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EDC multi tools need to be compact and light without sacrificing functionality. We tested the best every-day-carry (EDC) multi tools from the two biggest brands to find their strengths and where they fall short. This faceoff puts the Leatherman Skeletool head to head versus the Gerber Crucial.
The Leatherman Skeletool beats the Gerber Crucial in our head to head testing due to its more durable knife, superior engineering, and better usability. If you need a strap cutter, the Crucial Black is is a solid choice for about $10 cheaper than the Skeletool.
L x W x H
|4.00 x 1.32 x 0.65 in
|3.50 x 1.44 x 0.74 in
|One Hand Tools
(Base – Tip)
|0.22 – 0.10 in
|0.20 – 0.10 in
|#1 & #2
|Small & Medium
|Deep carry style
|Pocket Clip Width
(Top – Bottom)
|0.28 – 0.17 in
|0.40 – 0.21 in
Knife Length: Measured as length of sharpened edge (manufacturer specs frequently include the ricasso)
Pliers Reach: Measured from the pliers tip to the shoulders of the handle
Jaw Opening: Measured at pliers tip at max extension
Jaw Length: Measured from wire cutters to pliers tip
Jaw Width: Measured at widest point with jaws fully closed
Scissors Blade Length: Length of sharpened edge measured with jaws at 90°
The Skeletool came out on top for most users, but the Crucial put up a good fight and there are situations where the Gerber is the better choice.
A note about our testing: We use real-world scenarios to compare the relative performance between multi tools. Laboratory testing is great, but multi tools are not used in controlled environments. Each multi tool has its own set of design features and we want to predict how it will perform when we carry it everyday. Click here to learn the details of how we execute our testing.
The Skeletool knife outperformed the Crucial knife in our real world testing. Both knives were sharpened to manufacturer specs before testing. First, we use the straight edge to cut magazine pages and measure the length cut until the blade is dull. Then we use the serrated section to cut jute twine until the blade no longer cuts within three swipes. Any cutting done by accidental contact with the straight edge is negligible since it is already dull.
With 420HC blade steel in the base model, the Skeletool comes out on top in this category and you have the option to upgrade to 154CM steel with the Skeletool CX or RX.
Gerber did not publish the blade steel when they launched the Crucial in 2009 and they still do not have it on the website today. While there is speculation that it might be 440, we lean towards 3CR13. If Gerber used a better steel they would certainly advertise it – they list the 420HC steel for their Center-Drive blade. With the Crucial made in China a basic Chinese stainless steel makes sense and performance results match well with 3CR13.
Read our plain-English conclusions about stainless steel grades in this article. We did the research to compare the technical specs and test results so you know what to expect in the real world.
You can see obvious design similarities between the Crucial and the Dime. Gerber probably had the same design team working on both and both are made in China. The Dime uses 3CR13 Chinese blade steel but Gerber doesn’t publish the blade steel for the Crucial. Because the Crucial is the big-brother to the Dime and both showed similar wear and softness during our performance testing, we expect the Crucial to also use 3CR13 steel for the knife blade.
At first glance the pliers seem very similar between the Crucial and the Skeltool, but after carrying both tools and working different jobs we found they are really designed for different purposes.
The pliers on the Crucial are needlenose pliers designed for precision work. Their long-reach jaws are narrow in thickness and width and are great for getting into tight spaces. For example, they are excellent for manipulating wire inside of an enclosure – grasping, bending, twisting, and routing the wire was easy. However, they were average at doing ‘traditional’ pliers jobs like holding a bolt head while turning the nut.
The Skeletool pliers are compact utility pliers. True to the definition of a multi tool, they are good at many things but do not excel at any of them. More snub nose than needlenose, the Skeletool pliers have a reasonable taper and can get the job done.
The Crucial pliers have the advantage in every dimension except jaw width. You get slightly longer reach (as measured from the handle shoulder to the tip), more usable jaw length above the wire cutters, and the jaws open wider. Jaw width becomes a limitation when you are reaching inside a pipe or manipulating wire behind a cutout hole. However, the wider jaws on the Crucial are offset by their more aggressive taper.
We are still developing our pliers strength test but based on thickness alone we expect the Skeletool jaws to be stronger. Although there are user reviews that complain of broken plier heads on the Skeletool and Freestyle designs from Leatherman.
