There’s something special about multitools. The array of little tools hidden away in a compact housing just waiting for that moment where they might be called on to save the day.
You may get as excited as we do when you see the latest from Leatherman or the next generation Victorinox Swiss Army knife, but is it worth taking one on your next trip?
The best multitool for backpacking needs to be full of functionality, going beyond the novelty factor while adding minimal weight and bulk to your pack. We’ve reviewed 10 of the best multitools that are actually worth taking on your next trip.
What You'll Learn
- But is it worth packing?
- Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X
- Leatherman – Rebar Multitool
- Leatherman Surge
- Victorinox Swiss Army SwissChamp Pocket Knife
- Leatherman – Skeletool CX Multitool
- Gerber Suspension Multi-Plier [22-01471]
- Leatherman Wingman
- Leatherman – Tread Bracelet Multitool
- Gerber Shard Keychain Tool
- Nite Ize DoohicKey Key Tool Keychain Multi-Tool
- Our Favorite
- Best For Budget
- Backpacking Multitool Buyers Guide
But is it worth packing?
Regardless of how good it is, a multitool is never going to replace a dedicated function tool. It’s not meant to. Yes, it probably has a blade, but it’s not going to replace a decent knife that every backpacker should be carrying.
That little saw blade isn’t going to replace your hatchet or your backpacking saw either. If you’re sure that you’re going to need a particular tool on your trip then get one designed specifically for the job.
The reason you carry a multitool is because you have no idea (yet) of why you might need it. But, when that situation presents itself, you’ll be glad that that somewhere in that myriad of little tools is exactly what you need.
Will it be the pliers that help get that zipper unstuck? Will it be the tweezers and magnifying glass that finally locate that splinter? Don’t know. If you get one of the following great models you’ll be prepared for just about any situation.
At a Glance:
- Beautifully engineered for high durability
- 4-inches long – fits nicely in your hand
- Locking mechanism is precise and solid
- Very sharp blades
- High polished finish and curves make it very attractive
- Scissors are a little small
The engineering and quality of steel that it’s made from sets it apart from the cheaper competitors. Also, the curved design of the Swisstool allows for better hand comfort when using the pliers.
It has a solid feel with a physical size that offers enough grip area to exert some force when you need to. It takes a little breaking in to get over the initial stiffness, and you’ll need some fingernails to pull out some of the tools.
We liked how solid and precise the locking mechanism felt. That’s important for confident, accurate use of a device like this. The fixed blade isn’t as large or aggressive as you get on some of the Leatherman tools but it’s super sharp.
The curves and rounded head rivets didn’t catch in our pocket like some squarer ones can. At just over 7 ounces it may be a little heavy for some to consider for Every Day Carry (EDC) but it’s a solid option to take on your next trip.
At a Glance:
- Slimmer design makes it great for EDC (Every Day Carry)
- Replaceable wire cutter blades
- Black finish looks great
- Solid locking on every tool
- Aggressive, large serrated blade and saw
- Pliers aren’t spring loaded
- Blade in design – no single-handed blade access
- No scissor
Each of the 17 items is designed for optimal functionality and the saw and knife blades are large enough almost to justify not carrying another knife. We would have preferred the easy access of a “blade out” design though.
While you may not come across any wire that needs cutting, the replaceable wire cutters are a great touch. To make sure they up to cutting hard wire they’ve made them from 420HC Stainless Steel which makes it super durable. The cutters also work well for cutting small pieces of wood for tinder.
We liked that each of the tools locked solidly into place. On some tools, like the Leatherman Sidekick, only the knife and saw blade lock into place.
There’s also a cut-out section on the handle that makes it a lot easier to access the internal tools without breaking any nails. The slim design and sub-7 ounce weight make it a great EDC multitool and great for backpacking use.
