A multitool looks dorky dangling off your belt. But at some point being able to summon a knife, screwdriver, saw or plier makes you a hero on every trip. A well-rated tool is $100 to $300, so I marooned myself on an island with the cheapest one I could find to see what happens when you skimp out.
(Full disclosure: My friend and adventure journalist Wes Siler said he’d kick my ass if I came on another camping trip without “any real tools.” I thought this would be a good way to troll him, then realized that made no sense... am I rambling already? Anyway I bought the thing with my own money and have had no interaction with Wal-Mart other than buying stuff from them.)
There I was, cast away on some godforsaken chunk of land full-on Bear Grylls style.
Completely surrounded by the placid waters of Lake George; so deep I almost couldn’t touch the rocky bottom without dunking my head. Waves a’frenzy with wind so relentless, I had to wear a hoodie at night.
With a mere $200 worth of groceries for sustenance and no means of escape, besides the powerboat parked at the dock, the gravity of the situation really started to set in on night one.
Mother of god... we’re not leaving ’til Sunday and there’s only three racks of Yuengling left.
Time to whip out the old Ozark Trail Multitool. Let’s hack up some trees and start squeezing nipples!
Initial quality: Decent.
The Ozark is excessively bulky, and even though it’s huge it’s heavier than it looks. That’s annoying because it takes up half a cargo-shorts compartment, and really strained the pocket on my Vineyard Vines short-shorts.
But when you’re shopping cheap products, a little weight is actually a good thing. You know Wal-Mart’s suppliers slapped this thing together with the least expensive materials and methodology possible. So would you rather have a cheap light steel or a cheap heavy steel? I reckon the heavy stuff will at least last a little longer, if only by virtue of its inherent heft.
Anyway the blades all folded out pretty easily and nothing wiggled against my hands. Straight out of the box, the Ozark is feeling like a decent use of ten bucks.
Knives: Pretty sharp!
The first obstacle of any expedition is busting through the cardboard between you and your beers. The Ozark handled this task just fine, and I learned the main blade is also sharp enough to cut leaves, beer cans, a styrofoam cooler, rope, raw meat, grilled meat, and carve “JALOPNIKRULZ” into a picnic table.
There’s also a secondary paring knife which is great for cutting or carefully peeling fruit. What’s no so great is that it’s located directly next to the bottle opener. And when you reach for that sucker to open your seventh brewski, it’s dangerously easy to bury your thumb into this blade instead of the opener. And you will bleed.
A professional outdoorsman would probably say that these knives will dull quickly and will whither away when you try to sharpen them. Who knows. And if you’re buying blades at Wal-Mart, you probably don’t care.
The thing cut food and rope just fine. I figure that’s the beginning and end of most car-camping usage, and that’s not exactly severe-duty on any blade. If you don’t need to slice stuff much tougher than that, you can probably get away with “replacing” rather than “sharpening” and still getting a decent deal out of this thing.
Saws: What’s the point of these?
There are two saws with different styles of serrated-ness. One that’s jagged and obviously for wood, one that’s more of a steak knife. The bigger one cut through small branches and into stumps just fine, but any large block of wood would take a looong time to hack through, and anything you could cut up quickly would have to be small enough to snap.
I guess if you were making some kind of art project out of sticks and twigs these babies could come in handy. What with the “precision” and all.
Pliers: Springy, grip’s there.
The pliers end up getting a lot of use on any multitool, they’re just so damn convenient. And again, the Ozark is up to light duty; busting open packaging, picking up hot things near the fire, unscrewing the propane from the stove.
The tips are long enough to get decent grip but small enough to squeeze where you might need to, on both the fine and coarse-ripped sections.
However they do start losing power exponentially when you need a super-tight clampdown. I can squeeze up to about 90 percent of my hand’s maximum grip-strength before the energy starts bending the handles instead of helping my grab. But I am a pansy, so you might out-squeeze the Ozark even faster.
Screwdrivers: too small
Having one phillips and one flathead screwdriver tip is huge on a multitool. You never know when your cheap camp stove or flea-market lawn chair is going to fall apart, and oh-so often you can bring that crap back online with a few twists of a screw.
The Ozark’s screwdrivers are totally usable, but you’ve really got to put a lotta pressure down or you’re just going to strip everything. Doesn’t seem like any fault of the metal; just that the heads are a few micrometers too small to really fill out most common screws I found on our various pieces of camping equipment and around the boat.
Portability: Well... you’ll know if it falls off.
I already mentioned this thing is awkward in a pocket. As you can see, the thing is freaking massive but the sheath (included in the packaging) seems well-built enough to keep from tearing even when it inevitably gets caught on snags and branches.
But the added weight to your waist region is almost comical, it’s like packing a dang Desert Eagle but a lot less intimidating.
Wire cutters: “decorative only”
These are just junk. They’re too flat to even call “dull,” as they were never at any point capable of being sharp. They’re not even lined up very well. Worthless.
Durability: One camping trip down and it’s still going.
After hacking at every flat surface I could find, being dropped on rocks a few times, and played with in fresh water and dirt for a couple days, the Ozark multitool is not showing any signs of degradation in sharpness or ease-of-opening.
I tossed it on the ground a few times too, no rattles or shakes yet.
There is a bit of surface rust forming, right on the head where “STAINLESS STEEL” has been stamped into it. Will keep an eye and update if this spreads too quickly.
Verdict: Good enough to at least postpone buying a “real” multitool.
The Pros are it’s cheap, you can buy it at Wal-Mart so you can buy it anywhere, decent variation of tools. Cons; it’s inefficiently huge where it should be compact and tool small where you need size. It’s also unproven in extreme duty.
A multitool is the lynchpin your adventure loadout. Do you really want to cut corners when an extra hundred bucks would buy you something top-of-the-line?
Sure, why not. Stop taking yourself so damn seriously.
I mean, duh, if you’re venturing out to the kind of wilderness where a broken blade might mean your death, maybe splurge on The Best Tools Available.
But how often do you really have to hack your own arm off to get out from under a rock? If you just like having a few tools handy for fixing, cutting, adjusting things that are just a little too hard to twist with your bare hands the Ozark’s pretty well perfect. As long as you don’t mind dealing with the weight on your belt.
Quick Fix is Andrew’s column about home-made solutions, redneck repairs, and the cheapest gear available. Some of these ideas may turn out to be terrible, so follow any “advice” herein with a big spoon of salt.