James StanburySee other accessory reviews written by James Stanbury
Clever, practical and super-handy for your caravan holidays, we put 10 multi tools through their paces to help you decide which is the best for you
Reclining my lounger on the beach this year was a sharp reminder of one of the less desirable sides of touring and camping.
As the backrest pitched down at a crazy angle, it was an apt demonstration that the combination of continual folding and unfolding, plus transportation and associated vibration, takes its toll.
This is why so many of us have a multi tool hanging off our belts.
The joy of the multi tool
Yes, a small toolkit can easily be stashed in the boot or at the back of a cupboard, but there’s a lot to be said for having all the tools you need immediately to hand.
A decent multi tool is more than up to basic maintenance jobs, thanks to its combination of knife blades, pliers, wire strippers, scissors and a multitude of screwdriver tips.
Even away from maintenance jobs, multi tools are so frequently useful in modern life – and on tour!
Whether it’s fitting a plug to a new electrical accessory, snipping something down to size, measuring something, or even fighting your way through an otherwise impenetrable, moulded plastic package, most multi tool fans use theirs several times a day.
What we’re looking for
First, we focused on the number of functions each tool has, but we also rated these on usefulness.
We considered sharp knives, pliers, wire cutters, a ruler, scissors, screwdrivers and bottle/can openers as essentials – and put all these functions to the test.
Sharp blades were pitted against tough nylon tube, wire cutters were made to munch through welding rod and thick cable, scissors were tested for precision by slicing through thin tissue paper, but only after first grappling with thick card.
We also considered ease of use. We prefer it if the various other functions are accessible when the tool is closed or folded down.
And we checked how easily the various blades can be swivelled out.
Finally, we added points for tools with blades with a physical lock, which has to be released before the blade can be folded back in again – this prevents the blade accidentally folding inwards part way through a job.
Gerber Centre Drive – four stars
- Price: £124.99
- Number of functions: 16
Gerber’s focus with this new range-topper is on what they term its centre drive screwdriver.
Put simply, the screwdriver arrangement has been designed to mimic a conventional tool.
With the multi tool closed together, and the jaws slid inwards, the bit holder – mounted in a cranked arm – is on the centre line of the tool.
And the distance from the top of the tool to the arm’s interchangeable tip is pretty much the same as a conventional tool.
Additionally, there’s a spare bit holder on board and Gerber supplies a small bit set.
The rest of the tool is typically premium quality, but there are no scissors.
Leatherman Squirt PS4 – four stars
- Price: £49.95
- Number of functions: 10
This tiny tool doesn’t come with any form of pouch because it’s designed to hang on a key ring.
But don’t assume its diminutive size means it’s not all that useful, because this really is a brilliant package.
The plier jaws are narrower than most, but they’re still eminently useful and have sharp wire cutters.
And while the blade is smaller than we’re used to on a Leatherman, it still has the customary sharpness and durability the brand is famous for.
Surprisingly at this price level, there’s even a pair of scissors and, again, they’re every bit as effective as the bigger versions. A great product for multi tool newbies.
Victorinox Swiss Tool – four stars
- Price: £130
- Number of functions: 26
This test winner’s cheaper sibling is a good alternative to Gerber’s Centre Drive.
Granted, it’s around a fiver dearer, but placed side by side we’d have expected the price difference to have been much greater.
Much as we liked Gerber’s efforts with the centre drive bit holder, that feature rather dominated the tool.
With the Swiss Tool, several beautifully formed flat blades plus one crosshead take care of the majority of screwdriving duties, leaving plenty of room for a multitude of other functions.
Quality really is top notch, but there are no scissors.
Victorinox Swiss Tool Spirit XC Plus with ratchet – five stars
Practical Caravan Editor's Choice
- Price: £185
- Number of functions: 36
The dearest multi tool here by a long chalk, but it’s also a product that outclasses everything else in terms of features and quality.
Each blade and pivot moves smoothly with a positive click-into-place action, and all functions work perfectly.
