Is the Combar the ultimate multi-tool?
They say don't try to re-invent the wheel. But that hasn't stopped people from continually trying to do just that. We say that because things like the Swiss army knife aren't good enough for some people. They want bigger and better.
Honestly, we've never seen anything like quite like it. This is one of the wildest new products to hit the outdoor market in some time.
We put it through its paces to see how it handles.
What is the Combar multi-tool?
This one is hard to describe because there's nothing else like it on the market right now. It's a spade, it's an axe and it's a hammer, all in one gigantic, folding package.
Developed by a company called Aclim8, their promotional materials say the Combar was in development for three years.
Like many new and innovative outdoor products these days, Combar had its start as a Kickstarter campaign. Aclim8 had hoped for $55,000 to get the project off the ground, but the pledges flooded in to the tune of over $230,000.
The main tool itself is just under 16 inches long and weighs a little over three pounds thanks to many components being constructed of aircraft grade aluminum. You can tell when you pick it up that some thought went into it.
An over-sized locking system allows you to select between the hatchet, spade and hammer with ease. Simply pull up on the little lever and unfold the tool you want. Once locked down, it all feels rock solid and we didn't encounter any issues with this part of the Combar at all, no matter which of the tools we were using.
I used the Combar to test a variety of small tasks common to any camper. This included hammering tent pegs, chopping small limbs for firewood and using the spade to dig a shallow trench or fire pit. It handled them all with ease.
Combar steel & parts
I want to talk a little bit about the actual steel used for the tools. But first, I need to mention there are several different purchasing options for Combar. The standard one is just the three-piece tool itself. The option sent to me for review is the Combar Pro.
The Combar Pro package includes the Combar tool plus a folding saw and a fixed-blade knife. Both the saw and knife can slide into the hollow handle of the Combar itself, making for a complete tool package.
We like the ingenuity here. It saves space and assures you won't be searching around for this stuff when you need it.
Now let's talk materials. One thing that has us scratching our heads is the use of 420J2 steel for the hatchet head. If you're not familiar with it, 420J2 is a low-carbon steel known for extreme corrosion resistance. This steel is often used for diver's knives and kitchen cutlery.
I get that they were going for something that holds up in the elements, but I wish they had gone with a steel that holds an edge a little bit better. 420J2 is a softer steel and easy to re-sharpen, but that means you need to carry a sharpener with you if you're going to be using the axe a lot.
It's puzzling to me that they didn't go with a little bit harder steel. If I had to guess, I suppose it was a cost-savings factor with the construction of the tool.
On the plus side, the hatchet was razor-sharp when the tool arrived. I sliced my hand open on it by accident while showing the tool to some friends. When sharp, it easily cut through small trees and limbs. It also peeled bark like a pro.
For the hammer pad, Aclim8 also used 420J2. I'm fine with that steel being used here because you don't need the hammer to hold an edge like you do the axe.
The spade bit, on the other hand, is Titanium 6AL-4V. I'll be honest, I don't know much about titanium, but the spade worked great for me in all my tests. It's light and seemed very durable. I experience no bending with the spade while working it through the earth.
The knife and saw
The saw included with my Combar Pro is a Bosch 10-inch, 240mm reciprocating blade. They made the saw with a locking design handle of anodized aluminum and glass-reinforced nylon.
I really like this tool. It's solid, comfortable to hold and easily cuts through small to moderate-sized tree limbs. I can see myself taking this kayaking to help clear out snags blocking the way, or in the treestand to clear shooting lanes. Aclim8 also made it easy to change out blades, which is another bonus.
The drop-point knife features a 4.54-inch blade and is made of 420HC stainless steel with a hardness of 53-55 HRC.
There will probably be some snobby knife geeks out there who will turn up their noses at this blade. It's not because 420HC is a low-quality steel, but just because it's one of the more common ones out there. You can find 420HC in many knives at your local Walmart or other sporting goods store. For the cost of a pro version Combar, I wouldn't be surprised if some people consider the knife overpriced. But for most hunting, fishing and camping activities, this steel blade will be more than adequate.
It's also worth noting this is a full tang knife. You should be able to use a fair bit of leverage with this knife without worry of it breaking. The handle and sheath use the same glass-reinforced nylon as the saw blade and it feels solid, balanced and ergonomic in the hand.
Every Combar comes with a magazine insert that fits in the handle. Unfortunately, I had a big problem with this one on the review model sent to me. The magazine insert was stuck!
I know it's not supposed to be like that since one of Aclim8's instructional videos showed the insert dropping out of the handle with no effort. I had to get a pair of pliers to pull my insert out! After reading through the comments on the Kickstarter, it appears I wasn't alone with this problem.
Once I did get it out, I could see how it can be useful. You could use it to hold small survival items like a pocket knife, small screwdriver, fishing line and hooks, a bottle opener or even fire starting materials. The only limit is what you can fit in there.
The downside? Using the insert means you can't store the survival knife or saw in the handle. That means you'll have to make some tough choices. In a further kudos to Aclim8, they also shipped the belt holster and storage case to me. Both are great quality items, especially the storage case.
The holster works very well at holding the Combar securely at your side and at the ready. If you don't already have one, I recommend a sturdy gun belt, the kind used for concealed carry of firearms.
Remember, this tool weighs just over three pounds, which is heavy when carried on your waist.
The price point and bottom line
We do need to talk about the price point of the Combar, because there's no way around it: it's expensive. I'm guessing much of the costs are coming from the materials and manufacturing process. People who jumped in on the Kickstarter are going to get the best deal at $359 for the Combar and magazine.
Aclim8 is offering several different combinations of the tool and accessories. For the entire pro kit package of everything I described in this review, Kickstarters got it for $579, but the retail price is going to be $999 according to Aclim8's Kickstarter page. That's significant.
So, while the Combar found a very interested audience in their Kickstarter, it may be a niche one, where everyday carry goes beyond just a Leatherman or other additional knife. Maybe that's why Aclim8 says they built it to "special forces specifications."
It's worth noting Aclim8 is offering a lifetime warranty for the Combar, so you should get your money's worth out of the tool if you use it enough. Just be ready for the wallop to the wallet when purchasing one.
I'm guessing the big target audience for Combar is going to be either extreme survivalists or people who spend a lot of time in the backcountry. I could see this getting lots of use by hunting guides or Alaskan bush pilots who need a quality tool set where space is at a premium in small aircraft.
The Combar definitely isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for something that's versatile and portable, this is it. This feels like the kind of survival tool I could stake my life on if I had to.
Overall, this tool is a winner. It's unique and tough multi-tool that will simplify what I pack for camping from now on. I can see getting years out of this tool. We can't wait to see what uses we get out of it on our future outdoor adventures!