw, a Phillips screwdriver, small and medium flat drivers, a lanyard ring, a bottle opener, a can opener, scissors and wire cutters.
External components are easily accessed and the spring-loaded jaw provides simplifies one-handed use.
Its rugged construction lead us to believe that it is durable and not bad for the price tag, and the extra-grippy handle will come in use in wet conditions.
A fun bonus is the Priorities of Survival pocket guide, which offers survival basics designed to help keep you alive until you can be rescued.
Our main gripe was that the blade-locking mechanism is a bit stiff to unlatch, and this is likely to be exacerbated by dirt and rain whilst out and about.
The shape of the handle when using the pliers is also quite uncomfortable, so could be an issue if this was your primary use.
Overall, a fairly-priced and well-rounded piece of kit that will see you through plenty of outdoor adventures.
- Weight: 240 grams
- Number of functions: 18
Leatherman is one of the top manufacturers of multi-tools, committed to detail and lasting function across all models.
An international best-seller, the Wave Plus offers all the essential tools that you might need whilst on the move.
Comprehensive and ergonomic, it is an affordable option for anyone who needs a high-quality multi-tool.
Manufactured from 420HC stainless steel, the Wave Plus contains many of the same features as the top-of-the-line Charge TTI but at half the price.
Many of the 18 tools are outside-accessible for ease and speed and in the latest round of updates, Leatherman has modified the wire cutters by making them replaceable.
Tools include a variety of pliers, premium replaceable wire cutters, wire strippers, plain and serrated knives, saw, spring-action scissors, ruler, can and bottle openers, files, and screwdrivers.
The screwdriver set is somewhat customisable and the blades are impressively sharp.
As with all Leatherman models, you can open the Wave with one hand but we would have hoped their upgrades would include the ability to lock the pliers.
Although very good craftsmanship, the steel could become blunt in use – something that is addressed in the fact that blades can be replaced.
We also found the tool was tough to close, though the use of lubricant or extended use may be the solution to this.
Aside from that, we think that this remains one of the best options on the market at the moment.
The Wave Plus is Leatherman’s all time best seller and with such a durable design, it will serve you and your camping needs for years to come.
Note that Leatherman also offers aftermarket accessories and various carry options.
- Weight: 140 grams
- Number of functions: 5 + bits
The Leatherman Skeletool is a stripped down version of their more popular models.
Designed to shed weight and unnecessary or complicated features, this is an impressive tool that is light and ergonomically optimised.
At first glance you might be put off by the mere five functions, but featuring pliers, wire cutters, a locking knife blade, a cross head and blade screwdriver bits (large and small), you’ll realise it probably has everything you need.
A stainless steel build with 6061-T6 aluminum handle insert, we found the Skeletool comfortable to use and clean.
All of the blades and tools lock and there is an outside-accessible blade for one-handed opening.
Most multi-tools have excessive features that weigh you down and take up room, and Leatherman has come up with an answer to the problem.
It carries better than any other full-size device and the low-profile, pocket-clipped carry makes it easy to access/store on the move.
It is no less durable than its heavyweight competitors and still comes with a 25-year warranty.
That said, on all three blades the bottom half is serrated, meaning they’re great for the occasional sawing task, but nothing too strenuous.
Equally, the pliers also aren’t as strong as the more expensive Leatherman models, so we wouldn’t recommend using them for long extensive tasks.
For anyone who needs a reliable multi-tool on their occasional camping trips, the Skeletool will be more than capable of doing the job.
- Weight: 225 grams
- Number of functions: 19
Saving the best (and most expensive) for last, we have the Leatherman Charge TTI Plus.
Leatherman takes its standard features and combines them with premium materials and upgraded, replaceable wire cutters.
Titanium handles make the tool lightweight and strong and an ultra-sharp S30V steel knife blade resists corrosion. Not to mention the resilient diamond-embedded file!
Offering an impressive 19 functions, it has everything you would expect and more.
With wire crimpers and strippers, plain and serrated saws, a ruler and a cutting hook, this model is able to cater for even the most specific DIY needs in the great outdoors.
Rating highly for usability, you can use this multi-tool with just one hand and all of the features lock in place.
On all four outside corners of the plier handles are the tools you’ll use the most – evidence that Leatherman has really thought this product through.
Versatile and useful by design, it also has by far the most options for carrying of all the products we looked at.
There were some tools that could probably be left off. For example, few people would use both the integrated screwdriver and proprietary bit driver and there is definitely some weight that could be shed.
It is an incredible and comprehensive piece of kit, but unless you plan on building a very complex campsite, you might decide the extra features don’t justify the price tag.
What should you look for in a multi-tool?
As with most functional devices, the answer to this question is subjective and depends totally on your intended use. However, there are some fundamental qualities that you should look for.
Multi-tool functions typically range anywhere from five to 20. For a weekend camping adventure, the basic set of functions and features will serve you well.
Any one looking for maximum function possible should opt for a full-size tool. Others will achieve optimum practicality with just a bottle opener and a small knife.
Just remember that price and functions/features don’t necessarily correspond. For example, Leatherman’s Skeletool has few functions but carries out all of them well.
All tools should lock, and in a dream world, scissors and pliers should be spring-loaded.
Size and weight
When looking at size and weight, note that full-size models are all more durable and most of them have more features.
For the included functions, a larger form-factor is also more ergonomic and easy to use. If you’re prepared to carry a bit of extra bulk, the bigger tools are definitely more rewarding.
That said, sometimes you don’t need 20 functions. If you want a multi-tool that can be attached to your keys or belt loop then opt for a miniature.
Durability and build
A multi-tool’s main features, such as pliers and knives, need to be robust enough for use in almost any situation.
There’s no use having a miniature saw that can’t cut through small branches or pliers whose handles bend before they are able to cut anything.
Opting for a reputable manufacturer will mean that your multi-tool is durable, rust-resistant and will stand the test of time.
Ergonomics and usability
Bigger multi-tools will have far superior ergonomics and usability by design.
Options with rounded or softened edges will make use of pliers much more comfortable and extra grips or rubber coating will reduce the chance of them slipping out of your hands in rain or dusty conditions.
Whilst miniature versions are better for carrying around, their smaller pieces are generally fiddly and not well suited to anyone with large hands, compromised dexterity or if you intend to use them whilst wearing gloves.
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Last update on 2020-09-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API