When I first saw that Leatherman was making a folding multi-tool with pruners on it, my first response was “Ho-hum, that’s just another gimmick, and an answer to an unasked question”. I really didn’t pay much attention to them until just before the 2009 SHOT show. Not long before that, I noticed the Vista model, which is geared towards hunters and outdoorsmen. I began to get a little more curious about the idea, and talked to some of my friends a bit about it. Well, much to my surprise, a number of folks that I knew and respected used pruners while hunting already, and one even mentioned that he’d rather leave his knife at home before leaving the pruners behind! With such strong recommendations in support of the pruner in my head, I swung by the Leatherman booth at SHOT to take a look at the Vista first-hand. I have to say, that upon getting my grubby paws on one, and taking a look at the tool layout on it, I started seeing many possibilities that I initially hadn’t imagined. I didn’t even make it out of the booth without requesting a review sample, and that sample arrived a couple of weeks later. Over the past month or so I’ve been working with the Vista both around the home, and out in the field, and I’ve learned some interesting things about the utility of a pruner in the bush.
The Vista: Face to Jaws
One of the first things you notice about the Vista, and Leatherman’s other pruner based multi-tools, is that they’re a fair bit bigger than even a substantial sized multi-tool like Leatherman’s own Wave. Despite this, they’re pretty light, due in great part to their hard resin handles. The Vista’s handles are a tasteful olive drab color, and have non-slip rubber grip inserts in them. It’s gardening sibling, the Hybrid, has bright yellow handles and the same rubber inserts. The tools on the Hybrid and Vista have some overlap, but the Vista is definitely geared more towards the hunter and outdoorsman. Lets take a look at the factory specs on it:
* Stainless Steel Bypass Pruning Shears
* 420HC Stainless Steel Drop-point Combo Straight/Serrated Knife
* Bottle Opener
* Soft-wire Cutters
* Awl with Thread Loop
* Phillips Screwdriver
* Flat Screwdriver
* Choke Tube Adjustment Tool
* Hard Resin Handles with Non-slip Rubber Grips
* Stainless Steel Tools
* Locking Thumb Latch
* Fold-up Design
* Nylon Camo Sheath
* 25-year Warranty
* 4.7 in | 12 cm (closed)
* 8.1 oz | 230 g
The shears are, of course, the backbone of the Vista and what the rest of the tool is based around. They look like what you’d find on a larger gardening pruner, and function in much the same way. When you open up the Vista, the pruners are locked closed and you have to disengage the locking latch in order to use them. When you do, the shears pop open and work like any other spring-loaded gardening shears. The shears need to be in the closed position in order to fold the Vista up again when you’re done using it. In addition to the obvious use of trimming branches around camp, or fields of fire around a blind or tree stand, the Vista’s shears can also be used to help process game, particularly birds, and for clipping ribs on larger game. The base of the shears has a wire cutter notch, designed for use on softer wire, and light mesh. The second most notable tool on the Vista, in my opinion, is the humungous awl. I like having an awl on a multi-tool or multi function knife. It’s handy to poke holes, prod things, and otherwise use when you might not want to risk your knife blade. The Vista’s awl is the biggest I’ve ever seen on a multi-tool or knife. Much of the reason for that is that it can be used to help make pilot holes for screw in tree steps. You need a big awl to start a hole suitable for starting those big threaded spikes and steps, and the Leatherman Vista’s should be able to manage it with ease.
Seated on either side of the awl is a large Phillips head screwdriver, and a 2 inch, hollow ground 420HC knife blade with partial serrations. The Vista’s saw is almost exactly as long as the saw on a 111mm Swiss Army Knife, and shares a similar crosscut pattern to it that is designed to keep the blade from filling with sawdust and debris. The Vista’s handle also contains a choke tube adjustment tool with a flat head screwdriver end to it. The choke tube tool handles 3 sizes of chokes and would be handy to have if your Vista is primarily a hunting companion. For when you get back to camp after a long day afield, the choke tube tool also incorporates a bottle opener into its base.
The Vista comes with a sturdy nylon sheath that can ride either vertically or horizontally on your belt. It’s camouflage in color, which I’m not generally keen on, but it’s a hunting tool, so it’s perfectly appropriate for that. It seems well made and is a nice accessory for the Vista, and makes it easy to carry in the field. I suspect you could slip a MALICE clip, or similar item, through the back of the sheath slots and attach it to a MOLLE vest, pack, or water bottle carrier if so desired.
As mentioned above, I used the pruners over the past couple of months both around the house and in the field. As a basic pruner, the Vista works as well as any other dedicated gardening pruners I’ve used before. It clipped through low hanging branches and stray bushes with ease, and was comfortable enough to use. It was also handy to be able to fold it up and stuff it in my back pocket when I was done with it. Smaller branches in the ½ to ¾ inch range were no problem at all for the Vista. It clipped through those easily. When I got closer to the inch mark, I could still clip them but I had to exert deliberate pressure on them and occasionally resorted to using two hands. Still, that range allowed me to trim the vast majority of the items I was trying to cut, without needing to go back to the garage for a bigger tool. While the Vista was convenient to use around the yard, it was in the field where it really shined. I started to see the utility of it immediately when I made camp on a recent overnight trip. As soon as I went to set my tent up, in a rather densely covered area, I saw the need to trim low hanging branches to make way for my tent. I also wanted to rid the area of eye gouging branch stubs, and to make hangers for my pack and other gear. While I could have done this work with a knife, I was amazed at how quickly the task went by just pulling out the pruners and going clip, clip, clip! It was much faster, more precise, and easier than it would have been hacking or cutting through the same material with a knife blade or saw.
