For many campers, a world without multi-tools seems foreign. Once generically termed as Swiss Army Knives, then Leathermans, they’re now known as multi-tools and, in many cases, the knife has become secondary or even non-existent. Functions can include an LED light, lighter, hammer, spirit level, camera tripod, tape measure, and even digital tools.
SWISS ARMY KNIVES
Swiss Army Knives first appeared in 1891 and were issued to Swiss soldiers who needed screwdrivers to assemble their rifles and a knife for general purposes. The knife blade and accompanying tools retracted into a handle (usually red).
Swiss Army Knives can feature every possible permutation of tool, including Bluetooth pairing, data encryption, USB flash drive, altimeter, laser pointer and MP3 player. The Giant, released in 2006, has 87 tools and 141 functions and sells for US$1000.
Tim Leatherman and his wife toured Europe and the Middle East in 1975 and found numerous occasions where a simple hand tool, including a pair of pliers, would have been useful. On returning to the United States, the engineering graduate began work on a prototype “Boy Scout knife with pliers”. He patented the design in 1983 and, with a partner, launched the Leatherman Tool Group that year.
THE POINTY END
The high standards sustained by the leading firms attract prices approaching $300 in Australia but, while some companies retain high standards, others chose lower quality metals, less durable bushings, poorer fastenings and lower standards of finish to keep costs low.
If you’re only likely to use such a tool on rare occasions, a cheaper multi-tool might be okay. Prices can be as low as $10-$15, or even less. Alternatively, some respected brands offer lower priced tools that hang off a keyring.
GERBER DIESEL MULTI-PLIER
The Gerber Diesel multi-tool is a classy piece of gear for the price with several neat features.
The pliers slide out from the handles when two locks are disengaged and, when retracted, the handles to lock into place. The narrow profile is ideal for travelling, though may impact gripping power for some.
The tools fold into the handles so that the outer edges are comfortable to hold, and include useful items like screwdrivers, knives, file, saw and a pair of scissors. A good locking mechanism prevents tools folding back in on your hand.
The knife is sharp enough to be useful in most situations.
With a RRP of $96.80 it is a highly recommended buy.
The Skeletool is a lightweight offering, weighting just 142g due to drilled holes. It is the lightest full-size tool on test.
It is structured around a pair of pliers and features a pocket clip and belt carabiner. The ergonomics aren’t quite up to its stablemate, the Surge, and it feels a little awkward to hold. The driver bit slot doesn’t fold away and a second double-ended bit which slots in behind a side bracket seems a little exposed. I’d imagine, over time, it could get lost.
It comes with pliers, a wire cutter knife, screwdriver bits and a bottle opener, which look as though they’d last the distance. RRP is $199.
SOG EOD Powerlock Multi-Tool
The SOG EOD Powerlock Multi-Tool finished in black oxide offers some neat features we hadn’t seen elsewhere. The pliers open on a compound leverage gear arrangement for twice the grip, according to the packaging. The thin pliers come to a narrow point and, with the help of the gearing, operate with great precision.
Covers over the handles protect your hands from the outward opening tools, which allow you to have both the pliers and tools out at the same time. As these open from the end closest to the pliers they won’t close on your hand.
With a RRP of $116.16 and geared plier operation, we highly recommend this tool.
SWISS+TECH MICRO-MAX 19-IN-1
Swiss+Tech produces several versions of a small tool which fold out along two pins at one end and, when folded out, create a small pair of pliers at the other end.
The Micro Max 19-in-1 packs a lot into a small package, though no knife. At 56g, it’s the lightest tool on test and can swing off a key ring.
You get several sizes of flat blade and Phillips screwdrivers, two different sized hex wrenches (cleverly designed into the jaws of the pliers) a file, bottle opener, wire cutter and stripper and crimper plus several other useful functions.
The 19-in-1 Miro-Max is solid stainless steel, well-crafted and a neat little package. At $22.95, it’s a good buy.
SWISS+TECH POCKET MULTI-TOOL 12-IN-1
Swiss+Tech specialises in keyring compatible tools, and its Pocket Multi-Tool 12-in-1 fits that bill in as a standard multi-tool with pliers. At 85g, it is the second-lightest of the tools under test.
The well-appointed unit has a handy spring action to ensure the pliers open easily, which is missing in models at the other end of the scale. The construction is stainless steel and plastic with anodised aluminium handles. Some tools, due to their size, such the serrated saw are limited in what they can do. The knife was not particularly sharp and there is no locking mechanism to secure tools in the open position, so care would be needed at all times.
Although not the sturdiest under test, for $22.95, it will serve as a handy small pocket or purse item.
TOOLPRO 11-IN-1 MINI MULTI FUNCTION SNIPS
The ToolPRO 11-in-1 Mini Multi-Function Snips is one for the pocket or purse and is based on a pair of sharp scissors.
At just 86g, it’s light with an excellent spring action to assist in opening. Sideways movement in the tools on opening suggest lower standards of construction and the lack of sharpness in the knife supports that. And with no locking mechanism to hold the tools, care is required.
The other tools appear ancillary and of little value, but if you’re in a situation where you need a pair of handy scissors fairly frequently, at just $6.99, this is a good little option.
TOOLPRO 15-IN-1 STAINLESS MULTI TOOL
ToolPRO 15-in-1 Stainless Multi Tool is a choice at the budget end of the range. It is made from stainless steel and the rubber grips along the outside make it comfortable to hold and use.
At 262g, it is reasonably heavy, implying a sturdy construction, although some of the Allen bolts could do with tightening. The tool opens and closes with snappy efficiency and has a great spring action to assist it. There was no locking mechanism to hold tools open. The knife was not particularly sharp, suggesting a lower quality of steel.
The tool choice seems reasonable and, overall, this is a good buy at $15.95 if you don’t mind the shortcomings.
The SwissChamp is light at 186g, and came with sharp small and large knives, Phillips and blade screwdrivers, corkscrew, small pliers, scissors, file, tweezers, toothpick and even a pen. The only downside is there is no locking mechanism on any of the tools.
At $139, it isn’t cheap but it delivers right down the line.
VICTORINOX SWISSTOOL SPIRIT PLUS
The SwissTool Spirit Plus is a nifty bit of gear which comes with extras that travel in the tool’s stiff leather carry pouch. Extras include a corkscrew, mini blade screwdriver, set of driver bits, small ratchet bar and a 70mm extension bar.
The Spirit Plus weighs a handy 211g and is beautifully finished and engineered. The ergonomics are excellent and the tool choice is good, although a standard blade is omitted. All the tools are very similar to those seen in Swiss Army Knives and they have been finely tuned.
With a RRP of $275, it isn’t cheap but, if you want a tool that your grandchildren will inherit, this is pretty classy.
Check out the full feature in issue #88 May 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.