Multi-tools. Are They Really Any Good?

The Leatherman 'Wave' in its utility pouch.

The Leatherman ‘Wave’ in its utility pouch.

This is always a hot topic among adventurers. Some say that they’re great, some say that they’re a gimmick and some don’t say much at all on the subject. So, just what should you expect from your multi-tool?

As you can see by my writer profile, I have a background in precision engineering and can normally spot a ‘Camel’ at 50 paces! Any good mechanical engineer will tell you that something that has been designed to do lots of different things normally doesn’t do any of them particularly well; I think this view still holds true today for the vast majority of things. The time was around the late 90’s and it was getting much more common to see people wearing a multi-tool on their belt as they wandered about; these sights being responsible for my almost permanent grin back then (ah, happy days).

It was around 1998 at a U.K. game fair that I saw the Leatherman ‘Wave’ and as far as I can remember it was a new model, around the £80 mark I think. I asked the guy (who knew me from previous game fairs) if I could have a good look at it and he said ‘Take one, do what you like with it and bring it back later’. I did, and brought it back about an hour later after doing ‘all sorts’ with it. Now, I’ve made a few mistakes in my time but I wasn’t about to make another by giving him this back! I paid for it and have never regretted it. I have added to it with the ‘Bit driver attachment’ and a larger Leatherman utility pouch. Let’s now break it down a bit to see what we’ve got.


The quality of my Leatherman ‘Wave’ is exceptional. Everything is finished well, operates smoothly and has needed no work other than normal looking after. The quality of the original leather pouch, the Leatherman utility nylon pouch and the bit driver attachment are equally high and have never given rise to any problems whatsoever.


The ‘Wave’ is incredibly versatile. It can be used to do things that you wouldn’t have thought possible. Always bear in mind that it’s quite a small piece of equipment and that you may have to adapt your methods to allow for this; however, once you have done this you’ll find that there is very little that cannot be achieved. The only down-side to its versatility has been brought about by the increased security measures at airports. If you take it on your travels you will not be able to take it in your hand luggage.


I was initially a little concerned about the tamper proof fasteners used on the ‘Wave’ as these made stripping the tool for cleaning and adjustment impossible. I have not been able to obtain a drive bit that fits to this day. Fortunately, I have never needed to adjust the tool in any way. It’s just as good now as the day I bought it. Cleaning is obviously more difficult but I find that a covering with a good quality de-greaser and a good scrub with a toothbrush and hot water brings it up like new; a rub with a piece of ‘Scotchbrite’ bringing the finish up to ‘as new’ condition. A quick rinse under the tap again and a dry off before applying a few drops of light oil to all the moving joints. Blade refinishing is as normal and I have covered this in some detail in a previous article.

What can be done with it?

You would be surprised (as I was)! When in remote areas I have repaired generators, done emergency electrical installations, repaired washing machines, dryers, quadbikes, the list goes on and on. You always seem to be using it to do all sorts of things and you wonder how you ever managed without it.

Was it worth the money?

Undoubtedly. They are a little more money now but that’s only to be expected. I would have no hesitation whatsoever in replacing it with another one should the unthinkable happen. It’s 14 years old now, that works out at just over two pennies a day for the tool, attachments and utility pouch at the moment!

What about the female adventurer?

Leatherman, like most of the top five, make versions aimed at females. These are normally smaller with less equipment. The needs of the female adventurer are exactly the same as that of the male so my advice on this would be to go for the same multi-tool. They are not exactly enormous to start off with!

Does it have to be a Leatherman?

The top five makes are all good, as you would probably expect. My own thoughts on this are that Leatherman are the ‘original and best’. I have looked at, and used many others but there is just something about the Leatherman that exudes quality and functionality, inspiring confidence time after time. Of course, I can only speak from personal experience based on the Leatherman products that I own. I have never had call to complain or return any item for any reason.

My own set-up

As you can see from the photos, I keep my ‘Wave’ in th utility pouch with some other stuff to comprise a sort of mini survival kit. It includes:

  • 1 Leatherman utility pouch.
  • 1 Leatherman ‘wave’.
  • 1 Leatherman bit adaptor.
  • 1 Bit rack.
  • 1 Sparking tool and striker.
  • 1 Piece of rubber innertube.
  • 6 Water purification tablets.
  • 1 Piece of nylon webbing.
  • Stainless steel braid.

You can put anything you like in there that you think may be useful on your trip.

The pleasure and pain

In the 14 years I have owned my Leatherman ‘Wave’ it has brought me nothing but pleasure. So where does the pain fit in? It’s often said that in life, equilibrium can only be maintained if there is an equal amount of pleasure and pain. This may very well have some truth in it and the pain associated with this particular item for me is that I was wrong! As any woman will tell you, under normal conditions a man is only ever wrong when he has been persuaded against his better judgement (normally by a woman). All the same, being wrong can be an extremely painful and traumatic ordeal for the male, often needing many months of therapy and even then complete recovery is rare. Fortunately for us men, it doesn’t happen very often (as I’m sure any woman will confirm)!

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