Reviews You Can Rely On

Leatherman Skeletool CX Review

A multi-tool that optimizes ergonomics and portability by reducing the tool set to the most important ones for daily use and carry
Leatherman Skeletool CX
Photo: Leatherman
Editors' Choice Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $80 List | $64.95 at Amazon
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  ⋅  May 12, 2020
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 21
  • 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 and "on paper," it underwhelms. It sure doesn't have the flash and bang of other award winning products we've tested. In fact, it took us years to grant the Skeletool award status. It is a full-size device with fewer than half the features of every other similar sized tool. However, it 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 first recommendation for Every Day Carry. For the price, function, and daily-driver practicality, we tend to recommend this tool to many of our friends.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $64.95 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$25 ListCheck Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$21.29 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
75
74
53
53
47
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Compact, light, with multiple carry options, smart, effective toolsComprehensive, well-made, aftermarket accessories and carry optionsSmall for carry, effective function, spring-loaded pliersInexpensive and well-made, spring-loaded pliers, scissors, pocket clip, one-handed bladeTiny, well made, excellent bottle opener
Cons Few featuresProprietary bit driver, no pocket clip includedAwkward and squished phillips drive, main blade requires two hands and fingernailHybrid straight/serrated blade, squashed Phillips driver, short main bladePackage opener is specialized, screwdrivers are tiny
Bottom Line A 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 priceFitting into a niche size sub-category, this neither full size nor keychain tool has functions that are worthy and effectiveA 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'tA keychain tool whose utility belies its tiny stature
Rating Categories Leatherman Skeletoo... Leatherman Wave+ SOG Micro ToolClip Leatherman Wingman Gerber Dime
Functions (40%)
5.0
8.0
4.0
4.0
3.0
Construction Quality (25%)
9.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
6.0
Ergonomics (20%)
10.0
7.0
5.0
8.0
3.0
Portability (15%)
8.0
5.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
Specs Leatherman Skeletoo... Leatherman Wave+ SOG Micro ToolClip Leatherman Wingman Gerber Dime
Number of functions 5 + bits 18 + bits 8 10 9
Weight (ounces) 5.0 oz 8.5 oz, 9.5 oz with case 3.2 oz 6.8 oz, 7.8 oz with sheath 2.3 oz
Locking tools? All but pliers All but pliers None Scissors and blade None
Pliers type Needlenose with 2 wire cutters Needlenose, regular, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, crimper Spring-loaded pliers Spring-loaded regular and needlenose Spring loaded needle nose pliers
Tools accessible without deploying pliers Blade Blades, saw, file All but phillips driver Blade and scissors All
Blades and type 1 straight drop point 1 straight, 1 serrated 1 straight blade 1 hybrid serrated/straight drop point 1 straight blade
Scissors No Yes No Yes Yes
Number of screwdrivers 4 included, more available aftermarket for proprietary driver 5 included/integrated. More available aftermarket for proprietary driver 3 3 2
File? No Yes, wood/metal and a diamond-coated file Yes Yes No
Saw? No Yes No No No
Openers Bottle Can and bottle Bottle Can, bottle, and a unique box opener Bottle, package
Other important features None Ruler Wirecutter Very small ruler Tweezers
Sheath included? No Yes No Yes No
Other carry options Carabiner style clip, pocket clip Pocket Pocket, lanyard, clip Pocket, Pocket clip Key ring attachment
Closed dimensions (Length by thickness, in inches) 4.3 x 0.6 4 x 0.7 3.9x0.5 3.8 x 0.7 2.8 x 0.6
Open length (pliers, in inches) 6.2 in 6.3 in 3.9 in 6.2 in 4 in
Open overall length (primary blade deployed, in inches) 6.8 in 6.9 in 5.8 in 6.4 in 4.1 in
Length of primary blade effective edge (inches) 2.6 in 2.8in 1.9 in 2.4 in 1.4 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 Skeletool CX can and should be with you through all your daily...
The Skeletool CX can and should be with you through all your daily excursions. For simple, routine tasks you'll find no better tool that can be on your person all the time.
Photo: Rosie De Lise

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 Skeletool and its proprietary bits. You can see how the...
The Skeletool and its proprietary bits. You can see how the dimensions are asymmetrical. If you are familiar with standard 1/4" bits, you can see the difference.
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.
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


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 call it the best 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