The 11 Best Multi-Tools For The Outdoors
There are an unlimited number of multi-tools and reviews out there. To help, we researched over 50 models and narrowed down the field to the top 11, extensively testing each competitor side-by-side. To "winnow the chaff" for you, so to speak, we have been examining this field literally for decades. Thus, we have a cream of the crop selection of the most varied and top-ranked models on the market. We cut, pried, sawed, and repaired. We carried them for day-to-day use, as well as into the backcountry, finding a wide range of quality and function. Our list represents both ends of the size spectrum and everything in between. We're confident that you'll find what you're looking for, as we've reviewed a tool for everyone.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated June 2017
For the 2017 summer season, we've updated our review to include the newest models out there. We have the pleasure of introducing new award winners, like the Leatherman Wave, Leatherman Crunch, and Gerber Dime, while the Leatherman Wingman and Leatherman Charge TTI remain tried and true award winners.
Best Overall Contender
Leatherman Charge TTI
Our Editors' Choice Award goes to the perennial favorite, the top of the line Leatherman Charge TTI. This dense piece of versatile equipment has a magical mix of parts in a functional design and is made from impressive materials. The blades are the best in our test while the titanium frame reduces weight. The Charge, at just about half a pound, is about average in weight for a full-size tool. However, being equipped to carry in a belt sheath, on a lanyard, or clipped to a pocket, it appeals to virtually everyone. Finally, Leatherman's proprietary low-profile bit driver, and the included selection of bits, nearly double the overall number of functions as compared to the next closest competitor in our test. The Charge TTI is a top of the line product; it is Leatherman's flagship product that pulls no punches in executing the best possible entry.
Read full review: Leatherman Charge TTI
Best Bang for the Buck
How does Leatherman do it? It's as if Ferrari made a $18,000 commuter car. The Leatherman Wingman brings the manufacturer's long pedigree, quality craftsmanship, and an excellent selection of functions to a rock-bottom affordable product. The Wingman includes functions virtually none of the other model's features. The return spring in the pliers reduces hand strain and increases efficiency in extended use, the integrated pocket clip keeps the device handy for those that wish to carry it this way, and the package opener is quirky but invaluable. The lone blade is made of mid-grade steel and features a hybrid straight/serrated edge, which will require regular sharpening. The straight portion is easily reconditioned, but sharpening serrations need special techniques.
Excellent tool selection
Hybrid blade is difficult to sharpen
Blade is also short
No accessory bit driver
Read full review: Leatherman Wingman
Best Bang for the Buck
The Leatherman Wave is the Charge TTI, but stripped down a little bit. Leatherman takes roughly 80% of what makes the Charge so impressive and sells it for 50% as the Wave. This is an excellent value. For a truly all-purpose, all-around multi-tool, the price tag is right; of course, the Wingman is considerably less expensive, but it has fewer features. For a full-featured utensil, the Wave is the bargain shopper's choice. Against the Charge, the Wave has a less sophisticated blade and frame materials, does not come with the accessory bits it can use, and cannot be configured with the pocket clip or lanyard loop that the Charge uses. Otherwise, the Wave and Charge are the same.
Comprehensive feature set
Limited carry options
Read full review: Leatherman Wave
Top Pick for Dedicated Handy-Person Use
Our Top Pick award allows us some creativity. In granting this honor, we are empowered to consider the products we reviewed, how most use them, and how the fringes use their products. Most multi-tools are purchased for "every day carry". If you keep yours with you at all times, and you use it for tasks that come up in day-to-day life, versatility and portability are paramount. Other consumers, however, may use their product in some manual labor or mechanical job or avocation. For those users, the criteria often shifts. Blue collar users require that each function is very efficient, and those users may need fewer features. For that demographic, the Leatherman Crunch is a clear choice. The locking pliers of the Crunch are the clear highlight, as they are a definite improvement over any of the others in our review. For regular use, there is no reason not to choose pliers that have a locking capability. If you will use your multi-tool in a mechanical or construction-oriented fashion, the Crunch is the ticket. The trade off is in the selection and readiness of other attributes. In everyday use, people like their blade more easily accessed and like to have more driver and tool options. This is a specialized, truly unique product for the hardest working segment of the population.
