Author Archives: Jools

My much used German made map measurer

Map measurers

Map measurer, opisometer, curvimetre, mile-o-graph, meilograph, chartometer, call them what you will, in the era of digital mapping, who uses such an antique analogue object today? Well, Three Points of the Compass still does. I have used a simple little map measure for decades. The  cheaply made one shown above, made in Western Germany,  has been pulled down off the bookshelf hundreds of times over the past twenty years when planning routes. It replaced another that gave equally lengthy service but had eventually died the death.

It never goes on actual walks with me. Though I am one of a seemingly dying breed who still likes, appreciates and takes hard copy maps with me on trail. If I want to measure a distance on the map while sitting in a tent, pub or hostel lounge, I either guesstimate, infrequently use a roamer scale on my compass baseplate, a strip of paper which is then measured against the scale at the bottom of my map, or, most frequently, I use a length of thin cordage. The small hank of 2mm yellow cord in the image below is one of the two I carry for attaching my Katabatic Palisade quilt to my sleeping pad.

Assortment of map measurers from Three Points of the Compasses collection. Some cheap and nasty, some peculiar, one or two beautiful and uncommon

Assortment of map measurers from my collection. Some cheap and nasty, some peculiar, one or two beautifully made and uncommon

Plastic map measures sold to readers of a popular motoring magazine

Plastic map measures sold to readers of a popular motoring magazine

Map measurers can be sweet little pocket watch style affairs that were tucked into the waistcoats of the gentry, or simple little wheeled opisometers, like the one below,  sold in the likes of Stanfords map shop in the mid-twentieth century.

They could be made of plastic, bakelite or metal. Have handles incorporating bone or ivory. Cheap versions were given away at petrol stations, or combined into all-singing all-dancing measurer/compass/thermometers made in China by the thousand. That said, they still work. The cheapest will do the same job as the most expensive gold plated measurer ever made. They even make incredibly expensive digital versions today. I look on them with dismay, much preferring my little analogue measurers.

Simple opisometer

Simple opisometer

Newspaper advertisement for Morris's 'Wealemefna', a 'new design of map measurer'

Newspaper advertisement for Morris’s ‘Wealemefna’, a ‘bijou’ map measurer. The Graphic, 1880

The idea of map measurers is an old one, probably as old as ‘to scale’ maps themselves. Beyond simple calipers, early map measurers, or opisometers were very simple affairs indeed, little wheels on a threaded bar that could be pushed along a line. More expensive designs that incorporated a dial scale didn’t really appear in any great numbers until the later nineteenth century.

Anyone that required a map was also using a map measurer. The military use them, sailors use them, motorists use them, town planners and draughtsmen use them, and still, just a few walkers use them. You run a little wheel along a route, a path, a road, a river, a line on a drawing, then either read off the result or measure against a standard.

 

Box for 'Self-Registering Rotameter', giving detail on how to use

Box for ‘Self-Registering Rotameter’, provides detail on scale and how to use

While a piece of cord or length of paper will simply measure a length, more complicated versions can measure in many units- multiples or sub-units of inches or feet, centimetres or metres, versts, miles or kilometres. Also to different scales- The two-faced French made measurer below has scales for 1:20 000, 1:25 000, 1:40 000, 1:50 000, 1:75 000, 1:80 000, 1:100 000 and 1:200 000. Made almost a century ago, it is still an effective and useful piece of kit that cost me less than a tenner. Not that I ever use it of course, I still pull down the old favourite from the bookshelf.

Map measurer by Henri Chatelain, with Quarter-Inch Ordnance Survey map to The Border, 1935

Map measurer by Henri Chatelain, with “Quarter-Inch” Ordnance Survey map to The Border, 1935

Along with thousands of other hikers I rely very much on my online O.S. Maps when planning my routes. This will give me not only distance but also daily elevation. However I still like to use a map measurer on my paper maps when I can. It forces me to look at the terrain, the twists and turns, the type of country being crossed- across bogs, through woods, traversing moorland, traipsing through the backstreets of towns.

I won’t go in to any great detail on map measurers here. There is an expanding page on my website that gives more information. Over the years I seem to have built a bit of a collection of these little devices, just a small handful of which are shown above. There seems to be a dearth of information on these online or in print form. Perhaps it is because they aren’t that interesting, just to the likes of me and one or two other like-minded souls. So I have decided to share just a few from my collection with you- good reader, over the next year. Twelve, one a month, beginning January. I bet you cannot wait…

The ditty bag/repair kit that Three Points of the Compass carried on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018. A Leatherman keychain multi-tool formed a vital component of this

The ditty bag/repair kit that Three Points of the Compass carried on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018. The hank of 2mm cord was often pulled into use as a simple map measurer when considering alternative routes due to weather or resupply necessity.

