Hands-on Gear Review

Leatherman Skeletool CX Review

A multi tool that optimizes ergonomics and portability at the expense of the feature count.
Leatherman Skeletool CX
By: Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 20, 2016
Price:  $80 List  |  $79.95 at REI
Pros:  Compact, light, with multiple carry options. Smart, effective tools
Cons:  Few features
Manufacturer:   Leatherman
84
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 14
  • Function - 40% 7
  • Ergonomics - 20% 10
  • Portability - 15% 9
  • Construction Quality - 25% 9
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Our Verdict

The Skeletool is surprisingly effective. At first glance, it underwhelms. It's a full-size device with fewer than half the features of similarly scaled tools. However, it grows on you. It's elegant and clean in both its portability and the ergonomics. It's few features are used well. And if those are the features that matter, it might be the best options 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. Other, award-winners in our test are at least slightly better in one or more ways, but it is easy for us to say that the Skeletool is the best non-award winning product in this test.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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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


In overall scoring, the Skeletool CX is only bested by the two top award-winning products. The Editors' Choice Leatherman Charge TTI is the top of the line product, and the Best Buy Leatherman Wave has essentially the same functions in lesser materials. The Skeletool CX doesn't earn an award, but it comes real, real close.

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. All of these bit driver points are the same for our Editors' Choice Leatherman Charge TTI, which also features a far more robust set of tools than the Skeletool.

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 our highest 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 by far the lightest full-size tool in our test. Only the tiny Leatherman Squirt PS4 and Top Pick winning Gerber Dime are lighter. Among the full-size tools, the next heaviest tool (incidentally, the Best Buy Leatherman Wingman) 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. That honor would go to the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X. Others carry a tool in a sheath.

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 the tiny Squirt edges out the Skeletool for overall portability. No full-size tool is as portable as the Skeletool.

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.

=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 respected 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.

Best Applications


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.

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 a third "Top Pick" award for the Skeletool for its appeal in "Every Day Carry".

Other Versions and Accessories


Leatherman's accessory "bit kit" and 1/4" adapter together make the Skeletool into virtually an entire toolbox.

Jediah Porter

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Most recent review: September 20, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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