We have tested multi-tools for nearly seven years. We've had almost 30 models in our hands and, for 2020, we review 19 of the best. Our findings are based on a combination of formalized testing and piles of "real world" use. We have the experience to look and feel a tool and deduce much about it. But we don't rest there. We put every tool through rigorous application and learn more each time than we ever expect. We evaluate each tool for functions, construction quality, ergonomics, and portability. We identify those that are the absolute best and those that very effectively fill certain niches.Related: The Best Folding and Pocket Knives of 2020
The Best Multi-Tools of 2020
Leatherman Charge+ TTi
Our Editors' Choice Award goes to the perennial favorite, top-of-the-line Leatherman Charge+ TTi. This dense piece of versatile equipment has a magical mix of attributes in a functional design and is made from impressive materials. The blades are the best in our test, while the titanium frame reduces weight a little and increases the bling a lot. The Charge, at about half a pound, is 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.
On the flip side, the Charge+ TTi is very expensive. It costs more than any other product we evaluated. Additionally, we wish that Leatherman included a full-size 1/4" bit driver instead of their proprietary "squashed" interpretation. They could cut out the generic flat screwdriver/"pry bar" and used the extra space for the larger bit driver. As it is, you must use either an adapter/extender or Leatherman's proprietary bits. Even better would be a bit driver whose geometry centers the driver relative to the handle (somehow build the pliers to lock and include the above modifications, and we'd have our dream multi-tool…). In the end, despite our minor gripes, the Charge TTi is a top-of-the-line product. We heartily recommend Leatherman's flagship tool that pulls no punches.
Read review: Leatherman Charge+ TTi
Best Overall for Everyday Carry
Leatherman Skeletool CX
The Skeletool CX is sort of the antithesis to Leatherman's other Editors' Choice winner. If the Charge+ TTi gracefully crams as much function into a reasonably sized tool, the Skeletool aims for maximum utility of a smaller set of tools and more graceful carry. The Skeletool has a small fraction of the features of the Charge, but it is much easier to carry around on a daily basis. Further, the features included with the Skeletool are arguably more usable and cleaner. Both being from Leatherman, though, they share a common denominator in their high quality.
With the Skeletool CX, Leatherman has stripped a multi-tool to its minimum, without making it tiny. This was likely a gamble for them, in terms of branding and product development, but it pays off. This is a great daily or backcountry tool. It has what you will need regularly, and is configured so that you can carry it regularly. Our primary complaint is with the bit driver. With the Skeletool even more than with other models, Leatherman could have easily included a standard 1/4" bit driver. We've tested this model for over three years, and it's grown and grown on us. For a portable, EDC multi-tool to live clipped on your pocket, the Skeletool is our top recommendation.
Read review: Leatherman Skeletool CX
Best Bang for the Buck
The Leatherman Wave+ is the Charge TTi stripped down a little. Leatherman takes over 90% of what makes the Charge so impressive and sells it for 60% of the cost. What you get is the Wave+ and an excellent value. The Leatherman Wingman is even less expensive, by a significant margin, but it has fewer features and is made with lesser materials. For a full-featured tool, the Wave is the bargain shopper's choice.
Compared to the Charge, the Wave+ has a less sophisticated blade and frame materials, does not come with many accessory bits, and does not come with the pocket clip or lanyard loop that Leatherman includes with the Charge. Bits and pocket clip are available aftermarket for the Wave+, but adding these mostly closes the price gap between it and the Charge. Other than materials and accessories included, the Wave and Charge are the same. They feature the same general layout and tool selection. The dimensions are the same. If the referenced compromises are acceptable to you, save some dollars and choose the Wave+ over the Editors' Choice Charge.
Read review: Leatherman Wave+
Best Value on a Tighter Budget
How does Leatherman do it? It's as if Ferrari also made a sub $20k 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 certain types of 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 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 requires special techniques. Overall, you get far more than you pay for with the Leatherman Wingman. If you use a multi-tool for basic tasks but are prone to losing it, the Wingman won't hurt quite as much to replace.
