The Latest EDC Multitools

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The latest in multi-tools, from top: Leatherman Topo Signal, Gerber Armbar Drive, Utica Minimaster and Coast LED150.

People Who Like to be Prepared Will Love the latest EDC Tools

Knife guys love gadgets, fix-it people love gadgets and DIY-ers love gadgets, so it’s easy to see why multi-tools do so well in the knife market. Though not knives per se, they off er more versatility than just cutting ability by offering on-board tools. With broader appeal than knives, multi-tools have a further reach and encompass more markets, too. They appeal to folks who like to be prepared.In addition to DIY-ers, campers, hunters, fishermen, hikers, mountain bikers and anyone who enjoys outdoor activities benefits from owning and using a multi-tool. It performs in-fi eld repairs on equipment when you do not have access to regular tools.  It can mean the difference between bowing out of a camping trip because of equipment failure, or performing an expedient in-field repair or adjustment and carrying on with your adventure. As with knives, advances in multi-tools have made them stronger and more user friendly and versatile.

 

 

FLASH in the HAND: Coast’s LED150 multi-tool 

When you think of multi-tools, what immediately comes to mind is a pliers-based tool with little fold-out implements nestled inside the handle. Truth is, multi-tools can take on any form as long as they incorporate the implements necessary for field-expedient repairs and adjustments.

At first glance, Coast’s LED150 multi-tool might appear like any other pliers-based multi-tool, except for one thing: it incorporates not one but two LED lights. One LED is on the pliers jaw end and the other is on the partially serrated end of the knife blade. This way, you can confidently work in tight and dark spaces with confidence thanks to the illumination. The lights are activated by a recessed push button located on one side of the handle. Press once to activate the light by the main blade. Press again and the light turns off and, at the same time, the light on the pliers jaws end turns on. Press again and the jaws light turns off. With the multi-tool closed, you can use either light as a stand-alone flashlight, further expanding the multi-tool’s versatility. The lights are powered by two CR1616 lithium button batteries. The batteries replace easily.

The light on the end of the Coast LED150’s handle illuminates what you’re cutting.

The pliers jaws have different gripping surfaces for smaller objects and larger nuts/round objects. The jaws themselves are spring loaded, which helps to open them by spring tension, reducing hand fatigue. When closed, all the fold-out tools are easily accessible: a partially serrated main blade that works on a linerlock, spring-loaded scissors, large and small flat-head screwdrivers, can opener, Phillips head screwdriver and the pliers jaws—most all the common implements necessary for field repairs and adjustments.

The handles are aluminum and feature raised hard rubber for a non-slip grip. The LED150 has a good heft and the heavy-duty build will withstand normal use. The sturdy ballistic nylon belt pouch has a fabric-fastener flap closure. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP): $49.  

One of the LED lights on Coast’s LED150 multi-tool shines on the pliers jaws end so you can effectively work in dark areas easily without the need for a separate flashlight.

 

 

AFFORDABLE SOLUTION: Gerber’s Armbar

Gerber’s Armbar series incorporates the fold-out implements of pliers-based multi-tools like the Coast LED150—minus the pliers. Sometimes, you just need the versatility of screwdrivers, a knife blade and scissors. About the same size as a large multi-blade pocketknife, the Armbar Drive features seven on-board fold-out tools: 2.5-inch plain edge sheepsfoot blade with opening hole and framelock, 2.5-inch extension driver with a double-sided bit of Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers, a prybar, bottle opener, hammer, scissors and awl.

The Gerber Armbar Drive features a sturdy main blade. The entire package has about the same dimensions as a medium-sized traditional pocketknife.

The extension driver has a magnet that holds the double-sided bit and allows for fast flip-over when transitioning to different screws. The driver socket can accept aftermarket quarter-inch drive bits, too. Hence, you can customize your Armbar Drive just about any way to fit your tasks. The spring-loaded scissors provide enough blade length for cutting coupons, stray threads and duct tape. The plain edge sheepsfoot blade thumbs open easily like any lock blade. The blade is mostly exposed even when closed, but the metal channel protects it from damage and you from accidental cuts.

Perhaps the neatest implement is the combination hammer/prybar/bottle open-

er, which in the closed position is in the hammer mode by default. The squared-off back end takes care of light hammering. The prybar function is rather limited as you’re not going to get a ton of leverage. However, if you need staples removed or to pry open a casing and such, it does the job. 

