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Leatherman Skeletool CX Review

A multi-tool that optimizes ergonomics and portability at the expense of the feature count
Leatherman Skeletool CX
Photo: Leatherman
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Compact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective tools
Cons:  Few features
Manufacturer:   Leatherman
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 12, 2020
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 19
  • Functions - 40% 5
  • Construction Quality - 25% 9
  • Ergonomics - 20% 10
  • Portability - 15% 8

Our Verdict

The Leatherman Skeletool CX is surprisingly effective. At first glance, "on paper", it underwhelms. It sure doesn't have the flash and bang of other categories' Editors' Choice winners. In fact, it took us years to grant the Skeletool this very award. It is a full-size device with fewer than half the features of every other similar sized tool. However, it quickly grows on you. In many ways, it is in a class of its own, as a great "EDC" tool. The pliers, blade, and bit driver are purpose-built, comfortable to use, and clean. The low-profile, pocket-clipped carry alone is worth the price of admission. The Skeletool has proven its worth over years of service, earning its place as our Editors' Choice for Everyday Carry. For the price, function, and daily-driver practicality, we tend to recommend this tool to many of our friends.

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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award   
Price $79.95 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Compact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective toolsSophisticated, comprehensiveComprehensive, well-made, aftermarket accessories and carry optionsEasy tool and plier deployment, Leatherman pedigreeLarge, excellent construction, full-size functions, customizable
Cons Few featuresHeavy, expensiveProprietary bit driver, no pocket clip includedNo bit driver, magnets pick up metal gritHeavy and large; limited portability. Proprietary bit driver
Bottom Line Clever and clean, with only a few tools, all of which are executed well for everyday carryThe sky-high standard by which other multi tools are comparedAll you should need, with proven pedigree, at a forgiving priceTypical feature set packaged in a fundamentally different hinged packageThis tool pulls no punches: it optimizes for function at the cost of portability
Rating Categories Leatherman Skeletool CX Leatherman Charge+ TTi Leatherman Wave+ Leatherman Free P4 Leatherman Surge
Functions (40%)
5
9
8
7
8
Construction Quality (25%)
9
9
8
8
9
Ergonomics (20%)
10
7
7
8
8
Portability (15%)
8
6
5
6
1
Specs Leatherman... Leatherman Charge+... Leatherman Wave+ Leatherman Free P4 Leatherman Surge
Number of Functions 5 + bits 19 + bits 18 + bits 21 19 + bits
Weight (ounces) 5.0 oz 8.8 oz 8.5 oz. 9.5 oz with case 8.8 oz 12.2 oz. 14.3 oz with case
Locking Tools? All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers All but pliers
Pliers Type Needlenose with 2 wire cutters Needlenose with wire cutters, crimper Needlenose, regular, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, crimper Needlenose, regular Needlenose, regular, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, crimper
Tools Accessible Without Deploying Pliers Blade Blades, saw, file Blades, saw, file All Blades, saw, file
Blades and Type 1 straight drop point 1 serrated gut hook type, 1 straight drop point 1 straight, 1 serrated 1 straight 1 serated 1 straight, 1 serrated
Scissors No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of screwdrivers 4 included, more available aftermarket for proprietary driver 1 integrated. Many bits included, with more available aftermarket for proprietary driver 5 included/integrated. More available aftermarket for proprietary driver 1 4 included, more available aftermarket for proprietary driver
File? No Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file
Saw? No Metal and wood Yes Wood Yes
Openers Bottle Can and bottle Can and bottle Bottle and can Can and bottle
Other important Features None Ruler, cutting hook, wire stripper Ruler One-handed blades. Replacable wire-cutters Ruler, awl, wire stripper
Sheath Included? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Other carry options Carabiner style clip, pocket clip Pocket clip, key ring Pocket Pocket , pocket clip Pocket
Closed dimensions (Length by thickness, in inches) 4.3 x 0.6 4 x 0.8 4 x 0.7 4.2 x 0.7 4.5 x 0.8
Open Length (Pliers) (inches) 6.2 in 6.2 in 6.3 in 6.5 in 7.1in
Open Overall Length (Primary blade deployed) (inches) 6.8 in 7 in 6.9 in 4.25 in 7.6 in
Length of Primary Blade Effective Edge (inches) 2.6 in 2.8 in 2.8in 2.8 in 3.1 in

