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Leatherman Signal Review

A purpose-built, specialized tool for outdoor adventure and wilderness survival, while also serving purpose around the house
Leatherman Signal
Photo: Leatherman
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Price:  $120 List | $119.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Versatile and comprehensive outdoor tool kit
Cons:  Specialized components, independent parts can get lost
Manufacturer:   Leatherman
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 4, 2021
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 21
  • Functions - 40% 7
  • Construction Quality - 25% 8
  • Ergonomics - 20% 7
  • Portability - 15% 7

Our Verdict

The Leatherman Signal is the most "outdoorsy" multi-tool we know of. It has multiple features that are endemic to it and uniquely suited to outdoor adventures. That doesn't, necessarily, mean that this is the best choice for exactly your outdoor pursuits. It could be, but it might not be. Many outdoor repair jobs, for instance, benefit greatly from scissors. The Signal has none. A file can help with outdoor gear maintenance also. The Signal has no file either. What it does have is a suite of specialized, clever, and unique tools for outdoor, wilderness "survival" types of scenarios. In that niche, the Signal is alone and of great value.

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Leatherman Signal
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Leatherman Signal
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $119.95 at Backcountry
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Pros Versatile and comprehensive outdoor tool kitCompact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective toolsComprehensive, well-made, aftermarket accessories and carry optionsExcellent bit driver, big blade, scissors, fast-action pliersInexpensive and well-made, spring-loaded pliers, scissors, pocket clip, one-handed blade
Cons Specialized components, independent parts can get lostFew featuresProprietary bit driver, no pocket clip includedRattly construction, bulky and heavy, serrated blade sectionHybrid straight/serrated blade, squashed Phillips driver, short main blade
Bottom Line A purpose-built, specialized tool for outdoor adventure and wilderness survival, while also serving purpose around the houseA multi-tool that optimizes ergonomics and portability by reducing the tool set to the most important ones for daily use and carryA full-function tool from a great manufacturer at a reasonable priceA large, full-function multi-tool that includes a top notch bit driver and nice storage via its carry sheathA budget tool with real value and function, this model is compact with a feature set that does much of what you want and little that you don't
Rating Categories Leatherman Signal Leatherman Skeletoo... Leatherman Wave+ Gerber Center-Drive... Leatherman Wingman
Functions (40%)
7.0
5.0
8.0
7.0
4.0
Construction Quality (25%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
5.0
4.0
Ergonomics (20%)
7.0
10.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
Portability (15%)
7.0
8.0
5.0
4.0
7.0
Specs Leatherman Signal Leatherman Skeletoo... Leatherman Wave+ Gerber Center-Drive... Leatherman Wingman
Number of functions 17 5 + bits 18 + bits 16 + bits 10
Weight (ounces) 7.6 oz, 8.7 oz with sheath 5.0 oz 8.5 oz, 9.5 oz with case 9.9 oz, 14.4 oz with case and bits. 6.8 oz, 7.8 oz with sheath
Locking tools? All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers Scissors and blade
Pliers type Needle nose, regular Needlenose with 2 wire cutters Needlenose, regular, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, crimper Spring-loaded pliers Spring-loaded regular and needlenose
Tools accessible without deploying pliers Primary blade, saw, sharpener Blade Blades, saw, file Primary blade, bit driver Blade and scissors
Blades and type 1 hybrid straight/serrated 1 straight drop point 1 straight, 1 serrated 1 hybrid straight/serrated 1 hybrid serrated/straight drop point
Scissors No No Yes Yes Yes
Number of screwdrivers 2 included. More available aftermarket for proprietary driver. Even more availalbe aftermarket for limited-function, standard 1/4 inch driver socket. 4 included, more available aftermarket for proprietary driver 5 included/integrated. More available aftermarket for proprietary driver 14 incuded. Infinitely more available as aftermarket bits 3
File? No No Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes Yes
Saw? Wood No Yes No No
Openers Can, bottle Bottle Can and bottle Can, bottle Can, bottle, and a unique box opener
Other important features Knife sharpener, ferro spark striking rod, whistle, 1/4 inch socket. None Ruler One-handed blade. Replacable wire-cutters Very small ruler
Sheath included? Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Other carry options Pocket, Pocket clip, carabiner clip Carabiner style clip, pocket clip Pocket Pocket Pocket, Pocket clip
Closed dimensions (Length by thickness, in inches) 4.5 x 0.6 4.3 x 0.6 4 x 0.7 4.8 x 1 3.8 x 0.7
Open length (pliers, in inches) 6.8 in 6.2 in 6.3 in 6.4 in 6.2 in
Open overall length (primary blade deployed, in inches) 7.1 in 6.8 in 6.9 in 7.8 in 6.4 in
Length of primary blade effective edge (inches) 2.6 in 2.6 in 2.8in 2.9 in 2.4 in

Our Analysis and Test Results

This model is a purpose-built outdoorsperson's multi-tool. People often use multi-tools in the outdoors, but this one is fully tailor-made for outdoor adventures. One could even call it a survival tool. Notable special outdoor features include a firestarter, signal whistle, and tent stake hammer. The inclusion of a detachable sharpener also points to the self-reliant sort of customer.

