Multi tools fall under the philosophy of ‘buy once, cry once or buy cheap and cry everyday‘. Sure you can buy a cheap Chinese-made Leatherman knock-off but they are poorly made with thin, low quality components. Remember ‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get’ – if your tool fails when you need it to perform then it wasn’t a good purchase.
Leatherman multi tools balance their high cost with strong performance to provide excellent value. Leatherman tools separate from their competitors when put to the test, delivering solid capability with few weaknesses. Buy a Leatherman and you have a partner for life with their famous 25-year warranty.
We researched the components and features from each brand in the table below to illustrate how Leatherman rises to the top with the fewest compromises.
We compared the ‘standard’ offering in each category to make our ratings. For example SOG won the pliers category because nearly all of their multi-tools have SOG compound leverage technology. We think SOG pliers are better than the ‘standard’ pliers on most Leatherman, even though some tools like the Surge have heavy-duty pliers that are stronger.
There is not one multi tool that is the best for everyone, we used our years of experience and hands-on testing to find the best tool in 30 categories and across 7 different activities. Check out our Recommended Products section!
Similarly, Victorinox gets a n/a for bit driver because no SwissTools have a bit driver standard, it is only available with a combo package or additional accessory purchase. CRKT only has two multi tool designs and Victorinox has four variations so their ratings are hit or miss.
Gerber and SOG win two categories each and have a lot of categories that are only Good. Victorinox actually wins five categories but they are not the most important items for most users and there are big tradeoffs in other categories. CRKT is fading in the multi tool sector and didn’t win any categories with their two designs.
Leatherman wins three of the major categories and is Better in all other categories except One-Hand Pliers (only the OHT from Leatherman has one-hand pliers). Leatherman tools are the performance benchmark that all tools are measured against because Leatherman models consistently lead the pack.
Why are Leatherman Multi Tools so Expensive?
Leatherman Superior Engineering
Both Leatherman and Gerber have one multi tool product that they target to the minimalist EDC customer: the Leatherman Skeletool and Gerber Crucial. Leatherman launched their Skeletool in 2007 and Gerber followed two years later with the Crucial in 2009. Just looking at the tools you can see the Skeletool is compact and solid while the Crucial looks chunky and crude.
Leatherman includes advanced design elements like the bit driver while the Crucial has old-school tools that haven’t changed in decades. Leatherman combined the carabiner and bottle opener into one integrated design while the base Crucial has a carabiner welded onto a pivot and doesn’t even include a bottle opener (the Crucial Black in our photo trades the carabiner for a more useful strap cutter). See our full Skeletool vs Crucial head-to-head comparison.
Leatherman Pioneering Design
Leatherman invented the modern multi tool and continues to innovate the design with a consistent string of multi tool firsts:
- 1983 launched the American multi tool: Pocket Survival Tool (PST)
- 1994 first tool with fully locking implements: Super Tool
- 1999 first multi tool with locking pliers: Crunch
- 2004 first multi tool with premium knife steel: Charge Ti
- 2012 first one-hand operated multi tool: OHT
- 2018 first with magnetic latch technology: FREE P2 & P4
Leatherman continually improves their designs and commonly iterates within a product family. The original Wave launched in 1998 and received updates in 2004 and 2018. The heavy duty Super Tool launched in 1994 and was redesigned in 2001 and again in 2009. The Squirt keychain tools launched in 2002 and was refreshed in 2010. While other brands launch a model and never change it, Leatherman is consistently optimizing their products.
Leatherman Multi Tool Comfort
One consistent complaint about multi tools is they are not comfortable to use. On the original PST when the pliers were used the thin edges of the handle compartment dug into your hand when squeezing the pliers. The Wave (and its big brother the Surge) took a giant leap forward by moving the tools to be outside accessible with the pliers folded which allows the contact surfaces to be rounded for using the pliers.
Leatherman still produces three designs that have inboard tools – the Rebar, Super Tool 300, and the Micra. Get the Rebar or Super Tool 300 if you want a lower priced option or you work with gloves on and the hotspots are less of a problem. The design doesn’t impact the Micra, it remains a proven classic keychain multi tool with scissors on the main pivot.
Leatherman Premium Materials
Leatherman uses high-quality materials on their products. Standard multi tools are built from 100% stainless steel, including the fasteners – not tool steel fasteners like on other brands (Leatherman does use tool steel on the screw bits for the tool adapter). The Charge TTi has titanium handle scales, Cerakote or DLC coating on the Signal, DLC coating and carbon fiber on the Skeletool CX, 6061-T6 hard-anodized aluminum on the Squirt, and even glass filled nylon on the Style series.
