The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task
May 2021

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

You're capable of more than you know. Is your chair wobbly because it's got a screw loose? Your child needs a toy freed from zip ties that make it as impenetrable as a bank vault? At a picnic with a bottle of wine? You don't need to fetch a toolbox. You might not even need to stand up, as long as you've got the right multi-tool handy.

The Swiss Army Knife was the first multi-tool with global popularity. Then Leatherman arrived with a folding pair of pliers to give Switzerland a run for its money. Now, there are multi-tools in all kinds of shapes and sizes from a staggering number of companies. But how many of them are actually well made? I spent months testing various models, putting them to work by assembling picture frames, slicing open packages, opening beer and wine bottles, and cutting apples. These are the ones that did their tasks exceptionally well.

Be sure to check out our other buying guides, like the Best Gear for Your Home Tool Kit, Best Gear for Your Car Emergency Kit, and How to Winter-Proof Your Home.

Updated May 2023: We've added the Leatherman Charge TTi, Leatherman Skeletool, and SOG Key Knife. We've also updated pricing and availability.

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The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

Leatherman has become shorthand for "multi-tool" for a good reason. The company's build quality is fantastic. Tools can be flipped out and retracted forcefully but smoothly, and the finishing on each mini-tool is excellent. Leatherman has many options to choose from, but the Wave Plus is easily my favorite. It has two stainless steel knives, one with a straight edge and the other serrated. The latter is good for cutting fibrous material such as rope. The 420HC steel employed has a high carbon content, so the edges won't stay sharp for long, but it's easy to sharpen 'em up again. There are 16 other tools, including a wood-and-metal file, a diamond-coated file, a saw, Phillips screwdriver bits, scissors, an 8-inch ruler, and a wire stripper, as well as a bottle and can opener.

Once upon a time, Leatherman's Charge series offered its best multi-tools. Nowadays, Wave Plus offers practically the same package at a lower price. It also includes a 25-year warranty, and the company will repair or replace parts if you ship your multi-tool to its facility in Portland, Oregon. There are countless stories of customers receiving whole replacement flip-out tools and blades for their decades-old multi-tools.

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

Not everyone wants the weight and bulk of a multi-tool that revolves around a pair of pliers. That's where Victorinox's Swiss Army Knife comes in. It's wonderfully built, and the finish on all the tools is unmatched. There's also something deeply nostalgic about holding the traditional red plastic handle.

Those little fold-out pliers that seem, at first glance, useless? I shouldn't have scoffed. I ended up liking them a lot. They obviously aren't meant for big jobs that require full-size pliers, but they work very well for tasks that need precision. There are 17 mini-tools here, but Victorinox combines the same tools into different model names. If you want more, fewer, or different tools than what's in the Deluxe Tinker, your options are vast. The company also offers a lifetime warranty, so you'll always be able to send your gadget in for a repair, though it's easy enough to replace the common bits yourself.

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

There are 18 tools on this little fella, although Victorinox fudges a bit on the count, as all manufacturers do. Counting inches and centimeters on the same ruler as two different tools? Really? Anyway, all the tools cut, file, and screw as well as the ones on the full-size Swiss Army Knives, and the quality is just as superb. This one's just smaller overall--around the size of my pinky. It has a retractable blue-ink pen too, which is neat for those of us who never carry a pen.

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

Opening a multi-tool can swing between "forceful" and "angry dog that has your shoe in its jaws and won't let go." Not everyone has the dexterity or hand strength required to flip 'em open. If that's you, then take a look at the SOG PowerPint. It's my favorite from the brand. It's well made and has the smoothest, easiest-opening action of any multi-tool I've ever used. What looks like two gears aren't actually moving parts--they're fixed into the handle, and the mechanism isn't as fragile as it seems in photographs. They rotate against each other to open up, and it's as smooth as silicone-coated butter.

The PowerPint is a wee bit on the small side, somewhat similar to the Victorinox Mini Champ above. If you want a bigger multi-tool, the SOG PowerAccess Assist MT for $90 gets my vote. It has the same opening mechanism but with larger tools.

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

This cheap Kershaw does a great job of opening packages and doing other knife-y things, but it has a special trick up its sleeve that most similarly sized utility knives do not: a surprisingly decent screwdriver. Flip down a built-in section in the body and flip out either a flat-head or Phillips-head tip. It's even got a beer bottle opener, for the drink-and-Ikea types.

