Fix It or Fuhgeddaboudit: Multi-Tools for Backcountry Skiing

Post by blogger | October 19, 2011      

How prepared should you be for backcountry gear failure? Let’s say that out of 100 ski tours, on only one of them will you ever need that kit-that-fixes-anything. Without the toolbox, you’ll have to hike out, arriving tired, hungry, and dehydrated back at the trailhead in the dark (provided you’re prepared with certain of the variously defined Ten Essentials, such as a light source and a bit of extra food). Not much fun. But then again, is avoiding that misery worth lugging all that repair gear for the other 99 trips on which the gear isn’t needed?

Your answer depends on the trip. If your plan is for a long multi-day traverse, then being stranded with broken gear halfway through isn’t a risk worth taking. Or a long approach to set up a basecamp for subsequent daytrips is going to be a big disappointment with broken gear, plus the repair kit can stay at basecamp anyway. And even for a daytrip, if the tour route requires a long skin back up through unconsolidated snow, then postholing goes beyond mere misery and into the danger zone. By contrast, even for an ambitious ski mountaineering trip in the spring or summer, being unable to ski and hence forced to downclimb just puts you in the same miserable category as all the many non-skiing climbers on the route.

Many other possibilities are imaginable as are many potential gear repair kits. The following pictures and descriptions are various items I’ve accumulated over the years, although most of them never leave home these days, and few of the items taken out skiing have ever been used for anything. The idea here is to simply stimulate thought and discussion about this all important subject.

First, some multi-tools, as shown below.

Multi tools selection

Multi tools selection

This is of course a huge market, with a seemingly endless array of options. In the picture, at the bottom left, is a Buck Model 350 Minibuck Tool. Weighing in at only a mere ounce, the 350 is so small that I can keep it a little wallet-type pouch with many other items in my back pocket. Long-since discontinued, it seems to regularly show up used on eBay.

At the top left is a two-ounce SOG CrossGrip which unfortunately is also long-since discontinued, yet is notable for the impressive leverage of the pliers on such a small and light tool. In the middle is a two-ounce Leatherman Micra although the similar PS4 (not shown) would probably be more useful with both scissors and pliers. To the right is a Leatherman Skeletool weighing in at five-and-a-half ounces as pictured with a whopping dozen different drive bits. The knife and pliers have a very solid feel, and all aspects of the entire tool feel very well designed and produced. The only catch is that the weight savings derive in part from a non-standard bit holder, so you have to spring for the extra bit kit (which yes, includes a pozi #3). Brooks-Range has attempted to produce a very similar full-service yet lightweight tool that works with standard bits, as Lou previously reviewed (but has been discontinued due to problems with manufacturing quality control).

What if your main concern is bit driving? I’ve found some interesting options for lightweight backcountry drivers.

Assortment of bit drivers

Assortment of bit drivers

On the left, hailing from the unlikely ski gear source of Texas, is “Doc Allen’s” Versa Tool, which includes 22 standard bits (including pozi #3), a standard bit extender, and a 2.4-ounce driver that provides outstanding leverage and grip in several configurations. To the right of that is the one-ounce ratchet part of the Topeak Ratchet Rocket. Leaving out the bike-specific parts (not shown), you get a bare-bones yet fairly solid-feeling driver, with ratcheting action and great leverage when using the black part at the bottom, or extended reach when using the part at the top. To the right is a similar tool from a hardware store (although no extended reach position), and to the far right is a Topeak ToolBar which would be really nice if the foreshortened bits were available in a ski-specific version. If you’re really focused on bit driving, then you can go all out for that ratcheting driver with the very nice ergonomic grip that’s been around for a couple decades or so, most recently from BD, Dakine, and now also Brooks-Range. (Not pictured here since I consider it more of a workbench item.)

Even more tools? Of course!

Assortment of, umm, assorted items!

Assortment of, umm, assorted items!