It also was much more efficient than using a larger blade like a machete or axe on the springy, flexible branches that overhung my proposed campsite. Once I had the tent set up, I again put the pruner to use preparing tinder for the fire. I found that it was very handy for trimming branches and bundles of fine twigs and dry grass to use for kindling. Once again, with just a series if snips, I soon had a nice pile of conveniently sized tinder ready to go. The shears also proved themselves to be handy when it came to making Y stakes for placing a cross pole over the fire to hang pots off of. The shears clipped through the upper parts of the Y with ease. When it came to cutting down and sharpening the lower portions of the stakes the Vista had other tools available for that job.
The Vista’s good-sized saw took on the pieces of wood that were a bit much for the shears to handle. The saw worked relatively well, and the blade worked without binding or filling up with sawdust and debris. I have to admit that I’m still partial to the 111mm SAK’s saw, but the Vista’s performed just fine and was a nice addition to the shearing blades when it came to cutting through wood. To sharpen the ends of the Y supports I used the Vista’s diminutive 2 inch serrated knife blade. I honestly wasn’t expecting much out if this small blade, and am generally not a fan of serrations, or hollow grinds, for woodwork.
Much to my surprise, the compact blade performed exceptionally well. The blade bit deeply into the wood and had no problems at all in turning 2 inch branches into sharpened points in no time flat. I did some whittling with the blade after the stakes were made just to try some other types of wood and get a better appreciation of how the blade worked. Despite my skepticism, this little serrated blade easily kept pace with a couple of other knives that I was testing at the time. Needless to say, it did just fine on other basic tasks like cutting rope and cord, and opening packages as well. I’m chagrined to admit it, but there was nothing lacking with Leatherman’s basic 420HC, hollow ground, serrated knife blade. While I’d still prefer a dedicated knife for extensive blade work, the one that comes with Vista can certainly do the job in a pinch, or during times when you don’t want to carry an additional tool with you.
The awl was the last tool that I really worked with during my test period. This big pointy monstrosity reminded me more of a Roman Pilum than any other awl I’ve seen, and that’s a great thing to behold. It readily tore into wood and left behind a hole like the Chunnel between England and France. For camp projects and bushcraft use the Vista’s awl is excellent. You can easily crank out fireboards and fabricate any other crafts that require you to bore through wood like a carpenter ant. The awl is complete with a goodly sized eyelet that will let you use it for rough and ready field leatherwork or other repairs as well. It’s also stoutly enough built that it can be used to poke, prod, and puncture things that you might not want to use your knife blade on for fear of breaking or dulling it.
Druthers and Overall Impressions
Is there anything I disliked about the Vista, or would like to have seen done differently? Well, off hand, I like to be able to access the tools on a multi-tool while the tool is closed. It’s handier to me to be able to get to the various tools without having to open the handles up, pull out the desired tool, and then shut it again in order to use it. Then you have to reverse the process when you’re done to close everything back up. Many newer multi’s have this feature, and it would be nice to see on the pruners as well. It also might be nice to have a file aboard for touching up axes, machetes, or other tools. My father in law brought up an interesting point as well. It might be nice to have a lanyard attachment point on the Vista for when you’re using it in a tree stand. If you drop it from a stand it’s going to be inconvenient, at the very least, to have to get down from the tree to retrieve it. If the green and black handles blend in a bit too much and you can’t find your Vista, then things can go from inconvenient to problematic fairly fast. Other than that, and possibly a plain edge blade (although I realize I’m probably in the minority of multi tool users in wanting that), there isn’t a whole lot I’d change about the Vista. It really has a good tool set up, and a nice form factor for its intended purpose and works pretty well as is. As a hunter’s companion, I think that Leatherman has really done a great job of making a practical, and useful, tool that’s worthy of its spot on your belt or in your pack.
I also think that it has a lot of potential as a bushcraft tool. Being able to rapidly clip small branches and twigs up for tinder, clip branches for camp projects, traps and snares, and bore holes for fire boards and other contraptions is easy with the Vista’s array of tools. While the Vista can certainly go it alone, I think it would be especially good matched up with your favorite fixed blade hunting or camp knife. Between the two, I don’t think there’s a whole lot that you couldn’t do in the field that needs doing. If you’re already a fan of pruning shears in the bush, then check out Leatherman’s Vista as a compact option to packing along your non-folding, stand alone shears. Aside from saving some space you’ll be adding some extra tools to your belt as well. If you have never have used shears in the field before, as I hadn’t, then the Vista is well worth trying for yourself. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how handy it can be.