Best Overall Contender
Leatherman Charge TTI
Number of functions
: 19 + bits | Weight
: 8.8 oz
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 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 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; Leatherman's flagship that pulls no punches.
Read review: Leatherman Charge TTI
Best Bang for the Buck: High-end at a Reasonable Price
Number of functions
: 17 | Weight
: 8.5 oz
Limited stock carry options
The Leatherman Wave+ is the Charge TTI stripped down a little. Leatherman takes roughly 90% of what makes the Charge so impressive and sells it for 60% as the Wave, an excellent value. The Wingman is considerably less expensive, 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. Otherwise, the Wave and Charge are the same. If these compromises are acceptable to you, save some dollars and choose the Wave+.
Read review: Leatherman Wave+
Best Bang for the Buck: A Deal for Everyday Carry
Number of functions
: 10 | Weight
: 6.8 oz
Excellent tool selection
Hybrid blade is difficult to sharpen
Blade is also short
No accessory bit driver
How does Leatherman do it? It's as if Ferrari also 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 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. When our lead test editor's father was looking for a tool for everyday use, the Wingman was an easy recommendation.
Read review: Leatherman Wingman
Best Bang for the Buck: Rock Bottom Value
Stanley 12 in 1
Number of functions
: 12 | Weight
: 7.8 oz
Stunning low price
All non-pliers tools require deploying pliers first.
On many occasions, we have seen the Stanley 12 in 1 on sale for about as much as a McDonald's lunch for two. At this price, we expected little regarding performance. Our expectations were exceeded, to put it mildly. The pliers give up little to nothing compared to much more expensive offerings. The individual tools are functional for light to moderate use.
Stanley certainly makes compromises to hit this price point, some of them understandable. The screwdrivers are small and flexible. This is a valid cost-cutting measure that manifests in tools that only work for light-duty tasks. More mystifying is why Stanley designed this tool so that all the accessory features are accessed from within the pliers. It seems as though costs would have been the same whether the tools are accessed from within or from the outside. We prefer tools that leave the accessory features accessible from the closed pliers. However, regardless of our gripes, this is a useful tool at a fantastic price.
Read review: Stanley 12 in 1
Top Pick for Best Pliers
Number of functions
: 8 | Weight
: 6.8 oz
Must deploy pliers to get to other parts
When selecting a Top Pick Award, we consider what appeals to people outside the group of devoted multi-tool users. 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 product 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 any others in our review. 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.
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.
Read review: Leatherman Crunch
Top Pick for Best Screwdriver
SOG Baton Q4
Number of functions
: 10 | Weight
: 6.0 oz
Excellent, ratcheting screwdriver
Includes great bit selection
Slender carry format
Pliers are unsophisticated at best
Knife blade is small
The second Top Pick winner, the SOG Baton Q4, is a standout screwdriver that is nearly as good as a stand-alone, modular, ratcheting bit driver. It also has basic pliers, a small blade, and a couple of openers. These two Top Pick Award winners, the Baton for the screwdriver and the Crunch for pliers, both stand out. Both will appeal to those engaged in manual labor.
The Baton Q4 isn't perfect. Like any multi-tool, it makes compromises to fit everything. The pliers in the Baton are rattly and flexy-feeling. On the plus side, they are spring loaded and include simple wire cutters; on the downside the handles collapse in some circumstances. For maximum utility, you want the included bits handy and to do so requires carting around the faux leather case that is missing a belt loop. The Baton itself is equipped with a pocket clip, but the overall form is pretty long for smaller pants or shirt pockets.
Read review: SOG Baton Q4
Top Pick for Keychain Carry
Number of functions
: 9 | Weight
: 2.3 oz
Good feature set
Stout construction, given size
Small tools are limited in effectiveness
A third Top Pick winner, this one for keychain carry, 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. It closely compares to the Leatherman Squirt PS4. The Squirt features a file that the Dime doesn't have. Otherwise, the Dime is better. The Dime is stiffer and its bottle opener is handier.
You won't use the Dime for heavy tasks, mainly because of the diminutive stature. Be careful trying to turn stiff screws or use the pliers for hearty tasks. Small tools have smaller strength. As long as you can exercise restraint, the Dime is an excellent choice for your keychain.
Read review: Gerber Dime
At work field testing the SOG multi-tool
Why You Should Trust Us
Homeowner, camper renovator, Airbnb host (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 engage multi-tools and pocket knives. With each multi-tool, Jed solicits the input and opinion of other guides, professional contractors, hunters, motorcyclists, fisherman, and tradespeople. For 2019, 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, catering business, and rental properties.
As with all OutdoorGearLab reviews, we started by scouring the market and looking back to the more than 100 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, 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.
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 modern multi-tool era began in 1984 when Tim Leatherman began selling his ground-breaking "Pocket Survival Tool." Others have followed the Leatherman lead.
Related: Buying Advice for Multi-tool Knives
Some multi tools we looked closely at early in 2019, from left to right: Leatherman Surge, Leatherman Wave+, SOG Baton, Gerber Crucial.
We assessed the products in four categories, measuring the ergonomics, portability and overall construction quality. Scoring is based on four criteria: functions, ergonomics, portability, and construction quality.