To the far left are hex-driven 5/32″ drill bits, weighing in at less than half an ounce each. The silver-colored bit is widely available at Home Depot, but has a masonry tip that might be hard to get started in a ski. The gold-colored is from Harbor Freight, and available only in a large kit, although like everything else there is still really cheap. (I doubt you’d want to use their bits for extended use, but I’m confident that it would hold up to manual driving.) Then a spare tip loop (in case some fancy proprietary skin tip attachment fails), a couple large heavy-duty sewing needles with Glide dental floss, some very fine wire to clean clogged stove parts, a spare BD pole basket with various screw rivets attached, and at top an assortment of bits. Note in particular the extended #3 Pozidrive bit for accessing difficult-to-access screw heads. I’ve found Wiha Tools to be an excellent source for these extended bits, in a variety of sizes.

At far right is a miniature pair of visegrip-style pliers. At over three ounces, kind of overkill by themselves. But combined with a Stanley blade (as shown), and all those bits, that could be a capable all-in-one tool.

Anything else? Of course — how about a few things to attach various things to other things.

Random things to connect other random things

Random things to connect other random things

This is another category that could go on forever, but at top are some zip/cable ties, at bottom a Voile strap (be sure to spring for the metal tip, as it’s probably more durable but most certainly is excellent for cleaning out the tech fittings in your boots), to the right some lightweight cord, and to the left some epoxy, urethane, and glue.

Okay, that’s enough for now — out to recreate in the backcountry, taking almost none of all this! Want to shout out to your favorite repair items? Let’s hear it…

(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


47 Responses to “Fix It or Fuhgeddaboudit: Multi-Tools for Backcountry Skiing”

  1. Anton October 19th, 2011 10:24 am

    Duct Tape!!!!!

  2. Maciej October 19th, 2011 10:56 am

    It should be in your first aid kit, but sports tape makes functional skins in a pinch (making it a repair item as well).

    Not like I’ve ever forgotten my skins and had to use sports tape….

  3. Jonathan October 19th, 2011 11:38 am

    Well, yes, duct tape of course, wrapped around a old-school film canister with the bottom removed so that a pack strap can be inserted through it: easy access, no chance of forgetting, and doesn’t take up oh-so-precious space within the pack.
    Which leads me to the Three Essentials of duct tape, cell phone, and Red Bull:
    1. Duct tape to fix anything that breaks.
    2. Cell phone to call for a helicopter rescue if whatever broke can’t be fixed with duct tape.
    3. Red Bull to drink while waiting for the helicopter rescue.

  4. Jim October 19th, 2011 11:43 am

    Bailing wire is very handy for repairing many things.

  5. Matt October 19th, 2011 11:43 am

    Nice, Jonathon.

    But where can I get one of those Batman belts to pull me up the hill after I rescue the girl?

  6. Matt Kinney October 19th, 2011 11:59 am

    Cracked my heel latch piece on my right O1 binding while skinning yesterday. Big bummer when I looked at the damage that seemed unfixable. I needed my handy tool to fix it fast as it was costing me October ski time. Worked a small machine screw out and back in for the eventual jerry-rig and continued skiing.

    I used to carry heavier multi-tools like those above, but this seems to work with most repairs I would need, which typically has to do with the bindings.

    Of course when I need it, it always seems to be at the bottom of the pack. 🙂

  7. Jonathan Shefftz October 19th, 2011 12:48 pm

    Matt, that looks like a Swiss Tech Micro-Tech. I keep one on my key chain when I [rarely these days] ride the lifts. Very clever and useful design, for any context.
    I also have a Utili-Key Multi-Tool from Swiss Tech on my every-day key chain. Takes up less space than some car keys, and once again a very clever & useful design. (Just remember to remove it before a flight else TSA might confiscate it!)
    Not sure on the Batman belt, but the Dynafit DyNA rando race suit does look somewhat Batman-esque (plus it will make you so fast skinning that you won’t need the cable assist).

  8. Colin October 19th, 2011 1:35 pm

    Had my Skeletool since right after they first came out (and I coincidentally lost my Wave on a marathon trail run/peak bag in Tuolumne). Love it.

