Tuesday, April 24, 2012

REVIEW: Leatherman Charge AL- Multi-Tool for Wilderness Survival?


Leatherman says that this is THE tool to have if you're stranded on a remote island. Personal preferences will vary, but from my experience and having seen Les Stroud use a similar Leatherman Wave on his Survivorman shows, I'd say they probably aren't too far off the mark.

Les Stroud using a Leatherman during his "Lost at Sea" episode


From a survival standpoint, it has almost everything you need in one tool. A one-hand opening, 2.9" blade made of Crucible's excellent 154CM stainless. A wood saw that rivals the efficiency of Victorinox's vaunted Swiss Army knife saws. A two-sided file-- one side for shaping wood, and the other side a diamond file for shaping, repairing and sharpening metal, glass or ceramics. Small, yet stout scissors. A serrated blade in 420HC stainless for cutting rope and plastics, and a can opener that can double as a crude awl if needed.  

The best thing is that all the tools lock when unfolded, so no worries about having them fold over on your fingers the way non-locking blades can. The flat head and phillips screwdrivers are also nice when you need to adjust/repair hand tools or firearms.

Features:
  • Quick-release Lanyard Ring
  • Removable Pocket Clip
  • 100% Stainless Steel
  • 6061-T6 Hard-anodized Aluminum Handle Scales
  • All Locking Blades and Tools
  • Leather or Nylon Sheath
  • 25-year Warranty
  • BIT KIT: Phillips #1-2 and Screwdriver 3/16", Screwdriver 1/8" and Torx #15, Hex 5/32" and 9/64", Hex 1/8" and 7/64", Hex 3/32" and 5/64", Hex 1/16" and .050", Square Drive #2 and #3, Phillips Eyeglass Screwdriver and Flat Tip
Measurements:
  • 2.9 in | 7.37 cm (blade length)
  • 4 in | 10 cm (closed)
  • 8.3 oz | 235 g
 Features

The Charge came with a Leather\Cordura sheath which I found both attractive and functional. It has a handy elastic LED flashlight holder in the side that can also hold a small keyring magnesium firestarter. The sheath also allows for the Charge to be carried in the opened position, perfect for when you need to grab the pliers quickly while fishing.

(click to enlarge)

The Charge also comes with a bit set which includes an assortment of Hex, Torx, Square and Flathead bits (see the specs above for more info). The sheath also has a convenient mini-pocket for the bit set to fit into as well. It was a bit difficult to get it in and out of the pocket at first but it loosened up fairly quickly.

(click to enlarge)

Leatherman includes both a detachable pocket clip and lanyard ring for the Charge as well:



I used this same factory pocket clip on a Leatherman Wave for years and it worked really well. I never had a problem with it coming loose and it always held the tool securely inside my pocket.

It does seem that the clip on the Charge makes it ride slightly higher in the pocket than the Wave, so this is a minor negative. I want to emphasize "minor" though, since it still functioned great on the Charge and compares favorably to the pocket clips on quality folders like Spyderos and Benchmades.

As is standard on most full size Leathermans, the Charge has a Standard\Metric Ruler on the handle:

(click to enlarge)

Field Testing 

To test the Charge, I left my trusty Mora knife at home and took the Leatherman instead during a weekend backpacking trip in late March. The trip took us to one of my favorite bushcrafting spots-- to the top of a beautiful Lodgepole Pine covered 10,000 foot mountain located out in the Roosevelt National Forest.

Even in March, it's still a cold, rugged and snowy place, so this makes it a great testing ground for gear. I was carrying an axe for chopping and splitting, so I didn't need a stout knife for those tasks, and I thought the Charge's diamond file would come in handy for keeping the axe sharp.

The view while backpacking up the mountain:
(click to enlarge)

View of Longs Peak from our encampment near the top:
(click to enlarge)

Main Blade

The photo below shows me carving a feather stick with the main blade. The grind is a modified full flat grind and actually carves quite well. Leatherman did a really good job on the blade's heat treatment, as it held an edge yet was still easy to sharpen in the field. In fact, edge retention was noticeably better than any of the 420HC blades on other Leatherman's I've used in the past. Kudos to Leatherman for choosing 154CM to use on the Charge.

Another thing I noted when carving was the comfort of the handle. The Charge's handles are housed in a hard-anodized, T-6 aluminum alloy and have a softer, more comfortable feel when compared to the Leatherman Wave's angular, sharper, all stainless handle. This makes the Charge a little more comfortable for wilderness use.

In fact, the main reason I didn't like the Wave for pure woods use was because it wasn't very comfortable for me during long carving sessions. In this respect, I found the Charge much more friendly to my hand during extended use in the backcountry.

(click to enlarge)

File

Using the diamond file to sharpen my Hudson Bay axe:
(click to enlarge)

Wood Saw

The wood saws on Leathermans are quite efficient. On average, they seem to perform as well as the saws on my Victorinox Swiss Army knives, which I consider the benchmark for this category. 

The photo below shows me cutting a shelter-sized pole with the saw. This saw helps to balance out the advantage a larger fixed blade usually has in wood processing. In a pinch, this saw can also be used to make wooden wedges and a baton which can then split small logs if needed (an article for another day!).

(click to enlarge)

Pliers

Even the needlenose pliers are handier than you would think in a wilderness situation. They can be used, for instance, to pick up a hot pot off of the fire, help adjust or loosen frozen snowshoe straps, remove stubborn fish hooks, and help undo difficult knots. It's really up to your imagination.