Victorinox shop display

My annual pilgrimage to Victorinox

Victorinox's Flagship London store

Victorinox’s Flagship London store

The iconic red handled Swiss Army Knife makes a suitable display the height of three floors

The iconic red handled Swiss Army Knife makes a suitable display the height of three floors

Each year, Three Points of the Compass makes a pilgrimage to Victorinox’s Flagship store in New Bond Street, London. This was the first flagship store that Victorinox opened in Europe. While it displays and sells watches, travel gear and fragrances, mostly on show as soon as you walk in the front door, it is the lower floor that attracts me. This is where over 400 models of Victorinox knives and some 650 household and chef knives are displayed.

As you descend the stairs, you are immediately presented with the repair table where customers can drop off their battered and damaged possession to be expertly repaired by the on-site craftsman.

Kitchen and household ware do not necessarily draw me, it is the central cased knife displays and wall mounted models that draw me to them.

Repair work was underway

Repair work was underway

Some of the 400 or so pocket knives that are on display

Some of the 400 or so pocket knives that are on display

I always have a small shopping list pre-prepared. To wander into such a shop without such discipline invites disaster. In London for a small planned walk later with a couple of friends from work (more on that in a future blog) I had an hour to spare in the morning to indulge in drooling over various knife models and variants that will never make their way in to my meagre collection. I am afraid not being in possession of deeper pockets has its disadvantages (or advantages as Mrs Three Points of the Compass might feel).

Victorinox released a number of models with walnut scales in August 2019, the Classic SD was one I was on the look out for

Victorinox released a number of models with walnut scales in August 2019, the diminutive Classic SD Wood (0.6221.63)  was one I was on the look out for. Being a natural product, every knife is slightly different

While Three Points of the Compass does have representatives from the various lengths of knife that Victorinox has and does produce, it is mostly the smaller knives, especially the 58mm range, that has attracted me over the years. There were a handful of 2019 releases that I had in mind for this visit.

Each year, Victorinox releases a small range of their knives with special alox scales, 2019 offer was 'Champagne'

Each year, Victorinox releases a small range of their knives with special alox scales, 2019’s offer was ‘Champagne’

Swiss Card and 58mm ranges

Swiss Card and 58mm ranges

As a subscriber to the Victorinox newsletter, I had been sent the offer of a free Victorinox chopping board. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I picked up mine from the downstairs till, the helpful lady who proffered this to me, also followed in my wake as I made my way round the store selecting my small number of purchases. She spread the walnut scaled knives across the counter so that I could select the one that was ‘just right’. I won’t relay here how much my choices cost but an applied discount made a welcome reduction.

A couple of my purchases will feature in some 2020 blogs where I take a closer look at some particular tool sets in the handy smaller knives that Victorinox offer the backpacker. But more on those next year.

My small haul from my 2019 visit to the New Bond Street store

My small haul from my 2019 visit to the New Bond Street store

 

Its not knives you know...

It’s not all knives you know…

Eight Leatherman keychain multi-tools. Some of these make a great choice for hiking

Leatherman keychain tools- making a choice for hiking

Making a final choice…

Though fiddly, and occasional needing an extra bite, the small bottle opener on the Squirt S4 will do just that

Though fiddly, and occasionally needing an extra bite, the small bottle opener on the Squirt S4 will do just that

Over the past few days I have been looking at the various little multi-tools that Leatherman have released over the years with the aim of seeing which is most suited for taking hiking.

As you can see from the tool table below, a wide variety of capability is provided by these little multi-tools. However for Three Points of the Compass, the E4 is just about useless on trail whereas almost any of the remaining eight, shown above, would be a great partner.

The lack of any scissors on the Squirt P4 also precludes this tool from any gear list I would compile. I can see how many hikers would pick the Micra or Style PS from this line up. Certainly the latter accompanies me as part of my Urban EDC to work each day. Inclusion of a pair of pliers would be a nice feature on trail however I prefer a full size pair of scissors over pliers which narrows my choice to just three: the Micra, Squirt S4 and Style CS. All three have a similar blade. So it comes down to what other features are included and all three in my shortlist have similar extra tools. While I have a pair of tweezers in my First Aid Kit, I still prefer removable tweezers over those fixed to a multi-tool such as the Micra and those in the Squirt S4 (and E4) are conveniently tucked away yet easily removed.

The useful detachable tweezers on the Squirt E4 and S4 tuck away into the tool efficiently and could easily be missed if you were not aware they were present. They are easily extracted, unlike some of the alternatives

The useful detachable tweezers on the Squirt E4 and S4 slide away into the tool efficiently and could easily be missed if you were not aware they were present. They are easily extracted, unlike some of the alternatives

The small eyeglass flat tip screwdriver found on the Leatherman Squirt P4 and S4

The small eyeglass flat tip screwdriver found on the Leatherman Squirt P4 and S4

I like the extra medium sized screwdriver on the Micra and S4 though I do wish it were an awl instead. If it were exchanged for an awl that would remove my often used bottle opener. I prefer the dedicated thin eye-glass screwdriver over using the less convenient flat Phillips tip. However the Style CS offers a small but useful toolset, is the thinnest of the Leatherman keychain multi-tools and weighs less. The lightest Micra is 49.9g, Squirt S4 is 52.3g while the Style CS (still available for purchase by the way) is the lightest at 41.7g.