Inside its smart leather pouch you’ll find not only a six-piece bit set, but also a mini ratchet, an extension bar and a tiny precision screwdriver nestled inside a corkscrew attachment, which simply clips into the main body of the tool.
Draper 32373 – three stars
- Price: £30.50
- Number of functions: 13
At one time, a budget multi tool was just a bad idea.
They looked poor, you almost needed a small screwdriver to lever out the tightly packed-in blades, screwdriver tips bent easily and cutting blades were never that sharp.
But none of that is true with this offering from Draper.
It’s a smart piece of kit that, while not built to the premium Leatherman, Victorinox and Gerber levels of finish or quality, is more than good enough for most tasks.
At this price level we can forgive the lack of scissors or a ruler, although the tool has to be fully opened to access any of the blades.
Leatherman Crunch – three stars
- Price: £149.95
- Number of functions: 14
Chances are that if you have a multi tool you will have used the plier jaws as a makeshift spanner.
But unless a nut or bolt is already pretty loose, the pliers approach tends to simply round a fastener’s head off.
Leatherman’s Crunch takes the idea a step further.
Its lock-grip pliers mimic the fearsomely powerful bite of tools such as Molegrips or Vise-grips, and the jaws can firmly grip objects as large as a 1-inch diameter pipe.
However, a bottle opener, ruler and scissors are absent, and opening the tool is fiddly. It gets easier with practice, but lacks Leatherman’s usual slickness.
Leatherman Tread Metric – three stars
- Price: £169.95
- Number of functions: 44
Leatherman’s latest couldn’t be more different to any other multi tool.
In fact we could almost say this interchangeable link, tool-based bracelet, is the practical person’s Pandora.
And we think Leatherman may be onto something here. After all, not everybody wants a large pouch hanging off their trouser belt.
And, increasingly, traditional multi tools are banned on planes or at popular tourist destinations.
Due to its lack of blades, the Tread dodges these limitations, but the lack of blades, a ruler, scissors, or even pliers seriously compromises the Tread’s abilities – reducing it almost to a very comprehensive bit and socket set.
Sealey PK36 – three stars
- Price: £34.74
- Number of functions: 15
Sealey’s first entry is another budget multi tool well worth considering.
What it lacks in brand prestige and exquisite finish quality is more than made up for by a genuinely useful smattering of functions. And that price.
It’s an obvious rival to Draper’s 32373, so how do the two compare?
Well, in terms of quality and finish, both are on a par: good-looking and sufficiently well built for the tools to function reasonably well. The scissors and ruler are bonuses, too.
We prefer the PK36 from a usability point of view, because all tools are accessible when the product is folded down.
But the difficulty in prising out some of the PK36’s stiff blades is a definite minus.
Silverline 763590 – three stars
- Price: £12.96
- Number of functions: 26
First impressions are that there’s a noticeable difference in quality between this and the other budget entries from Sealey and Draper.
Aesthetically, the oddly coloured plastic wood fairings don’t do a lot for the tool.
And while we wouldn’t expect any of the products at this end of the price range to have individual locks on each blade, the Silverline’s tools don’t click into place when fully unfolded.
However, in our tests, our perceived drop in quality simply isn’t validated.
The knife and screwdriver blades are just as good as those on the Sealey and Draper, and the 12-piece bit set really is a pleasant surprise at this price level.
Sealey PK28 – two stars
- Price: £23.10
- Number of functions: 15
Although prettier than Silverline’s 763590, we’d avoid this one.
While the blades seem as resilient as the other cheapies, they’re certainly not as well formed.
The flat blade screwdriver edges, for instance, aren’t dead straight, which could make all the difference between turning a screw or completely mangling its head.
In terms of usability, the PK28 combines the worst of its Draper and Silverline rivals.
Like the Silverline, the blades are incredibly stiff to tease out and, as with the Draper, you have to fully open the tool to access the blades.
Another drawback is the so-snug-it’ll-soon-tear pouch provided. Overall, a poor effort.