Anyone who’s handy with tools or prone to get saddled with the DIY label knows that keeping a good multi-tool nearby can make any job a little easier. And the best multi-tools can spring you out of a vast array of jams, especially if you choose the appropriate tool for your lifestyle.
Everyone I know on our team has spent a lot of time getting themselves into and out of trouble, so the multi-tool is something of a trade necessity. All-in-one practicality is key for the vagabond who might have to fix it or pick it up and run at any minute. That being said, we’ve also got good, old-fashioned field experience in construction and varied adventure sports.
Our review runs the multi-tool gamut, from keychain variants to big, capable entries for the job site.
- Best Overall: Leatherman Free P2 Multi Tool
- Best Multi tool Carabiner: Outdoor Element Firebiner Multi Tool
- Best Keychain Multi Tool: SOG MacV Multi Tool
- Best EDC Multi Tool: SOG Baton Q3 Multi Tool
- Best Cheap Multi Tool For the Car or Truck: POHAKU Multi Tool
- Runner Up: Leatherman Wave Plus Multi Tool
- Best Value Oscillating Multi Tool: Chicago Electric 1.6 Amp Single Speed Multi Tool
The Best Multi Tool
If you simply want the best multitool, it’s going to be made by Leatherman. And if you want the easiest to use, look to its FREE line, which allows you to operate all the tools one-handed. Our favorite is the Leatherman Free P2. It has the essentials (17 tools including a knife, scissors, screwdrivers, bottle/can opener, and pliers). But it eliminates a few tools that we rarely use like the tiny saw blade on the more full-featured P4. that saves size and weight, making it perfect for EDC, hiking, and basically everything. And at about $120, it’s a value.
All tools lock
Magnetic opening and closing
- Weight12 ounces
One-handed opening and closing
Replaceable wire cutters
Locking blades and tools
Perfect size for most users
One-handed opening takes some practice
Our tester reports she’s carried the Firebiner as a staple on her key ring for five years. She didn’t think much of it when it showed up in an outdoor-focused subscription box, but it did seem handy, so she put it to use. Little did she know, she says, she would grow to love it.
The tool itself weighs just 1.1 ounces but is rated at 100 pounds. (More power to you if it’s all in keys, but that would be somewhat concerning.) There are two keyring spots on the bottom of the carabiner, which our tester uses to separate work keys and home/personal keys.
Safe utility blade, bottle opener, flat head screwdriver
Two key rings
- BrandOUTDOOR ELEMENT
- Weight1.1 Oz
- Dimensions3” L x 1.5” W
Helpful EDC tools
Helps organize keys
A bit big — don’t expect a novelty keychain carabiner
The SOG MacV checks a lot of attractive boxes: it looks cool, it’s extremely discreet, it’s TSA safe and, finally, it has a bottle opener. The little skull-shaped unit combines 14 tools in a capable platform that you’ll never notice on your keychain — unless someone points it out and says “whoa, that’s cool!”
It happened to me fairly often while I carried one for about a year. Then last winter, I lost my keys snowboarding (pro, or not-so-pro tip: always zip your pockets). The second-biggest reason I was upset was because my girlfriend at the time was understandably irritated with me for losing the only truck keys we had with us. The biggest reason I was upset was because I’d lost my MacV.
Keychain size and weight
Cool skull shape
- Weight1 Oz
- Dimensions2.5” L
Too light to be noticeable on keychain
Solid bottle opener
If you lose your keys, you lose it
SOG’s Baton Q3 gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t, and stays sleek with its unusual closure. Instead of the typical side-by-side, the plier-based tool closes in-line for a more pocketable profile. The stowed device isn’t exactly short, at 5.8”, but it gives a distinct and unorthodox look to a capable tool. Not only that, it’s a little lighter than most of its competitors at 6 oz.
12 tools make an appearance (SOG says 13 by dividing the plier from the “gripper”). The only unusual entry is the jewelry driver. The fine, pointed spike evidently has some utility in the fabrication or maintenance of wearable accessories, but looks to me like an insidious weapon. All the usuals are in place, and the 5cr15MoV drop point blade should be durable and easy to maintain.
Closes in-line rather than side by side
- Weight6 Oz
- Dimensions5.8” L
On the expensive side for a relatively low tool count
One place we like to keep a multi-tool is in the car or truck. It’s an easy addition to a center console or glove box, and you never know when it’ll come in handy. For the most part, that can be a cheap tool like the basic but burly POHAKU. The popular pliers-based platform consolidates 13 functions with seven tools including a half-serrated locking blade over 3” long.
