The Best Multi-Tool Review
We tested ten of the worlds greatest multi-tools. We cut, pried, sawed, and repaired. We carried them for day-to-day use, as well as into the backcountry. We found a wide range of quality and function. Our list represents both ends of the size spectrum, and everything in between. Read on, and find that reviewed here is a tool for everyone. We tested, at the same time, the best pocket knife. We found that most everyone could use a device from one or both of our pocket tool lists. Consult both our pocket knife buying advice article and multi-tool buying advice to help determine which could be for you.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Analysis and Test Results
The concept of combining various tools into a single device is as old as the idea of improving personal efficiency. Throughout our human history, people have improvised and commercialized devices with many uses. The modern era, however, started in 1984 when Tim Leatherman began selling his ground-breaking "Pocket Survival Tool." Leatherman, and other manufacturers, have expanded on the category and continue to offer a variety of options to the discerning aficionado. We assessed the products in four categories. We evaluated the functions provided and the ergonomics, portability, and the overall construction quality of each. We measured each tool and counted the functions. We used every single function in some sort of real world application over years of testing.
The diversity of functions and devices is what absolutely defines the genre. By definition, there are multiple functions in each device. Besides the sheer number of tools built into a given product, the design and usability of those individual tools matter a great deal. A product with 10 very well designed tools is far more valuable than one with 20 functions crammed in. Additionally, whether those 10 well-designed tools are apt to be useful to most users is up for debate. Each user will have his or her own preferences. However, some functions stand out as far more useful.
In day-to-day use, for our testing team, certain functions proved to be far more important. Our testers appreciated a nice blade, tight pliers with wire cutters, scissors, and integrated bit drivers the most. Editors' Choice winner, the Leatherman Charge TTI, is the only tool in our test that completely fulfill this abbreviated, select list of features. Everyone who chooses to carry one will appreciate well-made and general purpose tools like those on this list. Additionally, users in some environments will have ample opportunity to use more specialized tools. Some will need and use the blasting cap crimper of the SOG PowerAssist S66. Others will regularly use and appreciate the innovative package opener on the Best Buy Award-winning Leatherman Wingman.
In your own research, be careful about comparing manufacturers cited functions counts. Each company counts their tools differently. For instance, in the catalog literature, it is claimed that the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X has 26 tools. The Leatherman Rebar, on the other hand, has a claimed 17 features. It is true that the Spirit has scissors and the Rebar does not, but otherwise the feature set is basically the same. Victorinox is simply more generous in counting its features. Gerber, with its Suspension and MP600 tools, provides adequate feature sets. The Leatherman Skeletool CX is arguably the most feature-deprived tool we reviewed, but each of those tools is full functioning and the overall package is the most portable of the full-sized products we looked at. The SOG PowerAssist and Gelindo Premium Pocket tools, at first glance, seem to have very similar feature sets. However, the devices included on the SOG are far larger and robust than those on the Gelindo.
Each of the tools we tested is built on the tried-and-true plier format. Basically, each tool is a set of pliers with other tools built into the handle. In each tested product, the pliers fold into the handles as well. There are different ways of accomplishing this, but the unifying theme is that the pliers are the largest and most functional of all the tools included with any given device. Including other tools into the handles of the pliers will inherently reduce the ergonomic and function of the pliers. However, some tools do this more elegantly than others. In order for the pliers (and wire cutters) to be most functional, the exposed parts of the handles must be rounded and smooth. All of our tested products are serviceable in this regard. The SwissTool, and Charge TTI are perhaps the smoothest handled products in our test. Other and older models on the market aren't as comfortable as our tested tools. The Leatherman Rebar has just a little bit of rounding to protect the users hands from the sharp plier handles.
Just like the pliers, all of the other functions are compromised in usability, simply by virtue of the fact that they are bolted to other tools. A dedicated knife will be more usable than the blade on a multi-tool. Same with a screwdriver, scissors, saw, file, etc. We accept these compromises in the interest of versatility. And we appreciate models with intelligent and convenient integration of the selected functions. We gave high marks to devices that leave the most commonly used functions accessible with a minimal of folding and unfolding moves. Notably, the main blades of the Leatherman Skeletool, the Gerber Suspension, the Charge TTI, Wingman, and the SOG PowerAssist are accessible with a modern, thumb-activated, one-handed deployment. We gave high marks to intuitive and effective locking mechanisms. Special mention must be made of the innovative ergonomic features of Top Pick Award winner SOG Power Assist. This tool is made for heavy and regular use. The two blades deploy from the "outside" of the stowed pliers. Each locks closed, thumbs open easily and locks for usage. The pliers include a mechanical-advantage gearing system that significantly increases the holding power.
A tool is only as useful as it is available. Will it be there for you when you need it? How is the tool intended to be carried? How big is it? Small tools shuffling around in a glove box or crowded pants pocket will be too time consuming to dig out. Really large and heavy tools are pretty much limited to belt and sheath carry. We liked tools that offered a variety of carry methods. Editors' Choice winner Leatherman Charge TTI, although one of the larger tools in our test, can be configured to carry with a pocket clip, attached to a lanyard or key chain, as well as stowed securely in the included and rugged belt pouch. Additionally the belt pouch with the Charge tool can also hold the included selection of driver bits. Our highest scoring non-award-winner was the Leatherman Skeletool CX. This tool has a very small list of features, but is by far the most portable of the full size tools. With a slick pocket clip, carabiner style snap, and a weight well below other full-sized tools, the Skeletool stands out for portability. At the other end of the size and versatility spectrum, but winning our Top Pick Award for its diminutive-yet-tough design, the Leatherman Squirt PS4 virtually disappears on a keychain. This tiny Leatherman is smaller even than many of the far-less versatile tools in our Pocket Knife Review.
