Knives and Multi-tools

In his 1921 classic 'Camping and Woodcraft', Horace Kephart said: "Be aware of combination knives; they may be passable corkscrews and can openers, but that is about all. Does Chris Townsend agree?

Multi-tools, pocket tool kits, power pliers, pocket workshops - call them what you will. Combination knives have come a long way since 1921. Does Kephart's warning still apply, or do modern appliances work better than those of yesteryear? And even if they work, how useful are they to the backpacker and hill walker?

Impressive though they may look, many of the functions found on these tools - pliers, screwdrivers, saws - are not really much use for walking and backpacking. The ones I use most are scissors, for everything from cutting open food packets to trimming finger and toenails, and a small knife blade, for cutting and spreading various foodstuffs. When car camping, or if there's a shop nearby, then a can opener might be useful (along with a bottle opener or corkscrew)! Tweezers can be useful too, for removing splinters or ticks and picking up very small items. Of the other tools screwdrivers could be useful for repairing everything from eyeglasses to stoves, though you need to be sure that the ones on your knife are the right size and shape.

Most multi-function tools are heavy and quite bulky. They're no more necessary for most camping than the sheath knives of old. And like them they usually come with a holster so they can be worn on a belt. With complex items such as bicycles and ski bindings repairs may require pliers and other tools and carrying a fully specified multi-tool is probably a good idea, though one per group is probably enough. However, for walkers a lightweight knife that can be carried in a pocket is all that is needed.