Must deploy pliers to get to other parts
Read full review: Leatherman Crunch
Top Pick for Keychain Carry
At the other end of the spectrum, and also earning a Top Pick honor, is the Gerber Dime. This is the gadget for you if weight and space are at a premium. Sporting an elegant and useful combination of components, the Dime will sit out of the way on your keychain until you need it. The blade is razor-sharp, the pliers grab with a strength that belies their tiny stature, and the bottle opener is always handy.
Good feature set
Stout construction, given size
Small tools are limited in effectiveness
Read full review: Gerber Dime
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 human history, people have improvised and commercialized devices with many uses. The modern multi-tool 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 based our scoring for this review on four criteria: functions, ergonomics, portability, and construction quality. Check out the accompanying tables to see where each competitor scored in Overall Performance in our review, then read on to find out more about our scoring criteria.
In assessing the scoring of a product's functions, we counted the components, compared our count to a list of what most consumers find most useful, and evaluated the size and utility of each feature.
The diversity of functions, features, and applications is what 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 each matter a great deal. A product with ten very well designed parts is far more valuable than one with twenty functions hastily crammed in. Additionally, whether those ten well-designed parts are apt to be useful to most users is up for debate. Each user will have his or her preferences. However, some functions stand out as far more useful.
In day to day use, for our testing team, particular individual 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 Leatherman Charge TTI and Best Buy Leatherman Wave are the only contenders 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 parts like 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 Pocket PowerPlier. Others will regularly use and appreciate the innovative package opener on the Best Buy award winning Leatherman Wingman and on the Top Pick Gerber Dime.
In your research, be careful about comparing manufacturers cited functions counts; know that each company counts their pieces differently. For instance, in the catalog literature, it is claimed that the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X has 26 tools. The SOG Pocket PowerPlier, on the other hand, has a claimed 11 features. Now, it is true that the Spirit has scissors and the SOG does not, but otherwise, the actual feature set is very similar. Victorinox is simply more generous in counting its features. Gerber, with its Suspensionand Bear Grylls Ultimate devices, provides adequate feature sets. The Leatherman Crunch is arguably the most feature-deprived product we reviewed, but each of those tools is fully functioning, and the pliers lead the entire field. The Crunch and Baladeo Locker products, at first glance, seem to have very similar feature sets. However, the devices included on the Crunch are far larger and robust than those on the Baladeo. In comparing the smallest products in our test to one another, the feature set is remarkably similar. The Gerber Dime has a package opener while the Leatherman Squirt PS4 has a file; otherwise, they are virtually the same.
The ergonomic quality of a multi-tool is a function of handle shape and comfort and accessibility and utility of the various features. Good ergonomics stand out right away, and the quality becomes more and more apparent with use. Ergonomic complaints arise only with extended use and experience. With years now of experience, our test team is well-versed in assessing the usability of a given tool.
Each of the models we tested has been built on the tried-and-true plier format. Each is a set of pliers with other parts 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 included with any given device. Including other pieces into the handles of the pliers will inherently reduce the ergonomic and function of the pliers. However, some multi-tools do this more elegantly than others. 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 most fluid handled products in our test. Other and older models on the market aren't as comfortable as our tested devices. The Leatherman Crunch, for instance, has just a little bit of rounding to protect the user's hands from the sharp plier handles.
Just like the pliers, each of the other functions is compromised in usability, simply because they are bolted to other components. A dedicated knife will be more useful 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 Wave, the Gerber Suspension and Bear Grylls Ultimate, the Charge TTI, Wingman, and the SOG Pocket PowerPlier are accessible with a modern, thumb-activated, one-handed deployment. We gave high marks to intuitive and efficient locking mechanisms. Special mention must be made of the innovative ergonomic features of the SOG Pocket PowerPlier. This product is made for cumbersome 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.
The Baladeo Locker is new to our review but comes with outdated fully-internal components. To get to the blades and drivers, one must deploy the pliers, open the piece you need, and then reclose the pliers. The smaller components in our test make inherent ergonomics compromises. It is in ergonomics that one, figuratively, "pays the price" for the ultimate portability of the Gerber Dime and Leatherman Squirt PS4. Each of the features of each of these tools is much smaller and less useful than its dedicated counterpart. They are even smaller and less useful than the functions on the full-size multi-tools. The one exception is the bottle opener of the Gerber Dime. As an extension of the handle, this is essentially a full-size product that used without deploying any of the other attributes. To open a bottle with the Gerber Dime is no different than with any other portable bottle opener.
