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Multi-Tool or Toolkit Pros and Cons of Each

April 5, 2018

Campers and, to a lesser extent, day hikers often bring an assortment of tools along on their adventures to help make any repairs necessary while on the trail. Historically, campers would often find it necessary to assemble a small toolkit from scratch, containing everything they may need while in the wilderness. However, over the last few decades, manufacturers began marketing multi-tools, which contain a variety of tools in one housing.

Multi-tools are quite popular among some outdoor enthusiasts, but others still prefer to bring individual tools instead. Neither approach is perfect for all circumstances, but we’ll try to explain some of the most noteworthy benefits and drawbacks of each strategy below.

The Benefits of Multi-Tools

Multi-tools provide a few important benefits, including the following:

  • Multi-tools keep everything together and prevent you from losing any of the individual items
  • Multi-tools are easy to access and use
  • Multi-tools eliminate the need to select and purchase separate tools
  • Can often be worn on a belt or strapped to the outside of your pack
  • Great for simple tasks and repairs

The Drawbacks of Multi-Tools

Despite the benefits they provide, multi-tools also present a few drawbacks. Some of the most notable drawbacks include:

  • You can’t use two different tools at the same time very easily
  • You only have one of each tool, which can be a problem when trying to adjust bolts with more than one nut
  • The handle or housing represents a bit of extra weight
  • The knife blades included with multi-tools rarely lock into place
  • It is sometimes difficult to achieve leverage with a multi-tool

The Benefits of Toolkits

Like multi-tools, toolkits provide campers with a few unique benefits. Some of the most important include:

  • You can customize the toolkit, so it contains only those tools you need
  • You can use more than one tool at a time
  • You can add specialized tools to the kit to address unique needs
  • You can carry tools in a lightweight nylon bag to save weight
  • Many manufacturers sell pre-assembled kits, which alleviate the need to purchase items separately
  • Often better for complex repairs

The Drawbacks of Toolkits

Also, like multi-tools, toolkits have a few drawbacks. Some of the most notable include the following:

  • Individual tools can be lost
  • Tools can clang against each other while you’re hiking
  • You may have to dig through your toolkit to find the tool you need
  • Purchasing tools separately is sometimes expensive
  • You may end up carrying several tools unnecessarily if nothing breaks

Camping Tool Checklist

Whether you choose the multi-tool route, purchase a pre-made kit or assemble your own, you’ll want to verify that you have all of the tools you are likely to need. Typically, the best way to do this is by starting with a basic set of common tools, and then add any tools necessary to address your specific needs.

Basic Tools

The basic tools you’ll almost always want to bring include:

  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Conventional pliers
  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Knife
  • Wire cutters or small scissors
  • Adjustable crescent wrench
  • File

You can probably skip a few of these items if you are trying to reduce the weight of the kit. For example, you can usually use a flat-head screwdriver for Phillips-head screws in a pinch. You may also find that a pair of conventional pliers alleviates the need for an adjustable crescent wrench. Also, some pliers feature multiple gripping points, which allow them to simultaneously function as needle-nose pliers and conventional pliers.

If you’re more concerned with bringing a comprehensive toolkit than shaving unnecessary ounces, you may also want to bring a few more tools, including:

  • Small saw blade
  • Alligator clips
  • Vise grips
  • Small hammer
  • Tweezers (although you probably have a pair in your first-aid kit)
  • Small magnifying glass
  • Small prybar
  • Camping ax

Specific Tools

Once you’ve assembled your toolkit or acquired a multi-tool that contains all of the basic tools you’ll need, you’ll want to pull out all of your camping equipment and make a list of any specialized tools you may need.

For example, you may need a tiny screwdriver to adjust the valve on your camp stove, or you may need an Allen wrench to adjust part of your pack. Some items may even require custom-made tools, which are packaged with the equipment. For example, some camping stoves or lanterns may require a specialized wrench.

Just be sure to look over all of your equipment – particularly those items that possess moving parts – and identify all of the tools you may need to make repairs.

Rounding Out Your Repair Kit

Tools are obviously important, but they aren’t the only things you’ll need to make repairs on the trail. You may also need a variety of supplies to fix anything that breaks. This includes:

  • Zip ties
  • Duct tape
  • Vinyl patch kit
  • Superglue
  • Thick glue (such as shoe glue)
  • Small sewing kit
  • O-rings, sized to fit your water filter, fuel tank connectors and any other devices that use them
  • Nylon rope / paracord
  • Safety pins
  • Small bungee straps
  • Tent pole repair sleeve
  • Small can of WD-40 with a spray nozzle
  • Spare light bulbs

Don’t feel like you need to stress out when choosing between a multi-tool and a toolkit — either choice will work. But, there are clearly a few differences between the two options, and it’s always a good idea to select the best camping equipment for your needs.

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