Multi-Tool Envy

It’s that time of year again when the Mississippi thaws and sends giant chunks of ice spinning down to New Orleans for their eventual return to fluid. It’s also that time of year when paddlers tend to venture out to retail outlets and send large chunks of change to the bottom lines of cash-hungry business owners. This year, I’ve found myself longing for an unusually 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 my "must-have" 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 at least 25 different models. A few of them were anodized in bright colors. Some were giant, some small, and all seemed to come with a leather sheath. I stood there drooling over the choices and thought of all the great repairs I could make on my future expeditions. Money was burning a proverbial hole in my pocket—a hole I could fix with a multi-tool, if I had one. At that point I suffered from "multi-Tool envy"—a serious 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, extremely useless knife, a weak tweezers, a toothpick, and one of the best tiny scissors I’ve ever used. The scissors warrant the constant attachment to my trout fishing fanny pack. But this knife just doesn’t 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 I’ve been on and repairs I could have made with a multi-tool. The first one that came to mind happened on a local lake.

We were paddling across the glassy surface of the lake at the end of the day, just before the sunset. It was after a very 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 to fix the problem, and because no one had a multi-tool on hand, 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.

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. It 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…?”

I remembered. I was in the Boundary Waters. It was Fall and the leaves were starting to turn everything 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. The yoke stayed in my hands while 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, then filed and cut and repaired the yoke as good as new.

“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, we’ve met before.”

This wasn’t 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. 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 tons of other gear 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, but unfortunately we 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, not an amphibian one. We don’t 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 shook the boat from bow to stern.

Steve said, “What was that?”

I shrugged, “Let’s worry about that later.”

Later, I flipped the boat, to find a pair of three-foot-long rips in the fiberglass that went all the way down into the wood. We dried the wood out over night, slapped duct tape over the wounds in the morning, and went on down the river.

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

“Ummm,” it 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 logger’s axe, it would have seemed like the most natural thing in the world. 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. They’ll work again in the future, and besides, I have a couple of good stories to tell now around the campfire. I’m sure next year I’ll get that multi-tool envy again. I just hope I’m still strong enough to resist it.

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© 2006, Wesley Kisting


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