Choosing the Best Survival Multi Tool: Tips from an Ex Multi Tool Industry Insider

by Morry Banes

As far back as I can remember the preparedness community has dwelled and kept getting back to one elusive dilemma – a survival knife or a multi tool.


It is to us what “Brenda or Kelly” dilemma is to the fans of 90210, the male ones, all three of them…

It’s my opinion that the only answer that makes sense is BOTH.

Granted, nothing much to screw or unscrew when you are making a trap in the wild, and it would be hard making a decent shelter by using a flimsy multi tool blade but let us take a step back here and think about one basic fact:

Flexibility of a multi tool use is unparalleled

Smart preparedness goes beyond thinking about every possible scenario and adding stuff to your backpack. It’s about knowing that a real life situation is bound to face you with scenarios you could not have fathomed.


Here, your brain is your main weapon, and you only need things that can be creatively and flexibly used. Sometimes you’ll need a light piece for small cutting tasks and sometimes you’ll need brute force of a rigid, heavy-duty tool. Nothing fits the description better than a wisely chosen multi tool.

  • How about field stripping your firearm if you carry one?

I know from experience that, with a little practice, you can strip and clean pretty much any weapon if you have the right multi tool

  • How about a medical emergency?

Ok, you have your first aid kit in place but what if you need to cut through a booth to release the ankle of an injured person or cut through close to get to the injured area. Scissors are OK, but what about having something that’s better than standalone scissors and can do a lot more…

  • The list goes on and on…

I think I’ve made my point why I think having a multi tool in your BOB is just common sense, so let’s move on to talk about what I promised in the title – choosing smart and saving money while we’re at it.

When you start researching multi tools, reading multi tool reviews and specs, it gets pretty complicated pretty fast. That’s how it was for me when I started working in a multi tool factory like a decade ago and started my multi tool collection.

It kept getting more complicated before it got really simple.

Here, we are in luck because we know exactly what we are looking for – a strong, heavy-duty survival multi tool free of stars and sparkles of advertising.

I am here to tell you how to simplify things and look past all that, because, in a survival situation, it won’t matter much if your tool is nice shiny red and packs a zillion pieces you will never use.

When choosing a survival multi tool for your BOB, as far as I am concerned, it’s about getting back to the basics and keeping things simple.

We’ll keep things simple by looking at three main aspects:

  • versatility
  • quality of the materials
  • safety of use

Again, I’ll keep things very simple.


Sure, you can be “that guy” who spend over a grand on something like Swiss Army Giant that has 141 functions, but if SHTF you’ll find yourself using 5 pieces and carrying over 7 pounds of steel.

As I said, for me, choosing smart is looking at the basics:

  • sturdy pliers and wire cutters
  • two types of blades – serrated and regular
  • quality screwdrivers – regular and Phillips
  • bottle and can opener

Whichever tool you get, you’ll find that the Pareto or the 80-20 rules apply – you are likely to do 80% of the jobs using 20% of the tools.

It’s far more important playing your cards right when it comes to reliability of the tools.



I do know the industry inside out, and if I were to design my perfect survival multi tool today, I would look for the following:

  • titanium for the handles because it will not corrode
  • 420 stainless steel for all the tools except the blades because “size-to-size” this steel is stronger than titanium and far less likely to break because of low chromium content
  • 154CM steel for the blades – because it will keep it’s edge up to 3 times longer than 420 steel

Simplicity and Clarity

That’s what I was aiming for when talking about a quality of a multi tool.

The word “quality” is so easily thrown around these days that it loses all its meaning. Every company will tell you that their tool is of “highest quality” while they are profiting on your confusion about the meaning of the word.

Well, consider me your insider in the industry and make a mental note of this definition of quality in a multi tool.

Just one more thing – stay away from anything “coated”. Read the specs carefully and look for terms like “dye-coated steel” and “titanium coated”. It’s just a way of the company to say “It’s not really steel, we just painted it so that it looks like it is”.

One could argue that titanium coating does make some sense since it will keep the corrosion of for a while. That “for a while will” usually with the time your warranty expires.

It’s money out of your pocket and not worth it. The aim of this article is to equip you with the knowledge to get a multi tool that you will likely pass on to the next generation.


This one is pretty simple. We just want something that will:

  • be easily and safely deployed using one hand
  • allow us to us a tool while a few other pieces are open
  • features a safety lock

The industry has gone a long way over the last decade in this category and a vast majority of tools that meet the criteria we’ve set in terms of versatility and quality will also be smartly and safely designed.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to read a review or two about the safety of a multi tool before making a choice. You might stumble upon specifics like how the design fits the size of your hand, which makes a lot of difference.


