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Published May 9, 2023 11:55 AM
Having a multitool while hiking, hunting, or backpacking is advantageous for many reasons. First, it’s a compact tool that provides more than one function so instead of packing several tools, you have the convenience of one that has them all and is easily accessible. The best backpacking multitools—which you can use for first aid, gear repair, or meal prep—are durable, portable, and highly functional. Many strap onto a belt or can fit into a pocket..
Most of the best multitools on our list are from the Leatherman brand, but we’ve also included a couple from Gerber. Across the board, Leatherman continues to be a leader in multitool design and production, praised for the longevity and durability of their products. Below we’ve picked the best multitools for backpacking that are more generalized than specialty tools and feature functions necessary for hiking and camping like knives, pliers, screwdrivers, and scissors.
We evaluated several key features when choosing the best multitool for backpacking. The most important were how practical and functional the tools are for their intended use. For all of the product categories, we also looked at aspects regarding portability, ease of use, and durability.
- Durability: How long is the tool projected to last? What are the product materials? Is there a warranty, replacement, or repair policy of any kind?
- Portability: How heavy is the multitool? What are the dimensions when open and closed? Does the tool come with a carrying case?
- Functions: How many tools does it contain? Does the multitool work for a variety of activities beyond hiking?
- Ease of Use: Is the tool easy to use and understand? Can it easily be opened, locked, and closed? Do the tools get in the way of one another, or is it bulky to handle?
When narrowing down the options, we took into account field experience with products, company interviews, and verified customer testimonials. Note that products and product descriptions are subject to changes as further testing is conducted and new products or product changes enter the market.
Best Overall: Leatherman Wave Plus
- Weight: 8.5 oz
- Closed Length: 4 in
- Open Length: 6.25 in
- Materials: 420HC stainless steel and black oxide
- Number of Tools: 18
- Includes serrated and straight-edge blades
- Made in the USA
- Tools lock into place
- Can access tools with one hand
- Sheath included
- Pocket clip sold separately
The Leatherman Wave Plus contains a staggering 18 functions, including saws, knife blades, several screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters, and of course, Leatherman’s proprietary bit driver. The bits included are the Eyeglass Screwdriver, Phillips #1-2, and 3/16 in (4.78 mm) screwdriver. One feature I really appreciate within this multitool is that the blades and saws have external access, so you don’t have to unfold the tool to use them. Since the knife and the saws are used so frequently while hiking and camping, this feature alone makes the tool even more functional outdoors.
Without a doubt, this is one of Leatherman’s most compact and versatile tools within the generalized multitool category, which is likely why it remains one of their most popular. While it is somewhat expensive, you can trust that the full functionality of this tool stays intact for years and likely decades to come. All Leatherman tools are made in the USA, and the craftsmanship is hard to beat. The primary complaint that comes from this model is that it doesn’t come stock with a pocket clip. Luckily, a pocket clip can be purchased separately if this is a deal breaker.
Best With Saw: Leatherman Charge+ TTi
- Weight: 8.89 oz
- Closed Length: 4 in
- Open Length: 6.25 in
- Materials: 420HC stainless steel, S30V, and titanium
- Number of Tools: 19
- All locking features (except the pliers head)
- Outside accessible features
- One-hand operable features
- Strong tools that are resistant to corrosion
- Includes removable pocket clip
- Small bit driver is hard to use
If you’re willing to pay more, the Leatherman Charge+ TTi is a premium product made from premium materials. While this one could have easily also been the best overall, it lost out primarily because of the high price while being of comparable value to the average backpacker as the Leatherman Wave Plus. The Charge+ TTi contains 19 functions, including needlenose pliers, regular pliers, scissors, two files, a cutting hook, a saw, and two knives. Much like the Wave Plus, the Charge+ TTi also has several tools that are accessible without having to open the tool completely.
Made from four types of steel, titanium, and diamond components, this tool’s construction is carefully and intentionally designed to enhance durability and prevent corrosion. The premium materials show out when they’re in use, and while this is a multifunctional tool, you might be surprised at the quality of the blades it contains. There honestly are not many complaints when it comes to this multitool beyond the price, but I think the small bit driver could be challenging to use because of the location. However, the size, weight, and functionality make it well worth the investment.
Best Lightweight: Gerber Dime Multitool
- Weight: 2.2 oz
- Closed Length: 2.75 in
- Open Length: 4.25 in
- Materials: 3Cr13 stainless steel
- Number of Tools: 10
- Compact and lightweight design
- Gerber offers a decent repair policy
- Bladeless version is TSA approved for air travel
- Affordable price
- Small size makes some of the tools hard to use
- Not the most durable option available
If you’re looking for a tiny yet mighty multitool in the tool compartment, the Gerber Dime Multitool is a practical and affordable option. It is a mini multitool, so do not expect the same show of force from the tools that you’d get with a full-size version, but for the size, it is an excellent device. This is a good choice if you want the benefits of a multitool at a fraction of the weight or if you’re looking for something that fits more comfortably in your pocket. Additionally, if you travel often and are worried about carrying a multitool in a carry-on bag, the Gerber Dime offers a bladeless version that is TSA approved for air travel. If you have children, the bladeless version can also be an effective option for them.
