Inspired by the wholesome antics of such scallywags as the Famous Five, generations of children have badgered their parents for their very own pocketknife with which to whittle twigs and eat an apple really impressively. With knives carrying a stigma in modern society there are only really a few good reasons for carrying a blade of any kind, and there must be very few backpackers that don’t carry something sharp in their rucksack. Ignoring nostalgia the UK backpacker has little reason to carry some of the huge single-bladed implements available in certain outdoor shops, but the multitool certainly does have a place.
Regardless of the size and complexity of the multitool (has anyone ever used the parcel-carrying hook found on some Swiss Army knives?) in real-life most backpackers will carry a small blade, occasionally a #3 Pozidrive if skiing and I mostly just need some scissors for cutting the top down on my dehydrated meal pouch. Bushcraft folk will obviously require something more substantial to facilitate batoning and feathering wood, butchering things and generally being manly. That’s outwith the remit of this review.
In this review I will be looking at a variety of devices that fall under the ‘multitool’ banner – from the traditional to the very modern.
Baladeo Barrow RRP £20
The low RRP of the substantial Barrow didn’t fill me with confidence – I’ve seen many cheap and nasty tools over the years and I was expecting poor finishing and rounded, blunt blades. Thankfully my unprofessional preconceptions were proved unfounded, and this is actually a pretty decent multitool. True – there are a few rough edges and it lacks the finesse of the premium brands, but I feel that these can be overlooked at this price point. The Barrow has a good selection of tools – including a decent pair of sprung scissors – and the blade has a basic locking mechanism to prevent finger-butchery. I found this mechanism effective but a bit awkward to use with my fat (but intact) fingers. The small Phillips screwdriver is a bit undefined, and I’ve struggled to find an outdoor application for a screwdriver of that size. It also requires a bit of manoeuvring to retrieve from the depths of the tool, being secreted below the scissors which need to be unfolded first. The Baladeo Barrow is probably a bit too complex for many hillwalkers, but if you need the large number of tools and can cope with the subsequent weight, this is a very well priced option.
Features: knife with locking system, saw, bottle opener, scissors, Phillips screwdriver, window breaker, carabiner and can opener with locking system, 2 mm flat head screwdriver, corkscrew, thread helper, ring. Materials: Stainless steel tools, aluminium handle with rubberized finish, nylon pouch. Dimensions: 110 x 21 x 35mm Weight: 229g plus 15g for pouch
Gerber FitRRP £50
Gerber have been synonymous with multitools for many years, but the Fit is a departure from their usual plier-based multitool. As I can’t remember the last time I had a need for pliers when hillwalking this isn’t a huge loss. The Fit is equipped with a small LED torch which takes a AAA battery – this adds weight but allows me to dispense with the small emergency headtorch I normally carry in my pack. The tools are of the high quality you’d expect from Gerber – they’re robust and well considered and are a pleasure to use. The long bit holder – ideal for getting into deep recesses – is supplied with a double-ended Phillips and flat head bit which can be replaced with something more appropriate if desired. The blade has a serrated section which performs well when used for slicing cuts versus the plain blade which is more useful for push cuts. The blade locks open and can be released easily via the side sliders. Whilst it would have been easy to implement, the blade can’t be opened one-handed. The scissors are high-quality and lock and release via the same mechanism as the blade. A tiny lever near the battery compartment access reveals a couple of very small screwdrivers – one a Phillips and one small flathead ideal for glasses. The small tweezers tucked into the frame are a nice surprise and are great at removing splinters! This combination of weight and function really appeals and the price representative of the quality and longevity of this sleek tool.
Features: half fine, half serrated blade, scissors, bit holder with large flathead and large Phillips screwdriver, bottle opener, eye glass screwdriver, small Phillips screwdriver, tweezers, 25 lumen LED torch Materials: Stainless steel tools and aluminium case Dimensions: 102mm closed Weight: 145g
Leatherman Style PSRRP £35
The Style PS is minuscule in comparison to the hand-sized multitools above, ideal for backpacking where every gram counts. The Style come in two flavours – the CS features a large pair of scissors and a blade in place of the pliers and small scissors of the PS. The advantage of the PS configuration is the ability to carry it in hand luggage on most flights thanks to TSA approval. Whilst I haven’t tested it, this should be great for fast-and-light hand-luggage-only walking trips. As the tools are so small they don’t have the same brunt as their larger equivalent, but as few hillwalkers are carrying out head gasket replacements in the hills it’s not a big deal. They are of undeniable quality and supported by Leatherman’s 25 year warranty. Despite their size the scissors work well and can be accessed with the pliers closed, and despite preconceptions the nail file is great for keeping toe nails in shape on long walks. If you can cope without a blade and employ a minimalist approach to your backpacking or intend to take it onto flights, the Style PS is the perfect choice.
Features: spring-action needlenose pliers, spring-action regular pliers, spring-action wire cutters, scissors, flat/Phillips screwdriver, nail file, tweezers, carabiner/bottle opener Materials: Stainless steel case and tools & glass-filled nylon handle scale Dimensions: 75mm closed Weight: 45g
Light My Fire Swedish FireKnifeRRP £30
The FireKnife is perhaps pushing the definition of a multitool, but it’s such a lovely item I felt it worth featuring. A collaboration with Mora blades of Sweden – possibly the best knife maker in the world – has resulted in this worryingly friendly-looking knife. The quality blade is coupled to a comfortable handle concealing a firesteel with the ability to create a 2,980°C spark no matter the altitude or weather, ensuring your campfire (or stove) can be lit in the worst conditions. Whilst I can’t see myself needing a knife like this for UK hillwalking, I can imagine that this will appeal to bushcraft practitioners or those that feel a 10cm blade is necessary for their outdoor activities. It’s probably not going to get through security in your hand luggage though…
Features: flexible and sturdy profile-grounded blade, sheath with clip, high-friction rubber handle. Includes an original Swedish FireSteel firestarter in the handle. Materials: Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel blade, TPE rubber grip and magnesium alloy firesteel Dimensions: 225 x 4 5x 38mm Weight: 112g including sheath
Victorinox RucksackRRP £35
Ahhh…. a Swiss Army knife. My first knife was a Victorinox Officer’s knife, with two blades and that parcel carrier hook thing that troubles me so much and a pleasing glossy red finish. The Rucksack model is little different, with a good selection of tools (no parcel carrier) but an ergonomically-shaped design that feels pleasing in the hand. The main blade locks in position and is released via a slider on the side – it’s a simple plain blade that can handle abuse and be resharpened easily. The saw is particularly vicious and cuts through small branches with ease on both the push and pull stroke. The can opener works well (I’ve had to eat a lot of beans over the last few weeks) and I’m sure the corkscrew will be useful for Pyrenean walking trips. It’s a classic design that is as relevant today as it was in 1891.
Features: can opener with small screwdriver, corkscrew, reamer/punch, wood saw, key ring, toothpick, tweezers, lock blade, cap lifter with screwdriver, wire stripper Materials: Stainless steel tools and plastic handle Dimensions: 111 x 18.5 x 31.5mm Weight: 100g