The tool has a bit of an awkward design, with every tool including the big blade housed in one plier handle. But its one-way approach could help ward off “which side is which” confusion. We’re also not entirely sure it’s too comfortable to use consistently; while you’re using the knife, you’ll be gripping the backs of other tools. And since all the tools are on one side, it’s also pretty thick, which is part of the reason we recommend keeping it in the car instead of in your pocket. Also if you want to keep it in your pocket, be aware that it weighs a substantial half a pound.
3”+ partially serrated, locking blade
All tools on the same side of pliers
Skeletal handle design
- Weight8 Oz
- Dimensions4.2” x 1.44” x .91”
Cheap but apparently durable
Consolidates all typical tools at a low price
Thick and heavy
No established brand reputation
The Leatherman Wave Plus is directly descended from the Leatherman multi-tool that started it all. It incorporates a few more tools than Tim Leatherman’s original PST (Pocket Survival Tool) and retains all the survivability of the classic.
Sturdy 420HC knife and serrated blades anchor the pliers-based tool. The plier itself tapers for a wide range of applications. A screwdriver with replaceable bits and a wire cutter that handles hard wire help make it a great multitool for handyman. And you’ve got openers for when it’s time to wind down from the workday, and spring-assisted scissors for the finer points.
Replaceable screwdriver bits
Hard and soft wire cutter
- Weight11.2 oz
- Dimensions4” x 1.5” x 8”
Leatherman construction and ergonomics
Screwdriver bits can be replaced if they break
One-handed opening is helpful
The Chicago Electric oscillating multi-tool may be priced cheap, but its build is anything but. In my 20’s, spent a few years building and installing cabinets. Among our three or four crews, I bet we used an oscillating multi-tool to make flush cuts, remove baseboards, or cope verticals nine out of every ten days. I was there for three years, and we only ever killed one Chicago 1.6 amp single speed oscillating multi tool.
There’s my testimonial of a tool as it existed in the mid-2010’s. From well-ingrained memory, the tool looks by and large exactly the same now. Red body, metal flake cowl, single yellow switch. Based on my experience, there wouldn’t be much reason to change it.
Arbor accepts various blades and tools
Electric multi-tool, 1.6 amp
- BrandCHICAGO ELECTRIC
- Weight2.37 lbs
- Dimensions9” x 3”
- ToolsBlades, sanders, grinder wheels
Durable (as tested by author in previous years)
A little heavy
Why Trust Us
If there’s anybody who uses multitools, it’s dirtbags. And if there’s anybody who typically works in outdoor media, it’s dirtbags. That’s the case at AllGear, where most of our team spends every spare moment living out road trip fantasies, hiking, biking, climbing, running, exploring, and generally adventuring. A good pocket multi-tool can be your best friend on any adventure, where diverse function and economy of space are key virtues.
Who This is For
We might be a band of outlaws and general deviants, but the fact is that everyone can use a good multi-tool. Even if all you do is make the junket from the coffee shop to the home office and back (which is how it feels for us sometimes, too), the right multi-tool can still help you. That’s why we included everything from mini multi-tools to survival multi-tools on the list.
How We Picked
Every multi-tool should be practically capable of a broad spectrum of tasks. And the tasks you’re likely to face should inform your decision. That’s why we review best uses under each individual entry.
Not only that, but it should make you want to carry it — no ginormous choads or awkward chonkers making a big bulge in your pocket. I’ve said it a kajillion bajillion times if I’ve said it once: the best tool for the job is the one you have.
How We Tested
Method? Encounter problem, solve the problem. Repeat.
Multi-tools get into dirty jobs. More often than not, they see action on the front lines of a task, thanks to their inherent utility. With that in mind, we tested the top multi-tools by simply living our lives.
Features To Look For In Multi Tools
Pliers — Tim Leatherman didn’t create the first multi-tool, but he did make the form ubiquitous. How? By attaching a pair of pliers to a pocket knife. Seriously, that’s all it took. But when you think about it, it’s a powerful combo that makes significant adds to the functionality of both tools. Grab, twist, cut, puncture!
Scissors — One sharp steel edge passes along another, operated by a fulcrum with two levers on the opposite side.
That’s what scissors are. Check your multi-tool to see if it has a pair!
Quality Knife Blade — Do you need a quality knife blade in your multi-tool or not? It’s worth evaluating; if you can get away with a crap blade, my advice is to do it. Multi-tool blades rarely feature premium steels like S90V or CPM154. Why? Because the point of a multi-tool is utility across a range of tasks; not primacy in any single task. We recommend finding a multi-tool knife blade that’s easy to maintain and won’t corrode easily, like a 154CM or an AUS-8.