A tool is only as useful as it is available. Will it be there for you when you need it? How is it intended to be carried? How big is it? Small devices shuffling around in a glove box or crowded pants pocket will be too time-consuming to dig out. Extensive and substantial tools are pretty much limited to belt and sheath carry. We liked ones that offered a variety of carrying methods. Our Editors' Choice winner Leatherman Charge TTI, although one of the larger competitors 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 can also hold the included selection of driver bits. The Leatherman Wave differs the most from the Charge in portability. The Wave is a bit smaller but does not have the optional pocket clip or lanyard loops. For our lead test editor, this is a deal-breaking difference. He prefers to carry his in pocket clipped configuration. Without this option, the Wave is a non-starter. At the other end of the size and versatility spectrum, but winning our Top Pick award for its diminutive-yet-tough design, the Gerber Dime virtually disappears on a keychain. The Leatherman Squirt PS4 is even smaller than the Dime. The Gerber and the tiny Leatherman are smaller even than most of the far less versatile products in our pocket knife Review.
In summary, all the products we tested except for the Wingman, Squirt, and Dime came with belt sheaths. The Charge TTI and Wingman can be clipped to the edge of one's front pants pocket. The Squirt PS4 and Dime disappear on a key chain, while the Bear Grylls, Suspension, SOG, and Charge TTI have key ring holes that would make them work in that regard. The Leatherman Crunch and Baladeo Locker are both best carried in the included sheaths or loose in your pocket.
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 stand out in a tool the end user could handle and use every day for years and years. 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 PowerPlier, and Victorinox Swisstool have excellent "out of the box" construction quality feels. Our evaluation of their 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 Gerber Dime, as very portable products, 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. To miniaturize a tool like these, the manufacturers must downsize all the individual components, thereby weakening the structure. Thankfully these small models are inherently limited in the scale of tasks you might ask of them. You simply cannot grab a large nut, for instance, with the Dime or Squirt.
Plier hinges are the most vulnerable to construction quality. Virtually all of our tested products held up very well through testing. With a contender 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?) The hinges in the handle couldn't handle the leverage and cutting a coat hanger could be considered a massive task. However, coat hangers are a common source of improvised repair material. And the even smaller and lighter Leatherman Squirt PS4 cuts coat hanger just fine. Concerning the subjective "smoothness" of construction, we greatly appreciated the Swiss precision of the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit XC. The Leatherman Wave is a throwback to the original Pocket Survival Tool, with modern rounded lines and super tight tolerances.
The Leatherman Crunch is rugged and built for serious use. Because of the inherent design criteria of the locking pliers, the hinges have more play in them. Knowing this is a function of the locking plier design lets us forgive this. If non-locking pliers rattled this way, we would be worried. The blades and drivers of the Crunch are solid and adequate, if a little small.
The Baladeo Locker, Gerber Suspension, and Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate (incidentally, the Suspension and Bear Grylls are exactly the same tool. They have the same features and are made of the same materials. The only differences are in branding, price, and cosmetics) are nothing special in terms of construction quality. The Gerber products are a little more tightly assembled, but the pliers flex and the components are small and get dinged up in use. The Baladeo Locker is a budget buy, and the exposed plier spring, flexible pliers, and rattly tools attest to this. The feature set is nice, but the materials and craftsmanship just aren't up to the task. When one can purchase the Leatherman Wingman for half the price of the Baladeo, or the Leatherman Wave for just a little bit more, it is hard to justify purchase of the "rough around the edges" Baladeo Locker. Both Best Buy Leatherman products are much more polished and refined than the Baladeo and will also last much much longer than the Baladeo.
With a multi-tool in your possession, you can feel invincible. With a carefully chosen multi-tool, selected for your purposes by our criteria, you are invincible. Sorting through the hundreds of options is onerous at best. Certainly, some consumers love that process. For the rest, though, we have built this review to do the dirty work for you. Shop carefully, weigh your options, consider what you will wish to do with your multi-tool, and then pull the trigger.
— Jediah Porter
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