Placement of tweezers in Squirt S4, Style and Style CS. Those on the latter are by far the most difficult to remove

Placement of tweezers in Squirt S4 (top), Style (centre) and Style CS (bottom). Those in the latter are by far the most difficult to remove

Still looking good after thousands of trail miles, the Leatherman S4 remains a favourite for Three Points of the Compass

Still looking good after thousands of trail miles, the Leatherman Squirt S4 remains a favourite for Three Points of the Compass

My biggest preference other than my essential two tools is the ease in opening tools from the outside with no need to unfold the entire multi-tool. So, for me, it narrowed down to the old, now discontinued, Squirt S4.

Carried in my ditty bag, one of these great little multi-tools has accompanied Three Points of the Compass on well over 3000 trail miles over the years. While I do occasionally swap it out for a different knife or multi-tool, seeing if something else works for me better (usually trying a 58mm Victorinox or Leatherman Style CS), I constantly find myself returning to the old favourite S4. Perhaps I need to find a spare on the second-hand market in case mine should ever get lost on trail somewhere. If only it also had a can opener and that awl…

Tool Micra Squirt P4 Squirt S4 Squirt E4 Squirt PS4 Squirt ES4 Style Style CS Style PS
Needlenose pliers X X X X X
Pliers X X X
Scissors- full size X X X
Scissors- small X X X X
Straight knife blade X X X X X X X X
Wire cutters X X X X X
Extra small screwdriver X X X X Flat Phillips will handle small ‘eyeglass’ screws Flat Phillips will handle small ‘eyeglass’ screws Flat Phillips will handle small ‘eyeglass’ screws Flat Phillips will handle small ‘eyeglass’ screws Flat Phillips will handle small ‘eyeglass’ screws
Medium screwdriver X X X X X
Small flat Phillips X X X X X X X X
Phillips X
Wood/metal file X X X X
Nail file / cleaner X X X X X
Bottle opener X X X X X X X X
Tweezers- Fixed X
Tweezers- Removable X X X X X
Ruler X X
Awl X
Wire strippers- 20GA, 18GA, 16GA, 14GA, 12GA X X
Keyring attachment X X X X X X X
Carabiner X X
While you may not choose to carry one of the small Leatherman multi-tools as part of your hiking gear, they make great EDC items. Whichever you may purchase, one of the X-small leather Heritage sheaths produced by Leatherman to celebrate their 35th birthday in 2018 makes a great holder

While you may not choose to carry one of the small Leatherman multi-tools as part of your hiking gear, they do make great EDC items. Whichever of the variants you may prefer, one of the X-Small leather ‘Heritage’ sheaths, produced by Leatherman to celebrate their 35th birthday in 2018, makes a great holder

The 2011 Leatherman Keychain user’s guide gives some further detail on the tool contingent of the Squirt PS4, ES4, CS, Style, Style PS, and Micra.The production dates for all nine Leatherman keychain tools are included in the table below. Some of the older tools are getting a tad difficult to source, so start looking!

Weights and dimensions of the Leatherman keychain multi-tools
Micra Micra- with added aluminum scales Squirt S4 Squirt P4 Squirt E4 Squirt PS4 Squirt ES4 Style Style CS Style PS
Production dates 1996-Present ?- present 2002-2010 2002-2010 2003-2010 2010-present 2010-present 2010-2014 2010-present 2011-present
Maximum length (including keyring if present) x width (when closed) x thickness (across scale screws) 66mm

X

19.25mm

X

12.40mm

66mm

X

31.25mm

X

13mm

60mm

X

20.55mm

X

13.60mm

60mm

X

20.65mm

X

13.70mm

60mm

X

20.60mm

X

13.70mm

60mm

X

19.65mm

X

13.80mm

60mm

X

20.80mm

X

14.00mm

59mm

X

10.80mm

X

12.40mm

76mm

X

20.60mm

X

10.45mm

76mm

X

20.60mm

X

10.50mm

Weight 49.9g 55g 52.3g 55.3g 53.5g 56.9g 54.3g 23.1g 41.7g 44.9g
Leatherman Style series

Leatherman keychain tools- Style series

A small series of mini multi-tools with style…

Leatherman Style series

Leatherman Style CS

Leatherman Style CS

In 2010 Leatherman shrunk their full size Skeletool (originally released in 2007) and produced the Style CS. Unfortunately, while the larger Skeletool came with two blade options, either 420 High Carbon stainless steel or the better quality 154 CM stainless steel, to which molybdenum had been added. The Style CS continued to be available, as did the other key-chain options, with the perfectly functional but lesser 420 HC steel. This tool has a great pair of scissors, much better than the smaller scissors found on its cousins. So successful is the tool set that despite the quite similarly provisioned Micra, it is still manufactured today.

