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If you enjoy riding deep into the trees, where only the song of tires and passing animals reverberate, you know that it’s essential to pack a solid emergency kit. Mine typically includes a space blanket, extra calories, a knife, pliers, a lighter, some tools, a weather-appropriate jacket, tape, zip ties, a first-aid kit, and occasionally some spare bike parts if the adventure calls for it. That’s a lot to lug around, and keeping it all organized can prove quite a hassle.

Signal Multi-Tool

Enter the Leatherman Signal. The folding multitool includes several of the items I would typically bring along on a deep forest dive and collects them in a tidy package. The most notable, and possibly most robust element of the Signal is its needle nose pliers. From removing slivers to bending broken bike parts, pliers are a super useful tool to have around. Every time I have forgotten to pack pliers on an epic jaunt, I ended up needing them. With this tool, they are hard to forget, since they are attached to a knife. A sharp blade is the one tool I never forget.

A replaceable wire cutter squeezes at the base of the pliers. I can confirm that the wire cutter will snip a shift cable, though far less elegantly than a proper cable cutter. If you need to cut a shift cable in the forest, make sure it is threaded and anchored into the derailleur first so you don’t have to fight the frayed end through anything.

The sharpener and whistle/fire starter are both replaceable components.

Following the pinchy parts, the tool’s locking knife blade and saw are essential tools in the backcountry. Both blades lock firmly into place and the broad handle provides ample leverage for any job. To accompany the blades there is a diamond sharpener to keep the blade angle clean, and a ferrocerium rod in the handle of the emergency whistle for sparking fires. The fire starter is clearly designed for emergency use only, as it is nearly impossible to keep from ruining the plastic safety whistle while scratching out sparks. Fortunately, the whistle and fire starter are replaceable parts. I will continue packing a full “cigarette lighter’ with me, happy to know I have a backup.

  • Price: $119.95 (available at REI)
  • Weight: 214g
  • Tools: needle nose pliers, replaceable wire cutter, wire stripper, combo serrated/straight knife, saw, hammer, awl with thread loop, Phillips #1-2 & 3/16″ screwdrivers, hex bit driver, can opener, bottle opener
  • Other features: safety whistle, ferrocerium rod (fire starter), diamond sharpener
  • Available in 8 colors (aqua shown)
  • 25 year warranty
  • Made in Portland, Oregon
A hex hole in the handle can turn any bit you choose to insert.

At the base of the handle, near the belt-hook, there is a knurled surface for hammering. Here, Leatherman essentially looked at how we often misuse tools by banging on things and made a useable surface for exactly that. In addition to the belt hook, there is a removable pocket clip and a nylon pouch to keep the tool handy on your person or in your bag. The belt hook cleverly doubles as a bottle opener.

The Phillips bit can be flipped to reveal a flathead.

While you will surely find jobs for the Signal’s locking awl, screwdriver, and can opener, the final most important element of the tool is its bit driver. The simple hexagonal hole in the flank of the tool’s hammer head can hold any bits you pick up from the hardware store. You could conceivably store every hex, Torx, and driver bit someplace in your bag, and turn all of them with this one tool, nearly eliminating the need for another multi-tool. You would still need a spoke wrench and chain breaker, but your bike-specific multitool could be significantly downsized.

Free T4 Multi-Tool

Fumbley fingers be damned, the tiny tweezers are replaceable.

For shorter outings, when you want a knife to accompany your bike-specific multitool, Leatherman’s Free T4 Multi-Tool is a lightweight option with some unique features. The most notable characteristic is that each one of the blades and tools locks into place, and can be released with one hand. Even the scissors lock firmly into a rigid position so you can use the whole handle to manipulate the tool. This feature shows its merit any time you need to add leverage force to the tool, and the large handle fits well in cold and gloved hands.

  • Price: $59.99 (available at Amazon.com)
  • Weight: 122g
  • Tools: knife, scissors, pry tool, four different screwdrivers, awl, bottle opener, file, tweezers
  • Removable pocket clip
  • 25 year warranty
  • Made in Portland, Oregon

While the most useful component of the Free T4 Multi-Tool is its 2.2″ (5.6cm) cutting blade, folks will likely find uses for all of its bits while camping or bikepacking. The file is sturdy enough to shave metal and wood alike, and the awl might be just the ticket to mending a gaping sidewall tear or ripped pair of shorts. The razor-sharp scissors are an invaluable addition to any first aid kit, and their sturdy build should keep them clipping along for quite some time.

Lock releases on either side allow the tool to be used with a single hand.

Thanks to Leatherman for sending these tools for review.

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