Multi-Tools Field Tested by Active Junky
Lead Reviewer: Peter Reese
Editor: Melanie Ott
When out and about on adventures, sometimes gear needs adjusting, tightening or loosening, or something needs opening, cutting or sawing. A full-function multi-tool can replace all the tools with only single uses by combining them into a single portable option of all those tools.
Active Junky tested a variety of models from pocket multi-tools to belt-carried and even one wearable multi-tool, none of which weigh over 10 oz or measure over 8 in when closed. The tools selected are readily available, non-military options. They are also meant for occasional use, not full-time or intense work, which means they better for quick small jobs rather than large projects.
A Word of Caution
Because many of the tools included have sharp edges, such as knife and saw blades, Active Junky reminds you to use the tools with proper education and protective equipment, including safety glasses and gloves, and always read manufacturer's recommendations for use and safety.
Multi-Tools: How to Choose the Best Multi-Tool for You
When considering which multi-tool is best for you, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Activities: what adventures will you take your multi-tool on? If you are a mountain biker, you may require a general-purpose multi-tool for quick adjustments on the trail but not for major repairs or replacements or major systems, such as shifters and brakes.
- Functions: what will you use your tool for? Likely, you will not use every tool included, so knowing which ones are necessary can help you eliminate the tools that have more than you will use. You may use a driver head on a regular basis but never find a need for a corkscrew.
- Operation: how easily can the system open and individual tools be accessed? This can be an important factor in extreme conditions, such as inclement weather and low temperatures.
- Redundancy: are there backups of the tool you use most frequently? If cutting or slicing is the primary reason for your multi-tool purchase, you will want one with multiple blades in case one becomes overly dull, bends or breaks.
How We Tested Multi-Tools
Active Junky testers put these tools to work in six performance trials to assess strength, adaptability and agility, including considering wet hands and wearing light gloves. Being tested in Colorado, test temperatures ranged between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity under 45 percent.
Before being put to the test, all tools were sharpened use a standard diamond bench sharpener for optimal and peak performance. The tests pushed the tools, some nearly to their breaking point, and the results indicated which tools could stand up to certain tasks and where others fell short.
- Point Break: this test employed the cutter surface of the tool's plier jaws. Assessing the time required for a clean cut while considering the amount of energy and exertion required, testers used the pliers to cut 16-gauge galvanized steel wiring, the type often used for fixing fences.
- Around the Bend: using the same steel wire as the Point Break trial, testers clamped the plier jaws tightly down to manipulate the wires into an "S" shape. Successful trials resulted in smooth and quick bending to test durability and traction of the handle grips.
- Rope 'Em In: Active Junky chose to test the slicing ability by using loose-sheath nylon cord, as it easily frays and pulls apart from the core if a cut isn't exact and quick. With the nylon cord on a stable surface, a successful test would be a clean, once-through slice with the main blade to assess its sharpness.
- No Turning Back: Testing torque potential and driver control, testers took 2" x 6" lumber with 1/8 in pilot hole to lead the aluminum screws and drove them in a far as they could. Favorable test results were steady and deep penetration with solid contact and no head slippage, causing damage to the screw head.
- Eyes on the Pries: To test the prying ability of each multi-tool, tester selected one flat-surfaced tool, such as flathead driver, file tip or short, wide blade. The trial scenario was a piece of plywood nailed to a 2" x 6" wood panel. The goal was to test the edge stability and overall strength of the multi-tool, including control and effectiveness in prying in locations that are difficult to reach.
- Lumberjack Olympics: Using a large-diameter wooden dowel, testers used both serrated blades and sawblades to cut through the wood. The end goal was quick and deep sawing without jamming.
How We Evaluated: Key Attributes
Found to some degree in all multi-tools tested, each tool expressed one attribute more strongly than the others, which the testers point out as its main strength. Take a look at each product page to see which attribute is key for each multi-tool.
- Performance, as defined by Active Junky, means successful execution of five functions: cutting and bending wire; cutting nylon cords; driving and tightening with Philips and flathead drivers; prying apart securely connected surfaces; sawing and carving of wood.
- Versatility means ability to take the tool in a variety of scenarios, including completing daily tasks, making equipment adjustments while traveling, performing repairs, assisting first aid and giving survival features while in the outdoors or backcountry.
- Durability considers frequency of use along with withstanding extreme situations that put strain on the tool. Active Junky used each tool for 90 days to evaluate its overall durability in real field scenarios.
- Total Utility offers more than standard functions tested for basic performance, including completing practical and unique tasks.
- Value is an overall combination of the other key attributes – durability, performance, utility and versatility – compared against cost and brand reputation.
Active Junky tested seven standard multi-tools in these scenarios, and included one innovative yet unconventional product in this multi-tool review. If you are looking for fixed-blade knives, have a look at Active Junky's Camping Knives review. For more gear reviews, check out ActiveJunky.com.