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

There are a ton of other multi-tools out there, and brands like Leatherman and Victorinox have models upon models that make it confusing to figure out exactly what to get. Here are some others I like.

Leatherman Skeletool CX for $90: This one is slightly smaller than the Wave Plus, but it's still a standard-sized multi-tool. If you don't need all the bells and whistles our top pick offers, you can probably make do with a less bulky gizmo that still has the basic, most-used tools, such as a knife, bottle opener, can opener, bit drivers, and pliers.

Leatherman Skeletool CX for $90:

Victorinox Swiss Tool for $153: Yes, I did a double-take when I first saw the price tag too. At 10 ounces, it's on the heavier side as well. But it's beautifully made, and I dig the boxy, straight-edged handles. Sometimes it's just nice to have a tool that doesn't try to look modern. It's beautiful.

Victorinox Swiss Tool for $153:

Leatherman Charge TTi for $190: This is a weak recommendation. It's packed with 19 useful tools and comes with that stellar Leatherman build quality and warranty. I've been using one happily for years. That price, though. Even though it's made of titanium, it's no lighter than the Wave Plus that costs far less and comes with 18 mini-tools, many of them the same as the Charge TTi's. Buy the Wave Plus, unless you really like the look of the dark titanium.

Leatherman Charge TTi for $190:

Leatherman Free P4 for $150: I was on the fence about this one. Like most of Leatherman's lineup, the Free P4 is a quality, well-built tool, but is it worth a $40 increase over our top pick, Leatherman's own $110 Wave Plus? The big differentiators are that the Free P4, with its 21 tools, uses magnets to open and lock the tool, and a new mechanism to unlock and close the mini-tools that doesn't rely on putting your finger in the way of the blade. The magnets don't take any less force to initially open the tool than other Leathermans, but once you get it started, the opening mechanism is very smooth and effortless.

Leatherman Free P4 for $150:

Smallrig Universal Multi-Tool for Videographers for $30: If you find yourself lugging around a lot of videography equipment, like our product reviewer Eric Ravenscraft, you might want a multi-tool made for adjusting and maintaining cameras without knives and pliers. The Smallrig consists of nine tools, including hex keys in multiple sizes common to cameras, a Phillips-head screwdriver, and a pair of flat-head screwdrivers. Eric likes the wider flat head for screwing down and removing tripod heads, which he says typically get scraped and chewed up by smaller screwdrivers.

Smallrig Universal Multi-Tool for Videographers for $30:

Leatherman Micra for $57: Instead of pliers, the Micra opens up into a pair of scissors. It feels like it's made of cheaper materials and has thinner tool blades than the Victorinox Mini Champ, which is of a similar size, purpose, and price. The spring-loaded mechanism is tough to open and close without poking yourself. But it has character, and I like the little thing. It's a good alternative to the Mini Champ, especially if you want a tiny multi-tool that revolves around scissors.

Leatherman Micra for $57:

Leatherman Wingman for $70: The Wingman just feels great to use. No wildly textured surfaces, and no plastic anywhere. The smooth scales feel old-school, in a good, "remember back when" way, similar to the Victorinox Swiss Tool. It has 14 tools in its handles, all of which slide open and close as smoothly as if they were buttered. The whole package folds down to only 4 inches long and weighs 7 ounces. At this price, it's a great bargain.

Leatherman Wingman for $70:

SOG Key Knife for $12: The best knife is the one you've got handy. That Leatherman Wave Plus won't do you any good if it's at home and you're not. Micro-tools such as the Mini Champ and Micra are easy to stuff into a pocket, but you still have to remember them. The Key Knife goes right on your key ring, so it's always with you. The blade flips out and measures 1.5 inches, which is enough for most minor cutting tasks. It's a one-trick pony, though, and only has a blade. You're not getting a premium product, but the stainless steel blade is reasonably sharp enough.

SOG Key Knife for $12:

Leatherman Raptor Response for $80: Rather than taking the form of pliers, these medical shears feature a blunt tip so that medics don't accidentally stab a patient while trying to cut through clothing. The Raptor Response is very niche. If you have to ask, then no, you don't need it. But for an EMT or a wilderness medic on remote backcountry trips, it's an ingenious packaging solution that includes an oxygen tank wrench and ring cutter (for cutting through constricting jewelry).

