Why you should always carry a multitool
The idea behind taking a bunch of different tools and combining them into a single package is, by no means, a modern consideration. In fact, it can be traced back as far as the time of the Roman Empire - approximately 201-300 A.D. The earliest known examples were primarily based around eating, presumably to give isolated roman soldiers a wide variety of utensils in a portable format that was easier to lug around than a set of traditional silverware. But it was not until WWII that the multi-tool gained contemporary and worldwide popularity.
It was the widely acclaimed ‘Swiss Army Knife’ - made by Victorinox - that was chiefly responsible for this explosion of popularity. Though calling it a knife is somewhat of a misnomer, as it is far more than just a blade with some extra functions. This comprehensive pocket-sized multi-tool became an extremely common item carried by soldiers, outdoorsmen, and artisans around the globe for its versatility and usefulness in a pinch. It wasn’t until relatively recently that we have seen engineers, designers, and metalworkers revisit this idea and create unique but still highly functional multi-tools that are readily available and offer a wide variety of carry options.
AT THE READY
The bare bones idea behind the concept of the multi-tool is preparation. Which is confusing when you start paying attention to how few people have actually included one in their everyday carry gear. Especially considering that perhaps the main precept of EDC is, in fact, preparation. It is an oddity that we cannot wrap our heads around. So we are trying to change that here. At the very core of their existence, multi-tools are utilitarian in a way that almost nothing else in the world of EDC is. Nearly every nuance is functional in one way or another and - so long as they are well-conceived and executed - rarely is there any extraneous material or formatting. They are, in a very specific word, useful.
Multi-tools are tremendous for their ability to offer a number of simple and effective solutions to everyday problems. Most come with a variety of functions and some can even be adapted to use their included solutions in unusual ways, if you’ve got a bit of imagination. While they may not be the best thing to use for complex work, they can competently handle the more common small jobs - like loosening or tightening a screw, measuring something, opening a bottle, prying or cutting something open, scoring marks on a surface, and more. In concept, multi-tools might be the closest thing to a physical representation of the tenets of EDC.
If you do stumble across a loose screw, a stray thread, or an unopened bottle, you’ll find that an everyday carry multi-tool is a much more accessible and quick way to take care of the problem - rather than traversing the distance to your toolbox, finding the necessary tool, completing the task, and then returning it. You don’t have to drop everything and refocus. All you need to do to get the job done is reach into your pocket, grab the tool, and do it. Save the time and the frustration.
You might not always need a ruler, a hex driver, a bottle opener, a pry bar, or whatever other functions your multi-tool has to offer. But you’ll be glad that they were included when you do. Multi-tools are by far the most efficient way to carry a number of different tools in an extremely mobile format. Sure, you may run into a situation that can’t be so easily tackled, but the occasions are rare. The creators of these tools came up with them for a reason - they ran into problems within their daily lives that they could not solve with what they had on them. So they made their own solutions.
Emergencies cannot always be predicted. That’s part of what makes them emergencies. The most you can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And keeping a multi-tool on hand is a pretty good step in the right direction. Whether you are stranded on an isolated stretch of road or you run into trouble in your own home, a multi-tool can be the difference between peril and success. Especially if you are in a hurry or you’re out of reach of your phone, knife, or otherwise. For example, let’s say you accidentally lock yourself in a room. If your multi-tool has a screwdriver function, you can simply remove the screws from the door and extricate yourself.
There are hundreds of ways to explain away the importance of keeping a multi-tool in your everyday carry. Maybe you work in a garage or you’ve got a huge tool chest in the back of your truck. Perhaps you think your knife can handle most of the pitfalls into which you may run. Maybe you don’t ever leave the safety of your home and nothing bad will ever happen to you. The truth is, a single solitary occasion can make the difference between understanding the benefits of a multitool and not. One snapped knife blade. One day away from your workbench. One unopened beer on a day when you can’t find your bottle opener. When you do run into that occasion and decide the time has come to get on board, you’ll need to know what to look for in a multi-tool. Below, we’ve outlined some common terminology and the importance therein.
Operation: The ‘multi’ part of multi-tool. By definition, a multi-tool must serve multiple functions. The question is, how many and of what type do you need? When searching for a multi-tool, make sure to look for a list of specifications. Some people can get by with a tool that does just a few things - filling the gaps left by their other everyday carry items. Other people need a far greater range of options. It is also important to pay attention to the denominations of the functions so as to make sure you are making the appropriate choice. For example, some tools come in imperial - inches, miles, etc. - whereas others come in metric - millimeters, centimeters, kilometers, etc.
Portability: How you are going to carry your multi-tool. Some tools come with pocket clips or are pre-equipped to hook on a belt loop or keychain. Others offer solutions to carrying some of your other items - like your keys, flashlight, etc. There are plenty of tools which can fit fairly easily into your pockets. If you don’t have an abundance of space, your best option is to find something that can hang outside of them or can fit elsewhere, like in your wallet. There are some very easily carried options with a large array of uses.
Size: Inexorably tied to portability is size. You want to pay attention to the amount and type of space that your tool will be taking up. Real estate in your everyday carry layout is extremely valuable because there is only so much of it. If you need many functions out of your multi-tool, you may need to find a way to limit the size of other EDC items that you have. If you aren't as concerned with having an entire toolbox-worth in a multitool, it tends to be easier to find something that'll fit in your limited space.
Materials: The lifespan of your multi-tool will largely be determined by the type of material out of which it is constructed. Typically, these kinds of items are made from metals like steel, aluminum, or titanium because of their inherent durability. Multifaceted tools, like those made by Leatherman or Victorinox, will often include alternative materials in their handles - like wood, plastic, carbon fiber, etc. - for looks or to save weight. Your primary concern, however, should be the quality of the tools themselves. All else is secondary and generally just preference-based.
THE RIGHT TOOL
A multi-tool is by no means a replacement for a set of traditional tools. They simply are not designed with the intention of being used for the same kinds of work and you should not expect them to be. Wrenches and screwdrivers exist in their bulky formats because sometimes excessive torque/pressure/leverage are necessary. And you should know this going into your search for an addition to your EDC. Multi-tools are wonderful as on-the-spot and ever-ready solutions to stuff you may run into through the course of your travels. But, if you’re looking to put together an erector set rollercoaster, a ground-up vehicle refit, or a dozen pieces of Ikea furniture, grab your traditional tools. That’s why they exist.