Leatherman Style

Leatherman Style

Also in 2010, Leatherman introduced a very small tool simply called a Style. It was basically half of a Style CS, and was very much aimed at the Victorinox Classic camp with holy trinity of blade, scissors and nail file, plus tweezers.The tool proved to be a bit fiddly, and the nail nick locations only exacerbated the situation. Consequently, this tool enjoyed only a short production run of four years and is now discontinued. Mine is a 2011 model. It came in 4 anodized colours. Red, Black, Pink, and Blue. Of interest to the collector is a special pink Style with the breast cancer ribbon on both blade and scale. This was one of a series of 3 tools to promote breast cancer awareness, which Leatherman called their Pink Program.

Black scale version of the Leatherman Style, to be honest, it is a tad boring

Black scale version of the Leatherman Style, to be honest, it is a tad boring

Leatherman Style PS

Leatherman Style PS

While the Style CS had sprung loaded scissors for the end jaws, in 2011 consumers were offered an alternative when the Style PS was released. The Style PS has pliers for its jaws and a smaller pair of scissors in the handle. The Style PS has no blade so supposedly can be taken through airport security, though I wouldn’t like to risk losing a tool to an over eager or cautious official. Again, so popular is this tool that it is still available new today.

A welcome brew on the Cleveland Way, 2019

A welcome brew on the Cleveland Way, 2019

The carabiner on the Style CS and PS can be used for clipping the tool on to a belt or pack strap, though I don’t like doing that. There is a good chance it will come adrift and get lost on trail, there are actually few times you require to use it during a hike, it is of more use at halts or end of day. By keeping it within the pack you are also keeping the trail funk out of the tool- dust, debris, bugs and rain.

I have also, though very infrequently, used the carabiner to hold a particular bit tip from the wider Leatherman bit kit. Be warned however, it is not designed to handle this and won’t take a lot of torque.

However the carabiner is a pretty effective bottle opener should a bottle of beer come your way…

There is only the one screwdriver tip option on each of the Style series. If you have aparticualr piece of kit with you that requires a specialised bit tip, one option, that will only handle light work, is to pack along one of the little bits that Leatherman provide as part of their 'bit kit'

There is only the one screwdriver tip option on each of the Style series. If you have a particular piece of kit with you that requires a specialised bit tip, one option, that will only handle light work, is to pack along one of the little bits that Leatherman provide as part of their ‘bit kit’

Tweezers

Tweezers are found in six of the nine Leatherman keychain tools, those on the Squirt S4, E4 and Style are the most easily removed. While all of the Style series feature removable tweezers. Those in the scale on the Style PS and CS are notoriously difficult to extract while those on the Style are not only easier to pull out but have a better angled design of tip. The Style and Squirt S4/E4 share similar shaped tweezers apart from the angle of the nail nick and angle of the tweezer tip being the opposite to each other!

Tweezers in Style PS and CS are tucked away in the scale. They can be surprisingly difficult to extract

Tweezers in Style PS and CS are tucked away in the scale. They can be surprisingly difficult to extract

The tweezers on the Micra are entirely different. They are permanently fixed to the tool and flip out for use. There is no chance of losing them yet I find them awkward to use, particularly as they have no angled tip. I don’t like them though I am sure these thin tweezers have their fans. If the tweezers in the Style series were all easy to extract, they would probably be my second favourite due to their size and angled tip. The more angled tip to the tweezers in the Squirt S4 and E4 are better for extracting thorns etc.

Tips of tweezers compared

Tips of tweezers compared. Left: from Style CS and Style PS, centre; from Squirt S4, right: Micra

The next blog will look at making a final choice from the small yet surprisingly different range of Leatherman keychain tools.

Beyond scale colour, there are few options within the Style range, however Leatherman have switched around the blades a little and a small range of inclsion, or not, of holes in the blade and nail nick size and position can be found

Beyond scale colour, there are few options within the Style range, however Leatherman have switched around the blades a little and a small range of inclusion, or not, of holes in the blade and nail nick size and position can be found

Leatherman Squirt series

Leatherman keychain tools- Squirt series

Leatherman Squirt series

User guide for the first three tools in the Squirt series, 2006

2006 user guide for the first three tools in the Squirt series, the S4, P4 and E4

The first Squirt series

Eight years after Leatherman released the Micra, its first keychain multi-tool, it released two more. In 2002 the stainless steel framed, aluminum anodised Squirt S4 and Squirt P4 hit the vendors shelves. The S4 had scissor jaws while the P4 had a small set of pliers.

Leatherman Squirt S4

Leatherman Squirt S4

My Squirt S4 was made in 2007 and I purchased it the following year. It has remained a frequent companion on the majority of my hikes since then. I have swapped it out on occasion, most usually for a Victorinox, but I have usually found myself promptly returning to it. I really appreciate a full size set of good scissors. Beside the desired blade, as a glasses wearer, it is probably the extra small screwdriver that has seen most use, that and the bottle opener with numerous bottles of beer. On longer hikes the nail file has been useful and I have successfully worked on stove repair and changing internal trekking pole mechanisms with the screwdrivers.