Although it only includes 10 tools, all are specifically designed for use while backpacking. The Gerber Dime has pliers, a knife, scissors, a tweezer, a file, and a bottle opener, to name a few. I love the size of this tool but because it’s so small and lightweight, it can be difficult for the average adult to use some of the tools and the light weight can compromise the durability. Still, for the price, if you want something compact to use on occasion while backpacking, it is an excellent value.
Most Versatile: Leatherman Surge
- Weight: 12.5 oz
- Closed Length: 4.5 in
- Open Length: 7.1 in
- Materials: 420HC Stainless Steel, Black Oxide
- Number of Tools: 21
- Larger tools than many other multitools
- Number of tools and functions
- Great for a variety of applications
- Strong, durable materials
- Size and weight
The Leatherman Surge is an all-inclusive tool that has 21 functions. If you are okay with the size and weight of this multitool, it can be a great option not only for backpacking but also to keep on hand around at home or work. We recommend trying it in person before buying because it is larger than other Leatherman tools—it’s actually among the two largest they manufacture. While the size may be a con to some, it is a pro to others. A larger multitool allows for a higher concentration of tools and larger tools that are easier to maneuver.
Combined with the standard Leatherman tool setup, some additional functions you can enjoy with the Surge include a blade exchanger, awl with thread loop, electrical crimper, and multiple options in the classics like knives and pliers. It has the longest multitool blades and the largest pliers of any of the Leatherman options, plus the four outside open blades make it convenient and easy to use.
Best Budget: Gerber Suspension NXT
- Weight: 6.4 oz
- Closed Length: 4.25 in
- Open Length: 6.2 in
- Materials: Stainless Steel
- Number of Tools: 15
- Affordable price
- Slim compact design
- Pocket clip included
- Decent for occasional use or as a backup
- Misalignment upon closure is common
- Play in some of the tools
- Not the most durable
While the Gerber Suspension NXT isn’t as good as any Leatherman when put head to head, it is the ideal value buy for someone looking for a functional multitool on a budget. At a fraction of the price of even the cheapest Leatherman, you have a lightweight, easy-to-use multitool that works well enough to be used in the backcountry. It may not stand up well for daily use, but it’s an excellent purchase if the market is primarily for the occasional camping trip.
Featuring 15 tools that lock into place, the Gerber Suspension NXT includes all of the basics, like pliers, scissors, a ruler, a saw, and a knife. The pliers are spring-loaded, and having an included pocket clip makes them easy to keep on hand while hiking. Overall, this is the perfect value pick to keep with you while backpacking. It gets the job done and saves you some money.
Intended Use and Functions
Multitools have a wide range of functions, as the name implies. However, there are many multitools available that have specific intended uses. For instance, a multitool designed to repair a bike is much different than one designed for firearm maintenance and repair. For this article, the focus is set narrowly within the world of backpacking and hiking. So, when looking for the best multitools for backpacking, we had to consider what they’d be used for when out on the trail.
The most common use for multitools is likely a repair of some kind. Even with the best gear, things happen on the trail, and a repair every now and again is inevitable. Beyond gear repair, tools like scissors can be handy when administering first aid or a pocket knife for building a fire.
Although a multitool can be classified as any tool that contains more than one, in 1983, Tim Leatherman started the company that makes what we now know as a general-purpose multitool. His first round of tools were indeed general-purpose tools targeting survival and marketed as a “pocket survival tool.” Since the release of their first tool, Leatherman is essentially synonymous with the term multitool, and they’ve created countless designs with specific functions perfect for what feels like any application.
So if you are backpacking, what functions should you look for in a multitool?
Some standard tools used often while camping includes a knife, pliers, bottle opener, can opener, screwdriver, scissors, ruler, saw, and a file. Many multitools, especially within the Leatherman line, contain upwards of 18 tools within one device. Each tool may vary in functions, so always investigate its specifications to ensure it fits your specific outdoor needs.
Type of Multitool
Generally speaking, multitools only have two categories: general use or specialized tools. A third category often discussed in the realm of multitools is keychain tools. These are miniaturized general-purpose multitools designed to fit affixed to a set of keys.
General purpose or generalized multitools are the most common on the market and the ones that we recommend for backpacking and hiking. Their handheld design and foldable tool structure allows several tools to fit into one easy-to-carry package. Things like functions, cost, durability, and size differentiate the tools within this category, but across the board, they all have similar concepts and styles.
Specialized multitools often maintain generalized applications and functions but have a specific purpose that impacts the overall design. These tools have a niche or targeted audience much smaller than the generalized tools, and they often won’t be something the average user needs. A few examples of the target buyer of a specialized multitool include electricians, gun users, the military, cyclists, mechanics, and any trading career.
