Leatherman launched the Freestyle and Freestyle CX in 2009 after the success of the Skeletool. Buyers wanted a minimalist multitool and the Freestyle delivered with only 5 essential tools: needlenose pliers, regular pliers, wire cutters, hard wire cutters, and knife blade. Leatherman discontinued Freestyle CX in 2012 and it looks like they will retire the Freestyle in 2020, the Freestyle is listed as SOLD OUT at Leatherman.com.
Today we are reviewing the features, build quality, and utility of the Leatherman Freestyle multi tool.
Leatherman Freestyle – First Impressions
The goal of the Leatherman Freestyle is find the right balance of utility and convenience in a minimalist package. At 3.45 inches and 4.5 ounces, it is the size of a pocketknife with the added capability of needlenose pliers and wire cutters. Leatherman thoughtfully included a Zytel® scale on one handle that provides a secure grip and premium feel. When closed, the handles have a gentle curve that fits nicely in your hand and also lets the Freestyle sit comfortably in your pocket. The pocket clip on the Freestyle has the right spring tension so it holds securely and is still easy to clip on.
Opening the knife blade is easy with the large thumb hole and the liner lock lets you know when the blade is fully open. Keeping with the minimalist theme, the Freestyle has a clip point combo straight/serrated blade. The lock release is easily accessed and we didn’t notice any pinch points. Typically thumb hole knifes are ambidextrous but Leatherman setup the Freestyle for right-handers. The stainless handle blocks access to the other side of the blade so you can’t open it with your left thumb.
After opening the pliers you notice the jaws are not spring action. While we prefer spring-action on medium-light duty tools, Leatherman engineering makes it work on the Freestyle. With the stainless handle in your palm, the curved Zytel® handle gives precise control of the jaws even when you can’t see them.
Read our detailed review to find out why the Leatherman Freestyle makes it into our list of recommended tools – and which pocket multi tool we rate even higher for every day carry (EDC).
Leatherman Freestyle – Manufacturer Description
The first thing you’ll probably notice with the Leatherman Freestyle is opening the outside-accessible blade is easy and fast, just like a pocket knife. When you unfold it and use the pliers you’ll understand that when something is engineered correctly, power isn’t a matter of size, but a matter of years of design expertise. Freestyle is great as a stand-alone tool or a companion for those activity-specific tools that don’t feature pliers or a knife.
Leatherman Freestyle – Tool List
The Freestyle defines minimalist functionality with only 5 tools:
1. Needlenose Pliers
2. Regular Pliers
3. Wire Cutters
4. Hard Wire Cutters
5. 420HC combo edge knife
• Locking Blade
• Replaceable Pocket Clip
• Outside-accessible Knife Blade
Lets be honest here, all multitool manufacturers inflate the tool count in their marketing materials – that is how Leatherman turns their pliers head into 4 ‘tools’. Everyone else would describe the Freestyle as having 2 tools – a pocket knife and needlenose pliers with hard wire cutter feature.
The combination of needle nose pliers, regular pliers, and wire cutters is universal on multitools. It would only be notable if the Freestyle didn’t have them. So if you only put two tools on your multitool they better be good, lets get into the details.
Leatherman Freestyle – Knife
Leatherman uses their standard 420HC steel for the knife blade because it works. The 420HC stainless steel provides good edge retention and corrosion resistance. We like the Leatherman blade shape, it is easy to control the clip point tip precisely during cuts and the belly curve lets the blade slice deep.
Serrated blades can be difficult to sharpen, but the Leatherman serrations are not too aggressive and still effective when cutting straps and rope. At 2.6 inches, the Freestyle blade is just long enough to be considered for EDC knife replacement.
Leatherman Freestyle – Pliers
Leatherman’s plier design evolved from the PST and is standard equipment on most of their lineup of medium duty tools. Out of the box our Freestyle worked smoothly after a minimal 20 open/close cycles. Some users have reported an overly stiff pivot joint to the point they needed two hands to re-open the jaws between each squeeze, but this wasn’t an issue with the Freestyle we purchased.
At maximum extension the needlenose tips have a 1.5″ opening but this puts the handles splayed too far apart for most people. The real working gap for one-handed is about 1.25″ on the needlenose and 1″ on the regular section. We like the Zytel handle, it was easy to manipulate with our fingertips for precise control.
Leatherman Freestyle – Wire Cutters
The Freestyle uses v-cutter style blades forged into the pliers with a circular cutout at the pivot for cutting hard wire. We cut 14 AWG Romex wire comfortably and even some small nails with the hard wire cutter.
For an EDC compact light-medium duty multitool the pliers are very serviceable. Nobody would bring a Freestyle to be a job site workhorse, under sustained use the handles limit the tool’s capability. The compact handles are not long enough to apply leverage and they have a ridge that digs into your hand when applying a strong grip (just like the Skeletool).
