Friday, February 26, 2016

Best Multitool for Survivalists?

For years I’ve adopted the same setup: My multitool on my right front pocket and a folder on the left front pocket. The folder is kept sharp, mostly intended for emergency use while the blade in my multitool is what gets used for most things for which a pocket knife is needed from opening wrappings, cutting cardboard, cutting food, cord and that long list of etceteras. For years this has worked for me extremely well. As years went by different items in my EDC have been upgraded. Flashlights seem to be the one thing that keeps improving the most and gets updated often. For years I carried a Cold Steel as my folder and still do on occasions, but mostly the folder in my left pocket has been updated to a Zero Tolerance 0630. It’s a rugged tactical folder that self deploys as it comes out of the pocket. That’s a speed advantage I like having.
Now, when it comes to the multitool, that has remained the same over time. I have tried others, but as years go by I still find the Leatherman Charge Tti to be the best multitool to have. I have tried others though, so here’s my top 3 list of best multitool:
Leatherman Sidekick & Wingman

The Sidekick along with the Wingman have been Leatherman’s best-selling multitools. Truth be told it’s the Wingman the one that sells best. The Wingman has large scissors that can be accessed from the outside of the multitool just like the blade. A lot of people favour scissors, especially good solid ones. The Sidekick drops the scissors in favour of having a saw instead which I like better. Most things that can be cut with scissors can be cut with the knife. The saw on the other hand is harder to get by without when needed.
Are these top quality multitools? Not so much. They are great budget tools and for a 40USD limit they are the best you can find in the market, but the metal used is pretty thin. With moderate use, you can expect the tool to show signs of wear, more wiggling and play between its parts so don’t expect it to last as long as the more expensive tools offered by Leatherman. It’s a good thing that Leatherman offers such a good warranty because there’s a good chance that after some time of heavy use it may need some service.
Leatherman Wave

Here’s were Leatherman shows what it’s capable of. The Leatherman Wave is a long time classic and often chosen by those that need a full size, hard use multitool. The choice of tools in it is very good. While made of folded metal, the steel used in the Wave is visibly thicker than the one used in the cheaper tools made by Leatherman. Even though it costs twice as much as the Leatherman Sidekick and Wingman, this is in my opinion the best bang per buck in multitools given the design, tools included, quality of construction and durability. Here’s a tool that will last you a lifetime and serve you well.

Leatherman Charge Tti

Best of the best. I haven’t found a MT that does so many things as well as the Leatherman Charge Tti. The charge is basically an upgraded Wave, which is already excellent. What the Charge improves on is on the steel used in the blade and the titanium handles. S30V is a premium steel, far superior to the 420C used in the Wave. While 420C is ok for a small folding knife, it is mediocre compared to the edge retention of premium steel like S30V. This may seem as a small detail since we all know that the importance of steel used in knives is often exaggerated. Having said that, the smaller the knife the greater the wear and the more important it is to have good steel, especially so in a small pocket knife that will see a lot of use and considerable wear. There’s where I’ll happily pay for good steel. A second trait I greatly appreciate of the Charge is the sculptured titanium handles. Having used both considerably, I can say the Charge is FAR more comfortable to use. For small jobs it’s not that big a deal, but when using pliers, the blade or screwdrivers for extended periods of time (say you’re putting together something from IKEA) the more comfortable handles does make a difference.
If you can afford it, this is the one you want for your EDC. It can take a lot of use, even a bit of abuse within a reasonable limit. Mine has served me well for many years of constant, daily use.
What about the Signal?

The Leatherman Signal could have been a great multitool but I find the design to be inferior to what Leatherman is generally capable of. Maybe it’s not Leatherman’s fault, but the consumers. It was the consumers that asked for a multitool… with a whistle… oh, and a firesteel! Gotta have a firesteel! Oh, and I need to sharpen my two inch blade pretty often when I’m out in the woods doing survival stuff. I can imagine the smart people over at Leatherman pulling this one together, very much like Homer Simpson’s brother’s company workers putting together “The Homer”, Homer’s dream car. So yes, that’s the Signal.
Problems with the Signal?
The blade. It sucks. Both regarding the lack of strong fine tip and that combo edge and the choice of steel. I wont have a 420C steel blade when I already have the far superior S30V in my Charge. Pliers are nice, but having replaceable steel inserts in my pliers won’t make my day. I’d rather have that 154CM steel in the blade thank you very much.
The plastic whistle, firesteel and sharpener look gimmicky. Any serious outdoorsman or survivalist will have a better whistle and better fire starter. Oh but its an emergency, your Signal is ALL you have. Well, then I also need clothes, boots, first aid kit, a flashlight and a long etc. Since you cant have it all, at least have good things of what you have. And if you’re going to integrate a whistle and firesteel, do it right, meaning a)without compromising the rest of the tools, which are why you carry a MT in the first place b)Give me quality items that are up to the standards of the rest of the tools in the MT. Don’t get me started on the sharpener. Useless waste of space which could have been used to improve the other tools. And by the way, if you can’t sharpen a knife with a smooth stone well enough then the multitool won’t help you anyway. I see why I would like to access the diamond file on my Wave or Charge to sharpen the knife, sure would be nice, but a simple cut on the existing file in the Wave and Charge with little else being changed would make that possible, all while leaving me a much useful tool. Very likely to get lost or disengage unintentionally? Sure, but not more likely than loosing the already useless sharpener in the Signal.

Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.


Anonymous said...

No multitool without locking (visegrip) pliers would make my list.

I spent a large part of my life rigging and repairing stuff- there is no substitute for a locking pliers. None. It can clamp things to work on, hold things together as an emergency repair, be clamped on a object to use as a lever (rode a dirtbike out of the woods once using them as an emergency shift lever), they can hold other tools like a piece of hacksaw blade or a scalpel blade, the list goes on and on.
The old Kershaw A100 tops my list.

Note the knife blade can be used without opening the tool, and the pliers do not fold up, leaving a very useful impact weapon.

If you have to have a non locking multitool, buy a 6" visegrip and add it to your EDC.

Anonymous said...

Good review. For compact EDC kit, the original Leatherman multi-tool is more compact than recent manufacture "supersized tools", and will do nearly as much as the larger heavier versions. A heavy duty needle and bobbin of G.I. trip wire will accomplish A LOT of repair with little bulk. I have sewn quick inexpensive sleeves for these tools, cutting apart seat belt and other straps for it - works well.

Fwiw, I've found used Waves at pawn shops for 1/3 - 1/4 the cost of new, often with only several tools having any wear whatsoever. Its worth checking them out and see if you can find one for less.

Again, thank you for the review.

Anonymous said...

I keep a sharpening steel rod in same sheath as my leatherman, one of the outside elastic loops on side. A dummy cord attaching rod to sheath in case it gets pulled out (never has happened yet). I used to keep a spark rod on the opposite side, but it corroded or had some galvonic reaction - began to crumble to dust ?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:30 - Schrade made a Vice Grip tool with several tools inside the handle. A little heavy but its a true Vice Grip. No idea of recent Schrade Taylor China are as well made as the originals - seek that out if you can.

You speak the truth about locking pliers. I use a heavy rubber band and wind several times to use my Leatherman, but it isn't as tight as the Vice Grip.