The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Leatherman Skeletool CX Review

A multi tool that optimizes ergonomics and portability at the expense of the feature count.
Leatherman Skeletool CX
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Compact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective tools
Cons:  Few features
Manufacturer:   Leatherman
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 22, 2019
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 15
  • Functions - 40% 6
  • Construction Quality - 25% 8
  • Ergonomics - 20% 9
  • Portability - 15% 8

Our Verdict

The Leatherman Skeletool CX is surprisingly effective. At first glance, it underwhelms. It's a full-size device with fewer than half the features of similar size tools. However, it grows on you. It's elegant and clean in both its portability and the ergonomics. Its few features are used well. And if those are the features that matter, it might be the best option for you. In many ways, it is in a class of its own, as a great "every day carry" tool. The pliers, blade, and bit driver are purpose-built, comfortable to use, and clean. This is a great 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.


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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Compact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective toolsSophisticated, comprehensiveLarge, excellent construction, full-size functions, customizableComprehensive, well-made, aftermarket accessories and carry optionsEasy tool and plier deployment, Leatherman pedigree
Cons Few featuresHeavy, expensiveHeavy and large; limited portability. Proprietary bit driver.Proprietary bit driver, no pocket clip includedNo bit driver, magnets pick up metal grit
Bottom Line A multi tool that optimizes ergonomics and portability at the expense of the feature count.As a top of the line product, Leatherman has equipped the Charge TTI with every imaginable tool, organized and optimized for compact function; in an extravagant move, they have wrapped it in Titanium.A large, heavy tool that does all you might need but is hard to carry around.A full-function tool from a great manufacturer at a reasonable price.A classic multi-tool with a major usability twist.
Rating Categories Leatherman Skeletool CX Leatherman Charge TTI Leatherman Surge Leatherman Wave+ Leatherman Free P4
Functions (40%)
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6
10
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8
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8
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7
Construction Quality (25%)
10
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8
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9
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9
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8
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8
Ergonomics (20%)
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9
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7
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9
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7
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8
Portability (15%)
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Specs Leatherman... Leatherman Charge... Leatherman Surge Leatherman Wave+ Leatherman Free P4
Number of Functions 7 19 + bits 21 18 + bits 21
Weight (ounces) 5.0 oz 8.8 oz 12.2 oz. 14.3 oz with case 8.5 oz. 9.5 oz with case 8.8 oz
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, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, crimper Needlenose, regular
Tools Accessible Without Deploying Pliers Blade Blades, saw, file Blades, saw, file Blades, saw, file All
Blades and Type 1 straight drop point 1 serrated gut hook type, 1 straight drop point 1 straight, 1 serrated 1 straight, 1 serrated 1 straight 1 serated
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 4 included, more available aftermarket for proprietary driver 5 included/integrated. More available aftermarket for proprietary driver 1
File? No Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes
Saw? No Metal and wood Yes Yes Wood
Openers Bottle Can and bottle Can and bottle Can and bottle Bottle and can
Other important Features None Ruler, cutting hook, wire stripper Ruler, awl, wire stripper Ruler One-handed blades. Replacable wire-cutters
Sheath Included? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Other carry options Carabiner style clip, pocket clip Pocket clip, key ring Pocket Pocket Pocket , pocket clip
Closed dimensions (Length by thickness, in inches) 4.3 x 0.6 4 x 0.8 4.5 x 0.8 4 x 0.7 4.2 x 0.7
Open Length (Pliers) (inches) 6.2 in 6.2 in 7.1in 6.3 in 6.5 in
Open Overall Length (Primary blade deployed) (inches) 6.8 in 7 in 7.6 in 6.9 in 4.25 in
Length of Primary Blade Effective Edge (inches) 2.6 in 2.8 in 3.1 in 2.8in 2.8 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.

Performance Comparison



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

Functions


On one level, the Skeletool has the fewest functions of any of the tools we tested. Basically, it is 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, for instance, those on the Gerber Suspension. Next, the key/lanyard clip is also a bottle opener. 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 each is carefully tailored and readily used.
The Skeletool and included features. It is a minimal tool set, but each is carefully tailored and readily used.

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.

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 the construction quality nor durability.

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.
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.

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 carbon fiber. (The Skeletool is available in other versions in which the handles are plastic or metal). All of the other tools we tested, even those with nice rounded edges, have metal contact points. There is something subtly 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.

Like many of the modern pocket knives we have tested and appreciated  the Skeletool comes with a main blade optimized for one-handed  thumbed opening.
Like many of the modern pocket knives we have tested and appreciated, the Skeletool comes with a main blade optimized for one-handed, thumbed opening.

Portability


The Skeletool CX is among the lightest full-size tools in our test. 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 isn't the smoothest device in our test.

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.
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.

The Skeletool does not come with a sheath. Still, others carry their tool clipped to the inside of a pants pocket. The Skeletool has an excellent pocket clip for this method of carriage. 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.

Only three products in our test are equipped for easy pocket clip carry. Of all them  the skeletool is the slimmest and most suitable for this sort of every day carry.
Only three products in our test are equipped for easy pocket clip carry. Of all them, the skeletool is the slimmest and most suitable for this sort of every day carry.

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 and portability are where the value lies. This is a tool you can and will reach for at every turn.

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 becomes apparent. It is only because the other tools we tested are so strong and well-designed that the Skeletool doesn't get an award. We could easily justify another "Top Pick" award for the Skeletool for its appeal in "Every Day Carry".


Jediah Porter