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Leatherman Skeletool is a departure from the tool-proliferating devices we've tested. It is simply pliers, a blade, and Leatherman's proprietary bit driver. In such a distilled package, Leatherman has optimized the function of these few tools. Also, the Skeletool is lighter than its competition. It carries better than any other full-size device we've tested. It is elegant and clean in both its portability and ergonomics. Its few features are very well executed. If those are the features that matter, it might be the best option for you.

Performance Comparison


The precise, relatively low profile pliers on the Skeletool are even...
The precise, relatively low profile pliers on the Skeletool are even suitable for personal grooming. Like here, on a glacier in wild Alaska.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Functions


Among the tools this size, the Skeletool has fewer than half the features. However, each feature is useful and cleverly designed. It has just what you need in most day-to-day situations and nothing more.


On one level, the Skeletool has the fewest functions of any of the tools we tested. Basically, it has pliers with a blade and bit driver. Looking closer, however, a few more things stand out. The pliers have effective wire cutters. This alone sets the pliers apart from the closest competition. Next, the key/lanyard clip is also a bottle opener. Beer, cider, craft soda drinkers give bonus points there.

Finally, the bit driver allows virtually unlimited accessorization. The bit driver, as with all of those Leatherman includes, is a proprietary "squashed" 1/4" driver. The Skeletool comes with two double-ended bits for a total of four functions (flat and Phillips screwdrivers, in two sizes each).

The Skeletool and included features. It is a minimal tool set, but...
The Skeletool and included features. It is a minimal tool set, but each is carefully tailored and readily used.
Photo: Jediah Porter

One can purchase an upgrade pack with a far more comprehensive set of bits, including hex and Torx style drivers. These bits work in the Skeletool as well as in a standard 1/4" driver. However, because the Leatherman receptacle is smaller than 1/4" in one dimension, normal bits require an adapter (which Leatherman also sells) to tap into the virtually limitless supply of bits for that interface.

We do wish that Leatherman would "grow out of" their proprietary "squashed" bit configuration. It would change the form of all of their multi-tools very little to include a full-size, 1/4" bit driver, and it would greatly enhance each product's utility. We have said this for a while and they persist. We keep liking Leatherman products, despite the weird "solution without a problem" that their squashed bit driver provides.

Construction Quality


There is a certain baseline quality to everything we review. We do not test crappy products. We scour the market and choose only the best of the best to evaluate. In addition to that, the manufacturers of multi-tools seem to take great pride in making good products. The Skeletool, coming from the most established multi-tool company around, is an excellent piece of equipment. We had no problems with construction quality nor durability.


We review here Leatherman's top of the line Skeletool. The "CX" designation indicates an upgraded blade and a sliver of carbon fiber in the handle. The better blade is definitely worth the upgrade. They give you better materials (154CM steel) and a full straight edge. The other main Skeletool options have hybrid straight/serrated blades. Sure, you get "two for one" with a hybrid blade, but you also get (in our opinion) "the worst of both worlds".

The handle of the Skeletool has a friction fit slot for a spare...
The handle of the Skeletool has a friction fit slot for a spare, proprietary bit. One can purchase an extensive collection of these purpose built bits, and store whichever you want in this slot.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Ergonomics


Because of its svelte feature set, the Skeletool has been optimized for ergonomics. First, the main blade is large, well-oriented, and accessible with a smooth, modern one-thumb swipe. Next, in pliers mode, the handles are rounded and include a sliver of accenting carbon fiber. (The Skeletool is available in other versions in which the handle inset is plastic or metal). All of the other tools we tested, even those with nice rounded edges, have metal contact points. There is something subtly (completely in our heads?) more comfortable about non-metal rounded edges when squeezing pliers hard.


