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Published Jul. 15, 2021

I have a love-hate relationship with multitools. When there’s a task to be done, whether it is stripping electrical wire, driving a Phillips head screw without stripping it, or cutting through oak dowels, I prefer proper electrician’s pliers, Phillips head screwdrivers, and carpentry saws. What I’m not looking for are compact tools ill-suited for the task that are jumbled up in a clumsy, heavy, metal contraption.

But, when I’m far from my workshop, I have to admit, a good multitool does come in handy. The great astrophysicist and astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “The uniqueness of humans has been claimed on many grounds, but most often because of our tool-making, culture, language, reason, and morality.” Our tool use is one of the main things that differentiates us from other animals on the planet and humans have carried and used multitools for millennia. One of the earliest known multitools has been dated to the Middle Roman period in the 2nd Century CE, and everyone’s familiar with the Swiss Army knives first made by Victorinox in 1897 and popularized during World War II with their iconic red handles. Admit it, you were fascinated by these things as a kid — and while they’re not the most ergonomic or specialized tools, they are pretty handy.

Let’s fast forward to 1975 when a mechanical engineer by the name of Tim Leatherman set out to design a Boy Scout knife with pliers. He prototyped the hell out of his idea and persisted through eight years of rejection before he partnered with his college buddy, Steve Berliner, and changed the multitool market for good in 1983 when he shipped his first 500 multitools to Cabelas. When I joined the Marines in the mid-1990s, Leatherman tools were the rage and every boot second lieutenant at The Basic School rushed out to get one. Having just backpacked through Spain, I went with the European variant and bought a Victrorinox Swisstool. It ended up being just another heavy, overbuilt hunk of metal in an ALICE backpack already overstuffed with more heavy, overbuilt Marine Corps gear. I rarely used anything more than the blade and the scissors in the field, so I ditched it for a Spyderco Endura knife to save weight. 

With all that said, multitools remain very popular with members of the military and veteran communities, so your loyal team of gear reviewers here at Task & Purpose tested a bunch of multitools recently in order to help you sort the truly useful from the trash.

Of all the multitools we looked at, the Leatherman Skeletool emerged as the top contender for everyday carry and use. It achieved a near perfect balance of utility, weight (only 5 ounces!), compactness, one-handed ergonomics, and portability by only including the most used tools in the overall design. At a sub $70 price point, the Skeletool is also a value buy. Plus, the name reminded us of Skeletor from the HeMan cartoon, so that was a plus for evoking positive childhood memories. The knife’s partially serrated reverse tanto blade is made from decent 420HC steel which arrived sharp and kept a good edge. It’s kept securely in place with a liner lock and can be opened with one hand without having to open the entire unit. In addition to the blade, the Skeletool sports pliers (needlenose and regular), wire cutters (regular and hard), a large bit driver (Phillips #1 and #2 and 3/16ths), and a carbineer/bottle opener. The SX version comes with a diamond-coated file, and the CX comes with a premium knife blade. The entire body is made from stainless steel and features a pocket clip. While there’s a lot to like, we did find the pocket clip placement a bit awkward, the screwdriver head dug into our fingers a bit when using the pliers, and the 420HC blade exhibited a bit more corrosion than we’d like, as mild as it was. Overall, this is a must-buy for people looking for a great marriage of a pocket knife and multitool. Two thumbs up.

Best Value

Dollar for dollar, the Leatherman Rebar is among best of the lot in terms of long-term value. At a $70 price point, it offers a wide array of 17 tools in a light (6.7 ounce), compact (4 inch) package. For your money, you’ll get pliers, two knife blades (plain and serrated), a saw, can and bottle opener, a metal file, large and small Phillips and regular screwdrivers, a lanyard loop, and more. And all the tools lock into place for added safety and strength. The stainless steel construction (HC420 for the blade) and anticorrosion coating combined with Leatherman’s 25-year warranty will ensure decades of faithful service. It’s worth every penny.

Best Premium

If you want to drop some serious coin on a high-quality multitool specifically designed for military use, go with the Leatherman Military Utility Tool (MUT). Leatherman’s design team set out with the intention to make this the military multitool and built in many weapons maintenance-specific features. It has the standard knife and pliers, and also has a bronze carbon scraper (Take that, armorers!), bolt override tool, disassembly punch, and bore brush attachment. But wait! There’s more. The MUT has a wire cutter, saw, hammer, carabiner/bottle opener, large bit Phillips head screwdriver, and tan MOLLE sheath. It’s big (6 inches long) and heavy (11 ounces). Leatherman designed each tool to be replaceable, which is very cool, and the 420HC stainless blade arrived from the factory very sharp. We also dug that all the tools can be manipulated with one hand. If you do a lot of weapons handling and cleaning, the MUT is for you. Woof woof. Good doggo.

