The Ultimate Survival Multi-tool?

Having a pliers based ‘multi-tool’ is quite useful in many survival situations.  Fortunately, and a bit unfortunately, there are hundreds to choose from.  My choice, for any kit in which it can be fit, is the Leatherman Surge.

100_0440 100_0441


(lanyard made per  and the earlier post pointed to in it)

Yes, it is fairly big (but not the biggest).  And it is pretty heavy, over seventeen ounces fully accessorized, but this implies that it should be fairly heavy duty.  And Leatherman, who were one of the first if not the first makers of this type of tool, are known for quality.  Most importantly, the Surge can do things few other multi-tools can do.


One hand opening, locking knife blade?  Check.  It is a long, straight clip blade, which is not the best shape for survival usage, but it is not bad.  This could serve in place of a pocket knife if absolutely necessary.  It also has a one hand opening, locking, serrated blade, sort of a sheep’s foot shape.  This is not a critical survival need, but can be useful.  Annoyingly, this blade does NOT have the hook blade on its back like Leatherman’s Charge ALX model does have.  Adding this feature would improve the utility of this model even further.  I’m looking at options to modify mine, either replacing the blade with the one from the Charge or if that won’t fit, cutting in the hook into the existing blade myself.

Also available from the ‘outside’ is a very useful spring action scissors and the ‘Blade Exchanger’.  The latter is a nifty concept which allows you to easily insert and use a variety of blades.  The available choices are the critical double cut wood saw, and the important file blade, with standard teeth on one side and one edge, and even diamond grit on the other side.  No other blade choice is offered, but wait!  The attachment end looks like a standard ‘T’ shank common on jigsaws.  If that were the case, then you could easily add additional saw blades (particularly metal cutting) to the set.  Alas, although the outline is identical, the standard blades are somewhat thinner, which means they rattle around when mounted.  I’m experimenting with ways of thickening the mounts of standard blades, which if successful will allow me to add a good metal cutting blade to the tool, as well as modify jigsaw blades into other tools.  A fish scaler/hook disgorger comes to mind first, and possibly a ‘filet’ blade.

While we are on the ‘outside’, we note that there does not appear to be a lanyard loop; a serious lack.  But wait, there is an accessory kit which includes both a snap in belt hanger and a lanyard loop (only one can be used at a time).  Also, as is common on Leatherman, there are inch and millimeter markings along the edges of the grips.  There is no ‘stop’ at half-open, and the markings are interrupted by the pliers part, so it is not convenient for measurements over four inches long, but this is not much of a problem in survival situations.


Going ‘inside’, we find a nicely fine tipped pair of ‘needle nose’ pliers, with a decent ‘standard’ pliers section and good wire cutters, all critical in a survival multi-tool.  Here we come to a decision point; the new model Surge has replaceable wire cutter blades, while the old model does not.  Having the replaceable blades is desirable, although not critical.  The discontinued model might be found cheaper, and has another benefit we’ll discuss later.  In either case, be aware that the wire cutters have a section near the joint for ‘hard’ wires and the rest of the cutter is for ‘soft’ wires.  Since they make a point of this, it is possible that a ‘hard’ wire could damage the cutting edge if you attempted to cut it with other than the indicated area.  My (old model) blades appear to have burrs on them, which makes the pliers ‘stick’ in the closed position.

In the back of the pliers joint is a small area intended for cutting stranded wires and a crimper.  The ‘handles’ of the pliers are nicely rounded and provide a comfortable grip when applying pressure to the pliers.

As for the other tools ‘inside’, there is a good selection.  Like the ‘outside’ tools, these all lock open, with a simple lever to unlock them when you are done.  This lever also releases the lanyard loop or belt clip.  There is the critical can opener, which works fairly well.  It also claims to be a bottle opener, which may not be very effective.  I actually did have to open a couple of bottles, and it took me a minute or two each.  Looking back, perhaps it would have worked better to use it horizontally rather than vertically.  Even if not, it will eventually do the job in a survival situation, so is adequate.  There is also a sharpened ‘V’ notch in this blade, which can be used to strip wires.

In addition to the critical awl and large standard screwdriver, the old model has a small ‘screwdriver’ bit holder which includes a dual ended bit with standard and Phillips blades.  The new model has a small standard screwdriver blade instead.  I prefer the ‘eyeglass’ version, since I wear glasses and there is another way to get the ‘small’ standard screwdriver.

And that way is, a bit holder.  It comes with a dual ended bit, with Phillips on one end and standard on the other.  The bit is ‘flat’ so that it does not take up the entire width of the handle.  And you can get a set of additional bits with an astounding selection.  Being double ended and flat, you can get forty additional bits into a fairly small area, even fitting into some of the pouches for the Surge or its own small pouch.  There are four sizes of Phillips, six sizes of standard screwdriver, eight sizes of Torx, three sizes of Robertson (square), three sizes of Pozi (Phillips on steroids), seven sizes of Allen (hex) and eleven sizes of metric Allen.  If you add this up, you will note that the total is forty two, not the forty that the bit holder contains.  That is because there appears to be two slightly different bits sets that are or have been available.  In my case, one that came with my (old model) Surge and one I got as a standalone accessory.  One had an additional size of Robertson and Pozi; the other had two smaller Torx.   The bit holder also has room for a spare eyeglass bit or two.


(drawing showing the new model differences and the installed lanyard loop – upper right – from

There also is available a bit extension, which not only gives you additional reach, but allows usage of standard 1/4″ hex bits, if you can find any which are not included in the set from Leatherman.  You can also use the flat Leatherman bits in most standard 1/4″ hex drivers.  I combined the two sets of bits to get the full forty two possible bit sizes; I keep the ‘extra’ piece (two bits) in the extension.

So to reiterate, for survival usage, this tool has the critical two mode pliers, wire cutter, wood saw, awl, can opener, standard and Phillips screwdrivers.  Along with bits for just about every non-security fastener you might encounter.  Plus the important (or critical if you don’t also have a good knife) one hand, locking knife blade, file and sort of a bottle opener.  Finally, the useful scissors and serrated blade, and the removable file with diamond grit which might be useful as a knife sharpener.  All of this from Leatherman, known in this industry from the beginning.

What does it NOT have?  Lighter weight, although this would come with a cost of higher price and/or less durability.  Metal saw(s) and fishing tools, although perhaps those can be made yourself to fit the ‘Blade Exchanger’ or might become available from Leatherman or an aftermarket source at a later date.  I’ve always thought a small chisel or gouge would be of use, but this is a rare feature indeed.  Perhaps the most important lack is the emergency seatbelt/rope cutting hook also usable for skinning without puncturing intestines.

Does anyone know of a multi-tool of this size which they think would be a better choice for survival?




Filed under Emergency preparedness

2 responses to “The Ultimate Survival Multi-tool?

  1. Pingback: Bug Out Bag Checklist (Part 2) | preppernextdoor

  2. Nice post. Thanks for sharing

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