Performance Comparison


All the tools and components of the Leatherman Signal, on display.
All the tools and components of the Leatherman Signal, on display.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Functions


Leatherman claims their Signal has 19 functions. That is admirably close to actual functionality (sometimes claimed functions are minimally useful or minimally different from one another; not so with the Signal). The absolute number of functions and discernment of counted functions is just one part of the equation. In the case of the Signal, there are functions included that are truly unique from any other options on the market. No multi-tool that we know of includes a sharpener, whistle, and fire-starter sparker.

A little dry tinder and the Signal is all that is required to start...
A little dry tinder and the Signal is all that is required to start a fire. The back of the saw blade is sharp enough to get sparks from the fiery, detachable ferro rod.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The "normal" functions that Leatherman includes are useful and carefully chosen. The saw is great for woodcraft. There are two bit drivers—one for Leatherman's proprietary "squashed" 1/4 inch drive and one (with limited-utility 90-degree orientation) in standard 1/4 drive dimensions. An awl with a needle-type "eye" is handy for repairing shoes and other hearty textiles. The can opener doubles as a bottle opener.

We do have a few features-related wishes. Couldn't the standard 1/4 inch driver be turned 90 degrees from where it is to be more useful? That would allow omission of the squashed bit driver and make room for the inclusion of scissors. Finally, make the blade of excellent steel (Leatherman's 154CM steel blade on some other tools they produce is amazing) and eliminate the serrated section. With a sharpener built-in, the full edge could be regularly tuned up, even in the field.

This little part is both a whistle and a ferro rod spark striker. It...
This little part is both a whistle and a ferro rod spark striker. It works for both jobs; we checked.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Ergonomics


Ergonomically, the Signal is on par with average current multi-tools. The outside-opening blade is crucial. The rounded pliers' handles are non-negotiable now too. The combo whistle/ferro-striker rod is a little fiddly to get in and out. Other multi-tool pliers are a little less prone to pinching than those on the Signal. However, we had no actual pinching issues with the Signal.

A full-size 1/4 inch bit driver on a Leatherman tool. This isn't the...
A full-size 1/4 inch bit driver on a Leatherman tool. This isn't the first of its kind, but it is the most usable. We're glad for this. Hopefully this trend continues.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Portability


Leatherman's Signal is fairly average in size and bulk. For the features it packs in, it could actually be considered relatively small. Further, it is quite nice that Leatherman gives you great carry options. They send it with an included pocket clip and a sturdy belt holster. Built right in is a carabiner-style clip for carrying too. Finally, the external contours of the Signal are not super smooth, but they are unlikely badly damage your pockets or other carrying containers, as some rough-edged tools we've tested can.

The built in carabiner gate of the Signal allows it to be clipped...
The built in carabiner gate of the Signal allows it to be clipped any number of places.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Construction Quality


Construction quality of the Signal seems to meet the high expectations we have come to have of Leatherman equipment. We had no issues with the construction of the Signal. The removable parts are different than those on other tools. Few other tools have removable parts like the Signal does. These parts are largely made of plastic and click into the main Signal body in a somewhat unconfidence-inspiring fashion. Again, we have had no problems with it, but the fiddly systems for securing fully independent parts aren't something we are accustomed to assessing on a multi-tool.

Here is the half serrated, half straight blade of the Signal. The...
Here is the half serrated, half straight blade of the Signal. The serrated portion is slightly beneficial in select situations but a liability the rest of the time.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Value


This is not a cheap piece of equipment. That being said, for its function and application, and understanding that it will last a long time, its value will be realized in the long run. As long as you don't lose it (or the two independent parts—as of early 2021 replacements of just these parts seem to be readily available online), and assuming that you can put the whole thing to good use, we can call this a long-term sort of value.

Wilderness survival might require opening a bottle. That opener will...
Wilderness survival might require opening a bottle. That opener will also get into food cans. The former will likely be more common in your world, while the latter could be more important. That's sort of the story of "survival" equipment and skills.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


The Leatherman Signal is truly unique. Its niche of potential users is similarly unique, and perhaps quite small. Preppers and survivalists honing their bushcraft will like the idea of it, but few will ever require all the survival and outdoor attributes of the Signal. If your multi-tool use will mainly be day-to-day, consider something else. If you will be out in the wild, extensively and significantly, the Signal is a nice bit of kit.

Jediah Porter