Leatherman breaks their multitools into four categories: everyday essentials, home, outdoor, and work. Many of their tools designed for outdoor or work applications could be classified as specialized, with the rest being generalized. Many longtime users of Leatherman enjoy the fact that many of their tools are customizable, allowing them to include only the tools they need and want for the intended purpose.
Size of the Tools
The size of the tools can be grouped with portability but has more to do with the individual tools within the device. How big are the pliers or the knife? Is the screwdriver suitable for your needs? Are the scissors functional and easy to manage with your hand size?
Simply because the multitool contains a tool within the functions doesn’t mean it is truly functional for your uses. Knowing the dimensions of the tools is one way to gauge while shopping online, but shopping in-store may allow you to see the tools firsthand and experience what it is like to use them.
One primary purpose of using a multitool is the convenience of having a portable handheld multifunction device that is easily accessible. So, when shopping for the best multitool for backpacking, it is worth considering first the size and weight and your options for carrying it.
Some multitools come with a holster that attaches to a belt, while others may have a carrying case to help protect it when not in use. How accessible the tool needs to be is also up to you. If you only have it on hand for emergencies versus someone with it around for daily use, the accessibility may not be as important.
Smaller tools may also fit inside a pants pocket if a belt holster is not desired. As mentioned earlier, keychain multitools also exist and are often a more similar design to a Swiss army knife if they do not contain foldable pliers. While these tools are small, the ease of use can be more complex because the tools are smaller. Any tool that fits inside a pocket, whether a pants or backpack pocket, can also benefit from a clip to keep it in place. If it is clipped near the top of your pack or pocket, it is much easier to find and prevents having to dig around all your gear.
Knowing how you plan to carry the tool can also impact the exterior texture when closed. Some multitools have somewhat nobby or rough exteriors, which quickly wear holes in clothing or bags if left to jostle around. These tools are better kept in a holster or carrying case. A tool with a smoother exterior is best for pockets and is generally more comfortable to hold while in use anyway.
A multitool should be designed to last a lifetime. When buying from brands such as Leatherman, you can guarantee that it is made from long-lasting materials and that the overall construction is well thought out. Other brands, like Gerber, also incorporate quality materials and construction.
Multitools are meant to be used under the strain of using the tools daily, especially for trade work. When taking them out backpacking, they should also be well equipped to withstand the elements and rigor of outdoor exposure.
Beyond the construction of the device, look at the company warranty. The two brands featured on our list are Leatherman and Gerber. Leatherman offers a 25-year warranty, including a repair and replacement program. On the Gerber Gear website, they offer a warranty under the Gerber Guarantee, which is essentially a limited lifetime warranty.
Buying from brands that offer repair and quality warranty programs is an excellent way to evaluate whether they truly stand behind their products.
Q: Are multitools worth it for backpacking?
Multitools are a valuable part of a backpacking repair kit or as a replacement for carrying a pocket knife. While knives alone have their benefits, having a small, compact tool that has a variety of functions, like a multitool, tends to be equally, if not more, beneficial for outdoor applications.
Q: Does TSA allow multitools?
In most cases, TSA does not allow sharp objects or tools to be brought on in a carry-on bag when traveling. According to the Transportation Security Administration website, any multitool with a knife is prohibited, but one with no knife and only a scissor of less than four inches may be placed in a carry-on bag. To travel safely with a multitool, it is suggested that the tool is wrapped or sheathed and placed in checked luggage.
Q: Why use a multitool in hiking?
Bringing a multitool while hiking has many benefits, including having all your tools in one convenient package. Since the tool has a variety of applications, it can be used for things such as first aid, cooking, or gear repair and eliminates your need to carry several items to fulfill all of those potential needs.
Q: What functions do I need in a backpacking multitool?
The best multitools for backpacking all come equipped with various tools, and regardless of the design, many of those functions overlap with one another from tool to tool. When shopping for a multitool that fits your backpacking needs, look for ones with realistic functions and applications instead of the options that seem over the top or even gimmicky. Then, check to see if the tool has commonly used functions like several blade options, pliers, screwdrivers, or scissors. Multitools have a variety of applications and design differences when targeting specific activities, so one that is good for firearms may not work as well for something like backpacking, but they make more generalized tools that fit day-to-day needs as opposed to more specialized applications.
The best multitools for backpacking on our list are primarily features from Leatherman, but a few other noteworthy brands to look for include Gerber and SwissTool. If you’re investing in a multitool, I honestly think it is hard to beat the functionality and quality of a Leatherman. Most users purchase a tool that can last them a lifetime of use. Plus, the Leatherman brand offers a variety of tool options, including several specialty tools. Simplicity and portability are key when it comes to finding the right multitool for backpacking. A compact tool with all of the essential functions, like a few knives, scissors, and pliers, goes a long way in the backcountry.
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