Camping is a primal experience. Half of the fun comes from depending solely on the gear you can carry with you and the unpredictability of the environment around you. On the other hand, nothing can ruin the experience more quickly than not having the necessary tools available. Although the best multitool for camping may differ from person to person, every camper should consider them an indispensable piece of gear.
Read are in-depth reviews below...
How to Select the Best Tool
Multi-tools, as we recognize them now, have been around since the early 1980's and were first marketed by the Leatherman company, although multiple use tools like pocket knives have been around much longer. The Romans are believed to be the first people to combine more than one eating tool to create the earliest one.
In recent years, a staggering number of variations have entered the market making it difficult to objectively compare features and choose the best multitool for camping. It's possible to find tools that are as small and light as credit cards or house keys that are meant for emergency use.
Conversely, there are large tools with hammers, axes, or shovels that are too large fit into a pocket like a traditional tool, but can replace full sized counterparts that would be inconvenient to bring to your campsite. Since each person needs different things from their tool, there are a few factors you should consider.
he first thing to consider when you are selecting one is how often you camp and the length of your camping trips. A person who packs their car with gear once a year to spend a weekend in the woods has a very different set of needs than someone who camps frequently or goes on multi-week hiking trips. Will you be dependent on your tool to keep you and your gear in working order, or can repairs on items that break wait until you return to civilization?
Once you've examined your camping style, there are a number of factors that can help you narrow down your choices including price, weight, number and practicality of functions, and durability.
I often find them for as little as $3 or $4 dollars online or in the checkout aisle of some stores, but these small tools are obviously not as well made as more expensive tools and do not have as many functions. A high-quality, durable tool can cost up to $150 dollars, but will be extremely well-made and versatile.
Consider how often you will be using it when deciding on a budget, and if you camp frequently or will be undertaking a long trip into isolated areas plan on buying the best multi-tool available. Most campers can find a tool for under $50 dollars that will meet their needs, and many well-known and well-respected brands produce quality tools in this price range.
Number of Functions
The type and number of functions is really what makes each tool unique, and the types of outdoor activities you enjoy will have an impact on which brand and style is best for you. Hunters and fishermen will find a tool with a large and sturdy blade or strong scissors for cutting lines best serves their needs, but if you are a mountain biker there are tools that are more focused on mechanical functions. Ultralight backpackers might prefer a tool with eating utensils or a smaller than average tool to save on weight.
Even if you are not an ultralight backpacker, weight is an issue you should consider. They can add up to several extra pounds of weight to your gear, and if you aren't going to be using it for anything more than as a bottle opener for your beer you can opt for a smaller, cheaper tool.
Keep in mind that higher quality tools are often crafted out of heavier materials, and this may be a plus if you want a strong, durable saw blade that won't bend and snap and a screwdriver tip that can handle stubborn screws.
Heavier, more expensive tools also tend to be the most durable. If you plan on using it on a daily basis, make sure to find a style and brand with a good reputation for longevity and rugged construction. This includes the carrying case or D-ring link if the tool has these features. Having lost several smaller multi-tools when their keyring connections broke, this is now a feature I keep in mind when I purchase a new tool.
Below are five to consider buying before your next camping trip. Each has different attributes that make it suitable for camping, and some are better suited for light use or for emergency purposes only, while others are heavy-duty workhorses that may be too heavy or impractical for light campers. At the end, you can find my recommendation for the best multi-tool for camping.
Five Multi-Tools to Consider Purchasing
Leatherman was the first on the market and they are still one of the best-known makers of jack-of-all-trades pocket-sized tools. They sell tools in a variety of configurations and have specialized tools designed for specific needs, such as their MUT for military and civilian shooters.
The Signal is their camping-specific tool, which has all the usual tools like needle nose pliers, a knife, a saw, and screwdrivers. But there are several tools on it which make it particularly suited for outdoor survival. The carabiner at the end is a nice touch and makes it easy to hang the tool from a pack or on a belt. This model also has a ferrocerium rod for starting fires and an emergency whistle.
