Friday, 23 September 2016

SOG Powerlock Traveler Review

Key Info
- Full-size UK Legal multi tool. 
- TSA compliant. 
- 420 stainless construction. 
- Replaceable/customisable tools. 
- Compound leverage. 
- 1/4" socket drive, can be adapted to 1/4" bit driver. 

With such restrictive laws surrounding the carry of knives in the UK, for years I've been looking for a decent full-size plier-based multi tool that's legal to carry here at all times. I've tried a few SAKs, but always found the lack of full-size pliers to limit their utility somewhat. More recently, I've been carrying the Leatherman Kick, but I've found it a bit lacking in variety of tools, being mainly comprised of screwdrivers. However, these past few months I've been carrying the SOG Powerlock Traveler. It is a bladeless multitool designed for travel and is TSA compliant, meaning that it is also UK legal - very unusual for a full-size multi tool. I have carried it in conjunction with a small Swiss Army Knife to provide the cutting tools that the SOG lacks, and I have to say that on the whole, I'm impressed. 

The SOG Powerlock

There are three main players when it comes to pliers-based multi tools. Most people are likely to have heard of the first two - Leatherman and Victorinox, but the third, SOG, seems to be lesser known (it is worth noting that Gerber used to be another contender but at least in my experience, their quality is poor these days, and not on a level with the other three brands). Until I bought the Powerlock I hadn't tried SOG, and I was a little apprehensive, having read fairly mixed reviews, but decided to take the plunge anyway. I'm pleased that I did as I really like this multi tool. 

Firstly, however, I must mention some disadvantages of the SOG when compared to both the Victorinox Swisstool and Leatherman multitools. The SOG's fit and finish is considerably less refined (especially when compared to the Swisstool), and the Powerlock feels much more primitive, with simple locks that allow the tools to 'clump' together when opened. In addition, some of the tools are arguably not as good as those found on the other brands  - the scissors aren't up to much (they won't cut anything other than paper!) and the file is pretty smooth and only really of use as a nail file. 

Having said all this however, the SOG has some distinct advantages over the other brands. Firstly, the tools are all replaceable or swappable for a different tool altogether. This is a massive advantage, as using only a pair of hex keys, it allows you to customise your multi tool (swapping the ineffective scissors for the wire stripper component for example) or replace anything that you break yourself, without having to worry about sending the tool in. In addition, I have noticed that the quality of Leatherman multi tools seems to be decreasing in my experience, and almost all the implements are created using the Metal Injection Moulding process these days, whereas on the SOG, most of the tools (with the notable exception of the plier head) appear to have been machined into shape, resulting in a more precise and likely stronger tool. Further advantages of the SOG include their trademark Compound Leverage plier head, which makes gripping things and cutting tough materials like fencing wire, thin stranded steel cable and small nails amazingly easy, as well as the 1/4" socket drive tool, which can be converted to a standard 1/4" bit holder using a standard adapter

Design and Features
The Powerlock Traveler has a very utilitarian design. It is not the prettiest multitool, nor is it the easiest to use, but it gets the job done without feeling like it's about to snap! It is very simply constructed, being made from bent 420 stainless steel and a few hex bolts and rivets, but apart from some slight ease-of-use related annoyances this presents (such as the clumping together of tools when they are opened) this  is an advantage, meaning there is little to go wrong. 

One controversial feature of the Powerlock is the handle covers. These are little flaps that cover the tools when the pliers are open, in order to provide a more comfortable grip. Personally I like these and and don't find them a nuisance, but if you find they get in the way, they can be easily popped off. 

Aside from the usual tools (screwdrivers, bottle opener, can opener etc.) The Powerlock has a couple of less common ones. These include the aforementioned 1/4" socket drive, which can be adapted easily to a 1/4" bit driver, and the Robertson drive (the little square-ended screwdriver). I find the 1/4" drive very useful, especially when adapted to become a 1/4" bit driver, and prefer it to Leatherman's bit driver, as not only does it have the option to accept sockets, but it with the adapter it will accept standard 1/4" bits, unlike Leatherman's which only accepts their proprietary flat bits. The Robertson driver, however, I haven't found particularly useful here in the UK. Apparently they're a common type of screw head in Canada, but you never see them over here, so the only use I've found for that tool so far is as a key for those screw-type window locks found in some houses, which it fits reasonably well! I may well swap this tool out at some stage. 

Unusually for a UK legal multi tool, all the tools on the Powerlock lock open (some, for example the Phillips screwdriver lock at 90 degrees too), which is obviously a great safety advantage over a non-locking tool such as a Swiss Army Knife, even though the Powerlock has no sharp tools (except the scissors of course). 

One other thing worth noting is that there are less tools on the Powerlock Traveler compared to the standard Powerlock. This means that a nylon spacer has been used in place of the missing tools. This could potentially be removed and swapped for extra tools, though it would need careful consideration as only certain tools will fit in certain slots (see SOG's site for more info). 

Overall, I really like the SOG Powerlock Traveler. It hasn't quite got the same fit and finish as some other multi tools out there, but it's UK legal and the replaceable tools and compound leverage are massive advantages in my mind. If you're after a full-size multi tool that can be carried pretty much anywhere, whether it be for travel, work or if you live in a country with restrictive knife laws such as the UK, I think the SOG Powerlock Traveler is a great option. You can buy the Powerlock Traveler at Amazon