    Hey Lou, when I try to click on your search bar I don’t get the text cursor, it’s still a hyperlink hand icon, and it takes me to Polartec’s NeoShell page. Just an FYI.

  9. Mdibah October 19th, 2011 3:05 pm

    Simplest binding repair kit available: an oversized hose clamp. No need to carry different sizes and pieces for different bindings–it’s even compatible with tele bindings. Just lash the entire boot to the ski.

  10. Jonathan Shefftz October 19th, 2011 3:10 pm

    Hose clamps are definitely a super-useful item for a large party and/or basecamp. But their weight adds up pretty quickly for a small kit.
    For smaller-scale repairs, I’m hoping that several essentially weightless cable ties can perform a similar role.
    (Although for lashing an entire telemark boot to the ski, what if the heel is lashed down in the process and then the telemarker realizes the superior control of fixed-heel skiing?)

  11. Robie October 19th, 2011 8:02 pm

    More often than not I’m leading club ski tours so my repair kit can be extensive. Add to that my life’s work has been repairing mechanical /electrical items. So one can imagine how much weight might be involved .
    I liked the idea of one big hose clamp. currently I carry several small ones. So now I’ll have to add .
    I’m not a big fan of multi tools .My Tools of choice are a plastic handle multidriver with appropriate bits and a small pr of vise grip brand vise grips , I’ve said it here before nothing else has the bite,grip,crimp or clamp ability of this small pliers with its compound leverage.
    add to that it’s often neglected wire cutter.

  12. See October 19th, 2011 9:28 pm

    The adhesives are very useful, but are perhaps less familiar to many people than pliers or screwdrivers.

    Any stories and/or advice on how to use these?

  13. Jonathan Shefftz October 19th, 2011 10:06 pm

    Robie, good point — leading tours is a very different situation. For example, this past weekend, when teaching a course in the field with an overnight (, I brought more repair and first-aid gear than I’d brought with me the entire season.
    See, my use of these adhesives is something like the following: 1) notice in catalog; 2) think, hmm, that looks like it could come in handy some day; 3) toss into my largest emergency kit (which hardly ever leaves the house); 4) never use them; and, 5) eventually discard them b/c of age and buy new ones.

  14. big D October 20th, 2011 7:47 am

    Robie is right. The vise grips have real wire cutters, while just about any multi tool can’t cut much. Every try to cut any metal with those things? Forget about it!

  15. Dano October 20th, 2011 7:50 am

    Zip Ties !!!

  16. See October 20th, 2011 8:41 am

    I also carry epoxy and rarely use it. The last time I used it skiing was to fix a pair of sunglasses.

    I think it might be useful in the event of a ski delamination or binding screw pull out, but I was hoping to learn more about using epoxy at low temperatures. Epoxy won’t “kick” if it’s too cold, and I expect one might have to get creative making an epoxy repair if the temps were low.

  17. Tony October 20th, 2011 9:21 am

    Can u drill holes in skis with those hex drive drill bits to use with the new K2 rescue shovel/sled? If so, any tips on how?

  18. Joe October 20th, 2011 9:33 am

    A note on hose clamps –

    I led a trip of modest skiers on light x-country gear to a cabin some time ago and one member’s rental binding snapped right off the ski. because we had a day there we tinkered with different fixes. I felt the trusty hose clamp I’d carried for years would do the trick. Especially given how little force there was on that binding v. tele or AT. Wrong. First test hose clamp snapped 50 yards from the cabin. It seemed it was just too rigid to take the force.

    Solution 2 was wrapping the binding to the ski with a voile strap. This worked way better. The strap seemed to have enough give to let the binding move a little while keeping it generally in place.

    it was a good lesson. I’ll still carry both but I have way less faith in hose clamps for heavy stress jobs.


