The Best Multi-Tool for Every Job

More rugged, dependable and determined than ever before

Updated March 11, 2024 10:57 am
a collage of the best multi-tools on a blue background
From full rigs to a cut-and-finish knife, the best multi-tools are a necessity for grizzled veterans and fresh outdoorsman alike.
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My father’s original Leatherman multi-tool endured decades of use, replacing a traditional set of tools when space was limited. At some point over the years, he upgraded his EDC (everyday carry), passing on his beloved do-it-all gadget to me. Offering support through roadside car repairs, overnight camping trips and Ikea installations, I find excuses to use it almost every day.

The perfect all-in-one tool isn’t designed to suit everyone, but rather, to suit you. When I consider a new multi-tool, I compare price, materials, features, reviews and best prospective use. The multi-tools on this list offer different advantages, but almost all of them contain pliers, bottle openers, pry bars, wire cutters, screwdrivers and knives. They come in different sizes, weigh less than a pound and measure a few inches in length when closed for convenient and comfortable storage.

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Below, our picks for the best multi-tools available that fill every niche, and a brief overview of each of their quirks and special features.

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Tools: Needlenose pliers, regular pliers, wire cutters, knife, saw, scissors, can opener, bottle opener, file (2), bit driver, Phillips screwdriver

The Leatherman Wave Plus continues to exceed our expectations year after year. Though it doesn’t pack the same bells and whistles as some of its multi-tool siblings, the Wave Plus offers a balance of quality and cost that justifies its overwhelming popularity. Nail nicks on the knife and saw blades deliver one-handed access to our favorite features, and Leatherman’s swappable bit drivers reduce the demand for bigger tools.

At 8.5 ounces, the Wave Plus feels somewhat heavier in hand, but we appreciate the size and heft that adds confidence to everyday use. Smooth ergonomics deliver a confident grip in tight spaces, and the stainless steel build is so durable that we’ve used the Wave Plus as a makeshift hammer — sorry, Leatherman. If you want to get your hands on a best-selling multi-tool without breaking the bank, the Wave Plus is an excellent option. Add the Leatherman Bit Kit to complete the package.

Tools: Plain-edge blade, Philips driver, flathead driver, pry bar, hammer, scissors, awl, bottle opener

Most multi-tool designs try to pack a slim profile with as many tools or functions as possible. For this reason, the Gerber Armbar Drive is a refreshing departure from the norm. Featuring only eight tools and weighing a mere 3.1 ounces, the Armbar Drive sheds unnecessary functions, guaranteeing it will fit comfortably in your pocket. The minimalist design builds upon a sturdy 3-inch locking knife that’s eager to cut through plastic, fishing line and raw veggies. We find excuses to use the blade more than we care to admit.

Opposite the blade, you’ll find a hex bit driver and a pair of large scissors. The Armbar’s magnetic driver keeps the bit secure and steady, and it operates at a variety of unnatural angles. When paired with Gerber’s 10-piece toolkit, there wasn’t much we couldn’t handle. Meanwhile, the large scissors easily snip through paper and cardboard without jamming. Beyond the big three, the Armbar functions as a bottle opener, pry bar and hammer. We wouldn’t recommend striking with it often, but it beats using a cast-iron skillet to drive a nail.

Tools: Regular pliers, needle-nose pliers, crimper, wire stripper, combo knife, scissors, awl, can opener, file, Phillips screwdriver, flathead screwdriver (3)

When the Leatherman Wave debuted over 20 years ago, it quickly became the brand’s best-selling multi-tool. To improve upon the Wave’s award-winning design, the engineers at Leatherman went back to the drawing board for five years. In 2019, they unveiled the Leatherman FREE collection — a series of Leatherman multi-tools, each designed to operate effortlessly with one hand. at the top end of the new lineup, you’ll find the FREE P4.

A more robust version of the easy-use FREE P2 Thanks to loosened hinge tolerances, the FREE P4 operates like a butterfly knife. Flick your wrist, and the multi-tool opens to unveil a set of 21 different tools. When you’re done, snap it shut to the sound of a reassuring click, courtesy of a magnetic locking system. Each function is fully accessible without opening the pliers, differentiating the P4 from many of its traditional competitors. Leatherman’s signature locking mechanism keeps tools in place once unveiled, allowing us to put significant pressure on the knife or can opener. A removable pocket clip eliminates the need for a protective case if that’s not your style. Even when it’s not in use, we find ourselves constantly opening and closing the P4 like a heavy-duty fidget spinner. And we’re pretty sure Leatherman deliberately designed it that way.

