A California hiker survived 10 days lost in the wild with almost no gear – but he had one tool that you should never go hiking without

Man using Leatherman ARC multitool
We never go hiking without this one piece of survival gear (Image credit: Leatherman)

There have been a lot of missing hiker stories lately, and most haven’t ended well, but for one miracle story of the California hiker who was found alive and well after spending 10 days missing in the wild.

Lukas McClish thought he’d only be gone for three hours when he started his hike on June 11 in Boulder Creek, about 14 miles north of Santa Cruz, so he didn’t load up his backpack with snacks and layers – or even bother putting on a shirt for that matter. But he got lost and spent well over a week hiking up and down rugged canyons, drinking from waterfalls and foraging for berries before search and rescue teams discovered him disoriented, 30 pounds lighter, but otherwise unscathed.

How did he survive? Luck, probably, and a good dose of hardiness, no doubt. Survival gear? Hardly.

McClish credits his survival with drinking a lot of water, but he didn’t even have a water bottle – he drank out of his hiking boot. While most hiking survival stories involve using a lot of gear – things like a bivy sack, insulated jacket and satellite communicator – McClish says he was only carrying a couple of survival items: a flashlight, which is always useful to help navigate in the dark, and a Leatherman multi-tool.

uses for a multitool

How did he survive? Luck, probably, and a good dose of hardiness, no doubt. Survival gear? Hardly (Image credit: Getty)

When I read this detail, I instantly felt validated, because I never go hiking without my Leatherman. Now to be clear, I’m not sure I’d survive 10 days with no shirt on drinking water out of my boot merely because I had my multi-tool – I think that takes a special amount of grit. But if I ever did find myself in that predicament, I can think of a few reasons I’d be happy to have my multi-tool.

What is a Leatherman multi-tool?

A Leatherman multi-tool is a compact, portable device made in Portland, Oregon that usually centers around a pair of pliers and has multiple other functions and uses. The brand has been making multi-tools for over 40 years and now has dozens of different designs.

My Leatherman Bond multi-tool has 14 functions: a wire cutter, blade, several screwdrivers, a bottle opener, a can opener, a ruler and a metal file in addition to pliers. The Leatherman Surge is a heavier-duty version that made our list of the best multi-tools and has a blade and scissors in addition to the functions on the Bond. Last year, Leatherman launched the ARC multitool made with corrosion-resistant MagnaCut steel for better durability and strength-to-weight. Basically, almost no matter what your needs, you can probably find a Leatherman to fit.  

Hand holding Leatherman multitool

My Leatherman Bond multi-tool has 14 functions (Image credit: Future)

Why I never go hiking without my Leatherman

I use my Leatherman constantly when I’m hiking and camping (and sometimes around the house, too, if I’m being honest). If I need to slice chorizo for a quick meal over the camping stove, or cut some gauze to cover blisters on a long walk, I’ve got a blade. If I need to measure a distance on my map, I’ve got a ruler. If I need to untie tangled knots in my tent guy lines or fix a trekking pole, I’ve got pliers. 

The screwdriver is handy for taking apart any techy items in need of a new battery and of course, I never have a problem opening a beer at the end of a long day on my feet. I’ve got so used to grabbing my Bond every time I need to adjust or fix something, I do it without thinking.

All of this and my Leatherman folds up small enough to easily slide into the pocket of any of my backpacks, and even with its leather carrying case it only weighs 200 grams, so it’s impossible to make a case for not bringing it. If you’re still on the fence, however, my colleague Alex Foxfield has some more great reasons why you need a multi-tool for outdoor adventures.

Hand holding Leatherman multitool

It's compact and even with its leather carrying case it only weighs 200 grams, so it’s impossible to make a case for not bringing it (Image credit: Future)

What multi-tool do I need?

I feel it’s worth mentioning that one drawback of multi-tools is that, because they’re designed to perform lots of functions, they don’t necessarily perform each function as well as a tool designed to do only that function. For instance, the blade on my Bond is great for what I need, but if I were doing a lot of chopping to make kindling, I’d probably want an actual pocket knife

Also, while I’ve been focusing on Leatherman because that’s what I use, they’re not the only brand out there. When choosing a multi-tool, you’ll almost certainly want a blade and pliers, but beyond that the world is really your oyster. Do you want scissors, or can you make do with a blade? Do you have any need for a corkscrew or are you a beer drinker?

Consider the weight and size of a multi-tool before you buy, taking into account whether you’ll be carrying it in a backpack or stashing it in your car for emergencies. Check out our guide to the best multi-tools for more of our favorites and view some of the best deals on Leatherman multi-tools near you below.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.