Leatherman Squirt P4

Leatherman Squirt P4

The Squirt P4 is not my favourite keychain tool because of the lack of any scissors at all. But beside pliers, blade, files and various screwdriver heads, instead of the tweezers found on both E4 and S4, the P4 does include a short little awl. This implement is not particularly sharp when purchased new. In fact it is positively blunt. However it can easily be sharpened up. This is useful for poking holes in belts or fabric, even as an extra little blade. I am not one for modding my multi-tools but if I were, I would be stripping the P4 down in an attempt to swap this awl out with some tools on other Leatherman tools that I find less useful. Both the Squirt S4 and P4 were available in grey, yellow, orange, pink, black, red, blue, green and purple.

A short but useful awl is found on the Squirt P4. This is the only one of the Leatherman keychain tools to have this, a shame, as it would be a great addition to others in the line

A short but useful awl is found on the Squirt P4. This is the only one of the Leatherman keychain tools to have this implement, a shame, as it would be a great addition to others in the line

Leatherman Squirt E4

Leatherman Squirt E4

In 2003 Leatherman followed the S4 and P4 with the Squirt E4. First available in bright ‘inferno red’, for a year or two, the E4 could only be purchased at one of the Radio Shack outlets though it wasn’t actually branded as an E4. In the UK, it may have been available through their Tandy stores. These small shops were aimed at the home hobbyist and electricians, this was the market that Leatherman were attempting to tap with the E4. After a while, availability spread to other outlets and ‘glacier blue’ and ‘storm grey’ colours were added to the range. Mine is in the latter colour.

Tips of electricians (left) and normal pliers (right) compared

Tips of electricians (left) and normal pliers (right) compared

The electricians pliers are fitted with efficient wire strippers and a useful needlenose plier tip. Back tools include file and blade, however, no scissors. Not only do I complete very little electrical work on trail, with both Squirt P4 and E4 lacking scissors of any size at all, neither of these tools is going to make it out on to a hike with me.

The Phillips screwdriver on the E4 is a thing of beauty. Incredibly well formed it is a proper 3D shaped screwdriver tip that folds away in to the tool well. However I have found the 2D Phillips tip found on other Leatherman multi-tools more adaptable in practical use. Not only fitting a wide range of Phillips heads but also can be used on a small range of slot screw heads too. The 3D Phillips head is only found on the Squirt E4.

3D and 2D Phillips head screwdrivers on the Squirt E4 and Squirt P4 compared

3D and 2D Phillips head screwdrivers on the Squirt E4 and Squirt P4 compared

All three of the first Squirt series were discontinued in 2010 to be followed by two replacements.

Few hikers would actually hand a Leatherman, or any knife, from a keyring. A split ring attachment is often superflous. If the ring is attached, the key ring attachment can be swung round and tucked out of the way

Few hikers would actually hang a Leatherman, or any knife, from a keyring. A split ring attachment is often superfluous. If the ring is detached, the key ring attachment can be swung round and tucked out of the way, as here

The second Squirt series

Leatherman Squirt PS4

Leatherman Squirt PS4

In 2010, hot on the heels of the discontinued Squirt S4, P4 and E4 came two revamped replacements. These were the Squirt PS4 and Squirt ES4.

The two tools pulled together the most popular elements of their forerunners. Effectively, each carries the same toolset other than the Squirt PS4 having standard pliers and the Squirt ES4 having electricians wire stripper pliers.

I would anticipate the PS4 having far greater sales over its brother. You shouldn’t simply write off the electricians pliers however. The useful quite thin electricians tip is capable of quite fine work such as pulling thorns and splinters, though it would be even more useful if they were truly needlenose tips.

Leatherman Squirt ES4

Leatherman Squirt ES4

It was a very clever combination of tools that Leatherman managed with these two multi-tools, they really learnt from the earlier incarnations, this despite my personal preference that a few other aspects had been retained instead.

Both Squirt PS4 and ES4 were released with blue, red and black anodised aluminum scales and are still being manufactured today.

The two sides of the files found on the P4, E4, PS4 and ES4 Squirts compared. You can see the toothed edge to the file that can be used for notching wood, sawing plastic and not much else. Each of these tools has both file surfaces

While some of the mini Leatherman multi-tools have wood/metal files, that can be used as nail files, others come with dedicated nail files. All of these actually do a pretty good job and there is little to choose between them. Each nail file has either a nail cleaner or small flat screwdriver tip, though these will not handle a lot of torque.

Nail files compared

Nail files compared. Top: Style PS, centre: Squirt S4, bottom: Style

This was a great series of small multi-tools from Leatherman. How could they follow it? By stripping them down to the essentials and adding a little style, that’s how. I shall look at what followed in the next blog.

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman keychain tools- Micra

Not a personal favourite…

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman Micra

The Leatherman Micra is one of the oldest keychain multi-tools, first released in 1996 and still made today. Leatherman have made a small number of attempts over the years to change the appearance of this model. The basic tool is stamped out in stainless steel. Later models had an aluminium ‘skin’ in various anodised colours fixed over it. The obvious resulting difference is the former rectangular cut out in the handle body beside the tweezers became largely obscured as a result. The latest variant is with coloured translucent plastic skins over the internal steel construct. The additional scales and skins do add a handful of grams to the tool. The basic tool weighs 49.9g, those with aluminum scales come in at 55g.