On paper the v-cutter design is superior to the bypass design, and in this case reality matches what theory tells us. For solid soft wires the Crucial and Skeletool made clean cuts all the way up to 14 AWG copper.
For stranded wire the Crucial was significantly better. The Skeletool still cut, but frequently there would be one or two strands that would bend between the bypass blades and not cut. The Crucial delivered clean cuts on 16 gauge stranded speaker wire.
Gerber doesn’t list it on the tool list, but the Crucial does have a notch for cutting hard wire at the base of the wire cutter blades. Both tools were able to cut 6d finishing nails and we stopped there because of the uncomfortable handles.
Leatherman engineering prowess shows in how they integrated the bit driver into the Skeletool. Unfold the handles and you have a nearly 7 inch screwdriver with replaceable bits. The Skeletool comes with two double-ended bits, one with medium and small slotted tips and one with #1 and #2 Phillips tips. The bit driver locks the bit in place with a groove in the middle of the bit. The second bit is securely stored in the handle.
Leatherman’s flattened Phillips heads are more effective than Gerber’s tapered head design. On top of that, the Skeletool is compatible with the driver extension kit from Leatherman which allows you to use any 1/4 inch bits.
The Crucial has its only flathead screwdriver on the handle end with the pliers. Combined with the very short shaft, this means the flathead screwdriver has very limited reach – there must be wide open space around the screwhead or the Crucial won’t work.
The Phillips head uses the easy design choice of simply tapering a flathead screwdriver so it will go into a Phillips screw. Because of its location at the opposite end of the handle, the Phillip screwdriver has good reach and works effectively.
Both screwdrivers on the Crucial have liner locks to hold them open during use.
Bottle Opener: The bottle opener on the Skeletool is integrated with the carabiner clip and works very well. The Crucial does not include a bottle opener.
Strap Cutter: The Crucial Black that we tested comes with a strap cutter instead of the standard carabiner. Unless you are in the habit of hooking your multi-tool onto a belt loop or MOLLE webbing then the strap cutter is a better choice. It is sharp and durable, although it is too thick to make a good package opener.
One knock against the Skeletool since 2007 has always been handle comfort. Sure, they look cool with their high-tech design elements, but when using the pliers or wire cutters the narrow handles are not comfortable for sustained use.
Also, we narrowly avoided a nasty blood blister when doing some detail work with the Skeletool pliers. For precise control of the jaws our thumb moved up toward the pivot and was pinched between the spine of the knife blade and the opposite handle scale. Luckily we felt it before squeezing too hard but the pinch point is there and will do damage if you are not careful.
The blockiness of the Crucial works in its favor when it comes to handle comfort. The thick handles are easy to get a strong grip but we did find them a bit awkward at times. With a loose grip the Crucial felt natural with the smaller handle at our fingertips. But this puts the point of the large handle squarely in the middle of our palm – very uncomfortable when stronger grip is needed.
Reversing the handles was the only way to give a solid squeeze. However, this limited us to three fingers on the handle and the curves are going the wrong direction – the pliers end up in line with our knuckles and not our index finger.
Both pocket clips work well, but the pocket clip on the Crucial works better. We prefer the deep pocket carry design where the entire tool is inside your pocket with just the very top visible, compared to the Skeletool that has a full half inch protruding. The Skeletool pocket clip is also very narrow and there were times where it wanted to rotate or twist in our pocket.
With the wider clip on the Crucial it didn’t want to rotate as much as the Skeletool, but we did notice the thickness of the Crucial in our pocket.
Also of note, the pocket clip on the Crucial is attached with 2 Torx screws and is easily removed or replaced. However, on the Skeletool the pocket clip is riveted to the handle and is not user serviceable and must go thru the Leatherman warranty process.
Options and Variants
Colors: Blue & Green w/ carabiner clip, Black w/strap cutter
Colors: Stainless, Blue, Green, Coyote Brown
Upgraded knife: CX, RX versions
Compatible w/Leatherman bit kit
There is an active community of users that modify their Skeletools. The most common modification is to use a cutting wheel remove the carabiner at the end of the main handle. This leaves the screwdriver bit protruding dangerously so they don’t carry one in the bit driver itself – they only carry one bit in the handle. To keep maximum utility, they use a bit from the Leatherman bit kit that has one side Phillips and the other side flathead.