Number of Tools — Sometimes the best multi-tool has 20 tools; sometimes it has 2. (The one with the most tools ever seems to be the discontinued Wenger Giant, which had 87). No need to lug around more than you’ll use; I’d recommend starting basic then expanding if and when you identify more needs. Why? Because you’ll inevitably stop carrying any tool you don’t use.
Quality of Tools — If you buy a crappy tool, it’s on you. I’ve done it a million times — I figure “ah, I can save $3 if I just buy the cheaper one. I’m sure it’ll work.” And then, inevitably, it sh*ts the bed, which, no matter when it happens, is a bad time for it to happen. But again, you have already secured the benefit of saving your $3.
That’s the gambit! And with tools, you can usually be fairly certain that spending more money will actually get you a higher quality. At a certain point, it’s a question of values and priorities.
Value — With such a range in pricing and functionality, the value you perceive in a multi-tool will be as unique as you are, you little snowflake. That said, here’s what we recommend as you’re evaluating your options: look for trusted brands and designs that aren’t too complicated. More moving parts mean more possibilities of failure. Keep it tight, get it right.
Construction quality — Build quality and machining are important in multi-tools, with all their moving parts. Look at typical trouble spots like pivot points and anything spring-loaded. If possible, check that tools, pins, and any machine screws fit tightly and are uniformly shaped.
Ergonomics — Some multi-tools get designed ergonomically, some don’t. It’s an eye-of-the-beholder thing in my opinion; some folks will prioritize utility, others comfort. I would maintain that if a tool’s got everything you need and nothing you don’t, you’ll probably buy it whether it’s ergonomic or not.
Portability — You could own the theoretical best multi-tool in all known universes, comprising a tool that generated sublime and eternal peace for all living creatures along with a knife, screwdriver, and a pair of pliers, but it still wouldn’t do any good if you never had it on you. Make sure your multitool will be comfortable to carry.
Warranty — Always a great question. Most warranties are limited, so make sure you know what you’re buying. Some don’t have warranties at all, which honestly, I would somewhat prefer as a buyer. Unless it’s a major purchase with gripping financial implications, wouldn’t you rather just not care?
Weight — See “portability.” That’s pretty much what your multi-tools weight comes down to. If you never have it on you, owning it will be irrelevant. Make sure it’s lightweight enough that you’ll actually carry it.
Types Of Multi Tools
Pliers-based — The classic Tim Leatherman-conceived multi-tool unites a knife and other tools with pliers. Grab, twist, slice, puncture, screw, open bottles, file, saw!
Knife-based — Picture a Swiss Army knife; it’s a multi-tool too. Should be about the shape and size of a pocket knife.
One-piece multi-tools — Comprises any of your typical utility knives with multiple functions, or folding knife type multi-tools.
Multi Tool FAQ
Q: How to use a multi tool?
A: Let’s make this simple with a series of steps for using a multi-tool.
- Remove multi-tool from pocket.
- Use multi-tool.
There’s really not a whole lot else to it, without launching into some partial or full description of every job you could do with a knife, pliers, screwdriver, bottle opener, saw, scissors, tweezers, file, awl, wire cutters, wine opener, etc. Use your imagination!
Q: Are multi tool blades universal?
A: If you have a multi-tool like the Gerber Prybrid, it might use universal razor blades. Otherwise, your knife blade is your knife blade and its maintenance is solely your responsibility.
Q: Are multi tool knives illegal?
A: Check your state knife laws with this handy resource from the American Knife and Tool Institute. I would say “generally no,” but our corporate lawyers probably wouldn’t like that. Instead, I’ll submit that knife restrictions generally concern blade length, concealment and assisted/automatic opening. Just cross-reference features against the resource above.
Q: When to use a multi tool?
A: Multi-tools are best used either in the morning, afternoon, evening, or nighttime. We can’t confirm the efficacy of multi-tool use beyond those parameters.
Q: Can multi tool cut stainless steel?
A: Well, that...would all depend, I guess. How much stainless steel are you trying to cut, and what part of your multi tool are you using? 26-gauge stainless sheet steel has a thickness of less than half a millimeter. Conceivably, you could get through that with a solid pair of multitool pliers or wire cutters. But I wouldn’t say steel cutting makes the list of common multi-tool tasks.
Q: Can multi tool cut wood?
A: Maybe! Check for a saw. Still gonna be pretty hard to get through the big stuff.
Q: How long do multi tool blades last?
A: It depends on how you treat them, cousin. If you maintain a knife, i.e. put it away clean and dry, keep it sharp, maybe oil it if you live in a wet climate, etc., you could have it forever. It’s steel — it’s much more resilient than your flesh.
- State Knife Laws - AKTI