As previously mentioned, the Micra has to be opened to access all the tools. Personally, I find this an annoyance and prefer just about any other keychain tool made by Leatherman as it is much less faff to get at what I require.

In common with the other small Leatherman multi-tools that come supplied with them, the spring loaded scissors on the Micra fit in the hand well and will tackle most average tasks with ease

In common with the other small Leatherman multi-tools that come supplied with them, the spring loaded scissors on the Micra fit in the hand well and will tackle most average tasks with ease

The Micra comes with a great pair of spring loaded scissors. These are easily my favourite tool on this little multi-tool. They keep a good edge and will cut through just about anything you would normally encounter on trail- packages, mountain house bags, cordura, cordage and tape, plasters and skin. They will trim nails but are a little over size for that.

2D Phillips and flat tip screwdrivers on the Micra will handle a wide range of jobs, light work only mind...

2D Phillips and flat tip screwdrivers on the Micra will handle a wide range of jobs, light work only mind…

The little glasses screwdriver, combined with a reasonably effective bottle opener, is just the right size for the tiny screws on my glasses. The extra long tip is also effective where the screw is close to the frame, some other small screwdrivers can be difficult to get ‘in to’ the job. There are two other screwdrivers on the Micra, one is a medium sized flat tip, the other is a 2D Phillips head that is surprisingly effective.

The nail file and nail cleaner tip found on the Micra is as good as any found on the whole range of Leatherman multi-tools. Both sides are shown here

The nail file and nail cleaner tip found on the Micra is as good as any found on the whole range of Leatherman multi-tools. Both sides are shown here

I find myself using nail files quite often on trail. The one included on the Micra is simply a roughened surface but I prefer this type over the ones found on some of the alternatives, which are more properly wood or metal files. This is the real deal and the nail cleaner is just as useful. The tweezers are long and sturdy, folded inside and remain attached to the tool when opened out. They have no chamfered tip though and frequently don’t meet properly at the tips. As to the 12cm rule inscribed along the outside of the tools frame, never used, don’t need it.

Tips of Leatherman keychain tweezers compared. The Micra is on the right

Tips of Leatherman keychain tweezers compared. The Micra is on the right

I can see why this multi-tool is still in production after more than two decades, it is a classic, it does now look a little dated, but it is effective for most small tasks. It’s best selling point over the Leatherman alternatives is that all the tools are tucked away inside where they are not going to gather pocket fluff and detritus. For me, that is a negative and others I shall look at in future blogs I would rate above the Micra.

Leatherman Style CS and Leatherman Micra

Leatherman keychain multi-tools: which is best for hiking?

A choice of nine keychain multi-tools…

Three Points of the Compass likes to carry a knife on trail. This is most often used for food preparation. However I have found that the most useful tool by far is a pair of scissors. I have used these for trimming nails and skin, cutting plasters, bandages and gauze, opening packages, Mountain House and a myriad of other tasks. These are the two tools I want with me on any folding knife or multi-tool when backpacking. Any other tool is a bonus. That said, if I am not going to simply take a Victorinox Classic SD with me, then whatever tools are on a multi-tool, have to add something that the Victorinox doesn’t deliver. I look here at what the smallest of Leatherman keychain tools has to offer the hiker.

The ditty bag/repair kit that Three Points of the Compass carried on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018. A Leatherman keychain multi-tool formed a vital component of this

The ditty bag/repair kit that Three Points of the Compass carried on the Cape Wrath Trail in 2018. A Leatherman keychain multi-tool formed a vital component of this

Various Swiss Army Knives have proved themselves fantastic for taking hiking, others less so. I am also a big fan of the small ‘keychain’ multi-tools produced by USA company Leatherman over the years. Some have been carried on my backpacking trips and I liked, and again, others less so. There is one little Leatherman in particular that is usually stuffed into my ditty bag or First Aid Kit and has been carried with me for thousands of trail miles. I’ll come to which one in a later blog in this series. But I thought I would spend some time here looking at some of the very small multi-tools produced by Leatherman over the years that incorporate both my desired scissors and blade. Particularly as some of these models are now discontinued and beginning to get harder to find.

History

Leatherman began making multi-tools in 1983 when it released the PST (Pocket Survival Tool). At their release Three Points of the Compass looked at these new offerings in the outdoor gear shops and wondered why anyone would ever want a pair of pliers on their knife. Having purchased one out of curiosity, it subsequently got me out of a fix on many an occasion, but only at work, it was never taken with me when hiking as it was simply too large and heavy.

Just three years later, in 1986, Leatherman shrunk their tools and released a new smaller model, that was the MiniTool (in production until 2004). However that had no scissors and at 114g was no keychain tool, it didn’t even have a ring for attaching it to anything. It was what it was named- a mini tool, with fold handles to make it full size. I actually purchased one when they were released and worked it into the ground, another of my multi-tools that never survived the years.

