There are so very many multi-tools on the market. Until we started reviewing them, years ago now, we were thoroughly mystified. With literally hundreds of options, how do you narrow the field? Fret no more, as we've done exactly that. We scoured the entire market and have chosen 14 tools to use, abuse, and highlight for you here. In our thorough, proven, comparative style, we have identified at least one tool option for every possible user. We have tools that clip to your keychain and you might use once a month for trimming a loose thread and we have tools that are better suited for a professional auto shop. Of course, we assessed everything in between. To sort the crowd we have assessed and compared each tool for its functions, ergonomics, portability, and construction quality. Clear winners emerged, but all the tools we write up are worthy.
The 14 Best Multi-Tools For The Outdoors
We are emerging from a long winter of testing. The past few months we examined some familiar products while adding a couple brand new ones. Notably, we discovered a brand new, bargain basement multi-tool. The Stanley 84-519K is our newest award winner and earns its Best Buy award for absolutely mind-blowing value. We're not even sure how Stanley acquires the steel in this product for its retail price. Otherwise, we have new notes on familiar products from Leatherman and SOG, and we have new comparisons throughout this main article and through the individual review articles. You are reading about the latest and greatest state of the art multi-tools.
Best Overall Contender
Leatherman Charge TTI
Our Editors' Choice Award goes to the perennial favorite, the top of the line Leatherman Charge TTI. This dense piece of versatile equipment has a magical mix of parts in a functional design and is made from impressive materials. The blades are the best in our test while the titanium frame reduces weight. The Charge, at just about half a pound, is about average in weight for a full-size tool. However, being equipped to carry in a belt sheath, on a lanyard, or clipped to a pocket, it appeals to virtually everyone. Finally, Leatherman's proprietary low-profile bit driver, and the included selection of bits, nearly double the overall number of functions as compared to the next closest competitor in our test.
On the flip side, the Charge TTI is very expensive. It costs more than any other product we evaluated. Additionally, we wish that Leatherman cut out the generic flat screwdriver and used the extra space to include a full-size 1/4" bit driver. As it is, you must use either an adapter or Leatherman's proprietary bits. In the end, despite our minor gripes, the Charge TTI is a top of the line product; it is Leatherman's flagship product that pulls no punches in executing the best possible entry.
Read review: Leatherman Charge TTI
Best Bang for the Buck- A Deal for Every Day Carry
How does Leatherman do it? It's as if Ferrari made an $18,000 commuter car. The Leatherman Wingman brings the manufacturer's long pedigree, quality craftsmanship, and an excellent selection of functions to a rock-bottom affordable product. The Wingman includes functions virtually none of the other models do. The return spring in the pliers reduces hand strain and increases efficiency in extended use, the integrated pocket clip keeps the device handy for those that wish to carry it this way, and the package opener is quirky but invaluable.
There are some compromises made at this price point. The lone blade is made of mid-grade steel and features a hybrid straight/serrated edge, which will require regular sharpening. The straight portion is easily reconditioned, but sharpening serrations need special techniques. Overall, you get far more than you pay for with the Leatherman Wingman. When our lead test editors father was looking for a tool for everyday use, the Wingman was an easy recommendation.
Read review: Leatherman Wingman
Best Bang for the Buck- A Deal for those Seeking Full Function
The Leatherman Wave is the Charge TTI but stripped down a little bit. Leatherman takes roughly 80% of what makes the Charge so impressive and sells it for 50% as the Wave; this is an excellent value. For a truly all-purpose, all-around multi-tool, the price tag is right; of course, the Wingman is considerably less expensive, but it has fewer features. For a full-featured utensil, the Wave is the bargain shopper's choice.
Compared against the Charge, the Wave has a less sophisticated blade and frame materials, does not come with the accessory bits it can use, and cannot be configured with the pocket clip or lanyard loop that the Charge uses. Otherwise, the Wave and Charge are the same. If these compromises are acceptable to you, save half your dollars and choose the Wave.