Leatherman Raptor Response for $80:

The Best Multi-Tools for Any Task

Not every multi-tool, even those from our favorite brands, are winners. These are models we've tried and don't like as much (or at all). Save your money and skip 'em.

Leatherman Signal for $130: I'm of the opinion that you don't need a multi-tool for hiking. You practically never need a pair of pliers, a saw, an awl, or a hammer on the trail. Even a knife goes through the vast majority of trips just spreading peanut butter and cutting sausages. In addition to the usual tools you won't use much outdoors (wire stripper, anyone?), the Signal has a built-in emergency whistle, "hammer," and ferro rod for sparking fires. But without a striker, you'd need something else to hit the ferro rod with--like another knife, which undercuts the Signal's usefulness. The hammer, too, is really just a blunt edge for you to pound--I don't know, something--with the folded tool. I've never found anything that pushes tent stakes into the ground as well as a strong boot. It's not a bad-quality tool. It's just a solution in search of a problem.

Leatherman Signal for $130:

Gerber Stake Out for $55: The Stake Out suffers from the same problem as the Signal: It's packed with tools you don't really need in the backcountry. The Gerber stands out by including--among the usual blade and ruler--a tent stake puller and a ferro rod striker, but not a ferro rod. Since you have to buy the ferro rod (which usually comes with a lightweight striker), you could just carry a regular knife instead of the Stake Out and use its spine to strike the ferro rod. I did sort of like the stake puller. Occasionally, a stake will become stubbornly stuck in the ground. You can always work it free without a tool, but if you're car camping and not weight conscious, I could see the stake puller being a nice little time-saver. The Stake Out is much cheaper than the Signal and weighs only 3.3 ounces, so that's something.

Gerber Stake Out for $55:

Leatherman Skeletool for $74: There's not much difference between the Skeletool and the Skeletool CX, which I like quite a bit and recommend above. They weigh the same and are twins in size. The tool selection and layout is also identical, except for the knife. The Skeletool comes with a combo knife, meaning the back half is serrated and the front half has a straight edge. I prefer the CX's straight edge. It's more useful, and if you need a serrated blade, it's awkward to have teeth only on half the blade.

Leatherman Skeletool for $74:

Leatherman Free T2 for $50: The Free T2 is strange and confusing. Rather than being designed as a pair of pliers, like most of Leatherman's lineup, the Free T2 is a pocketknife like a Swiss Army Knife. For its size, you don't get many tools. Its standout feature is the full-size flat-head and Phillips screwdriver bits that run in-line to the handle, alongside a medium-size knife blade, but they just didn't impress. There's also a ton of cheap plastic on it.

Leatherman Free T2 for $50:

Gerber Center-Drive for $96: This multi-tool has the most convoluted opening system I've seen yet. It's made of a bunch of tiny moving parts, some metal and some plastic. I prefer few-to-zero tiny moving parts when it comes to hand tools because it reduces the chances of tools jamming up. My big hot-dog fingers found it hard to use overall, not to mention it's expensive. It does come with a gorgeous leather pouch though.

Gerber Center-Drive for $96

Leatherman Bond for $60: The Bond is solid, but I didn't like how difficult it was to swing the knife to the open position. Leatherman has so many better choices, I just don't see the purpose of this model. It's a full-featured, 14-device multi-tool in a light, compact package, but the Wingman has 14 tools too and is the same size and less than an ounce heavier.

Leatherman Bond for $60

Gerber Suspension NXT for $30: It just doesn't have much going for it. It's cheap for a normal-sized multi-tool. But the main opening mechanism feels rough, and you need really strong fingernails to pry out some of the smaller tools. Gerber is a fan of incorporating cheap black plastic into its tools--the less plastic in my multi-tools, the better.

Gerber Suspension NXT for $30

Gerber Dime for $29: The diminutive goes up against the Victorinox Mini Champ and Leatherman Micra, but among them, it comes in third place. The Dime's spring-loaded pliers contain 12 tools in a svelte 2.2-ounce package, but like Gerber's larger tools, opening and closing everything feels rough and gritty, not smooth and effortless. I almost felt like I'd break a thumbnail.

Gerber Dime for $29:

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