Innovation in the multi-tool category continues to press toward the creation of a perfect jackknife-and-pliers product. A new offering this year from SOG Knives (www.sogknives.com) has a seat belt cutter, a gear-powered pliers, and switchblade-like action to fling open an edge at the touch of a finger.
The PowerAssist is marketed as a "high-speed extreme power multi-tool." I'm not sure what that means, but the tool, which costs $115, has several neat enhancements, including the two aforementioned knives, which snap open like switchblades on springs.
The blades, one serrated and one straight-edge, need to be nudged about a quarter-inch with a thumb or finger before the spring action takes over. They then snap open and lock in place, ready for use in a blink.
Another notable touch, the pliers have an internal gear system to work when you leverage the tool's handles. Tiny cogs rolling together cam the tool to double the operator's grip strength, according to the company.
I tested the gear system pliers against a non-geared multi-tool. There is a noticeable power increase when you grip and squeeze the SOG, which crushed a finger-width cedar splinter easier than Leatherman's comparable Skeleton model.
Beyond the blades and the pliers, which have crimper and wire-cutter areas, there are screwdriver heads, bottle and can openers, a file, and a V-shape blade touted for use as a seatbelt cutter or to slit open packages.
All these implements lock open then close unseen inside the handle. The tool weighs 9.5 ounces and comes with a leather case.
At $115, I was somewhat underwhelmed. The tool is made well, but its machining feels less precise than the Leatherman Skeleton and other models I own. When squeezing the pliers, as one example, the SOG's implement cover flexed and clicked. The mechanisms on the side to unlock the blades are too small and somewhat sharp, making them uncomfortable and tedious.
The tool is large--about 5 inches long when closed, and over 7 inches long when open. It feels heavy in a pocket, especially for a tool with less than 10 primary implements. But its pliers are strong. The gear-assisted feature is cool. If you want a powerful grip, plus the basic ingredients of a jackknife with a little switchblade sprinkled in, the PowerAssist could be your tool.
Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.