Gearhead: Leatherman multi-tools make life convenient

As a takealong in your pack, there’s no end to the ways in which a multi-tool can make life convenient, from removing splinters to sharpening a knife.|

A multi-tool weighs practically nothing and takes up little space, but carrying one along on an outdoor adventure - from a two-hour trail hike to a monthlong backpack trip - will probably reward you with big-sized benefits. In certain situations, a multi-tool might even save your life.

There's no end to the ways in which a multi-tool can make life convenient. For example, your tool might help you to pull a splinter or bee stinger, fashion a fish hook from a soda can tab, cut clothing to make bandages, pry open lids, tighten the loose screw on your prescription glasses, fix your bike, remove the cork from that bottle of wine you've carried for 10 miles, smooth down the nail you ripped when tripping over a rock and a whole lot more. There are hundreds of handy uses for such a tool.

There are also times when a multi-tool can be vitally important. Depending on the features they contain, some multi-tools can saw tree branches and limbs to create a shelter, cut through the seat belt in a submerged automobile, signal rescuers with a whistle, or help build a campfire to keep you warm.

The first multi-tool was designed in the late 1970s by a mechanical engineer named Tim Leatherman, and today the company he founded, Leatherman, produces nearly 50 different kinds of these devices. Some are small enough to fit on a keychain, while others are hefty enough to merit a leather pouch that slips onto a belt. Many Leatherman multi-tools can be customized with tools to match your needs, with costs ranging from $20 to $300. Here are two tools from the middle reaches of the Leatherman size/cost spectrum:

The pocket-sized Sidekick has 14 tools, including spring-action needlenose pliers, regular pliers, a saw, two knife blades, a wire stripper, can/bottle openers and four screwdrivers. Stainless steel, sheath and carabiner included, weighs 7 ounces. $59.95. www.leatherman.com

The larger Signal offers 19 tools, including two replaceable wire cutters, a wire stripper, needlenose and regular pliers, a combo knife, saw, hammer, awl with thread loop, can/bottle openers, ¼-inch hex bit driver, ¼-inch and 3/16-inch box wrenches, safety whistle, ferrocerium rod (to aid in starting campfires) and diamond-coated sharpener. Sheath and carabiner included, weighs 7.5 ounces, 420HC stainless steel with DLC coating. $119.95 www.leatherman.com.

According to its website, Leatherman products are carried by Bass Pro Shops, Sportsman's Warehouse, Home Depot, Lowe's, Dick's Sporting Goods and REI.

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