Review: How Does the New Magnetic Leatherman Compare to Their Classic Multitools?
The Free collection is the biggest product launch since their founding
If there’s one company that can bridge the gap between “don’t make ‘em like they used to” curmudgeons and the younger, more tech-savvy generations, it’s Leatherman.
Since their first official product was released 35 years ago — that’d be the PST, or Pocket Survival Tool — they’ve continued to advance both aesthetically and mechanically, and remain the first name in the multitool category that they created. And on a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to see our Signals and Charges go head-to-head against any competitor.
Then, at the beginning of the year, Leatherman made their biggest product announcement since 1983, and there was much rejoicing on the internet. We, on the other hand, had our first doubts about the brand (sure, we originally called it “one of their niftiest innovations in recent memory,” but “nifty” isn’t the same as necessary).
The announcement: The FREE Collection, a three-part release of the P-Series (pliers-based), the T-Series (EDC pocket tools) and K-Series (multi-purpose knives) — new multitools featuring brand-spankin’-new magnetic architecture. Instead of prying blades and scissors out with your fingernails, integrated magnets mean everything is accessible via super smooth, one-handed motions.
That by itself sounds great, and it’s a first-of-its-kind design (featuring “multiple design patents”), further showing Leatherman’s dominance of the space. Our worry came from the impetus behind the redesign.
According to Ben Rivera, CEO of Leatherman Tool Group, “Free was designed with the idea in mind that we wanted to not only appeal to hunters, fishermen, people who are avid outdoorsmen, but create a product that has the ability to also appeal to youth, people who live in the city.”
A noble cause, to be sure. The problem? This idea of redesigning tough, outdoor tools for people who don’t necessarily need those tools is too close for comfort to the rampant Best Made-ification of backcountry gear. In other words, the tact many companies have taken prizes aesthetics over construction, materials and durability. I’d rather buy a tool made for the toughest conditions, even if 99% of the time all I’m doing is slicing packing tape.
So we went ahead and got our hands on one to test it out, specifically the Free P2. (The P-Series is available now, with the T-Series debuting in June and K-Series in August.) Below, find out how it fared against the Signal, one of our favorite old-school Leathermans.
- Price: $120
- Tools: 19 total, including needle-nose pliers, regular pliers, replaceable wire cutters, replaceable hard-wire cutters, electrical crimper, wire stripper, combo knife, spring-action scissors, package opener, awl, can opener, bottle opener, wood/metal file, four screwdrivers (Phillips, medium, small and extra small), pry tool and ruler
- What’s missing: For most multitool users, the lack of bit drivers may make this a no-go.
- Materials: Leatherman’s standard stainless steel, with the partially serrated blade being made of 420HC steel. Basically, it’s common, durable and easy to sharpen, but it’s not the best at holding an edge.
- Pros during test: Yes, using the P2 is as fun as it looks. It won’t be super intuitive if you’re used to Leatherman’s old offerings, but they include a how-to-use sheet with purchase (or you can watch the video below). Once you get used to it, though, you’ll feel like Bruce Lee or Arya Stark flipping this thing around in your hands, and you’ll be able to access any tool with just one hand in minutes. That’s not to say this is dangerous in any way — the design is sleek and clean, fulfilling the company’s mission of offering both a veteran- and newcomer-friendly tool.
- Cons during test: The one-handed design is a double-edged sword. It’s exciting and ingenious, and will swiftly be copied by competitors. But it also feels potentially flimsy. At the bare minimum, it’s not as tight as your typical Leatherman, so it feels loose. And while that didn’t cause me any problems during testing, it doesn’t inspire the confidence that this will last a lifetime. I’ll admit that could be my bias because this is a new technology. Also, because of the magnetic architecture, I worried about keeping this near my phone, computer and other gadgets. As GearJunkie writes, Leatherman “said they dialed in the magnets to be just powerful enough to execute the tool’s needs alone, and not strong enough to interfere with the world around it.” For what that’s worth.
- Price: $120
- Tools: 19 total, including needle-nose pliers, regular pliers, replaceable wire cutters, replaceable hard-wire cutters, wire stripper, combo knife, saw, hammer, awl with thread loop, can opener, bottle opener, hex bit driver, bit driver, two box wrenches (1/4″ and 3/16”), carabiner, safety whistle, Ferrocerium rod (fire starter) and diamond-coated sharpener
- What’s missing: This is an outdoor survival tool that also works as an EDC, so the lack of scissors might be a problem.
- Materials: Same 420HC stainless steel as the P2, but with added diamond-like carbon coating in some places. Neither of these include the premium 154CM steel, which is used in multitools like the Skeletool CX.
- Pros during test: I love my Signal because it feels like it will outlive me, and could possibly extend my life as well. It’s the multitool I would keep in my go bag. And like the P2, it’s tough to get the hang of because of the intricate design details and tools that stray from the norm — the whistle is only accessible when the pliers are open, there’s a nifty little locking mechanism on the carabiner, and the knife sharpener is legitimately useful but takes a deft hand. Also, I don’t know if I could break it if I tried (but I’m not going to try).
- Cons during test: The oil. Because of the magnets embedded in the P2, the upkeep will be minimal. Because of the classic fingernail-opening architecture of the Signal, it requires a little lube now and then, and even after my first few uses of it out of the box I remember getting black residue on my hands. That’s not a problem for anyone out in the field, obviously, but it’s a huge consideration for anyone wanting a multitool to throw in their work bag or backpack or back-in-style fanny pack. Also, if we’re taking a good hard look in the mirror, most users will never use some of the included tools. While that may be true for any Leatherman, or multitool in general, it’s even more so here.
One Big Caveat
Leatherman writes that they spent five years developing this new technology. They say it’s based on years of customer feedback. Plus, they cite “an all-new elastomer” that reduces wear-and-tear and makes “the tools within the FREE series more durable than ever before.” And we’re inclined to trust the company. But the truth is, this is untested technology. When we say untested, we mean by unbiased third parties over multiple years. So can we say with 100% certainty that these will last as long as their old models? Can we say that the magnets won’t have any adverse effects? No and no. But from our limited testing phase (days instead of years), it’s very promising.
The Final Word
Despite all the changes, the Free collection is still made in Leatherman’s factory in Portland, Oregon, and carries the same 25-year guarantee. So the company is standing behind its new patents. And because of all the changes, I’ve never been more excited to carry around a multitool. Because of my personal line of work (that for the most part doesn’t require more than opening packaging during the day), I normally carry one of those credit-card sized multitools in my wallet, and that’s it. Now, I’m slipping the Free P2 in my bag every day. Put down the fidget cube, people! This thing is 100 times more fun to fiddle with, plus it’ll actually get you out of a pinch. Even those of you out in the field, covered in exhaust ash with permanent fingernail grit, you’ll have a blast figuring out the many ways to use this (with a beer in your free hand, no doubt — not that we’re endorsing that kind of thing).
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