Many hikers will simply rely on a small Swiss Army type knife while on trail. Not a lot is actually required of such a tool. Open the odd package, trim cord and thread, help with food preparation, perhaps help with first aid on occasion. That is about it for 99% of the time. However I have almost always preferred just a little more functionality. I have had to adjust stoves, fix trekking poles, bend and re-attach zips, tighten screws on glasses and so on…
A good, well made, small key-chain type multi-tool does not weigh a great deal. On longer hikes Three Points of the Compass tends to rely on a now pretty old but trusted 52g Leatherman Squirt S4. This small multi-tool is no longer made and has been replaced by others in the Leatherman line-up. Other manufacturers have also been quick to introduce their own key-chain sized multi-tools. Much cheaper than the Leatherman options are those by Gerber Legendary Blades. This company was established in 1939 and introduced their first multi-tool in 1991. Acquired by the the Finnish Fiskars Corporation in 1986 much of the manufacture transferred to China, prices became extremely competitive as a result, but quality suffered.
“Designed and engineered in Oregon… made in China”
Two little Gerber multi-tools in particular may suit some hikers unwilling to splash too much cash but still want certain functions out of a tool they are carrying. These are the Gerber Vice and Gerber Splice. Both are built on a similar frame with anodised aluminum handles. The two tools look simple and have understated styling. Each tool puts a specific function front and centre. A small pair of pliers backed up by other tools in the case of the Vice, and an effective pair of scissors, with the same accompanying secondary tools, on the Splice. Both released in 2009, these two tools replaced the slightly larger Gerber Clutch (with pliers) and Shortcut (with scissors), the two fore-runners introduced in 2005.
Main jaw tools:
The Vice is centred around a small pair of plier jaws. These comprise not particularly thin needle nose pliers, standard pliers and wire cutters. Only the tips of the needle nose meet, there is a small gap to the rest of the pliers when closed. They are two millimetres wide at the tip, widening to three millimetres prior to the wire cutter. These pliers are a general purpose tool that performs pretty well with gentle work. It will ease tent zipper pulls and pull thorns from flesh. Put any great strain on these and they will fail.
The similar looking Splice is based around a pair of scissors. Though small, these are good and comfortable to use. The effectiveness of these shouldn’t be a surprise as Fiskars, the parent company, have a long standing reputation for well made scissors. The plain blade, not serrated, scissors are smaller than their Shortcut forerunner, blade cutting length is 23mm. In common with the plier version, the scissor jaws on the Spice are spring-tensioned by a small spring hidden out of sight around the pivot. If this loses tension (springiness) or breaks it cannot be replaced by the user.
Both the Vice and Splice share the same complimentary tools and both tools suffer from having tight implements that are difficult to open. A particular aspect of these tools meets with my approval- that they can be opened from the outside of the tool without needing to unfold it. This makes it so much easier to use but does mean that they are more prone to picking up debris and fluff if pocket carried. Though that is unlikely to be the case if taking one of these on trail. The stainless steel tools are-
- Non locking. Usable cutting length is less than 35mm
- Serrated Edge blade
- This non locking serrated blade is chisel cut, 35 mm long and is sharp out of the box. It will cut cordage with ease.
- Small flat head screwdriver
- This has a fine 2mm tip and will handle many small screws, however I find its short 15mm length, protruding from a wide body, prevents it being used in smaller spaces, such as when glasses screws are set tight against a frame. It can also be used as a awl, but tears more than cuts.
- Medium flat head screwdriver
- This forms one half of the bottle opener, though short, this 4mm tip works adequately well
- Flat Phillips head screwdriver
- Will work a small range of Phillips heads but seats uncomfortably with most. This will tear out if put under too much pressure
- Found on the shank of the flat Phillips screwdriver, this is single cut on one side and cross cut on the other. Referred to as coarse and fine files, there is not a great deal of a surface to either. I cannot even file my nails on these. Each file surface is just 6mm x 18mm and is pretty much useless.
- Bottle opener
- This is one of the best bottle openers you will find on any small to medium sized multi-tool bar the Gerber Dime, let down by the fact that you will break a nail trying to open it. But anyone familiar with the technique can use the end of just about any closed multi-tool to lever off a cap, it is just knowing how to do it.
- Lanyard hole
- Remove the small 9mm diameter split ring and the lanyard hole will retract into the tool.
Both multi-tools have hollow ground blades that make for easier sharpening. Gerber has probably used 420HC (High Carbon) stainless steel for these blades. The tools are assembled using torx bolts rather than rivets (as with Leatherman tools) so disassembly is a possibility, though that would be difficult in the field.
- Flat Screwdriver – medium
- Flat Screwdriver – small
- Phillips Cross-point Screwdriver
- File (coarse & fine)
- Bottle Opener
- Fine blade Blade
- Fully Serrated Blade
- Key-ring with retractable lanyard ring
- Vice- 68g, Splice- 66.2g
- Both- length: 58mm, width: 26mm (one inch!), thick 13.30mm
The finish on these tools isn’t great. The black anodising is a tad rough in places, but I quite like their simple, almost agricultural, appearance. Each tool is compact with no parts extruding when closed other than the medium screwdriver being a little proud..
Both of these tools offer good value for money. Both Vice and Splice share common faults however. The external opening tools are all incredibly stiff and hard to open. Sadly, some of the tools are hopeless, the files are useless and the Phillips barely capable. Do you need a serrated blade on trail? That is debatable though it could be useful to have a back up blade for specific tasks such as food prep. The short little straight blades are perfectly adequate for most minor tasks but the lanyard ring does get in the way and can get food gunk in it easily. All tools close with a good snap and there is no overall looseness or floppiness to the tools. For me, the usefulness of a pair of pliers on trail is over-ruled by how helpful having a pair of scissors can be. And those on the Splice are very good scissors.
There is another key-chain tool from Gerber that may rival both the Vice and Splice on trail, this is the Gerber Dime. Three Points of the Compass will take a look at that particular tool in a separate blog. Though it may be worth noting here that, perhaps a little surprising, the Splice actually comes in a hair lighter than the smaller, if chunkier, Gerber Dime.
Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.