Leatherman Freestyle – Construction Quality
Leatherman uses 420HC stainless steel in the knife blade, Zytel® on one handle scale, and stainless steel for everything else. User feedback highlights two complaints that we will address: the knife blade breaking at a weakpoint in the thumb hole and corrosion/discoloration when used in saltwater environments.
Looking over the user reviews and forum comments the most serious complaint about the Freestyle is a problem with the knife blade breaking near the base. Most breaks are reported either thru the thumbhole or thru the hole in the ricasso.
During our rigorous testing we could feel our Freestyle knife flex during cuts that put torque on the blade, but we didn’t experience a failure. We don’t recommend the Freestyle as a survival knife where you will be batoning the blade, but it does work well as an EDC general purpose knife. If yours does have a problem you can rely on Leatherman’s 25 year warranty to get it fixed.
Corrosion and Discoloration
Most of us will take a multitool out of the box, put it in our pocket, and then not pay attention to it until something goes wrong. 420HC is a mid-grade stainless steel with good corrosion resistance but it will discolor and pit if neglected. To accelerate the testing we dipped the blade in a mixture of saltwater and lemon juice, shook the blade off but didn’t dry it, folded the tool and left it on a table.
After 2 days some surface discoloration that continued to increase with time. After 1 week we cleaned the blade WD40 and a light buff and were able to fully remove the spots. No stainless is corrosion proof and at the price point of the Freestyle we were more than satisfied with the corrosion performance.
Variants of the Leatherman Freestyle
Leatherman offered two main versions of the Freestyle. The base Freestyle was produced from 2009 until 2020 and the Freestyle CX that was produced from 2009 until it was retired in 2012. Leatherman also sold the Freestyle in a combo pack with the Style CS keychain tool as well as a Topo version that was offered in partnership with REI.
- 831189 Freestyle – retired 2020
- 831082 Freestyle CX – retired 2012
- 831383 Freestyle and Style CS set
Leatherman Freestyle Review
Wire Cutters: 3.5/5
One-handed: knife blade yes, pliers no
Carry method: pocket clip
- Blade length: 2.6 in clip point blade
- Weight: 4.5 oz
- Overall length: 6.0 in with knife open
- Closed dimensions: 3.45 in x 1.3 in x 0.71 in*
*The body of the Freestyle is 0.54 in thick, maximum thickness of 0.71 in occurs at the pivot where the pocket clip is mounted
Leatherman built a reputation for solid engineering and high quality tools. Despite the modern design elements, the Freestyle contains standard Leatherman materials and construction. The 420HC stainless steel in the blade is a proven performer – it comes sharp out of the box and has good edge retention.
When the blade does need sharpening, it is easy to return it to factory condition with 16 degree bevel (two sided) on the plain edge and 20 degree bevel (one sided) on the serrations. The blade is easily opened with one hand, as long as you are right-handed. Left hand users will find the knife case obstructs the thumb hole.
The pliers on the Freestyle are suitable for light-duty work, capable in a pinch for occasional use. As with most pocket multitools, if you are going to be doing serious work then you will want a real set of pliers. The pliers are not spring loaded but we found the narrow, curved shaped of the Zytel handle made it easy to manipulate the jaws with precision.
For being a minimalist tool, the Freestyle is not that compact or light. At 3.45 in x 1.3 in x 0.54 in and 4.5 oz the Freestyle is approximately the same size and weight as the Leatherman Juice S2 with 12 tools.
The biggest drawback to the Freestyle is what Leatherman left out – no Phillips or flat head bits. Not even the pseudo screwdriver points found on many multitools. And this becomes the deciding factor in our recommendation for the Leatherman Freestyle – if you don’t need screwdrivers, but find yourself using pliers and a knife frequently the Freestyle is definitely a multitool to consider.
The Leatherman Freestyle is a strong contender if you currently EDC a pocket knife and want to upgrade to a knife blade and pliers. You get more functionality for a little more bulk in your pocket at a very nice price point.
We also see the Freestyle well suited for hiking and camping where the lack of screwdrivers is not an issue (like it is for hunting). We aren’t big fans of the Freestyle for fishing when so much is done one-handed and spring action pliers are really nice to have.
Where to Buy the Leatherman Freestyle
MSRP for the Freestyle was $35 when Leatherman retired it in early 2020, you can still find the Freestyle in stock on Amazon. I’ve also had great luck buying both new and used multi tools on eBay, but you have to have the right search parameters (here is the search I use).
Leatherman Freestyle vs Skeletool
The Freestyle is from the same family as the Skeletool and they share many design elements. The knife blades are the same, as are the plier jaws. More coming soon!
Leatherman Freestyle vs Juice
How does the Freestyle stack up against a more traditional pocket multitool design? Lets compare the Freestyle to another multitool in the Leatherman lineup – the Juice. If you don’t mind a shorter knife blade with a straight edge sheepsfoot design that doesn’t lock, and can spend the additional money, you should consider the Juice. More coming soon!
Leatherman Freestyle vs Gerber Crucial
Both the Freestyle and Crucial are marketed as minimalist essential multitools – but which one does it best? More coming soon!