Read review: Leatherman Wave
Best Bang for the Buck - The Rock Bottom Value
Stanley 12 in 1
On multiple occasions, we have seen the Stanley 84-519K on sale for less than $10. You can't get out of McDonalds for lunch for much less than that anymore. At this price, we expect little regarding performance. Our expectations were exceeded, to put it mildly. The pliers give up little to nothing as compared to the much more expensive offerings. The individual tools are functional for light to moderate use.
Stanley certainly makes compromises to hit this price point. Some are understandable. The screwdrivers are small and flexible. This is a valid cost-cutting measure, but it manifests in tools that only work for the most light-duty of tasks. A bit more mystifying is why Stanley designed this tool such that all the accessory features are accessed from within the pliers. In creating this tool, presumably, "from the ground up", it seems as though costs would have been the same whether the tools are accessed from within or from the outside. We prefer tools, for a variety of reason, which leave the accessory features accessible from the closed pliers. In the end, regardless of our grips, this is a useful tool at a fantastic price. For occasional use, you will only find advantages to owning the Stanley.
Read review: Stanley 12 in 1
Top Pick for Dedicated Handy-Person Use
Our Top Pick award criteria allow us some creativity. In granting this honor, we are empowered to consider the products we reviewed, how most use them, and how the fringes use their products. Most multi-tools are purchased for "every day carry". If you keep yours with you at all times, and you use it for tasks that come up in day-to-day life, versatility and portability are paramount. Other consumers, however, may use their product in some manual labor or mechanical job or avocation. For those users, the criteria often shifts. Blue collar users require that each function is very efficient, and those users may justify fewer features. For instance, manual laborers often have a toolbox full of dedicated tools reasonably close by. For that demographic, the Leatherman Crunch is a clear choice. The locking pliers of the Crunch are the clear highlight, as they are a definite improvement over any of the others in our review. For regular use, there is no reason not to choose pliers that have a locking capability. If you will use your multi-tool in a mechanical or construction-oriented fashion, the Crunch is the ticket.
The trade-off is in the selection and readiness of other attributes. In everyday use, people like their blade more easily accessed and like to have more driver and tool options. The Crunch requires a few steps to activate the blade, and it has about half the number of overall features as the Editors Choice. This is a specialized, truly unique product for the hardest working segment of the population.
Read review: Leatherman Crunch
Top Pick for Keychain Carry
At the other end of the spectrum, and also earning a Top Pick honor, is the Gerber Dime. This is the gadget for you if weight and space are at a premium. Sporting an elegant and useful combination of components, the Dime will sit out of the way on your keychain until you need it. The blade is razor-sharp, the pliers grab with a strength that belies their tiny stature, and the bottle opener is always handy.
You won't use the Dime for heavy tasks, mainly because of the diminutive stature. However, if you managed to over-reach the limits of its size, you will also exceed the strength of such a small tool. Be cautious in trying to turn stiff screws or use the pliers for hearty tasks. Small tools have smaller strength. As long as you can exercise restraint around heavier tasks, the Dime is an excellent choice to keep handy on your keychain.
Read review: Gerber Dime
Analysis and Test Results
The concept of combining various tools into a single device is as old as the idea of improving personal efficiency. Throughout human history, people have improvised and commercialized devices with many uses. The modern multi-tool era, however, started in 1984 when Tim Leatherman began selling his ground-breaking "Pocket Survival Tool". Leatherman and other manufacturers have expanded on the category and continue to offer a variety of options to the discerning aficionado.
We assessed the products in four categories. We evaluated the functions provided and the ergonomics, portability, and the overall construction quality of each.
We based our scoring for this review on four criteria: functions, ergonomics, portability, and construction quality. Check out the accompanying tables to see where each competitor scored in Overall Performance in our review, then read on to find out more about our scoring criteria.
At OutdoorGearLab, we score each product and give out awards based on Best Overall and special Top Picks. There's also a special place in our hearts for the products that offer the highest value for your dollar. We've included a chart below that shows each product in our testing fleet, as well as where it falls concerning top value. Products toward the bottom right offer the highest bang for your buck.