Read review: Leatherman Wingman
The Gerber Center Drive displaced the SOG Baton Q4 as our favorite screw driving optimized multi-tool. Each has its pros and cons, to be sure. In screwdriver mode, the Baton has a smoother handle and ratcheting driver. The Center Drive screwdriver configuration has a longer extension and a handle ready for more torque. Most importantly, as compared to everything except the Baton, this Gerber centers the bit along the long axis, vastly improving ergonomics and making it feel like a true, single-purpose screwdriver. That said, both screwdriver optimized tools are well ahead of their competition when it comes to driving screws. It is the other functions of the Center Drive that edges it ahead of the Baton Q4. Gerber's pliers are better, the knife blade is handier and larger, and all the other tools are better and more diverse than those on the SOG.
Choose the Center Drive if your multi-tool use includes a lot of driving screws. It is the best tool we know of for that purpose. Otherwise, as a general multi-tool, it's more average. The rattly construction doesn't instill great confidence (but it certainly holds up), the pliers are more prone to pinching than more sophisticated options, and accessing tools other than the blade, pliers, and bit driver require multiple steps.
Read review: Gerber Center Drive
Best Keychain Tool
The Gerber Dime virtually disappears on all but the most minimalist keychains. It is smaller than your typical modern car key "fob". Packed into this dense nugget are a few basic and useful tools. We are confident that you will find a use for one or more of these functions nearly every day. Having it as handy as your keys will mean that you actually have and use it.
We describe it as a keychain tool. But it could also be considered a keychain bottle opener that does other things too. The bottle opener protrusion is always available and might be all you need to justify a Dime purchase. It is the ready bottle opener that sets the Dime apart from other tiny tools. Other options have similar feature sets but don't have the bottle opener so handy. You won't turn large bolts or do extensive whittling with the Dime, but for light-duty house and travel tasks, it is just right.
Read review: Gerber Dime
When testing these tools, we consider what appeals to people on the fringes of the group of devoted consumers. Most multi-tools are purchased for "everyday carry" for use on tasks that come up in day-to-day life where versatility and portability are paramount. These consumers may use their products in manual labor or a mechanical job or avocation. Blue-collar users require that each function is very efficient, and they thereby justify fewer features. For those users, the Leatherman Crunch is a clear choice. The locking pliers of the Crunch are the clear highlight, a definite improvement over the other non-locking ones in our review.
The trade-off is the selection and readiness of other attributes such as easy blade access and 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 winner. There is an integrated bit driver, but using it requires time-consuming removal of the locking mechanism screw. If you will use your multi-tool as pliers in a mechanical or construction-oriented fashion, the Crunch is the ticket. Its locking pliers are nearly as useful as stand-alone versions.
Read review: Leatherman Crunch
Why You Should Trust Us
Homeowner, camper renovator, Airbnb Superhost (with a 5-star cleanliness rating), world traveler, clever fix-it guy, and IFMGA Mountain Guide Jediah Porter coordinates our multi-tool review. We employed him initially for his mountain experience, but it is his "side hustles" that qualify him for this category. With each multi-tool, Jed solicits the input and opinion of other guides, professional contractors, hunters, motorcyclists, fisherman, and tradespeople. Recently, Jed enlisted the advice of his cousin, foodie, hunter, welder, and all-around handy guru Ryan Weidenbach. Ryan is trained as a welder and manages a campground, a catering business, and rental properties.
As with all GearLab reviews, we started by scouring the market and looking back to the dozens of tools we have assessed over the years. We purchase the best, and each tool gets weeks of day-to-day use that feature a battery of exercises. With each blade, we cut things such as tomatoes, rope, and wood. We turn screws and bolts, cut and bend wire clothes hangers. We use the other functions in their intended situations and press them into use in an improvised fashion. As with all the testing we do, the most informative results are those gleaned in "real world" use. Recent remote car repairs, for instance, highlighted some very real observations of multi-tool functionality.
Related: How We Tested Multi-tool Knives
Analysis and Test Results
The concept of combining various tools into a single device is an old one. The first "multi-tool" was likely a stick used for digging and for holding meat over the fire. The modern multi-tool era began in 1984 when Tim Leatherman began selling the "Pocket Survival Tool." Leatherman Inc still leads our charts while others have followed the Leatherman lead. Below, we rate and assess each product across key performance metrics, highlighting top tools and calling out design flaws.