  19. Blair Mitten October 20th, 2011 9:35 am

    For thirty years I have carried half of a hacksaw blade, about 4 inches long. It was used in Little Yoho to fashion three-pin replacements from nails, at Mt.Baker area to extricate our vehicle from behind a locked gate, fashioned replacement parts for alpine gear in the Selkirks and the Tantalus ranges, to effect access to a cable car at Squamish for an unplanned evacuation and one or two uses that I cannot recall. I hope that there is a statute of limitations…. It has proven to be worth its minimal weight and bulk.

  20. Lou October 20th, 2011 8:33 pm

    TONY! We have something about drilling “rescue” holes.

  21. Lou October 20th, 2011 8:35 pm

    Blair, that is a good suggestion. One should at least carry a good hacksaw and a spare blade in their car emergency kit. As for padlocks, a cordless grinder works better, but makes more noise. Don’t ask me how I know.

  22. Steve October 20th, 2011 9:12 pm

    I picked up a versatile screw driver combo that also accepts reciprocating saw blades. I pack the required bits, hex drill bits, wood and metal saw blades.,43411,43417&ap=1

  23. Glenn Sliva October 21st, 2011 8:10 am and zip ties and maybe these dual purpose things .

    As for tools: Leatherman skeletool for me. I would pack a Makita drill but it’s too heavy; just kidding.

    Don’t forget the scotch and left over Vicodin from your last surgery!

  24. harpo October 21st, 2011 8:58 am

    Lou, thanks for that link. More specifically, I was wondering about drilling rescues holes in the field. I am on the local SAR team in Tahoe, and if we could carry enough gear with us to drill rescue holes in the field, it would be much easier to rig a sled out of a victim’s skis, if he is a skier. Obviously, as someone suggested, we wouldn’t be able to take an electric drill with us.

  25. Lou October 21st, 2011 9:28 am

    Harpo, the sleds rigged from skis are pretty meager. Short, and difficult to secure a victim to. They’re really just for moving someone a short distance who would otherwise have to be dragged. Perhaps to a heli landing zone, or snowcave shelter. As for boring big enough holes in the field, in most skis you could just start digging with a knife tip and probably have a crude hole fairly quickly. A locking knife would of course be essential for that type of thing… if I were you I’d just grab a dumpster ski and experiment. Usually you’ll find an ABS layer that creates the tip and tail, pretty easy to bore through, I’d think.

    You do have a good point. Lots of people use skis without rescue holes, and it’s not like you can always simply swap your skis with a victim.

    In my case, it always amazes me how many skis we end up on that don’t have the holes. I don’t have the time to bore holes in every pair that passes through WildSnow HQ, which has actually concerned me… Thanks folks such as K2 and Trab for including the holes. Scold to others such as G3 and BD…

  26. Jonathan Shefftz October 21st, 2011 10:20 am

    Great to get all this super-useful this feedback, thanks everyone!

    @Robie & @BigD — I tried the wire cutters just now on the Skeletool to refresh my memory: highly capable. By contrast, the wire cutters on my old SOG Crossgrip, although they have plenty of leverage, not that great a cutting edge. And on my smallest vise grips — both genuine Vise-Grips brand and some competitor — no wire cutters at all.

    @Dano — I haven’t used zip ties for anything significant in the field, but nearly weightless and sure seem strong as well as versatile, so I always carry a bunch.

    @See — I suspect the key for epoxy in cold temps would be patience in letting it get super warm in your armpit or groin (still sealed up in the packet!) before attempt to apply it in the field. For attempting to reuse a stripped hole, I carry some very small pieces of steel wool plus pre-sliced very small segments from the Mr. Grip Screw Hole Repair Kit. Some extra binding screws are a good idea too in case they get lost in the pull-out. If I wanted to be really paranoid, I would bring some extra Dynafit heel pins and Dynafit boot heel interface, but that’s not as important as the toe, since you can still ski out (albeit poorly) with one missing heel piece.

