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Multi tool vs pocket knife: do you need both?

uses for a multitool
We weigh the pros and cons of the multi tool vs pocket knife to help you find the perfect tool for all your camping tasks and repairs (Image credit: Getty)

A good camping knife is a great addition to your camping kit, whether you’re cheffing it up round the camping stove, gathering kindling to build a campfire or performing emergency gear surgery. Then again, the best multitools can serve all kinds of handy functions with a wrench, screwdriver, bottle opener and they always have a knife blade to boot. So do you need both for your next outward bound expedition, or can one of these devices be the jack of all trades? We weigh the pros and cons of the multi tool vs pocket knife to help you find the perfect tool for all your camping tasks and repairs.

Camping knife stuck in mossy log

A good camping knife is a great addition to your camping kit (Image credit: Getty)

Multi tool vs pocket knife: size and weight

Because a multi tool performs multiple functions, it’s naturally going to weigh more than a simple, single-function pocket knife. Though lightweight options are available, several of the best multitools we’ve tested weigh more than eight ounces, with some more than 12 ounces, whereas pocket knives usually weigh in at about 3 - 4 ounces. Naturally, this is only an issue if you’re backpacking and looking to save weight wherever you can. 

When closed, multi tools on average are slightly longer than pocket knives, too, but both are designed to be compact and fold away into a pocket in your backpack or hiking pants so this is not much of a deciding factor.

Camping axe and multitool on a tree stump

Because a multi tool performs multiple functions, it’s naturally going to weigh more than a simple, single-function pocket knife (Image credit: Getty)

Multi tool vs pocket knife: use and versatility

Clearly, a multi tool performs many functions, including cutting things, while a pocket knife really only performs one job. A single multi tool might equip you with scissors, tweezers, a screwdriver, a magnifying glass and 10 other functions, helping you cut down significantly on how much gear you carry, while a camping knife provides you with a single blade. 

That said, it’s fairly well agreed upon that while a multi tool can perform a lot of jobs adequately, it doesn’t perform any of them really well and it's definitely not that helpful for tasks like cutting through wood or rope or gutting fish. A good camping knife will be useful for those types of chores since it will generally have a much better quality blade than a multi tool.

One argument that could be made for having both here is that some multi tools come with a serrated blade, which can be handy for certain tasks but usually isn’t the only type of blade you want. Camping knives at best offer a half serrated blade, but the most fail safe plan is to carry a non-serrated pocket knife and a multi tool with a serrated blade to cover all bases.

Camping knife on a tree stump

Camping knives at best offer a half serrated blade, so the most fail safe plan is to carry a non-serrated pocket knife and a multi tool with a serrated blade to cover all bases (Image credit: TRM)

Multi tool vs pocket knife: ease of use

Whether you’re releasing the blade or slicing and dicing, a pocket knife is likely to be much more easy to use than a multi tool. You can usually release a spring blade single-handedly and ergonomic handles make the knives easy to hold while you’re using them, especially for longer periods and more arduous tasks. 

Multi tools usually take two hands and a bit more effort to extract whichever tool you’re looking for, and since the handle is the tool itself, they’re a bit more burdensome to operate. No matter which you’re choosing, make sure you get one with a locking blade for ease of use and safety.

Camping gear, including multitool, on a wooden floor

Whether you’re releasing the blade or slicing and dicing, a pocket knife is likely to be much more easy to use than a multi tool (Image credit: Getty)

Multi tool vs pocket knife: durability

Any time you have a piece of tech or kit that does a lot of things, there’s more that can go wrong with it, and as such it’s often true that your pocket knife will last longer than a multi tool, even when the latter is of great quality. Now, treat both items well and they can last for years, but it’s totally reasonable to expect a knife to last a lifetime (though regular sharpening is needed, of course), while you might need to replace your multi tool at some point in the future, and the blade is not as easy to sharpen.

Camping knife with apple and sandwich on grass

It's totally reasonable to expect a camping knife to last a lifetime (Image credit: Getty)

Multi tool vs pocket knife: price

Though both devices come in budget-friendly, mid-range and high-end options, on the whole multi tools are cheaper than the pocket knives we’ve tested, despite performing more functions. Of course, pricier multi tools and knives should be of better quality and last longer, cutting down on the need to replace them imminently, but in the short term, if you’re camping on a budget you can save more with a multi tool.

Multi tool vs pocket knife
Multi tool Pocket knife
Size and weightLightweight versions are available, but often 2-3 times heavier than a pocket knife and slightly longerGood quality camping knives usually weigh only 3-4 ounces
Use and versatilityMultiple uses and functions such as knife, scissors, magnifying glass, tweezers and screwdriverOne function
Ease of useUsually needs two hands to open and can be more cumbersome to use, especially for cutting, since the tool itself is the handleQuick release blades can be operated single-handedly and ergonomic handles make these easier to use for longer periods
DurabilityThere's more than can break on a multi tool, while the blade may be more difficult to keep sharpShould last a long time and easier to sharpen
PriceThe multi tools we've tested range from $5 to $170The camping knives we've tested range from $41 to $245

Multi tool vs pocket knife: the verdict

Clearly, a multi tool and a pocket knife might have some overlap, but they perform very different purposes. While a multi tool might, in many ways, serve as a replacement for a knife, a knife can’t really be a good replacement for a multi tool. It seems as though a multi tool is a great piece of kit for any type of camping – even if you don’t plan on quartering an elk, you might want to open a bottle of wine or replace the batteries in your camping lantern and chances are, a multi tool will help.

If you’re not planning on performing a whole lot of survivalist-type activities and instead are going out on a leisurely car camping trip, you might not need a camping knife at all. However, even if you’re just planning on doing a bit of vegetable chopping for dinner, you’ll be happier with a camping knife than you will a multi tool and there’s a good argument for arming yourself with both if you’re serious about camping.

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.