Related: Buying Advice for Multi-tool Knives
Value in multi-tools is a function of the purchase price and how it relates to functions, materials and construction, and ergonomics. We find that the primary compromises are made in materials and construction. A multi-tool inherently has multiple tools. Whether cheap or expensive, your multi-tool will do various things. Similarly, multi-tools inherently compromise on ergonomics. It doesn't matter how much you pay; a stand-alone screwdriver will be better than one built into the handle of a pair of pliers. Upgrade in price, and you get longer-lasting design, flashier materials, and tighter tolerances.
We give out awards based on Best Overall, Best Buy, and special Top Picks for specific applications and niche uses. With a huge range of price points in multi-tools, we selected two Best Buy winners. There is the everyday carry, incredible value of the Leatherman Wingman, which provides enough functionality to satisfy the majority of small tool needs in your day to day life. The relatively affordable (especially as compared to the Editors' Choice winner) Leatherman Wave+ also snagged a Best Buy Award for providing almost the same performance as the Charge+ TTi at a significantly lower price.
In assessing a product's functions, we count the components, compare those to what most consumers find most useful, and evaluate the size and utility of each feature. Besides the sheer number of tools built into a given product, the design and usability of each count for a lot. A product with ten well-designed parts is more valuable than one with 20 mediocre functions crammed in.
In day-to-day use, particular functions are especially critical. Most valuable are a nice blade, tight-and-pointy pliers with wire cutters, scissors, and integrated bit drivers. Leatherman Surge, Editors' Choice winner Leatherman Charge+ TTi, and Best Buy Leatherman Wave are the only tools in our test that have the features on this list in high quality. Additionally, a select few will regularly appreciate the innovative package opener on the Leatherman Wingman and the Gerber Dime.
Note that each company counts its pieces differently. For instance, it is claimed that the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X has 26 tools. The SOG PowerAssist has claimed 16 features. 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 Suspension device, provides adequate feature sets. The SOG Baton Q4 has a relatively small set of features. The Editors' Choice Leatherman Skeletool, Gerber Center Drive, and Gerber Crucial have relatively few features, but those features are optimized for ergonomics.
The tested products built around locking pliers are among the most feature-deprived products we reviewed, but each of those tools is fully functioning, and the pliers lead the entire field. The Leatherman Crunch and Irwin 5WR Vise-Grips both include locking pliers. The Crunch has a few more options than the Irwin, but the Irwin is a little larger and its blade is accessible from the outside (although we still don't love the blade location when deployed). Between these two, we like the Crunch better.
At first glance, the Crunch and SOG Baton Q4 products seem to have similar feature sets. However, the function of the different tools is significantly different. The Crunch pliers are way better than those of the Baton while the Baton bit driver is way better than that on the Crunch. Better still is the bit driver of the Gerber Center Drive, which earned it our Top Pick for having the best screwdriving function.
With the smallest products in our test, the feature set is remarkably similar. The Top Pick 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. For this reason, the Dime earns our Top Pick Award, displacing the Squirt.
Leatherman recently added a line of multi-tools they call "Free." Hinges in the "Free" line pivot smoothly with virtually no resistance. Instead of friction, hinges are held in place with magnets and springs. We reviewed the top of the line "Free" product. The Leatherman Free P4 is a nice tool, but its function selection lags behind the manufacturer's other class-leading tools. Notably, the Free P4 does not have a bit driver. If and when the Free series expands to include a bit driver (even better would be a standard 1/4" bit driver and an included extension that centers the bit with the tool handle) and somehow figures out how to integrate locking pliers, we'll have our ideal tool. For now, the Leatherman Free P4 is an interesting development but needs more functions before it really catches our eye.
Let us look more closely at the feature set of the Editors' Choice Leatherman Skeletool CX. This is a full size, minimalist tool. What does that even mean? Each function of the Skeletool is as large as you likely need it to be and each is almost perfectly optimized for function. Our primary hesitations are in terms of the bit driver. We say it over and over again, and will keep doing so, but we wish that Leatherman tools included a standard 1/4" bit driver instead of their proprietary configuration.