Tools: Needlenose pliers, wire cutter, knife, package opener, scissors, flathead driver, crosshead driver, bottle opener, tweezers, file

It would be wrong to compare the Gerber Dime to most full-size multi-tools. After all, it only weighs a shade over 2 ounces and occupies as much space as a Bic lighter. But when we compare the Dime to similar keychain-size multi-tools, it continues to surprise and charm.

The spring-loaded pliers are strong enough to pull staples from a 2-by-4, and the crosshead driver tightens loose, irritating screws. Because the Dime attaches to a keychain via a split ring, we frequently call on the bottle opener between camping trips and cookouts. A hidden set of tweezers and a pair of scissors are welcome additions too. The build quality remains up for debate, and we question whether the Dime’s portability sacrifices durability, but Gerber’s limited lifetime warranty puts our mind at ease. Even though most of us carry a full-size multi-tool, the Dime is a welcome addition that exceeds expectations.

Tools: Needlenose pliers, regular pliers, hard-wire cutters, wire cutters, knife, carabiner/bottle opener, large bit driver

Compare the Leatherman Skeletool CX to many of its full-size multi-tool rivals, and chances are you’ll quickly notice what it doesn’t have. There’s no serrated knife, no saw, and certainly no spring-action scissors. In fact, it packs less than half the features of every other multi-tool in its class. But spend a little time with the Skeletool CX, and slowly you’ll notice what it does have.

The externally mounted knife is made from 154CM stainless steel that lasts longer than the standard Leatherman blade, and the asymmetrical handle generates a curved grip to enhance comfort as a knife, screwdriver, or pliers. Weighing only 5 ounces, we never find it awkward or bulky in-hand, and we prefer its slim feature set over clunkier full-size models. This rings especially true in the midst of travel when weight truly matters. There may be times in life when a set of scissors or a metal saw would be ideal, but the Skeletool CX compels us to forget the complexity of other multi-tools. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Tools: Blade (2), can/bottle opener, scissors, pliers, fish scaler, wire crimping tool, ruler, wood saw, metal saw, chisel, multipurpose hook, toothpick, tweezers, pin, keyring, ballpoint pen, corkscrew (too many others to list)

To discover multi-tool functionality in a pocket knife presentation, consider the Victorinox Swiss Champ pocket knife. As the ultimate SAK (Swiss Army Knife), the Swiss Champ boasts a staggering 33 different functions, making it one of the most versatile pocket knives available.

Some of these tools, like the pressurized ballpoint pen, come in handy rather frequently. Others, like the miniature magnifying glass, are simply too small to offer any real-world assistance. But in the midst of a survival situation, when a critical task spells the difference between safety and peril, it pays to have as many tools as possible at your disposal. Not to mention the nostalgic memories that surface whenever we find ourselves in the company of a classic SAK. The Swiss Champ isn’t a multi-tool we’d designate for everyday carry, but rather a survival multi-tool to tuck away in a specified, accessible space. Think backpack, glove box or desk drawer.

Tools: Knife, bottle opener, screwdriver, pry bar, key ring

We rarely find ourselves describing a best-selling multi-tool as sexy, but The James Brand designs some of the best-looking tools to grace your pocket. Though small and more akin to a classic Swiss Army Knife, the Elko catches our eye with its unassuming 5-in-1 form factor. Beyond the Sandvik steel blade, a clever tab at the base of the handle performs key ring, bottle opener, screwdriver, and pry bar duties. Finished in stainless steel or Micarta, the Elko comes in multiple colorways, allowing you to personalize your multi-tool to your liking. Serviceable construction encourages disassembly when your Elko parts need replacing.

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Tools: Needlenose pliers, knife, awl, can opener, scissors, jewelry driver, wire cutter (2), line cutter, ruler, bottle opener, driver, file

A budget multi-tool is just as capable as its costly counterparts. Plus, you won’t feel as heartbroken should it get damaged or misplaced. With 18 tools and a price tag under $50, the SOG Powerpint is a tough bargain to beat. And it’s no slouch, either. The needle-nose pliers deliver compound leverage to amplify squeezing force, and most of the tools are accessible from the outside. A line cutter handles fishing lines and small-diameter cables, and it cuts through a seatbelt in an emergency. Lasered markings for a protractor and ruler are thoughtful additions if nothing else, eluding to SOG’s attention to detail. The Powerpint undergoes a stone-washing for good measure to enhance rust resistance and reduce scratches.

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