Not all multi tools are created equal, and it might be a cliché saying it, but every one of us has different needs.

But play your cards right with the basics, and the rest of it is just putting a few remaining pieces of the puzzle together and you’ll have a winner on your belt.

Stay smart and safe.


About the author:

Morry Banes is an ex multi tool factory worker. Today he runs a small hardware store in Oregon and talks about his passion, multi tools over at

It is a blog dedicated to all things multi tools. It’s where he shares his experiences and reviews the best multi tools on the market today.

He is also a husband and a proud father of two daughters, Dolores and Liana.


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Categories: Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Choosing the Best Survival Multi Tool: Tips from an Ex Multi Tool Industry Insider

  1. Grampa

    I like the article and agree for I have a multi tool that is stainless and it is for lazy people who don’t want to take the time to maintain the tool. Carbon steel is good but I like tool steel as well. If they would laminate with a chrome layer and not just plate the blade it could be better. The screw drivers made of stainless are worthless as well for they twist and bend. I have a leatherman and I wouldn’t depend on it for survival.


  2. My Gerber opens with one hand, that is my first criteria and a tool in its self. All other doodads are just Plagiarism.



  3. d'Lynn

    I have carried a multi-tool.., since they first came to market. Even in a dress suit I have one on my belt. Never leave home without it. Over the years I have managed to destroy a lot of multi’s., as I am tough on my gear – as I expect them to function in a tight situation. For several years now I have carried the Leatherman Surge., with all the attachments/fittings. It has survived many trials and trails and abuses, yet still functions very well. I customized a couple of the fittings specifically for field stripping my custom 1911 – which also goes with me everywhere. I can recommend the Leatherman ‘Surge’., if you can find one.


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  5. I had cheap multi tools for years. I finally bought the leatherman wave and have never regretted it. It takes a beating and keeps working.


  6. Chuck Findlay

    Leatherman started the Multi-Tool craze and has never faltered on quality. I have 2 of them. One of them from the 1980s and it’s just like new. I also have a Gerber Suspension that has one of the flip levers broke off from a drop of 3-feet. Without another knife I can’t get the main knife blade out.

    Needless to say Gerber will not be getting any more of my money.

    I also have a Swiss Army Swiss Champ Knife that has been my EDC for 30-years and it has stood the test of time.


  7. Pingback: Choosing the Best Survival Multi Tool: Tips from an Ex Multi Tool Industry Insider | Modern Homesteader

  8. I’d like to see some brand and model recommendations from the insider. Currently there may not be a multitool that meets all of his criteria, but I’m interested in what he thinks is the closest right now.


    • Oh, Kelsey, this one is like asking me to choose my favorite songs of all times. My collection is now u to 130 pieces, but I will share my favorite pieces and my every day carry pieces.

      My all time favorite is Leatherman Charge TTi. It strikes that sweet spot between versatility and practicality. It’s not cheap but if I learned something over the years is that getting a cheap tool. You will soon even out as the pieces in the cheap one start to break, fatigue and distort.

      Actually, one of the most important aspects of what I do at my website is trying to stay on top of thing if tools are US made and if not, who outsources where. It’s pesky and boring if I am being honest but I have to do it to keep track of things and really be in the loop.

      One more thing, my BOBs always included a Raptor medical multitool. For your BOB, quality scissors are essential and the Raptor come with scissors as well as a few other useful pieces.

      Having said that, it might sound like I am a Leatherman man. It’s not really the case. I would not single them out but rather, bundle them with Gerber as my favorite brand. In fact, I even have the impression that Gerber has stepped up their game since all those military contracts.

      I hope this helps a little



      • Morry, I really appreciate the time you took to answer. I’m going to study out your recommendations. Money isn’t an issue when put in the perspective of reliable quality versus cheapo junk. The good stuff pays you back way more than you spend.
        Have a great one and thanks again!


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  12. I have 3 tools in the mix…1. Gerber Dime, they got it right with than “keychain”…light, handy little bugger for light, micro work. 2. SOG S44, daily carry in my sling bag. Covers lots of your basics, good pliers with compound leverage, sharp blades, and the other basics. Never failed in the field. 3. Victorinox, not sure what model. However I think this is the beefiest one they make. Not a joke, handles some bigger tasks just by being as robust as it is. Heavy, but really provides leverage, tools are top notch, and lock up nicely. I think layers are redundancy are critical, especially if you are not traveling with a toolbox constantly. I love all of them because they suit their roles so well….hopefully this is helpful for those pondering purchases. If you want something for firearms, bite the bullet and buy a Multitasker….game-set-match.


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