- Great camping-specific functions
- Classic design
- Tools lock into place for safety and ease of use
- High price
- Design of the handle can make using the pliers uncomfortable
- Not as durable as other Leatherman models
Boasting 22 uses in a card-sized tool, this piece of gear might not be what everyone would consider a 'multi-tool', but it certainly packs a lot of functions into a small, lightweight item. It contains several fishing hooks, arrow tips, awls, a tiny saw, and components to construct snares among others. It even has a trident spear tip.
Made out of quality materials in the USA, it can be carried in a wallet slot like a credit card, but it's more useful as an emergency tool rather than an all-purpose tool. Many people choose to carry this type of tool as an 'every day carry' item in addition to a small pocket knife or keychain size one. There are variations made by the same company (Readyman) specifically for fishing, first aid, and lock picking as well.
- Many functions despite small size
- Lacks useful features such as screwdrivers, pliers, etc.
- Relatively expensive
This small and inexpensive tool would be perfect for individuals who camp only occasionally, or for someone in search of a small durable pocket-sized one. Because of its compact size, this would be a particularly good choice for ultralight backpackers or as a secondary tool if you plan on taking more than one.
Specifically designed for meal times, it has a detachable fork and spoon which is unusual but which makes cleanup easier than similar utensils where the silverware stays attached. There is also as a knife, bottle opener, corkscrew, and a few other practical tools. The tiny LED flashlight is particularly useful and is surprisingly bright. Here's a video showing this utensil tool and how strong and sturdy the components are.
- Low cost
- Small size
- Useful cutlery
- Limited tools
- Only a good pick if you specifically want silverware on it
With a uniquely combined axe, hammer, and pliers, this multi-tool was clearly designed with camping in mind. After several camping trips where I resorted to pounding tent stakes with a rock and breaking apart kindling with a pocket knife because I lacked a hammer or hatchet I can appreciate the utility this has.
Currently available for less than $15 dollars, there are some downsides to this inexpensive little tool. The hammer is small compared to a regular hammer, and the pliers aren't as practical as using a regular pair of pliers which may mean more time spent on repairs or projects. The shaft does contain some typical tools such as a knife, but aren't of the best quality, meaning this would be best suited for short trips or occasional use only.
- Great camping tool choices
- Pliers can be difficult to use
- Heavy for its size, but at the same time too small for big tasks
- Questionable long-term durability
Victorinox has been around for more than 100 years and is best known as the maker of the famous Swiss army knife. The Spirit is an elegantly designed and impressively rugged with well thought out features, such as a locking mechanism to keep tools from slipping as you use them and ergonomically curved plier handles.
With 34 possible functions, you can tackle almost anything, including wire stripping and eyeglass repairs. Although not specifically designed for camping, the number of functions on the tool and the added mini ratchet set make this one of the best kits on the market. It also makes it one of the most expensive. View more info here
- Well-crafted design
- Endless functions
- Extremely durable
- One of the most expensive on the market
- Heavier than similarly sized tools
For me personally, the best is undoubtedly the Victorinox Spirit. Despite the cost and the weight the Spirit has not only become my favorite camping tool, it's also my go-to home tool for around the house repairs. The hefty stainless steel body and tool locking mechanism make it incredibly strong compared to other multi-tools, and despite years of use the knife blade and scissors are still sharp.
The pliers show almost no wear despite using them to cut and bend thick wire rods that would have dulled and probably warped cheaper tools. Because of its longevity and reliability, I would recommend that anyone who plans on using their pocket tool frequently consider the Spirit.
Camping gives us a chance to discover just exactly how little we truly need to survive. Make sure to do your homework and honestly evaluate your camping needs before making a decision based on price, weight, number and practicality of functions, and durability.
A good one can be the difference between a memorable trip and misery and may even save your life in an emergency. The key is to not unnecessarily burden yourself with options that you'll never find useful simply for the sake of feeling safer.