In assessing the scoring of a product's functions, we counted the components, compared our count to a list of what most consumers find most useful, and evaluated the size and utility of each feature. The diversity of functions, features, and applications is what defines the genre. By definition, there are multiple functions in each device. Besides the sheer number of tools built into a given product, the design, and usability of each matter a great deal. A product with ten very well designed parts is far more valuable than one with twenty functions hastily crammed in. Additionally, whether those ten well-designed parts are apt to be useful to most users is up for debate. Each user will have his or her preferences. However, some functions stand out as far more useful.
In day to day use, for our testing team, particular individual functions proved to be far more critical. Our testers appreciated a nice blade, tight pliers with wire cutters, scissors, and integrated bit drivers the most. Editors' Choice winner Leatherman Charge TTI and Best Buy Leatherman Wave are the only contenders in our test that completely fulfill this abbreviated, select list of features. Everyone who chooses to carry one will appreciate well-made and general purpose parts like this list. Additionally, users in some environments will have ample opportunity to use more specialized tools. A very select few will need and use the blasting cap crimper of the SOG Pocket PowerPlier. Others will regularly use and appreciate the innovative package opener on the Best Buy award winning Leatherman Wingman and on the Top Pick Gerber Dime.
In your research, be careful about comparing manufacturers cited functions counts; know that each company counts their pieces differently. For instance, in the catalog literature, it is claimed that the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X has 26 tools. The SOG Pocket PowerPlier, on the other hand, has a claimed 11 features. Now, it is true that the Spirit has scissors and the SOG does not, but otherwise, the actual feature set is very similar. Victorinox is simply more generous in counting its features. Gerber, with its Suspensionand Bear Grylls Ultimate devices, provides adequate feature sets. The SOG PowerAssist has a relatively small set of features, but each is very well made. The Best Buy Stanley 84-519K is almost exactly average, regarding features count.
The features of the Stanley suffer a little bit from the budget Stanley had, but bargain hunters easily forgive this. The Leatherman Crunch is arguably the most feature-deprived product we reviewed, but each of those tools is fully functioning, and the pliers lead the entire field. The Crunch and Baladeo Locker products, at first glance, seem to have very similar feature sets. However, the devices included on the Crunch are far more significant and robust than those on the Baladeo. In comparing the smallest products in our test to one another, the feature set is remarkably similar. The Gerber Dime has a package opener while the Leatherman Squirt PS4 has a file; otherwise, they are virtually the same. The Gerber Dime edges ahead, overall, with a bottle opener that is more readily accessible than that on the Leatherman. It is for this reason, primarily, that the Dime earns our Top Pick award, thereby displacing the Squirt from its prior position.
The ergonomic quality of a multi-tool is a function of handle shape and comfort and accessibility and utility of the various features. Good ergonomics stand out right away, and the quality becomes more and more apparent with use. Ergonomic complaints arise only with extended use and experience. With years now of experience, our test team is well-versed in assessing the usability of a given tool.
Each of the models we tested has been built on the tried-and-true plier format. Each is a set of pliers with other parts built into the handle. In each tested product, the pliers fold into the handles as well. There are different ways of accomplishing this, but the unifying theme is that the pliers are the most extensive and most functional tool included with any given device. Including other pieces into the handles of the pliers will inherently reduce the ergonomic and function of the pliers. However, some multi-tools do this more elegantly than others. For the pliers (and wire cutters) to be most functional, the exposed parts of the handles must be rounded and smooth. All of our tested products are serviceable in this regard. The SwissTool and Charge TTI are perhaps the most smooth-handled products in our test. Other and older models on the market aren't as comfortable as our tested devices. The Leatherman Crunch, for instance, has just a little bit of rounding to protect the user's hands from the sharp plier handles.
The SOG PowerAssist and the Best Buy Stanley 54-519K are remarkably similar, regarding plier handle roundness, to the Crunch. We also evaluated plier-handle pinch proclivity. The closer the pliers handles come to one another, the more likely you are to pinch your hand in use. The twin Gerber products (Suspension and Bear Grylls) lead this attribute, with Stanley not too far off. All of these have handles that curve away from one another, leaving plenty of room. The SOG PowerAssist, otherwise very intelligently designed, has the most pinch potential of any of the tools we tested.