 Using the pliers to undo a stubborn leather snow shoe strap:

Conclusion

I really like the way the Charge feels in the hand compared to my Leatherman Wave. If you're carrying a cutting tool in the wilderness, it needs to be comfortable or you could end up with a sore hand and blisters. I think the Charge is a better choice than the Wave in this respect. The Wave is still a great outdoors tool, but I think the Charge is more well rounded if you're going to use your multi-tool in the wilderness most of the time.

I also found that the tools on the Charge open more easily than the tools on the Blast or the Waves I've owned. I'm not sure if this is because of increased quality control since it's a more expensive model, but either way, it's a definite improvement.

Being a multi-tool, it won't chop and baton wood like a large fixed blade, but it has many features a fixed blade doesn't. The saw definitely makes up for some of the chopping ability it looses. Throw in the pliers, scissors, diamond file, screwdrivers and can opener and you have a tool that's great for both urban and wilderness survival. 

Criticisms? Yes - give us a real awl on this thing Leatherman! Replace the serrated blade with an awl and this would truly be an awesome survival tool. The main blade can easily handle all the cutting tasks, and I think the advantages of having a real awl in a wilderness scenario outweigh the advantages of having the secondary serrated blade. 

The other issue is the pocket clip rides higher in the pocket than on the Wave. It's not a dramatic difference, but it would be better if it fit the same as the Wave. Minor criticisms of course, but I thought I'd point these out.

Aside from the issues mentioned, I really like the Charge, and plan to start carrying it in place of my Leatherman Wave from now on. 

4.5 out of 5 Stars (Highly recommended)




About the author

Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

30 comments:

  1. Nice review. I've been thinking about upgrading my 20 year old supertool and this is on my list of the ones I was looking at. I love the bit set for gun repair in the field and I do wish it had a true awl as you noted. But the upgraded steel on the plain blade is awesome. I think they're the first to do that or atleast that I know of. Well thanks again guys.

    Also that's a beautiful place you have to test gear in. The background always looks amazing.

    -OutdoorEnvy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Outdoor. Yes, we are very lucky to have the scenery we have here. Great for bushcrafting!

      Cheers, J

      Delete
  2. A really great tool. In my opinion the only one to surpass it is the Leatherman Surge by being bigger and beefier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. Yeah, the Surge is a bit heavy but also a great tool as well.

      Delete
  3. A+ article ! As a wilderness instructor This is a very fine article for those whom like adventure. The descriptions for this fine tool was very laid out and every novice should render some thought to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, really appreciate that. If you haven't done so yet, please sign up on our email list as we'll be posting lots of articles and reviews like this in the near future.

      Delete
  4. I have had this knife for some time and agree that is is awsome. For daily use I find it.just a.bit on the heavy side.
    My daily knife prefernce is the leatheman skelitool. You give up some features but it is a very nice stripped down functional tool.Hands down my favorite knife.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sean,

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, the Waves and Charges tend be a tad heavy for EDC use. A friend of ours carries a Skeletool with him on his job everyday and loves it.

      Delete
  5. I have had this knife for some time and agree that is is awsome. For daily use I find it.just a.bit on the heavy side.
    My daily knife prefernce is the leatheman skelitool. You give up some features but it is a very nice stripped down functional tool.Hands down my favorite knife.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have had this tool for several years and it has become part of my "checklist" each time I walk out the door.

    Phone, Wallet, Leatherman, glasses....:)

    ReplyDelete
  7. The greater the skill level the smaller the knife you need when in the woods. I carried a Victorinox for years on my Backpacking trips but opted for Leatherman multitools when they came out because they are so much sturdier. I have carried a Wave for quite a while now but have recently purchased a Surge. The longer handle length on the Surge appeals to me. After reading your review a Charge may very well be in my future as I like the idea of the upgraded blade steel.

    Best Regards,

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment Jason. I've been using my Charge around our base camp recently and it's been really handy.

      Cheers,

      Jason

      Delete
  8. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I daily carry the Wave with the 2 bit holders and 22 bits, Mag Lite Solitaire with LED conversion and a Fisher Space Pen. Reading this article has made me rethink about a small magnesium fire starter to add to the pouch. Thank-you for your time and effort. Sicerely, James

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. James- thanks for the comment and glad the review helped.

      Cheers

      Delete
  10. Thanks Outdoor. Yes, we are very lucky to have the scenery we have here. Great for bushcrafting!

    Cheers, J

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the comment. Yeah, the Waves and Charges tend be a tad heavy for EDC use. A friend of ours carries a Skeletool with him on his job everyday and loves it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for the comment Jason. I've been using my Charge around our base camp recently and it's been really handy.

    ReplyDelete
  13. James- thanks for the comment and glad the review helped.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great review. After 13 years as an EDC, I lost my Wave. I'm now sitting in the parking lot with my new Charge AL wondering if I should walk back in for the New Wave... not, thanks to your review. I like the two blades for the simple fact that the straight edge is for everything but food, in which I use the serrated for. As for the awl, I wish it had one. I'd say replace the micro jewelers bit for the awl. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I know you say you are going to start carrying the charge instead of the wave, but what are your honest thoughts on the Leatherman Wave itself? I have asked my wife to buy me the wave (but the military one like this - http://www.aboveandbeyond.co.uk/.leatherman-wave-military-tool_037447104497.htm) however I am debating changing. let me know your thoughts. I will only use it for general things, and a bit of Bushcraft here and there.  

    ReplyDelete
  16.  Thank you for the kind words and glad the review helped.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Mark,

    Definitely go for the Charge-- you won't be dissapointed. I've been carrying the Charge used in this review since last year, and it's only reinforced my opinion of what I said regarding the Charge vs the Wave. Plus, the 154CM blade has noticeably better edge-holding. If you get one and use it a bit, please let us know how it's working for you.

    -Jason

    ReplyDelete