There are hundreds of multi-tools out there and dozens of quality ones, so how do you go about choosing the right one for your outdoor adventure? First decide what kind of adventure you’re headed on. You don’t want to pack a cumbersome, full-featured model for a backpacking trip when all you need is a sturdy, bare-bones model.
That same potentially bulky tool can become practical if you’re car camping or horsepacking, so going beyond the basics in those instances makes sense. Beyond size, there are a handful features that are requisite in any good multi-tool.
The Blade: There are many knife options out there, but a single blade is all that is crucial. A three-inch blade is a well-rounded choice for most applications. Smaller and/or serrated blades can be handy additions, but if weight is a factor consider living without them. Combo blades (part straight blade, part serrated) have become extremely popular with outdoors folk, but there is a school of thought that you’re making a sacrifice and not getting the best attributes of either type of blade.
Quality companies will use quality steel; stainless is very common and durable, high carbon is extremely strong but requires more care, while a high-carbon stainless alloy provides the best of both worlds without the negatives. Each is a good choice for different users.
Pliers: These gripping tools are second only to a knife blade in handiness for any type of multi-tool user. A set that tapers from needle nose to a wider rear platform is ideal, as a pair that is solely one or the other will leave you gasping in frustration in many situations. Most will also include a wire cutter in the mouth of the pliers, which while not always necessary, are a useful, weight-free bonus.
Scissors: Whether for cutting line, trimming your nails or shaping a moleskin for your blistered heel, scissors are a must for tons of tiny chores that take more precision than your blade is capable of. Finding a tool with self sharpening scissors is ideal; that way you never have to worry about homing the tiny edges or not being able to cut something in the field.
Phillips/flat-head screwdriver tips: Ubiquitous, but imminently handy for fixing any number of pieces of gear you may be toting with you on your trip. While you won’t be able to engage every screw, especially small phillips, they will work in most situations. It should be noted that using screwdrivers for anything except tightening and loosening screws is asking for a broken tool and possible bodily harm.
Can/Bottle Opener: It’s a lighter feature than the corkscrew and likely more useful if you need to get into an emergency store of baked beans, chicken noodle soup or IPA.
Once you find the tool that works for your situation, you’ll find yourself with the ability to be more self reliant in many situations… assuming you remember to take it with you.