Just like the pliers, each of the other functions is compromised in usability, simply because they are bolted to other components. A dedicated knife will be more useful than the blade on a multi-tool. Same with a screwdriver, scissors, saw, file, etc. We accept these compromises in the interest of versatility. And we appreciate models with intelligent and convenient integration of the selected functions. We gave high marks to devices that leave the most commonly used functions accessible with a minimal of folding and unfolding moves.
Notably, the main blades of the Leatherman Wave, Gerber Suspension, Bear Grylls Ultimate, Leatherman Skeletool, the Charge TTI, Wingman, SOG PowerAssist, and the SOG Pocket PowerPlier are accessible with a modern, thumb-activated, one-handed deployment. We gave high marks to intuitive and efficient locking mechanisms. Special mention must be made of the innovative ergonomic features of the SOG Pocket PowerPlier. This product is made for cumbersome and regular use. The two blades deploy from the "outside" of the stowed pliers. Each lock closed, thumbs open easily, and locks for usage. The pliers include a mechanical advantage gearing system that significantly increases the holding power. The SOG PowerAssist has similar blades and adds "assisted opening" springs to these two main, external blades.
The Baladeo Locker is new to our review but comes with outdated fully-internal components. In this way, it is just like the Stanley 54-519K. To get to the blades and drivers of both these, one must deploy the pliers, open the piece you need, and then reclose the pliers. The smaller products in our test make inherent ergonomics compromises. It is in ergonomics that one, figuratively, "pays the price" for the ultimate portability of the Gerber Dime and Leatherman Squirt PS4. Each of the features of each of these tools is much smaller and less useful than its dedicated counterpart. They are even smaller and less valuable than the functions on the full-size multi-tools.
The one exception is the bottle opener of the Gerber Dime. As an extension of the handle, this is primarily a full-size product that used without deploying any of the other attributes. To open a bottle with the Gerber Dime is no different than with any other portable bottle opener. The Leatherman Skeletool is a relatively compact product that compromises very little on ergonomics. The limited suite of tools on the Skeletool is all convenient to use, relative to the portability of this product.
A tool is only as useful as it is available. Will it be there for you when you need it? How is it intended to be carried? How big is it? Small devices shuffling around in a glove box or crowded pants pocket will be too time-consuming to dig out. Extensive and substantial tools are pretty much limited to belt and sheath carry. We liked ones that offered a variety of carrying methods. Our Editors' Choice winner Leatherman Charge TTI, although one of the larger competitors in our test, can be configured to carry with a pocket clip, attached to a lanyard or keychain, as well as stowed securely in the included and rugged belt pouch.
Additionally, the belt pouch with the Charge can also hold the included selection of driver bits. The Leatherman Wave differs the most from the Charge in portability. The Wave is a bit smaller but does not have the optional pocket clip or lanyard loops. For our lead test editor, this is a deal-breaking difference. He prefers to carry his in pocket clipped configuration. Without this option, the Wave is a non-starter.
At the other end of the size and versatility spectrum, but winning our Top Pick award for its diminutive-yet-tough design, the Gerber Dime virtually disappears on a keychain. The Leatherman Squirt PS4 is even smaller than the Dime. The Gerber and the tiny Leatherman are smaller even than most of the far less versatile products in our pocket knife Review.
Special mention must be made of portability of the Leatherman Skeletool CX. It is easily the most portable of the tools that include full-size features. It accomplishes this by adding fewer features, and by incorporating virtually all of the most common carry options. The Skeletool has just a few features, but each is mostly full size. The simplicity of the feature set means that Leatherman could optimize carrying options. The external profile of the closed Skeletool is smooth. There is an integrated carabiner style clip. Finally, there is a smart and appreciated pocket clip. We dig the portability of the Skeletool.