At a Glance:
- Solidly built powerhouse
- Long fixed blades and large pliers are great for tough jobs
- Replaceable wire cutters
- Single-handed access to knife blades
- Large, spring-loaded scissors
- Blade exchanger – customize with the blades you want
- Big and heavy
This model is a good option if you prefer your pliers and cutting blades just a little bigger than you get with the Rebar or Spirit X models. This makes it better suited for tougher jobs. But having a 3.1” primary blade and some serious functionality comes at a cost. The closed length is 4.5” and it weighs a whopping 12.5 ounces! Also, it’s not the cheapest either.
It is beautifully made, which is what you expect from Leatherman. In spite of its large size, it’s fairly agile and allows for single handed access to the four outside blades.
The blade exchanger is also a nice touch as it enables you to customize it with either the two-sided file or the open-tooth saw blade.
The Leatherman Surge is not for the ultralight backpacker but, if you’re more the Paul Bunyan outdoorsman type, then you’ll love it.
At a Glance:
- 33 tools – it’s like a toolbox in your pocket
- Compact size – fits nicely into pants pocket
- High-quality materials and engineering – very durable
- Great price – excellent value for money
- Knife blade doesn’t lock into place
- Pliers are tiny
If you want a single tool that will remove a fish hook, descale the fish, uncork that bottle of wine you brought with and then write about it in your diary with a built-in ballpoint pen, then the SwissChamp has you covered.
OK, so Victorinox did fit a lot more functionality into the XAVT version of this model, but the significantly lower price and much smaller, lighter design make it practical for backpacking.
If you don’t mind the absence of a big pair of pliers or wire cutters then this pocket knife is a great option. You get a lot of the functionality that the larger models offer, as well as some they don’t have, in an aesthetically attractive package.
The saw and knife blades don’t lock into place and are super sharp so use with care.
At a Glance:
- Lightweight – only weighs 3.2 ounces
- Easy single-handed access to all tools
- Belt clip for easy carry and quick access
- Made from 154CM high carbon stainless steel – very durable
- High price for lightweight, minimal design
Leatherman have kept the weight down by only including the bare essentials you’d expect. Also, they’ve removed material in the frame and tools wherever possible.
The CX version has a carbon fiber insert in the handle, which gives you plenty of rigidity while shaving almost 2 ounces off the regular version which weighs 5 ounces.
While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that some of the other Leatherman models have, it does have a decent knife and pliers and all the tools are accessible with one hand.
It’s made from 154CM high carbon steel which is extremely durable and means the blade keeps its edge for a lot longer. The belt clip and carabiner give you multiple attachment options and the smooth edges won’t catch on your clothes or gear.
At a Glance:
- Attractive open frame stainless steel body
- Curved handles for greater comfort
- Spring-loaded pliers
- Easy to use locking mechanism offers safer operation
- It’s heavy – 9.6 ounces
Besides looking cool it also allowed Gerber to shed some weight. It’s a good thing they did, because it still comes in at a comparatively heavy 9.6 ounces. It’s a well put together tool and feels well-balanced in your hand.
We like the narrow point design of the nose on the spring-loaded needle nose pliers. It makes it easier to get into some tight spots which is tough to do with some of the squarer noses on others.
The tools are easy to access and Gerber’s patented locking system means you can use them safely with confidence. The great price and usual Gerber quality make this great value.
At a Glance:
- Blade out design – easy single-handed knife access
- Has a great pair of scissors
- Spring-loaded pliers for easier use
- The single-sided half-length file is pretty much useless
- Only knife and scissor lock
In spite of its lower price point, the Wingman is no slouch. It even has some features that we love that you don’t get on models like the Rebar. The blade-out design allows for quick access to the knife and having spring-loaded pliers makes it a pleasure to use.
It also has a nice pair of scissors which is something that you don’t get with the Rebar. The wirecutters on the Wingman aren’t bad but they can’t handle hard wire like the Rebar can. Also, they’re not replaceable so go easy on them.
At 6.9 ounces it’s only a little lighter than some of the other tools on the market but its rounded end and being slightly shorter (3.8”) makes it easy to slip into your pocket.