    @Tony & Harpo — To set up skis beforehand to use with a K2 Rescue Shovel Plus, drill holes with a 15/64″ bit (and seal up with something like spar varnish just in case). This would of course void any ski warranty, although the slots I cut in my old MX:20 rando race skis have held up fine. And great to have some old discarded skis (with bindings mounted) for practice. For in-the-field rescue hole drilling, I tried a couple ways on a couple skis just now. On the first ski, I drilled a hole with a smaller hex-driven bit that I would use for binding holes, then I widened it with the knife on a Skeletool: super easy! Then I switched to another ski and used a 15/64″ hex-driven bit on the tip: much harder because of a metal layer. Then I tried again on the tail to experiment with a different driver and . . . what the?!? The metal layer at the tail was ridiculously tough. And this was just some really junko ski that had been discarded in front of someone’s house (which I’d harvested for the binding screws). I eventually grabbed my power drill, and even that took awhile. I suspect that had I moved in a bit from the tail that the metal layer wouldn’t have been as difficult. The 15/64″ hex-driven bit and some random hardware store mini ratchet driver together weigh 1.8 oz and fit perfectly in the bottom of the shovel shaft (i.e., no rattling, yet not jammed in there).

    @Lou — At the conclusion of my course this past weekend, I had the students take out their assembled Brooks-Range sled and completely improvised sled. (For some odd reason I didn’t think of drilling holes in old skis so as to test the K2 setup, and I sure wasn’t about to beat up my Trab skis like that!) We dragged both sleds up a short and bumpy hill: Both were still completely tight. Then, just after I congratulated them on their success, one guy hopped on one of the sleds and two students took him a rip-roaring descent (at typical skiing speed) over all the bumpy terrain. Once again, still completely tight. I suspect a key to their success is that they used the short pieces of accessory cord and tubular webbing that I had them buy to practice their knots before the course.

    @Blair — Those sound like some handy repairs, but given all those incidents, are you sure you aren’t bad luck to have around?!?

    @Steve – Looks like a super-useful tool with the saw blades. Might not ever bring it along on backcountry trips, but definitely looks like a great addition to the mobile tool kit back in civilization or in the car. (I always bring lots of extra items to the trailhead.) .I just ordered one from Amazon:

  27. harpo October 21st, 2011 3:04 pm

    The only tools I carry are the Letherman Micra and the mini vicegrips. The micra stays in my pants pocket and I use it to clear out my Dyna fittings as well as everything else.

    The mini vicegrip and grip anything – scerw bits, razor, hacksaw blade – so you can use it as a screw driver, knife or saw.

    I also carry a hex key that matches my machine scerws as I have installed inserts in all of my skis.

  28. Biggsie October 21st, 2011 6:33 pm

    Great post.

    Now I’m just wondering if the discontinued Brooks Range tool I got this summer (and gave to all my groomsmen as gifts — monogrammed!) is going to explode with its first use. Better bang it around a bit.

  29. Ben October 22nd, 2011 12:35 am

    For zip ties go for one of the giant 3′ ( yep three feet)ones that can be found at home depot or similar stores they are really strong and handy. Weighing in at maby half an ounce they will do things that a voile strap will not. They come a few to a pack so buy a pack and hand them out to your buddies. They can be released and reused if you carefully use a small screwdriver to release the catch.

  30. Jonathan Shefftz October 22nd, 2011 8:13 am

    I didn’t realize that zip ties are available in such large sizes — I’ll have to check that out.
    Here’s a scary warning though for those of us with little tykes:

  31. XXX_er October 23rd, 2011 8:43 pm

    You can daisy chain one or more zip-ties together to make whatever length you need if you carry all the same size, get the longest zipties you can always cut them shorter

  32. Mark W October 24th, 2011 4:11 pm

    The Brooks Range driver tool (not the multi-tool) is important for Dynafit Radical bindings because the Radical screws are now Torx 20. The Brooks Range tool has the T-20 bit. I’ve used it in Radical bindings, and it works.

  33. Mark W October 24th, 2011 4:24 pm

    A version of the SOG Cross Cut mini tool is currently available. Incredible power in the gears.