In summary, all the products we tested except for the Wingman, Skeletool, Squirt, and Dime came with belt sheaths. The Charge TTI and Wingman and Skeletool can be clipped to the edge of one's front pants pocket. The Squirt PS4 and Dime disappear on a keychain, while the Bear Grylls, Suspension, SOG PocketPlier, and Charge TTI have key ring holes that would make them work in that regard. The Leatherman Crunch, Stanley 84-519K, and Baladeo Locker are both best carried in the included sheaths or loose in your pocket. The SOG PowerAssist is the largest and least portable of the products we tested. It is only really feasible to carry it in its sheath. For those to whom this utilitarian tool appeals, this limitation shouldn't be much of a turn-off.
In the products we tested, quality of manufacturing varied. Hinges and locking mechanisms reveal the attention paid to detail. Sturdy materials, tight manufacturing tolerances, and intelligent construction stand out in a tool the end user could handle and use every day for years and years. In our testing, high-quality construction stood out virtually right away and only increased in value as time and usage wore on. The Charge TTI, SOG PowerPlier and PowerAssist, Skeletool CX, and Victorinox Swisstool have excellent "out of the box" construction quality feels. Our evaluation of their construction quality was initially subjective. Does it "feel" sturdy and confidence inspiring. When this almost-aesthetic assessment came up short for a given contender, it inevitably followed that some aspect of the mechanical function of the knife would act finicky.
The Squirt PS4 and the Gerber Dime, as very portable products, are quite a bit lighter than the others. Their construction isn't quite as rugged as the others, but it is forgivable given their respective other attributes. To miniaturize a tool like these, the manufacturers must downsize all the individual components, thereby weakening the structure. Thankfully these small models are inherently limited in the scale of tasks you might ask of them. You simply cannot grab a large nut, for instance, with the Dime or Squirt.
Plier hinges are the most vulnerable to construction quality. Virtually all of our tested products held up very well through testing. With a contender we have since dropped from the test roster, one tester was cutting a piece of wire clothes hanger for an improvised repair to a toolbox. (Ironic, right?) The hinges in the handle couldn't handle the leverage and cutting a coat hanger could be considered a massive task for a small tool. However, coat hangers are a common source of improvised repair material. And the even smaller and lighter Leatherman Squirt PS4 cuts a coat hanger just fine. Concerning the subjective "smoothness" of construction, we much appreciated the Swiss precision of the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit XC. The Leatherman Wave is a throwback to the original Pocket Survival Tool, with modern rounded lines and super tight tolerances.
The Leatherman Crunch is rugged and built for serious use. Because of the inherent design criteria of the locking pliers, the hinges have more play in them. Knowing this is a function of the locking plier design lets us forgive this. If non-locking pliers rattled this way, we would be worried. The blades and drivers of the Crunch are reliable and adequate if a little small.
The Baladeo Locker, Gerber Suspension, Stanley 84-519K, and Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate (incidentally, the Suspension and Bear Grylls are the same tool. They have the same features and are made of the same materials. The only differences are in branding, price, and cosmetics) are nothing special in terms of construction quality. The Gerber products are a little more tightly assembled, but the pliers flex, and the components are small and get dinged up in use. The Baladeo Locker is a budget buy, and the exposed plier spring, flexible pliers, and rattly tools attest to this. The feature set is decent, but the materials and craftsmanship just aren't up to the task.
When one can purchase the Leatherman Wingman for half the price of the Baladeo, or the Leatherman Wave for just a little bit more, it is hard to justify the purchase of the "rough around the edges" Baladeo Locker. Both Best Buy Leatherman products are much more polished and refined than the Baladeo and will also last much much longer than the Baladeo. Down there on the budget end of the spectrum, consider the construction quality of the rock bottom Best Buy Stanley 84-519K. The Stanley is less expensive than the Baledeo but made better. It, however, isn't nearly as well made as the Wingman. The Stanley, for the price, is excellent. However, it must be noted that the screwdrivers are virtually unusable for all but the lightest of tasks.
With a multi-tool in your possession, you can feel invincible. With a carefully chosen multi-tool, selected for your purposes by our criteria, you are invincible. Sorting through the hundreds of options is onerous at best. Certainly, some consumers love that process. For the rest, though, we have built this review to do the dirty work for you. Shop carefully, weigh your options, consider what you will wish to do with your multi-tool, and then pull the trigger.
— Jediah Porter
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.