If you’re on a budget but still want a great multitool to add to your backpacking gear then this is a really good option.
At a Glance:
- TSA friendly – It’s not going to get confiscated
- Looks great and comfortable to wear
- Limited functionality for backpacking
If you’ve already got a great knife and don’t want to carry a regular multitool, then maybe. For the most part, it’s only really good for tightening or loosening a range of screws and bolts but sometimes, depending on your gear, that’s exactly what you need.
It’s very well made and, in spite of the 5.9 ounce weight, it’s comfortable to wear too. It’s TSA compliant so you’re not going to have it taken away next time you fly.
In spite of the cost, limited functionality and extra weight on your wrist, the cool-factor makes me hope that someone buys me one of these as a gift.
At a Glance:
- Airline safe
- Fair amount of functionality for its tiny & lightweight size
- A bit small to get decent leverage
The small flat- and Phillips-head screwdrivers work well and the little pry bar is great for popping lids that were closed with too much enthusiasm. At the end of your hike, you can use the bottle opener to open that celebratory beer.
So it’s not exactly a toolbox on a keychain but we think it’s a pretty cool design and we’d be happy to attach this to our pack just in case. It’s airline safe too so you won’t be parting with it at the airport.
At a Glance:
- Very light
- Carabiner attachment point for easy carry
- TSA friendly
- Box cutter blade is pretty blunt
The box cutter is only really suited for cutting through packing tape but the bottle opener, flat head screwdriver, and wrenches are reasonably serviceable. Just get one and clip it somewhere on your bag with the carabiner clip.
I doubt it’s ever going to save your life but at the very worst you’d be the guy with the coolest bottle opener.
The Leatherman Rebar is a great balance between features, weight, and price. It may not have all the functionality some of the fancier tools have and some things would bug us if we used it as an EDC but for backpacking, it’s pretty much perfect.
Best For Budget
The Gerber Suspension isn’t just a good budget option, it’s a quality multitool. It’s a little heavier than we’d like but the locking mechanisms and cool design make it an absolute bargain.
Backpacking Multitool Buyers Guide
If you’re looking to buy a pocket multitool specifically to take backpacking then weight, packability, and functionality are going to be your key factors to consider. It’s hard to be definitive about any of these as they vary a lot due to personal preference and backpacking style.
There are a few things worth considering though when you’re trying to decide on a particular model.
Types of Multi tool
The main categories can be classified as:
- Folding MultitoolsBigger multitools that fold open to reveal pliers and also incorporate a variety of other gadgets. These are bigger and more robust than standard pocket knives.
- Pocket MultitoolsSwiss Army type or smaller versions of larger folding ones. These can be packed with plenty of functionality but the tools often aren’t up to tougher jobs.
- Keychain MultitoolsSmall, and attach to a keychain. Some will just have a folding blade and bottle opener while others incorporate similar functionality to that offered in the larger folding multitools.
- Wallet MultitoolsFlat, credit card style multitools. Designed to slip into your wallet. Notches and gaps in the body serve as box cutters, drivers, bottle openers or hex wrenches.
- One-piece multitoolsA single piece of metal with no moving parts. Sometimes these look like little more than bottle openers but some have screwdriver or wrench functionality too.
- Specialty MultitoolsOne with individual tools focused on a specific function rather than for general use. Examples of these could be an electrician’s multitool or one focused on hunting or fishing.
EDC or Backpacking Use Only
Are you looking for a tool for Every Day Carry (EDC) or something more purpose made that you’ll only use occasionally?
A bulkier multitool with plenty of functionality may be fine for the outdoors but it might not be very practical to keep in your pocket or on your belt every day. These gadgets can get pricey so it might be a good idea to get one that allows you the versatility of comfortable EDC use.
Bottle opener vs Survival Tool
A simple penknife with a flat head screwdriver and bottle / can opener might be all you need. If that’s the case then why carry all that extra weight and bulk.
