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Gear Guy

Do I really need two dozen different functions in a multitool?

I'm a little boggled by all the choices in multitools these days. From the venerable Swiss Army all-in-one to the expensive Schrade creations that look like they've been crafted for Viking warlords. Any faves? More importantly, what tools do you think essential, which are gear-makers' fripperies? Malcolm Vancouver, British Columbia

A: It's the darndest thing. I'm just back from Salt Lake City and the Outdoor Retailer gearfest, and there it seemed like every third booth of the hundreds I passed was hawking some sort of multitool. Who in the world is buying all these things? I think they've become the default gift for people buying birthday or Christmas gifts for their outdoorsy relatives ("Oh, our nephew Dougie likes to hike—I bet he doesn't have one of these 56-tool gadgets!").

Leatherman Juice C2

After all, it's really hard to improve much on something such as the Victorinox Camper ($25;, maybe the classic Swiss Army-style knife. Blade, saw, awl, two screwdrivers, can opener, wine opener (very important!), all in a compact package. And not too heavy. So this is my bedrock default backpacking tool.

With one caveat: Knife-style tools such as the Camper lack a plier function, which is extremely handy. There's one easy option to mitigate this small omission: Just stick a small pair of needle-nose pliers into your pack along with your Camper, adding not much weight and a bunch more function. Otherwise, I'm partial to tools such as Leatherman's fairly new Juice C2 ($45; It has aluminum handles so isn't really heavy—4.3 ounces. And it has just about anything that you could reasonably need: knife, pliers, wire cutters, wine opener, can opener, screwdrivers. But, if you need more, the Schrade ST1N ($50; adds pliers, fish-hook remover, files, and a bunch of other stuff—21 functions in all. Heavier than the Juice because of its all-stainless-steel construction, but also very durable. A good all-around tool if you really want to cover the bases. Myself, I think the Camper or Juice are more than adequate.

More knives reviewed in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.

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Filed To: Knives
Lead Photo: courtesy, REI
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