Finally, the bit driver is at the end of a narrow handle allowing for long reach, easy grabbing, and access to tight quarters. All these attributes together earn the Skeletool CX a high ergonomics score. Our one complaint, if we had one, would be that the slot for storing an extra bit is a little tight and finicky.

We like the large, one-handed deployed main blade of the Skeletool...
We like the large, one-handed deployed main blade of the Skeletool. The "CX" version includes better steel and an entirely straight-edge. This could go head to head with the better performing standalone pocket knives.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Portability


The Skeletool CX is among the lightest full-size tools in our test, weighing just 5 ounces on our scale. Only tiny keychain tools are significantly lighter. Among the full-size award-winning tools, the next heaviest tool is 136% the weight of the Skeletool. It is not even close. In scoring portability, weight and bulk are the primary considerations. The Skeletool gets an early lead.


Next, we considered carry options. People may carry their tool loose in a pocket, in which case smooth edges are a primary concern. The Skeletool has a relatively smooth profile.

There are a variety of ways one could use the "carabiner" style clip...
There are a variety of ways one could use the "carabiner" style clip on the Skeletool. Regardless, it is one more option for portability of this light and eminently carry-able tool.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The Skeletool does not always come with a sheath. We have tested a few over the years, and some came with a nice button-close sheath and others didn't. If this is important to you, check your order carefully to see if the sheath is included.

You can purchase the Skeletool with or without a sheath. If you...
You can purchase the Skeletool with or without a sheath. If you choose a sheath, it is sturdy and simple.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Most will carry their Skeletool clipped to the inside of a pants pocket. The Skeletool has an excellent pocket clip for this method of carriage, which we love. It's how we choose to carry this tool, and find it to be very convenient. Lastly, some will carry their tool clipped to keys. The Skeletool has a carabiner style clip for this sort of portability. The options, size, and weight of the Skeletool combine to give it high scores regarding portability.

Pocket clipped, low profile, and lighter than most full sizers. The...
Pocket clipped, low profile, and lighter than most full sizers. The Skeletool is very portable.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Value


Per function, the Skeletool is by far the most expensive tool in our test. You can get many products from our roster, with more features, for far less money. However, for that person that will carry the tool every day, and use the most common features most of those days, the price is worth it. The ergonomics, durability, and portability are where the value lies. This is a tool you can and will reach for at every turn, for as long as you can keep from losing it.

You can store one double-ended bit in the driver and another in the...
You can store one double-ended bit in the driver and another in the handle of the Skeletool. This covers most applications.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


At first glance, the Skeletool is an enigma. It is a "multi-tool", with few tools. Surely they could have wedged more devices in there. It isn't until after extensive testing (and that is what we do at OutdoorGearLab… we take months to assess equipment, if not longer) that the elegance and sophistication in the design become apparent. It is only because the other tools we tested are so strong and well-designed that the Skeletool didn't immediately get an award. It has literally taken us years to really appreciate the Skeletool. We don't hesitate now to grant an Editors' Choice Award to the Leatherman Skeletool CX for its appeal in "Everyday Carry." This is the best choice for someone who can and will carry a multi-tool every day. The portability, ease of use, and streamlined feature set lend its appeal for the day-to-day user. That same user can purchase the accessory bits, keep them somewhere accessible, and have a full-service piece of handy-person equipment. Further, the shape and configuration are especially well-tuned for everyday use. The blade opens with one thumb and the whole rig clips unobtrusively to your pants pocket. Few multi-tools do this. For EDC, the Skeletool CX is definitely worthy of your consideration. It is also light and compact enough to be taken on human-powered endeavors where field repairs might be necessary.

Jediah Porter