That being said, you don’t buy a survival multitool because you know exactly where you’ll use it. You buy it because you never know when you might need it.
Try to find the middle ground and avoid the temptation to buy the survival tool with the most gadgets packed into it.
If you’re going to be flying and don’t plan on checking any luggage then make sure your multitool is travel-friendly. If you’ve got anything on you with even the smallest blade, prepare to donate it to the TSA agents.
The Leatherman Tread bracelet and some of the more novelty ones like the DoohicKey or card tools are TSA friendly but sacrifice a lot of functionality.
Even if you’re not planning on taking it on the plane, bear in mind that certain states and countries have strict rules about the size of blade you’re allowed to carry on your person.
How the individual tools are accessed has a big effect on how user-friendly the multitool is. Some of the key things to look out for are:
- Blade in vs blade out designSome will have the folding knife blade secured inside the handle while others have the knife open to the outside of the handle. A blade out design makes it easier to get quick access to the knife because you don’t first have to unfold the handle.
- Butterfly vs One-Handed OpeningSome of the best multi tools have been designed to allow for single handed access to at least some of the tools. Some have a butterfly style design. Meaning you can hold it with one hand and flip it open like a butterfly knife to operate the pliers.
Others have what they call a “one-handed” opening design. This allows single handed access to the knife blade but getting to the pliers requires two hands to fold the tool open.
Very few allow for both to be accessed single-handedly. If this is a big deal for you, decide which you’re more likely to need in a pinch when your other hand isn’t available.
- ErgonomicsIt needs to be comfortable to use. If it’s packed to the hilt with functionality it could end up being bulky and difficult to hold.
If you plan on using the pliers often it’s worth going for a model with slightly curved handles for extra comfort.
- Locking MechanismTo use one of the tools safely you want to be sure it doesn’t rotate around its pivot point while you’re using it. You also don’t want a knife blade to open out of the handle unintentionally.
A good locking mechanism keeps the tools in place when opened or closed. Some will only lock the knife blades, while the better ones will have a locking mechanism on each individual instrument.
Weight vs Functionality
The more functionality a multitool has, the more weight you’re going to carry. Bear that in mind when deciding how many of those cool extras you’re ever likely to use.
Even if you opt for one with minimal features, there could still be lighter options. Designs using lighter weight components like carbon fiber as well as open frame design will reduce weight further.
Most multitools are sold with the option of buying a pouch. A pouch that can be threaded onto your belt or clipped on is a great way to keep it safe but easily accessible.
Some are described as being MOLLE compatible. MOLLE (pronounced Molly) is an acronym for MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. These are heavy duty nylon vests or packs with pouches designed to hold multiple items.
For EDC it’s worth looking for a multitool that has a belt clip incorporated into the handle. This gives you the easy access without the hassle of a pouch.
If you don’t want to carry a multitool on you, opt for one that has a pocket clip or a loop to pass a lanyard through.
How much should I pay?
Before you even look at different options it’s best to decide on your price range. Then decide on the features you absolutely have to have as well as the size you’re after.
Once you’ve settled on that, look at the offerings from reputable brands like Leatherman, Victorinox, and Gerber.
If you plan on using it often and want it to last, buy a more expensive one with limited functionality from one of these manufacturers than a cheaper one with loads of bits and pieces.
Common Mistakes When Buying A Multitool
- Buying the cheapest multitoolDon’t go for the cheapest one you can find. The price you pay is directly related to the quality of the steel, the rivets holding it together and the warranty that supports the product.
- Buying the multitool with the most functionsOne with fewer, well-made tools is always going to be better than one that is packed with stuff you’ll never need. The lighter and easier it is to use, the more likely you are to want to carry it.
As with most backpacking gear, an approach guided by the “less is more” way of thinking is a good place to start. While you may not be able to imagine every scenario you’re going to face, a lightweight model from a reputable brand should cover most of your needs.
The best backpacking multitool is one that you can carry comfortably, use easily and rely on even after the tenth time you drop it.