The Havalon Evolve is the only model in our entire review that features a user-replaceable main blade. Havalon's proprietary scalpel style blade interchange is unique and welcome to certain applications. The interchangeable blade is thin. This allows it to be very, very sharp, but also means it is flexible and flimsy. For heavier use, we wish the Havalon also included a more traditional blade on the Evolve. Aside from the blade, the Havalon Evolve feature set and layout is pretty similar to the Editors' Choice Skeletool CX.
In the products we tested, the 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 PowerAssist, Skeletool CX, Wave+, Surge, Free P4 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 tool would act finicky.
The Squirt PS4, Gerber Vise, SOG Micro ToolClip and the Gerber Dime are small and don't have construction quite as rugged as the others. To miniaturize a tool like these, the manufacturers must downsize all the individual components, thereby weakening the structure. Of these smaller tools, the SOG and Gerber Dime are the sturdiest. The SOG is just large enough that it doesn't readily hang well on most keychains — it's a bit too big in this niche for the liking of our testers. The Dime takes our Top Pick Award partially for its sturdier construction.
Plier hinges are the most vulnerable to poor construction quality. Virtually all of our tested products held up very well in this respect. Concerning the "smoothness" of construction, we much appreciated the Swiss precision of the Victorinox SwissTool Spirit XC.
The Leatherman Crunch is rugged and built for serious use. Because of the design criteria of the locking pliers, the hinges have more play in them. The blades and drivers of the Crunch are reliable and adequate, if a little small. We can say many of the same things about the Irwin 5WR Vise Grips. The Irwin is essentially a standard pair of locking pliers with a blade and bit driver attached. Locking pliers will always have more play than non-locking and the locking mechanism takes up space that compromises multi-tool features.
The Gerber Suspension, SOG Baton Q4, and Gerber Center Drive are nothing special in terms of construction quality. The Gerber Suspension is a little more tightly assembled, but the pliers flex, and the components are small and get dinged up in use. The slide-to-deploy pliers of the Center Drive require loose tolerances. This results in rattly construction that seems to hold up but doesn't inspire confidence. Similarly, the main blade of the Center Drive came to us with a bead of unpolished metal burrs along the very edge. It cut adequately, but that bead indicates some manufacturing slop.
The ergonomic quality of a multi-tool is a function of handle shape's comfort, plus accessibility and utility of the various features. Good ergonomics stand out right away, and the quality becomes more and more apparent with use.
All of the models we tested, except the SOG Baton Q4, are a set of pliers with other parts built into the handle. The Baton, in its "stowed" form, is elongated like a screwdriver. In each tested product, the pliers fold into the handles. 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 meet this test — the SwissTool and Charge+ TTi being the most smooth-handled products. The Leatherman Free P4 has nearly completely smooth plier handles. Interrupting the smooth lines is a pair of peculiar and sharp protrusions. Other online reviewers have also identified these uncomfortable but not dangerous edges. The Gerber Center Drive is pretty smooth, but has more plier pinch potential than others on the market. Other and older models on the market aren't as comfortable. The Leatherman Crunch, for instance, has just a little bit of rounding to protect the user's hands from the sharp plier handles. Leatherman's Skeletool CX has smooth pliers handles, but the handles are a little thinner than ideal. The full-size, fully rounded external profile of the Irwin 5WR is nearly as easy on the hands as dedicated Vise-Grips.
The SOG PowerAssist is remarkably similar to the Crunch regarding plier handle roundness. The closer the pliers handles come to one another, the more likely you are to pinch your hand in use. The Gerber Suspension is best in this respect, with the Victorinox not too far off. Both of these have handles that curve away from one another, leaving plenty of room. The SOG PowerAssist and Center Drive, both otherwise very intelligently designed, have among the most pinch potential. The Leatherman Charge, Wave, and Surge all have moderate pinch potential.
Each of the functions is compromised by the fact they are bolted to other components. We gave high marks to devices that have the most commonly used functions accessible with a minimal of folding and unfolding moves.
Notably, the main blades of these tools are accessible with one thumb and without deploying any other tools: Leatherman Wave+,Skeletool, Charge+ TTi, Wingman and Free P4. The Gerber Suspension, Crucial, and Center Drive. The SOG PowerAssist. The Havalon Evolve.
