Of all the adventure sports gear on the market, you can guarantee either a penknife or multitool will top a traveller's packing list every time. And considering the range of blades, saws, punches and drives now included in the top models, you can see why.
While not ideal for carving out the hull of a canoe or cutting your way through the jungles of Sarawak, a good model is as much a survival tool as it is an executive nail file.
Here's what to look for when buying and some help in deciding whether you need a penknife or multitool.
Penknife or multitool?
There's a grey area here as some penknives are pretty much the same as multitools, in that they have multiple folding blades and functions. The difference being: a pen knife can have just one blade, whereas a multitool will always have several tools - one of which is likely to be a 'blade'.
And a penknife could also be classified as a folding knife. To keep it simple: a penknife is a small folding knife - a pocketknife - commonly with more than one blade.
To choose between the two, all you need do is ask yourself what might you need it for? If there's little or no chance you'll need to fix wiring, strip cables, cut out shapes or thread needles, there's little point in carrying a multitool.
And if all you'll ever need is a sharp edge to cut, a bottle / can opener and a screwdriver then you'll be fine with a penknife. It's when the penknives have as many functions as the multitools things get confusedâ€¦
And to choose, itâ€™s all about compromise: If what you really need is a strong blade - for cutting, paring, skinning or survival, then you should make your decision based on this and shouldn't compromise just to get functions you'll never use.
Equally, if you need a pair of pliers, it has to be the multitool, as a penknife rarely packs a decent pair.
Both are compromises: The blade on a penknife won't ever be as effective as that on a sheath knife, nor will the mini-socket on the multitool replace your garage tool kit.
Decide just how much you can compromise and then look for the models that feature the best quality tools - and the tools you will actually use.
Here are a few classics, a couple of new models and a suprise personal favourite.
Makers of the Swiss Army knife, first issued in 1897 to the Swiss Army. Victorinox penknives are commonly referred to as 'Swiss Army knives'.
Much of this is due to their similarity to the classic red pocket knife which became the company's standard design. Â Yet there's many more models - and a few excellent choices.
By complete coincidence, one of the best models in their range is their 'new' Swiss Army knife (issued to the Swiss Army from 2008). Sister company Wenger also has a great, but similar range - you can tell the difference as Victorinox knives have a shield around the Swiss cross - Wengers have a square.
Makers of quality multitolls since 1983, Leatherman is a US company (established by Tim Leatherman) whose products are seen everywhere - and frequently imitated by cheap, frankly shoddy copies.
Full-size models are huge, with up to 21 tools and include driver sets. Traditional styles are long, flat, sport a graduated ruler on the back side of the handles and fold out and squeeze closed with a very distinctive action.
Previously awkward Â to close a single blade - you needed to open an additional tool first - the company has moved with the times and has several new design elements, including titanium handles on some models.
When opened , tool snap into place securely and with both handles joined you've a very sturdy work tool.
We really like the new Leatherman 'Skeletool' (pictured), but check the 'Super Tool 300' for its classic Leatherman action.
Gerber was originally a knife company - again holding the name of its founder in the same way Leatherman does - established by Joseph R. Gerber in 1939. Now as well known for its multitools and survival gear, it's the other big name in this field. My first Gerber differed from Leathermans of the time as its pliers slid out Â without having to open it.
Today's range contains several traditional designs, but also a few more interesting approaches: The 'Crucial' model is very compact and ultralight looking more like a penknife when folded but sporting most of the tools you'd need. And the 'Octane' sports a clever one-handed opening and doesn't over do it on tools.
Swisstool by Victorinox
I never really saw the point in the Swisstool. There's very little to differentiate it from a Leatherman and I'm struggling to see why they bothered - other than to get a piece of the multitool market.
Happy to hear more about them, so if I've missed the point, please let me know.
MOD Issue pocket knife
Back to the penknifes. After all those functions and fancies, it's really about time to get back to basics. I most cases when trekking you'll only need a couple of tools - and you can find these on a quality lockblade such as this British Army pocket knife.
Trekking in anywhere other than where you could get into a survival situation, you're best to cut weight, go for quality and keep it simple. In this case you get a blade that sharpens well, a can-opener, bottle opener and a screwdriver. Simple, and my surprise all-time favourite!