Leatherman have released a huge variety of tools over the years, they continue to do so, always seeking out another niche market or tweaking existing tools for the collector market. In 1996 they released the first of their keychain multi-tools. This was the Micra. So popular and successful was it that it is still manufactured today. On the back of this popular product, Leatherman went on to release another eight keychain models, the most recent in 2011. At the time of writing (2019), five of the keychain tools are still manufactured new and are available for purchase. The retired models can still be picked up on the second hand market, though one or two are beginning to get scarce.

The nine keychain sized multi-tools released by Leatherman

The nine keychain sized multi-tools released by Leatherman

Nine Leatherman keychain tools- the Micra, Squirt and Style series

There have been nine key-chain tools released by Leatherman over the years. All but one, the Squirt E4, would make a great little multi-tool for taking on trail. The intended user of the E4 is not me, it being aimed more as a pocket tool for electricians. The tool was produced in much smaller numbers and is now quite difficult to find. Despite owning one I am not a great fan of it and any of the remaining eight keychain tools would make a better choice for taking on trail.

Below, I cover the primary tools- scissors, blade and pliers and subsequent blogs over the next few days will look at some of the more specialised tools built into the various tool ranges.

Small Leatherman scissors compared with those on Victorinox Classic

Small Leatherman Style scissors on the left compared with those on Victorinox Classic

Scissors

There are seven tools with scissors in the range of Leatherman keychain multi-tools, These are the Micra, three in the Squirt series and two in the Style series. All seven are shown below. There are two major differences in these scissors.

Three tools have quite large, reasonably powerful and efficient spring-loaded scissors, using cams and back-springs, as their jaws when the tools are unfolded. The scissors on the Micra are a very slightly different form to those on the Style CS and Squirt S4, more akin to the scissors found on Swiss Army Knives, however all three are equally efficient at cutting.

The remaining four have small scissors, akin to those on the Victorinox Classic, that are accessed from the back of the multi-tool when still closed. Each of have a captive torsion spring, though to a lesser efficiency than their spring loaded larger cousins. The scissors can be opened wide to enable resharpening. The springs on these smaller Leathermans are more robust than the scissors found on small Victorinox multi-tools such as the ubiquitous Classic. They will still break though, especially if put to too heavy a task. Leatherman will fix these under their excellent warranty. The remaining two keychain tools, the Squirt E4 and P4, do not have any scissors.

Leatherman scissors compared. Top row: Leatherman Style CS, Squirt S4, Micra. Bottom row: Leatherman Style, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Style PS

Scissors compared. Top row: Leatherman Style CS, Squirt S4, Micra. Bottom row: Leatherman Style, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Style PS. The Squirt E4 and P4 do not have scissors

Blade

Eight of the Leatherman keychain tools have blades, the Style PS is the exception. In theory, this means that the Style PS can be taken through airport security. There are many accounts of this tool being confiscated however so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Blades are made from 420HC stainless steel, chisel cut, which can annoy some users but I have never had any trouble with them. They come with a good edge from new and can easily be sharpened. The steel will retain an edge for some time. I do wish Leatherman had produced an option of 154CM steel as they have on some of their other, larger tools.

Blade length is 41mm (1.6″) however not all of this is usable length. Flat cutting length is only some 27mm (a little over an inch) however there is another 10mm or so of curved bade beyond this. It is usually imminently sufficient for most tasks while hiking or around camp. Note that this is all very easily within UK legal requirements but as is now usual, you are never going to be allowed to fly with this.

Short chisel cut blade

Close up of the short chisel cut blade on Squirt PS4. This is 420 HC stainless steel

Most blades are of approximately similar depth though this will alter slightly over time as they are periodically sharpened. My Style CS is 8.45mm while my Style is 9.15mm at widest depth reflecting the greater use and consequent sharpening of the former. The slight notch at the base of each blade varies slightly in depth, being most pronounced on the Style and Squirt S4 where it can most effectively be used as a thin wire bender or possibly wire stripper.

Because of their small size, food can gunge up one of these tools pretty easy, especially the holes in the blade on the Style range. Leatherman CS in use on the Tabular Hills, 2019

Because of their small size, food can gunge up one of these tools pretty easy, especially the holes in the blade on the Style range. Leatherman CS in use on the Tabular Hills Walk, Autumn 2019

The size and nail nicks on the blades varies a surprising amount. The holes on the blades in the Style series are there for aesthetic reasons only. Food, especially cheese, gets stuck in the holes and the nail nicks were moved down the blade to accompany them, to the tools detriment as the blades are consequently harder to open as a result. More recently it appears that Leatherman have begun to put standard blades into the Style, this is a welcome change.

