Multifunctional Garbage

Multifunctional Garbage

To me, the term “multifunctional” is synonymous with inefficient. Take the multi-tool for example. I have carried a Leatherman Wave for over a decade. I had languished in my pack on every outdoor adventure without fail, eating up survival kit space while providing a very limited amount of actual benefit.

It looks nice. It reminds me of something James Bond would pull out to jury-rig a car. And it has 17 different tools. But everyone is sub par at best. The only function that this multi-tool is good at is opening bottles – and even then, since I learned to open bottles with the back edge of my knife, I never use the multi-tool. The stainless steel knife is too short and stocky for most tasks and is a pain to sharpen. The smaller tools in the handles are hard to pull out, and the pliers loosen up when you use the wire cutting feature too much. And it is an expensive tool at around the $100 mark.

The Leatherman Wave multi-tool is just not as good as a purpose built knife. Each part of a multi-tool compromises the other parts. It is not as good at cutting as a cheap Mora knife and a cheap pair of vice grips are far more robust and reliable.

Leatherman Wave 2 Opened

Same goes with the sail needle or often cited wool blanket. The sail needle cannot beat a Suunto MC-2 Compass for navigation, especially when calculating a 10 km hike and taking into account error. And the wool blanket will never be as warm as a mummy sleeping bag. Few experts that talk about wool blanket sleeping bags would even attempt sleeping in sub freezing temperatures. In Northern Ontario, I have been in weather that has dropped down to -50 Celsius / -50 Fahrenheit.  I would never chance it with a wool blanket.

In essence, the multi-tool is a flawed concept. It has multi-functioned itself right out of a job. If you want something to entrust your life to out in the wilderness or in a survival scenario, it is important to consider the following:

1. Primary Duty

The tool must accomplish a primary duty well. All other duties are secondary. In the case of the Leatherman Wave, what is the primary function? The pliers? The knife? Same with the Crovel. Is it a shovel or an axe? I can’t imagine either digging or chopping down a tree without impaling myself.  Every part of the tool interferes with the other functions, creating an awkward object to handle.

It is important for the tool to be good in at least one thing. While a mirror sighting compass can be used as a signaling device, its primary duty is as a compass. All other duties / functions are a bonus.

2. Functions Should Not Degrade Quality

Often stacking functions comes at the expense of quality and or durability. Adding additional functions can weaken the overall tool.

I bought a modern designed combination salt / pepper grinder from the local grocery store. On one side, a pepper grinder and on the other a salt grinder. Within a week, the pepper end sheared off right where the grinder end turns because it has to integrate all the mechanical motion into a 1 inch space. Now I am left with an ugly looking salt mill.

I have a classic wood pepper mill from the 80’s that is still going strong because it is built like a little wooden tank since it has only one job – grinding pepper. The whole structure is designed for a single action.

3. Beware The Additional Cost

The Crovel is a $150.00 shovel / axe combo. For the same price point, you could get a high end Gransfors Bruks Forest Axe at $120.00 and a decent folding Shovel. Or instead of the Leatherman Wave (at $90.00+), you could buy a $10 pair of vice grips / pliers and $20.00 Mora Companion – or buy two or three sets and store them in other locations.

4. Weight

Is it worth the weight of all those extra parts? The Leatherman is only 3 oz. lighter than my RAT-5, which is a beast of a knife. The added weight comes from more moving parts and gears. It you sit down and study the Wave, it has a staggering number of additional locking parts.

5. Time Concerns

Will it save you time, or will you have to fiddle around during an emergency to get everything in order. On every trip into the bush, I carry a fully stocked first aid kit – either an Individual First Aid Kit (for personal use) or a group kit designed to handle a variety of mishaps and casualties.

Yes a cotton bandana is light and cheap. But if I have to use it as a band aid, I will first have to find water (if I am not packing any), boil the water / bandana to sterilize it, and then apply it wet. Would it not be easier to carry a bunch of band-aids / sterile pads and then just open them on the fly? That is the difference between 3 steps for an inferior bandage, versus 1 step for a purpose driven item.


In the end, complex items are not really better than simpler tools. Simple items like duck tape, paracord and shemogs / bandana have their place. And in a pinch they will work. But it is better to have the right tool for the right job.

It is a juggle between what is it you want to accomplish and what are you sacrifice if you pick a multifunctional tool. If you have the room, dedicated tools work the best because they are purpose built for a single job.

What do you always pack and end up not using?



  1. Solid article Lee. It took me a long time to get over the coolness factor and get back to basics. I have become my uncool uncle that used to laugh at some of the crap I bought.

    I look back on some of what I’ve bought in the past and I’m embarrassed. It only takes getting pinched a few times with a crappy pair of multi-tool pliers, or trying to actually use the pliers for something unsuccessfully to wanna throw them in the river.

  2. Devil’s advocate, here… the primary function of a multi-tool like the Wave is not to be a knife, or a pair of pliers, or a can opener, etc. It is to be a compact tool that is easy and convenient to carry, always available, and which can do many different things well enough to get by. Furthermore, I guarantee that the Wave is a much better file, screwdriver, can opener, and set of pliers than the RAT-5. Now, if you were taking the Wave on camping trips and finding that you never needed all those features, then the problem was not with the Wave. Now, if you could only carry one of these on a daily basis, which would it be?

    • Agreed. The multi-tool is a jack-of-all-trades and the Leatherman Wave is the cadillac of multi-tools. Personally, I never used it in a wilderness setting. A good 4-5″ full tang knife is THE backup tool in the woods. It is not an axe, saw, etc. It is the sidearm of the outdoors. It is not suited to build bow drill sets, de-limb tree branches and clean a dead animal. Generally I hear people talk about using it to pick up a hot pot or container out of the fire – how about gloves? Or having a handle on the pot out of the fire, or letting it cool down?

      The multi-tool is far more suited to an urban setting, where you are more likely to encounter screws, wire… things that the multi-tool can handle – in a limited capacity. I used it a lot when I worked as a sales associate at Bass Pro Shops. It will do, but a tool box full of the right kind of tools is better.

      • OK. I will say that on my first few trips out (after 20-30 year hiatus, that is), I did bring a Leatherman Wingman… along with an ancient Swiss Army camping model knife, folding saw, hatchet, and Mora Bushcraft. Anyway, the Wingman never left my pack, and I eventually realized that I was carrying way more metal than I needed, and that the Wingman was *heavy*. I never take it anymore. (It’s great to leave in the car, though.)

        On the other hand, I pretty much always have that Swiss Army knife on me. It’s small, light, has the stuff I need most often, and even the corkscrew is damn handy (and I don’t even drink wine).


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