A fold-out prybar/bottle opener on the Gerber Armbar Drive performs light-duty prying when needed, saving the blade tips on your standard knives.

One thing I wish Gerber would have included is the ability to lock the screwdriver in the fully open as well as the 90-degree position. When you torque down with the driver, your hand may move and this will cause the screwdriver to fold a bit. Also, when you use the tool in the 90-degree position, you apply more torque. Having it lock in the 90-degree position would make it easier to use—if not lock in both positions, then a strong detent and a half stop, like a slip joint, would be better than nothing. The form factor permits easy carry in your pocket, toolbox, glove box or a backpack.

At 3.1 ounces the smallest multi-tool in the Armbar line, it comes in an aluminum handle anodized in a choice of urban blue, orange or onyx. With an MSRP of $39, it presents an affordable solution to a typical pliers-based multi-tool by reducing bulk and weight—that is, if you don’t need pliers.

The screwdriver tool on the Gerber Armbar Drive is easy to manipulate. The magnetic socket allows you to flip the double-end bit over, as well as use most any aftermarket quarter-inch driver bit.

 

 

TINY TOOLBOX: Utica Minimaster

Utica primarily manufactures knives for hunting and tactical but also makes multi-tools. The Minimaster is the smallest multi-tool of the test bunch. It’s loaded with many small fold-out implements: a pair of tweezers, large and small flat-head screwdrivers, a Phillips screwdriver, scissors, fingernail file/cleaner, knife blade, bottle opener, and -, 11/32- and -inch wrenches integrated into the folding cover. Made in the USA, it’s roughly the size of a Victorinox Classic, so it fits well on a keyring, its preferred method of carry.

The scissors may be tiny on the Utica Minimaster but it is effective.

None of the tools lock in the open position. You pull one out and then close the cover; the cover held closed by your grip acts as the lock so the tools won’t fold on you. The tweezers are pretty neat—this is the only compact multi-tool I know of that integrates one. The tips are not textured or ground precise like regular tweezers, so grasping some things with it can be a bit difficult, though having one is better than not. As for the rest of the tools, they are handy to have and definitely will work in a pinch when you need them.

The ultra-compact size of the Utica Minimaster makes it a great candidate for improvised tin-based survival kits.

The only down side to the Minimaster is the hinged cover. It needs to detent tighter in the closed position, as the sample sent to us for review had a tendency to open partway easily. This could present a safety issue, especially if the tools open inadvertently. MSRP: $60. There’s also an imported version that retails for $9.95. Same construction and implement selection, except the multi-tool is made overseas.

MAPPED MULTI-TOOL: Leatherman Signal

When it comes to an article about multi-tools, I would be remiss to not include Leatherman Tool Group, the brand that pioneered the concept. It is the originator of the pliers-based format, and still among the best of them after all these years.

The main blade of the Leatherman Topo Signal features a map-topography laser etching, hence the multi-tool’s name.

The limited-edition Topo Signal is a variant of Leatherman’s Signal multi-tool. The Signal was developed specifically for the outdoor enthusiast, integrating features like a ferrocerium fire starter rod, saw, survival whistle, diamond sharpener and hammer, along with standard Leatherman features such as pliers jaws with replaceable cutting inserts, fold-out driver with reversible bit, awl and can opener. There’s also an integrated quarter-inch-bit socket built into the hammer portion of the handle, which will accept any standard quarter-inch bit driver.

The main blade is a partially serrated 420HC stainless sheepsfoot pattern that locks open via a linerlock. The blade features an oblong opening hole, while the partial serrations eat through tough and fibrous materials with ease. The blade has a map-topography-style laser etch, hence the name. The distinctive appearance is pretty neat and fits in perfectly with the outdoor theme. Speaking of outdoor theme, the Topo Signal comes in a nice dark green Cerakote coating for the aluminum handles and pliers jaws, fold-out implements, and all-black hardware.

Making on-the-spot repairs and adjustments are a multi-tool specialty. The needle-nose pliers of the Leatherman Topo Signal works great at accessing small nuts in cramped places.

Each one comes with a nice ballistic nylon belt sheath with  button snap closure. It has a steel pocket clip. There’s also an integrated carabiner in the hammer portion so the tool can be clipped on a D-ring, etc.

Comparatively speaking, a Leatherman multi-tool is engineered better than most on the market. MSRP: $119.95. Country of origin: USA. It is the most expensive of the test group, but the quality of the manufacture and fit and finish justifies the price.

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