Small Leatherman blades compared. From left to right: Style, Style CS, Squirt P4, Squirt S4, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Micra

Small Leatherman blades compared. From left to right: Style, Style CS, Squirt P4, Squirt S4, Squirt ES4, Squirt PS4, Micra. Only apparent differences are minor styling on the Style blades, size and position of nail nicks, and a slight drop point to the Micra blade. All are made of the same quality 420HC stainless steel

None of the blades lock, so a little care has to be taken when using them. I much prefer the ease with which the blades can be accessed on all of the Leatherman keychain tools other than the Micra. The Micra has to be opened to access all tools, including its blade, from the inside. As to the other eight tools, if pocket carried, fluff and general crud can build up under externally positioned tools more easily than with the Micra, however I have never found this an issue. On trail I don’t carry one in my pocket. More commonly you will see hikers hanging one of these tools from a pack’s shoulder strap daisy loop, however I prefer to keep it in my food or ditty bag.

Pliers

There are many hikers that feel a pair of pliers can be particularly useful on trail. Three Points of the Compass is not necessarily one of them. There are certainly times when they can be useful, if not almost indispensable. It can be difficult to repair a zip without pliers and lifting a pot off a stove is often easy with pliers. Pushing a needle through tough cordura or leather is made far easier with pliers, though a rock could be used with care. It is all about determining where your particular emphasis, needs and wishes lie. Myself, I prefer full size scissors, however others may feel a small pair of scissors suffice which frees up the opportunity to potentially include pliers tips.

There are three choices of jaw in the small Leatherman keychain multi-tools. These are scissors, pliers and the less useful electricians pliers

There are three choices of jaw in the small Leatherman keychain multi-tools. These are scissors, pliers and the less useful electricians pliers. All use backsprings and cams and are very efficient for lighter tasks

Two types of pliers can be found on the Leatherman range of keychain sized multi-tools- these are the needlenose pliers on the E4 and later ES4. These also have regular, if small, pliers in the same head. The two Electricians’ tools, the Squirt E4 and ES4, have needle nose pliers, wire/hard wire cutters and wire strippers- 20GA, 18GA, 16GA, 14GA and 12GA.

If taking a multi-tool on trail, any of these have numerous crevices in which food and gunk can accumulate and fester. A decent periodic clean will help reduce the chance of cross-contamination

If taking a multi-tool on trail, any of these have numerous crevices in which food and gunk can accumulate and fester. A decent periodic clean will help reduce the chance of cross-contamination

Colour

It is pretty obvious that on trail, a brightly coloured knife or multi-tool can be a preferred feature. Put any item of muted colour down in the long grass and you asking to lose it. It is one reason why the classic red Victorinox Swiss Army Knife is a great choice for backpacking. That flame red sticks out like a sore thumb. That said, Three Points of the Compass does like muted colours, you will not see me wearing bright reds, orange and yellow. I like to blend into my natural surroundings. Whatever your choice, many of the Leatherman key chain sized tools came in a variety of colours, especially the Micra which has received numerous scales and wraps over the years. Even the diminutive and minimalist Leatherman Style, which only enjoyed a four year production run, came in four colours- black, red, blue and pink. If you want a really brightly coloured option, one of the few keychain tools released by Leatherman with pink coloured scales is always going to stand out.

In 2012 Leatherman announced their Pink Program- this was their support for breast cancer awareness and they released three of their tools in a striking pink colour. These were the Micra, Style and Style CS. Each of them features the breast cancer awareness ribbon laser etched on to the blade. The Micra and Squirt also feature the ribbon on one of their scales. Note that not all pink Leatherman tools were part of the Pink Program

In 2012 Leatherman announced their Pink Program- this was their support for breast cancer awareness and they released three of their tools in a striking pink colour. These were the Micra, Style and Style CS. Each of them features the breast cancer awareness ribbon laser etched on to the blade. The Micra and Squirt also feature the ribbon on one of their scales. Note that not all pink Leatherman tools were part of the Pink Program and not all have the ribbon feature

Future blogs will look more closely at some of the other tools found in the various ranges. I shall end with a particular recommendation from this useful little selection of small multi-tools.

The production dates, dimensions and weights for all nine Leatherman keychain tools are shown below.

Weights and dimensions of the Leatherman keychain multi-tools
Micra Micra- with added aluminum scales Squirt S4 Squirt P4 Squirt E4 Squirt PS4 Squirt ES4 Style Style CS Style PS
Production dates 1996-Present ?- present 2002-2010 2002-2010 2003-2010 2010-present 2010-present 2010-2014 2010-present 2011-present
Maximum length (including keyring if present) x width (when closed) x thickness (across scale screws) 66mm

X

19.25mm

X

12.40mm

66mm

X

31.25mm

X

13mm

60mm

X

20.55mm

X

13.60mm

60mm

X

20.65mm

X

13.70mm

60mm

X

20.60mm

X

13.70mm

60mm

X

19.65mm

X

13.80mm

60mm

X

20.80mm

X

14.00mm

59mm

X

10.80mm

X

12.40mm

76mm

X

20.60mm

X

10.45mm

76mm

X

20.60mm

X

10.50mm

Weight 49.9g 55g 52.3g 55.3g 53.5g 56.9g 54.3g 23.1g 41.7g 44.9g