In summary, all tools we tested, except for the Wingman, Squirt, and Skeletal, came with belt sheaths. The Charge TTI, Wingman, and Skeletool can be clipped to the edge of one's front pants pocket. The Squirt PS4 disappears on a key chain, while the Rebar, Suspension, SOG, and Charge TTI have key ring holes that would make them work in that regard.
In the products we tested, quality of manufacturing varied. Hinges and locking mechanisms reveal the attention paid to detail. Sturdy materials, tight manufacturing tolerances, and intelligent construction really stand out in a tool the end user could handle and use every day. In our testing, high quality construction stood out virtually right away, and only increased in value as time and usage wore on. The Charge TTI, SOG PowerAssist, and Victorinox Swisstool have excellent "out of the box" construction quality feels. Our evaluation of these tools' construction quality was initially subjective. Does it "feel" sturdy and confidence inspiring. When this almost-aesthetic assessment came up short for a given contender, it inevitably followed that some aspect of the mechanical function of the knife would act finicky.
The Squirt PS4 and the Skeletool, as very portable tools, are quite a bit lighter than the others. Their construction isn't quite as rugged as the others, but it is forgivable given their respective other attributes.
Plier hinges are the most vulnerable to construction quality. Virtually all of our tested products held up very well through testing. With a tool we have since dropped from the test roster, one tester was cutting a piece of wire clothes hanger for an improvised repair to a tool box. (Ironic, right? Using a tool to repair a device intended to hold many tools). The hinges in the handle of the tool couldn't handle the leverage. Cutting coat hanger wire could be considered a heavy task. However, coat hangers are a common source of improvised repair material. And the even smaller and lighter Leatherman Squirt PS4 cuts coat hanger wire just fine. In terms of subjective "smoothness" of construction, we greatly appreciated the Swiss precision of the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X. The Leatherman Rebar is a throwback to the original Pocket Survival Tool, with modern rounded lines and super tight tolerances.
Alternatives to Multi-Tools
We believe that anyone inclined to fix things themselves will find great value and utility in a tool like this. The convenience of having an arsenal of functioning tools that fits into your pocket turns a tool of multiple purposes into an ever-ready handyman. While we could write page after page covering the uses of a such tool, there are situations where another related product will serve you better. Below, we have summarized a few alternatives to help you find the right product to suit your needs.
Compact tool kit – For handy-person jobs around the house, office, or on the go, a compact tool kit might be a suitable option for you. Because you purchase and assemble this tool kit individually, you can pick and choose exactly what tools you need, and leave out the others. Additionally, these tools are generally larger, sturdier, and tend to perform better than the smaller devices integrated into these contenders. Depending on what you put in your compact tool kit, it has the potential to be more versatile, too. The biggest drawback of these kits is that they are much bulkier and heavier and therefore difficult to justify in the backcountry. Also, buying the tools individually can quickly add up to being more expensive than one tool that does it all. For specialized handy-work, this is a great option. However, for everyday, general use, we think these contenders will serve you better; for backcountry use, the weight savings design is invaluable. To carry pliers, knives, screwdrivers, and scissors that replicate the function of even the heaviest tool in our review would be three to four times the weight of a single multi-tool. If one chooses the ultralight Leatherman Squirt PS4, his or her backcountry toolbox is virtually unnoticeable.
Pocket Knives – A quality pocket knife, like the Benchmade Mini Barrage 585, is a general purpose tool that nearly anyone will find to be handy. Designed with portability in mind, pocket knives are accessible, yet unobtrusive. They are lightweight in comparison and have less bulk. While a pocket knife is primarily a cutting tool, options like the Victorinox Classic possess several other tools built into its design, making them similar to a multi-tool. However, while useful in a variety of settings, pocket knives are still not as versatile. We think it's a good idea to consider having both a pocket knife and a multi-tool amongst your gear, be it around the house or in the backcountry. Check out our Best Pocket Knife Review.
Fixed Blade Knives – If you need a cutting tool for filleting fish or dicing vegetables at a weekend campsite, a fixed blade knife could be a good option for you. Many are designed to have longer blades and meatier handles than such tools with many uses have, giving them more leverage when cutting. Being fixed, they are generally sturdier than multi-tools, as well as pocket knives. They tend to be less expensive, too. Good for their purpose, fixed blade knives are clearly not as versatile; furthermore, they are not practical to carry around daily.
Camping Saws and Hatchets – While the saws on most of these tools can cut through small branches, to cut through thicker wood requires heavier duty tools. This is where camping saws and hatchets come in handy. They are what you need to cut through thick branches, logs, and trees, which is often necessary when building primitive shelters and cutting firewood in the backcountry. Camping saws come in foldable and chain versions, making them more portable than a regular saw in your garage. Camping hatchets often come with a blunt end for hammering as well. Saws and hatchets are generally less expensive, too. Overall, these tools are great for their intended purpose, yet lack the versatility of a tool of many uses. They also have a larger packed volume and weigh more.
An excellent contender is one that has quality construction and excels in portability, ergonomics, and functionality. You will use it every day, regardless of your situation in life. Some will use tools more frequently, while others only occasionally. Dedicated users, in specialized manual labor fields will choose their products with different criteria than the "normal" user. Every user will appreciate reliability, function, and well-thought-out design. Even if you do not use it every single day, just having it handy and ready is a confidence inspiring act of personal responsibility and self reliance.
We hope that we have been able to help you decide whether or not a multi-tool is the best option for you or if the possibility of owning a pocket knife is a better choice. If you're still unsure about your decision, consider reading over the Buying Advice to help solidify your decision.
— Jediah Porter
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