ArticlesPersonal Essays

Multi-Tool Envy

Its that time of year again when the Mississippi thaws and sends giant chunks of ice spinning down to New Orleans or to their eventually return to fluid. Its also that time of year again when we paddlers tend to venture out to the retail outlets and send large chunks of change to the bottom lines of cash hunger business owners. This year, Ive found myself longing for an unusual long list of items, and expect my top line to become intimately involved with my bottom line.

On a recent visit to a local retailer to help check items off of the list, I found myself gawking over the wide selection of multi-tools. They were all laid out on a glass shelf. There must have been a good twenty-five different models. A few of them were anodized in bright colors. Some were giant, some small, and they all seemed to come with a leather sheath. I stood there and drooled over all the choices and thought of all the great repairs I could make on my future expeditions. The money was burning the proverbially hole in my pocket, which I could fix with a multi-tool if I had one. At that point I suffered from Multi-Tool Envy a condition any paddler can contract.

The closest thing to a multi-tool that I own is a Swiss Army knife the Classic model to be exact. It sports a small and extremely useless knife, a weak tweezers, toothpick, and one of the best small scissors Ive ever used. The scissors warrant the constant attachment to my trout fishing fanny pack. But this knife just doesnt have the glamour of a multi-tool.

As I stood at the case and thought about my Swiss Army knife, I thought of the past trips Ive been on and repairs I could have made with a multi-tool. The first one that came to mind happened on a local lake.

Flat on the Ground

We were paddling across the glassy surface on the lake at the end of day and just before the sunset. It was after work, and after a long day at work. There were two canoes and two kayaks in our small fleet. In my canoe I had just installed a new sliding bow seat. And it just so happened that in that bow seat sat a friend that had never been in a canoe before. Just as I swung the canoe into a fast turn, the seat fell out from under her. She landed on the floor. Startled, she grabbed the gunwales and almost put us into the water. We pulled ashore and because no one had a multi-tool, I used two rocks to pinch the nut and remount the seat. With a multi-tool the repair would have taken much less time, and we would have loaded the car before sunset.

Wow, it has a Wire Cutters also

I stood there looking at the tools, remembering that story, and the Leatherman Wave looked back at me. There was a cocky glare in its eye. The Wave is known as the best multi-tool on the market and sports a arrogant amount of tools, including a Needlenose Pliers, a Regular Pliers, a Wire Cutters, a Hard-Wire Cutters, a Clip-Point Knife, a Serrated Knife, a Diamond-Coated File, a Wood Saw, a Scissors, an Extra Small Screwdriver, a Small Screwdriver, a Medium Screwdriver, a Large Screwdriver, a Phillips Screwdriver, a Can / Bottle Opener, a Wire Stripper. And a Lanyard Attachment!
If you had me, the tool spoke to me, Think of what we could accomplish. Remember the time when&

My Yoke is Broke

I was in the Boundary Water. It was fall time and the leaves were starting to turn the Boundary Waters yellow on the portage from North Fowl Lake to Moose Lake. I had actually skipped the portages around the Royal River, because rain the night before kept the water level at runnable. This portage tested the strength of my new homemade solo portage yoke. Everything was going great, until about 90 rods into the portage. The yoke made a loud snap. Hmmm, I thought, I better take a look at that. I flipped the boat off my shoulders using the yoke, and the yoke stayed in my hands and the canoe hit the mossy forest floor, bounced off a blow down and landed cockeyed across the trail. Later in camp after a long 40-rod portage without a yoke, I managed to fix my yoke with some bent tent stakes and a lot of duct tape. With a multi-tool, especially the Wave, I could have used the Wood Saw to cut a perfect chunk of wood for the repair, than filed and cut and repaired the yoke to perfection.

A Real Woodsman Carries a Leatherman

And of course, the Leatherman went on, You could wear me on your belt and look like an ultra hip woodsman. I know you want to buy me, weve met before. This wasnt my first time to the multi-tool case. On many previous occasions I stood in this same location staring at the tool. In the past, I had thought of many other repairs I required in the field. And these thoughts are always the ones that get to me the worst. One came back to me as I stood there. It was in the spring&

Can’t Fix this Can You?

My good canoeing and all around adventuring buddy, Steve, and I decided to head to Northeast Iowa, a location with some of the best flat-water rivers in the nation to paddle. The Volga seemed to be running high enough, so we put in. I brought along a Padded Food pack full of steaks, hamburgers, fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, and much more. We loaded camera gear, tripods, fishing gear and much more into the canoe. All said and done, the canoe with paddlers and gear weighed over 700 pounds. I mean this was a plush trip. We pushed off and unfortunately had to get right back out of the canoe to drag it across a sand bar. This should have been our first warning. Steve and I have always viewed canoeing as a naval operation instead of an amphibian operation. We dont like to get out and get wet, and this trip was no different. About 5 miles into the trip, we came across a very rocky turn in the river with a good current. The boat hit a rock, we heard a bang, and then a sound like a rusty zipper opening shook the boat for a few seconds.

Steve said, What was that?

I shrugged, Lets worry about that later.

And later when I flipped the boat, I found a couple two to three foot long rips in the fiberglass that went all the way to the wood. We dried the wood out over night slapped duct tape over the wounds in the morning and went on down the river.

I’ll Be Back

What would you have done there? I asked the Leatherman.

Ummm, he replied. Nothing, I guess.

By this time, a salesman swaggered up to me. He was rather short, but stout with fiery red hair and a moustache to match. He looked like he had just come in from the woods. If he had carried a loggers axe, it would have seemed like the most natural thing. His red suspenders finished off his outfit and then I saw it, on his belt a Leatherman beckoned. Here stood a true outdoorsman. And he had a Leatherman.

Thinking about a Leatherman? he asked.

No, I answered. I was thinking about all the repairs I made in the field without one.

I spoke with him briefly, thanked him for his time, and left without a multi-tool. Each year, I have the same thoughts and each year, I look at the multi-tools. I get that multi-tool envy, but you know what? A couple of rocks, some duct tape, and few bent-up tent stakes have allowed me to pinch by in the past. Theyll work again in the future, and beside; I have a couple of good stories to tell now around the campfire. Im sure, next year, Ill get that Multi-Tool Envy again. I just hope Im still strong enough to resist it.

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