Budget Buy

If cost is a factor, the Leatherman Bond might be your jam. We weren’t super jazzed about the Bond and found its design to be outdated and flawed. While the 420HC steel blade is extremely sharp, there is no locking mechanism to secure it in place. (Boo!) In fact, none of the tools have a locking mechanism. Having tools fold in on your fingers while you’re using them sucks, and, in the case of the knife blade, could lead to a deep wound. We found the construction to be super solid and made of quality steel, and the selection of 14 tools was pretty dang robust — featuring regular and needle nose pliers, regular and hard wire cutters, a knife, file, awl, Philips screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, a wire stripper, and a ruler. We found the carrying pouch to be too big and didn’t like that we had to purchase the pocket clip separately. At nearly the same price point, we recommend the Leatherman Wingman and Rebar over this option.

Honorable Mention

We found the Victorinox Swiss Tool to be a solid European challenger to Leatherman dominance in the market. While this tool was heavier (10.2 ounces) than many of its American cousins, it is very well-built, compact (4.2 inches), and capable. One can immediately feel the quality of the stainless steel construction in hand, and Victorinox plugged 26 functions into this great little device. It has the usual assortment of pliers and cutters and screwdrivers, and also features two knife blades (plain and serrated), two saws (wood and metal), a reamer/punch, can and bottle openers, crate opener, wire bender, and metric and English system rulers. And we loved that all of the tools were lockable. It came in a fetching leather pouch that you could toss into your European shoulder bag as you head out the door for a morning of espresso and people watching along Calle Sierpes. At a $100 price point with the nylon pouch, it’s a quality option. The leather pouch variant costs more.

Honorable Mention

If you’re not carrying a Leatherman, there’s a good chance there’s a Gerber in your pocket. The Gerber Multi-Plier 600 is part of the company’s one handed opening line that’s built on the pliers and knife design. We like how all of the tools have a locking mechanism because we like to keep our fingers attached to our hands. The MP600 features a serrated blade, fine edge blade, screwdrivers, a file (useful for boosting yourself out of the brig), can and bottle opener, and lanyard ring. We dig that it is assembled in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. and not in some sweatshop in China. At nine ounces, the MP600 is a bit chunkier than we like, but it comes in stainless and tactical black, and we had to chuckle a bit at the MP designation, because we all know ya gotta stay one step ahead of the law. At a $50 price point and with a lifetime warranty, it’s worth a look.

Honorable Mention

The SOG PowerLitre is worth a look if you are a budding sommelier or ardent oenophile as it is the only multitool we checked out that has a corkscrew (bonus!) to open wine bottles. It also includes an integrated foot to rest on the lip of wine bottles for increased leverage — which makes it way easier to use than the corkscrew on a Swiss Army knife. The SOG PowerLitre features the usual pliers and knife combo plus 17 other tools to include screwdrivers, scissors, bolt grippers, soft wire cutters, awl, jewelers driver, hook cutter, magnetic bit holder, and bevel gauge. It’s made from stainless steel and, at five inches in overall length and 4.6 ounces, is compact and easy to carry in a pocket — and at a $65 price point, it’s worth investigating. No go crack open that $8,600 bottle of Chateau Petrus your rich uncle has been keeping hidden away.

Related: The best EDC knives worth relying on

Why you should trust us

The reviewers here at Task & Purpose test the products we review at home and in the field. We have years of experience living and working outdoors with the tools we recommend. We don’t get paid by the manufacturers and have editorial independence. Our editor leaves it to us to recommend and prints what we write. All of this enables us to provide you, our valued readers, our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make. Learn more about our product review process.

Key features of multitools

Multitools are as diverse as the jobs they perform. What’s best for another person might not be what you need, so compare several different styles and determine which option you prefer. That said, multitools are typically built around the core combination of pliers and knives and usually offer additional features such as:

  • Wire cutters: regular and hard wire
  • Screwdrivers: Phillips and flat
  • Saws: wood and metal
  • Openers: can and bottle
  • Reamers
  • Punches
  • Awls
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire scrapers
  • Rulers
  • Other less common features like hammers and wrenches

Pros and cons of multitools

Pros

  • Portability. Multitools are essentially pocket-sized tool boxes offering a wide range of utility in a compact, lightweight package that can be clipped to a pocket or placed in a pouch on a belt.
  • Convenience. The tools are easy to access and use
  • Cost-Effective. For the functionality, purchasing a multitool is generally cheaper than buying each tool individually.
  • Generalization. They are great for simple tasks.

Cons:

  • Lack of Specification. If you need a specific, specialized tool, you typically won’t find them in a multitool.
  • Less Efficient. Full-sized tools enable greater effort to output efficiency (e.g., a 16-inch wood saw vs. a 3-inch wood saw).
  • Ergonomics. Full-sized tools typically fit better in the human hand. 

Multitool pricing

When reviewing the range of multitools available, we’ve found them in the $12 to $170 price range. Low-end multitools are typically cheaper than $50. Mid-range are found between $50 and $80, and premiums are $80 and up. Our recommendations are big on all-metal construction. As you move up the food chain, you’ll notice more robust materials, hearty weather-resistant coatings, and finer machining on each component. Just remember that getting the right tool for the job is more important than maxing out your budget. You might be able to get everything you need without spending top dollar.

How we chose our top picks

All of the multitools recommended in this review were field-tested by your trusty crew of Task & Purpose gear reviewers. We take our time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each device and also check out the reviews of other experts just to make sure we’re not missing anything. 

Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015. He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Learn more about our product review process.

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