  34. Jonathan Shefftz October 24th, 2011 4:43 pm

    Good reminder on adding T-20 bits to my various kits, but fortunately T-20 is a very common bit. (Looking through my various collections, I found at least nine T-20 bits.)
    The SOG Cross Cut looks great for what it is, but I don’t see any pliers on it, unlike the old Cross Grip.

  35. JakeS October 24th, 2011 5:49 pm

    Hey Mark W

    How about a review of the Radicals.
    I’m close to pulling the trigger on some STs
    Can’t decide between the Verts or the Radicals.


  36. Mark W October 24th, 2011 9:34 pm

    Well, haven’t skied Radicals, but the heel lifters look much nicer than twisting the heelpiece on the Verticals. I have some Vertical STs and they’re great too.

  37. Lou October 25th, 2011 8:07 am

    Jake, did you see our Radical review?


  38. JakeS October 25th, 2011 11:02 pm


    Yes, I guess I”m itchin for some more on hill reports.
    Guess I’ll have to wait till the snow flies.
    Thanks Lou, good early review.


  39. Bob November 2nd, 2011 1:14 pm

    Whats people’s preferences on the Multi-Tool?
    I’m on the fence between the Brooks Range one and the Skellitool to replace my (heavy) Leatherman Supertool+bit driver.
    The Leatherman PS4 @2oz looks amazing – but is it beefy enough?

  40. Jonathan Shefftz November 28th, 2011 1:44 pm

    I don’t think the Brooks-Range multi-tool is currently available?
    From Leatherman, the Skeletool is definitely beefy: very nicely designed with tight tolerances. And although the bits are non-standard, I’ve even used their version of the #3 pozi to experiment with mounting ski bindings.
    The PS4 by contrast is certainly slimmed down, and I haven’t checked it out for any tasks yet. Realistically, any two-ounce tool is going to be for light duty. But on a daytrip outing, you’re probably not going to be in any position to undertake heavy-duty repair tasks.

  41. Jonathan Shefftz November 28th, 2011 1:51 pm

    Some interesting new (or at least, new to me) items from Topeak (yes, the cycling company, but a tool is a tool if it works for you):
    – The Ratchet Rocket I previously referenced is now available in a “Lite” version that includes only the driver (instead of also the chain tool), some bits (with only one good for ski applications, but takes standard sizes), and a nice little pouch (instead of the plastic case).
    – Shuttle Lever 1.1 has an interesting sharp and material that (unlike a typical tire lever) could be very nice to clearing compacted snow & ice.

  42. Lou November 28th, 2011 3:11 pm

    Brooks Range tool is on hold so they can get a better maker. They say it’ll be available again next winter.

  43. JakeS January 28th, 2013 4:59 pm

    Hi Lou

    Something new on the horizon to look out for.
    Looks like an excellent bit driver, just pack the bits you need.
    Good for bike or ski.
    Hope it goes to market.


  44. JakeS January 29th, 2013 6:23 am
  45. Brian April 18th, 2013 11:18 am

    JakeS – thanks for the heads up! Looks like an awesome tool!

  46. Michelle Christensen November 24th, 2015 3:52 pm

    I’ve been researching the best multitool to get and what I come up with is the Skeletool – however I cannot confirm whether or not Leatherman’s bit kit does indeed contain the Pozi #3 driver. When I look it up on the Leatherman site the Pozi #3 is NOT listed as included. But when I read discussion sites like this one folks seem to say that the Pozi 3 comes in the kit. Can anyone confirm whether Leatherman’s bit kit includes a Pozi 3? One blog I reviewed said that “Leatherman doesn’t say the kit includes the Pozi 3, but it does – they should stick to making tools and not writing up descriptions of their tools”.

  47. Lou Dawson 2 November 26th, 2015 9:45 am

    Michelle, we’ve got a couple of those here but for the life of me I can’t figure out what came OEM with them. Sorry about that. If I were you I’d just get the tool then return it if necessary, or use a 1/4 drive adapter with a standard 1/4 drive pozi bit. I feel a blog post coming on (grin). Lou

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