Other manufacturers stick with the options of standard stainless steel or black oxide coating. In the past Leatherman was somewhat limited with their black oxide options but now the major full-size and heavy-duty multi tools are available in the black finish if you want it – learn why we think a stainless finish is the better choice.
We’ve done extensive head to head testing of Leatherman multi tools vs their peers and Leatherman is always competitive. We’ve never tested one that was a bad choice, but occasionally there are options that work better for some people like in our duel between the Leatherman Squirt PS4 vs Gerber Dime. We gave the Dime the edge simply because it was half the price of the Squirt, even though the Squirt knife blade far outperformed the Dime. Its easy to touch up the blade after heavy use and keep the Dime sharp.
Leatherman Stainless Steel
Except for their knife blades, none of the multi tool brands publish the steel grades they use in their multi tool handles consistently, and only Leatherman states the blade steel used in every model. Marketing departments seize every opportunity so the fact that other brands frequently don’t disclose their blade steel tells us that it is lower-grade, cheaper steel.
While Leatherman doesn’t publish the steel grades they use in their multi tool handles – they just say they use ‘100% high-grade stainless steel‘. They do state the Tread uses SS420 for the connectors, SS410 on the screws, and SS17-4 for the links. It is a good bet that Leatherman uses 420 stainless steel for their handle and liner construction for its strength, corrosion resistance, and durability.
Leatherman Knife Blades
We covered the differences between knife blade steels in detail in Multi Tool Stainless Steel Grades: Get the Best Knife Blade. Leatherman uses 420HC as their standard blade steel which matches the overall performance of the best blade steel from other manufacturers. Above 420HC Leatherman also has premium 154CM blade steel on their Skeletool CX, Skeletool RX, and Charge+ tools, and top of the line S30V steel on the Charge+ TTi.
If you need the largest knife blade, check out 15 Multi Tools with the Longest Knife Blades to find the best combination of length, blade steel, and blade design/shape. The Victorinox RangerGrip series reaches 3.9 in and the Gerber Center-Drive is 3.25 in, but the Leatherman with the longest knife blade is the Super Tool 300 at 3.2 in.
Leatherman multi tools are not perfect, the forums have reports of tools that should have been caught at the QC check before packaging. Some weaknesses go back to the design, like the Leatherman Freestyle (now discontinued) knife blade that was prone to breaking, or the 1.4 in ruler on the new FREE series. But the vast majority of components perform above average with few glaring weaknesses.
Leatherman’s standards for quality, durability, precision and attention to detail are what make Leatherman tools like no other. Perhaps the best part of owning a Leatherman is what happens when things go wrong.
When we researched the warranty terms and actual user experience, Leatherman’s 25 year warranty came out on top – above the lifetime warranties of Gerber, SOG, Victorinox, and CRKT.
Leatherman actually publishes the heart of their warranty program on their FAQ page:
Our warranty is simple. You broke it, we’ll fix it.Leatherman FAQ
Of course their lawyers get involved with the actual terms, but they keep is to a few paragraphs and not the pages of disclaimers and exclusions that you normally see. Leatherman truly stands behind their products with the best warranty in the industry.
Victorinox is a close second with their two designs, the SwissTool and SwissTool Spirit. Both come in variants that change the combination of knife blades and scissors on the same frame and there are also accessory combo packs available. The SwissTools don’t come cheap, both models are $100 or more and you don’t get one-hand accessible knife blade.
In my experience, Leatherman multi tools offer the best value. Their above average prices are balanced by excellent performance, durability, premium materials, and precision manufacturing. Buy Leatherman with the confidence of knowing that if something goes wrong, they will make it right.
The Cheapest Leatherman
Except for keychain tools, the lowest priced Leatherman is the Leap but we recommend you move up to the Wingman for your entry level tool. You can pick up the Wingman for under $60 and you get a solid pair of spring-loaded pliers and outside-accessible knife blade and scissors. The tools in the handle are on the small side and you don’t get the bells and whistles on models like the Wave, but it matches similar priced options from other brands.
If you truly don’t have the budget for a new Leatherman buying a used Leatherman is a good option. Leatherman tools are built to last and take a beating. Leatherman stands behind their products and even though their warranty only officially applies to the original owner, there are reports in the forums of people successfully getting their second-hand Leatherman fixed under warranty.