TOOL AROUND WITH THIS
First look: Oregon-based Gerber Legendary Blades has been in the business for 70 years, making shovels, knives and hydration packs for civilian and military use. We tested the Gerber Radius, which has ergonomically comfortable rubber handles and tools that fold out of the sides so you don't have to open the butterfly-style pliers to use the gadgets. The Radius packs four tools -- scissors, screwdriver, can opener and a 2.5-inch blade -- besides the needle-nose pliers.
Likes and yikes: Sure, the Radius is a behemoth compared with other multi-tools, measuring 4.75 inches and weighing in at about 9 ounces. But we liked the Radius over all the other models tested because the design and rubber grip handles make it feel more like an instrument than a piece of hardware. The blade is wickedly sharp; the tools have protruding knobs, making them easy to open; and the pliers are spring-loaded so they can be used easily with one hand.
The 411: $75, available at REI, Cabela's and other sporting-goods stores, or call (800) 950-6161, www.gerbergear.com.
TAKE IT FISHING
First look: Sheffield is another old-school knife manufacturer that has entered the multi-tool market with several models. Sheffield's latest is called the Angler, a 17-in-one multi-tool that includes a fillet knife, needle-nose pliers, scissors and fish scaler. This one is designed specifically for anglers, but it would come in handy in nearly any backcountry setting.
Likes and yikes: The long, pointed needle-nose pliers are spring-loaded and good for pulling a hook out of a fish with one hand while holding the fish in the other. Like many other multi-tools, the tools unfold from inside the handle, requiring a user to open the pliers to get to the tools -- a slight flaw in the design. Still, for this price, it's a flaw that can be overlooked.
The 411: $27, available only by calling (800) 457-0600 or visiting www.amazon.com.
WATCH THOSE NAILS
First look: Victorinox, makers of the iconic Swiss Army Knife, offer several multi-tools; we tested the aptly named SwissTool. This 4.5-inch-long gadget packs 11 tools, including two blades, a saw, a can opener, a screwdriver and needle-nose pliers, and the stainless-steel body doubles as a ruler.
Likes and yikes: The SwissTool is sturdy, durable and packs just about every gadget you might need in the backcountry. The drawback: It's the heaviest of the multi-tools we tested (about 10 ounces) and required a strong, thick fingernail to dig out and unfold the tools.
The 411: $95, available at REI, Big 5 Sporting Goods and Target, or call (800) 243-4045, www.swissarmy.com.