I’ve always had kind of a love/hate relationship with Leatherman tools. They’re awesome to keep in the glovebox of your truck, but frankly just kind of a pain to haul into the woods. While quite high in quality, these multi-tools can be quite bulky, heavy, and ill suited to ‘woods’ tasks. An obvious exception is if you take any type of mechanical or motorized equipment with you when out and about. Since I don’t take any such gear normally, Leatherman tools have always stayed out of my kit in general, ‘EDC’ or otherwise. The Leatherman Expanse e33L has really changed my mind on that issue!
The Expanse is a compact, deceptively simple liner-lock knife loaded with cool features, and weighs in at a scant 3 ounces. The super sharp 2.6” blade is made from 154CM stainless steel, coupled to an elegantly contoured hybrid handle of stainless steel and glass filled nylon. At the right side of the handle is a belt/pocket clip secured by a full three hex screws, which calms my fears of it coming lose. The blade can be opened in one of two ways. First, there is a simple thumb stud attached that helps with one-handed opening. Seconding, the Expanse employs a neat gadget at the top of the spine (when the blade is closed) called the “Blade Launcher”. By quickly dragging this exposed notch backwards down the spine, the blade will fling open. There is no automatic or spring assist, it’s purely manual. To close the blade, simply press the liner lock to the left and rotate the blade back inward.
The coolest and most ‘defining’ feature, however, is the attached carabiner clip. Hidden at first glance, this clip folds out of the bottom-rear of the handle and extends in line with the spine, where it locks into place. It will remain securely in this position until the carabiner is pushed ‘inward,’ towards the handle, and then folded back towards the spine. Now, some might wonder what value this carabiner-style clip has when it already has a belt/pocket clip. Plenty! First and most important, the belt clip isn’t totally secure. It’s pretty darn secure, but there’s always a chance that a screw could come loose, or that you’ll miss the pocket when trying to ‘holster’ it. The carabiner clip, on the other hand, can be securely latched onto anything you like, and in any position, without fear of loss. A belt loop makes a handy target for this, as does a backpack strap. Put another way, the new name of the game is ‘speed of access,’ thanks to the carabiner clip. My favorite aspect? The carabiner doubles as a bottle opener! What a cool way to crack open a beer and impress the ladies.
The blade of the Expanse is hollow ground, with an unsharpened swedge at the spine and a secondary bevel at the edge. The joint makes for a very smooth opening with no play, and even makes use of brass rather than nylon washers. I would not be at all concerned about the longevity of this knife! ‘Out of the box,’ it came as most of us would expect from a production blade: a bit toothy and unpolished, but sharp. A few strokes on a ceramic rod solved this problem and it was poppin’ hairs. On wood, the blade performed just fine, giving some thin and curly fuzz sticks. It also carved a few trap notches without difficulty. It’s not nearly as smooth to work with in this capacity as a good scandi grind, but certainly ‘doable’. The edge does, however, really start to shine during food prep. I took out a roll of summer sausage and this blade really slid right through both the plastic wrapper and meat. An apple met the same violent fate, with cruel ease. I took the Expanse on a dayhike over the weekend, and used it as my main blade. I decided to try it out in multiple carry spots as well, to see if I picked any favorites.
I placed it first as a front belt loop, the one right above my right pocket. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it a hundred yards before I noticed that the knife was flopping around with each step as my upper thigh came up. I moved it to a side belt loop and the problem was solved. The moral here: a front belt loop is a great locale for easy access, so long as you’re engaging in activities where you can stand still (fishing comes to mind). I had on a pack with a few spare loops on the shoulder straps, so that was the next spot I tried out. It also turned out to be my favorite, as it made for a smooth ‘draw’ with no fumbling.
In many locations, a fixed blade knife is simply verboten, either by law or by way of social friction with certain types of hikers. A strong folding knife is the next best thing, and in some cases may actually be a step up in convenience. This is definitely how I view the niche of the Expanse: as an adjunct or replacement to a fixed blade knife. It’s sharp as heck, smooth to operate, and offers a few neat features not often seen other folders. At a street price in the $40 range and with a 25 year warranty, it would be hard to find a better value. Plus, it’s classy enough for everyday carry.