Leatherman Skeletool CX Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Compact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective tools
Cons: Few features
Compare to Similar Products
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.
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).
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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