The Irwin 5WR is also set up for one-handed blade deployment. Interestingly, the Irwin comes from the factory configured such that the blade is not that useful. Our test team, in about 15 minutes and with a couple of Allen wrenches and a Dremel tool, were able to modify the blade of the Irwin to be much, much more useable, with no noticeable compromises.
One-handed opening for the blade is a great trend. A blade that deploys with one hand is vital to high ergonomic scores. Special mention must be given to the innovative ergonomic features of the SOG PowerAssist. The two blades deploy from the "outside" of the stowed pliers, and each has assisted opening that we see nowhere else in our multi tool review. The pliers include a mechanical advantage gearing system that significantly increases the holding power.
To get to the blades and drivers of both the Crunch, 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 "pays the price" for the 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.
The one exception is the bottle opener of the Gerber Dime. As an extension of the handle, this can be used without deploying any of the other attributes. The Leatherman Skeletool is a relatively compact, "full size" product that compromises very little on ergonomics. The limited suite of tools on the Skeletool is all convenient to use. The ergonomics of the Gerber Crucial and Havalon Evolve are pretty similar to those of the Skeletool.
The ultra-sized Leatherman Surge is Leatherman's largest multi-tool. The size passes a critical threshold, and some of the tools are actually harder to use than those on a smaller tool, notably the knife blades.
A tool is only as useful as it is available. We liked ones that offered a variety of carrying methods. Our Editors' Choice winner Leatherman Charge+ TTi, although one of the larger competitors, can be carried with a pocket clip, attached to a lanyard or keychain, and also stowed in the included rugged belt pouch. With aftermarket additions, the Leatherman Surge and the Best Buy Leatherman Wave+ can be configured to carry the same ways.
Our Top Pick for its diminutive-yet-tough design, the Gerber Dime virtually disappears on a keychain. The Leatherman Squirt PS4 is even smaller than the Dime. Our lead test editor carries a Squirt PS4 in his "go everywhere" emergency/first aid kit. The Gerber Vise is a little larger than these other two while the SOG Micro Tool Clip is another step up from the keychain-sized products.
The Leatherman Skeletool CX is the most portable of the tools that include full-size features. It accomplishes this by adding fewer features, and by offering virtually all of the most common carry options. The Skeletool has just a few features, but each is nearly full size. The external profile of the closed Skeletool is smooth, there is an integrated carabiner style clip, and a smart pocket clip. Similar portability is available with the Gerber Crucial.
The Havalon Evolve is a little bigger than the Skeletool or Crucial. Furthermore, the interchangeable blades and blade changing tool take up space. Havalon ships the Evolve with a zip-closed carry case that holds the tool, extra blades, and the blade-changing tool. The whole package is bulkier than most, while the pocket-clipped Evolve is somewhere between the Skeletool and Charge.
All the products tested except for the Wingman, Vise, Micro ToolClip , Squirt, Crucial, and Dime came with sheaths. The Skeletool and Irwin 5WR can be purchased with our without a sheath. Of those sheath-equipped, only the SOG Baton Q4 cannot be threaded onto a pants belt. The sheath of the Gerber Center Drive is configured for either horizontal or vertical belt carry. It is also large enough to hold extra bits inside the sheath. The Charge TTi, Crucial, Baton, Wingman, Havalon, SOG Micro, Free P4 and Skeletool can be clipped to the edge of one's front pants pocket, stock. The Wave+ and Surge can be equipped with an aftermarket pocket clip. The Squirt PS4 and Dime disappear on a keychain, while the Suspension and Charge TTi (among others) have keyring holes. The Leatherman Crunch is best carried in the included sheath or loose in your pocket. The SOG PowerAssist and the Surge are the largest and least portable of the products tested, and it is only really feasible to carry them on-person in their sheaths.
With a multi-tool in your possession, you can feel invincible. With one carefully chosen, selected for your unique purposes, you are invincible. At least, we think so. Shop carefully, weigh your options, consider what you will wish to do with your selection, and then pull the trigger.
— Jediah Porter