For packed size comparison, some tested multi tools, from left to right: Gerber Bear Grylls, Gerber Suspension, Baladeo Locker (recently removed from review), SOG PowerPlier (also recently removed), Victorinox SwissTool, Leatherman Charge TTI, Leatherman Wave, Leatherman Crunch, Leatherman Wingman, Gerber Dime, Leatherman Squirt PS4.
We give out awards based on Best Overall, Best Buy, and special Top Picks. With a huge range of price points in multi-tools, there are three Best Buy winners for 2019. There is the rock-bottom price of the serviceable Stanley 12-in-1, the everyday carry value of the Leatherman Wingman and the relatively affordable (especially as compared to the Editors' Choice winner) Leatherman Wave+.
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 counts for a lot. A product with ten well-designed parts is more valuable than one with 20 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 quality features on this list. Additionally, a select few will regularly appreciate the innovative package opener on the Best Buy award-winning Leatherman Wingman and on the Top Pick Gerber Dime.
The Charge TTI and included accessories. The black plastic on the left holds a selection of accessory bits. The metal clips are, respectively, a pocket clip and keychain/lanyard loop. On the right is the leather sheath that can securely hold everything.
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 Suspensionand Bear Grylls Ultimate devices, provides adequate feature sets. The SOG Baton Q4 has a relatively small set of features. The Leatherman Skeletool and Gerber Crucial both have relatively few features, but those features are optimized for ergonomics.
The Top Pick SOG Baton flips the script on typical multi-tool format.
The Best Buy Stanley 12-in-1, with its average features count, suffers a little from the budget Stanley had, but bargain hunters easily forgive this. The Leatherman Crunch is among the most feature-deprived products we reviewed, but each of those tools is fully functioning, and the pliers lead the entire field. 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.
Best Buy Leatherman Wave+, with all functions deployed for your view.
With the smallest products in our test, 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. For this reason, the Dime earns our Top Pick Award, displacing the Squirt.
These four functions are accessible from the outside of the closed Wave+ pliers
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 but 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. 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.
This image shows the proprietary Leatherman bit driver. It works, but makes some compromises over the standard 1/4" format.
The SOG PowerAssist and the Best Buy Stanley 12-in-1 are 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 twin Gerber products (Suspension and Bear Grylls; these are identical except for branding) are best in this respect, with Stanley not too far off. All of them have handles that curve away from one another, leaving plenty of room. The SOG PowerAssist, otherwise very intelligently designed, has 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.
Though small, the Wave+ scissors are handy, tight, and will cut anything the knife blade isn't suitable for.
Notably, the main blades of the Leatherman Wave+, Gerber Suspension, Bear Grylls Ultimate, Leatherman Skeletool, the Charge TTI, Wingman, SOG PowerAssist and the Gerber Crucial are accessible with thumb-activated, one-handed deployment. This is a great trend; it is nearly the case that 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. The pliers include a mechanical advantage gearing system that significantly increases the holding power.
The Pocket Power Plier has a strong and firm grip.
The Stanley 12-in-1 is a super-budget product with outdated fully-internal components. It is just like the Leatherman Crunch without the Crunch's redeeming mechanical properties. 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 "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 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 are pretty similar to those of the Skeletool.
We have added the ultra-sized Leatherman Surge, Leatherman's largest 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.
The Leatherman Surge is heavy duty and user-serviceable for extended electrical work.
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 Leatherman Squirt PS4 in his "go everywhere" emergency/first aid kit.
One of the saws of the Leatherman Surge, in action on a plumbing project.
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 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.
All the products tested except for the Wingman, Skeletool, Squirt, Crucial, and Dime came with sheaths. Of those sheath-equipped, only the Top Pick SOG Baton Q4 cannot be threaded onto a pants belt. The Charge TTI, Crucial, Baton, Wingman 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 Bear Grylls, Suspension, SOG PocketPlier, and Charge TTI have key ring holes. The Leatherman Crunch and Stanley 12-in-1 are all best carried in the included sheaths 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.
Some of the "keychain" sized multi-tools we tested. On the left, Leatherman Squirt PS4. On the right, Top Pick Gerber Dime.
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 PowerAssist, Skeletool CX, Wave+, Surge, 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 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.
When equipment fails deep in the wild, having good tools is crucial. Here, lead test editor and IFMGA Mountain Guide Jed Porter repairs a pair of tested AT ski boots in the high Tetons.
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.
The Gerber Suspension, Stanley 12-in-1, SOG Baton Q4, and Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate are nothing special in terms of construction quality (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. The "Bear Grylls" branding refers to the British survival expert/celebrity). 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 Stanley is a budget buy, and the flexible pliers and rattly tools attest to this. The feature set is decent, but the materials and craftsmanship aren't great.
Both Best Buy Leatherman products are much more polished and refined than the Stanley and will also last much longer than the Stanley. The bargain basement price of the Stanley 12-in-1 and its sturdy pliers deserve consideration. However, its 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 unique purposes, you are invincible. Shop carefully, weigh your options, consider what you will wish to do with your multi-tool, and then pull the trigger.