Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect five additional selections for 2016. Our earlier selections are on the following page.
Let’s face it: You’re most likely not one of those guys who has every tool for every job. Caught yourself trying to pry something open with a pen or a fork lately? We’d say you’re in the market for a handy all-in-one multi-tool. Sure, it won’t come close to fixing everything, but in a pinch, it’s a great “go-to” instrument that could make a difference (especially if your tool kit comes from the local pharmacy).
Multi-tools have been completing odd jobs since the original Leatherman PST (Pocket Survival tool) came out in 1983. As good as the PST was, multi-tools (or multi-pliers) have come a long way since then, today varying in size, tool type and count. Some are even specialized for gunsmiths and electricians. In our quest to find the best, though, we also discovered that many manufacturers have abandoned their multi-tool production due to poor sales. We call it “thinning the herd,” and it’s actually for the better, as the ones that survive tend to be the most user-friendly and the hardiest. Ready to become a Renaissance handyman of honey-do lists? Here are the best full-sized multi-tools on the market today.
Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool
The Wave is Leatherman’s best selling multi-tool for good reason. It’s dependable in the field, tough as nails and with a 17-tool function, you’ll be hard pressed to find a job it can’t do. $85
SwissTech Micro Max Multi-Tool
The affordable price point of the Swiss Tech Micro Max is one of its highlights. It may not be as durable as some of the other options on this list, but at $9, it gets the job done and your wallet won’t hurt as much if you lose it. $9
Victorinox Swisstool Spirit X
Not only does the Spirit X have 26 sturdy functions backed by years of Swiss Army Victorinox know-how, you have an elegantly designed tool to look at every time it’s put to work. $100
The Center-Drive has a full-size screwdriver with standard, replaceable bits. Its pliers are spring loaded so you can slide them out with one hand. There’s an outboard knife that Gerber claims is 30 percent larger than the competition. All the outboard tools can be accessed by one hand, and the 14 total tools (serrated knife, file, bottle opener, etc.) mean there’s no need to carry backup. $89
Tool Logic Credit Card Companion
Roughly the same size and shape of a credit card, the Tool Logic is the most convenient on this list. No other option here lets you carry nine essential tools right along side your cash. $15
Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Multi-tool
Best Survival Multi-Tool
Bear Grylls may not be on the Discovery Channel anymore, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a survival expert. His name goes right on one of Gerber’s best multi-tools, and it’s outfitted with 12 stainless steel tools that will help you do more than just get by in the field. The handles are coated in grippy rubber to minimize slippage, and each one of the tools utilizes the Safe.T.Plus System, which locks the tool in place. Included in the Ultimate are key items like spring-loaded needle-nose pliers, plain and serrated blades, a saw blade, wire cutters and scissors. And just so you don’t feel totally alone in the cruel wilderness, Gerber includes survival instructions in the military-grade nylon sheath.
Best Tool Box Multi-Tool:The Baladeo Locker’s name suits it well. Along with having standard multi-tool components like pliers, a knife, a saw, scissors and a can opener, the socket end of the tool also accommodates a host of included bits like flathead and Phillips screwdrivers (and even hard-to-find Torx bits) for a total of 18 separate tools. All of the tools are made with 2CR13 corrosion-resistant stainless steel, and the comfortable curved handles are made of coated aluminum. Sure, it won’t replace your entire toolbox, but it also doesn’t weigh 50 pounds.
Best Bargain Multi-Tool: If you haven’t heard of Tekton, don’t scoff. Although they don’t have the cache of the big boys, they do offer a great tool for a fraction of the price. The sub-$20 multi-tool has handles made from strong anodized aluminum and each tool is made from corrosion-resistant stainless steel. And, just so you know they didn’t scrimp elsewhere, the pliers are spring loaded for one-handed convenience. The Tekton comes with three screwdrivers (two flathead, one Phillips), as well as wire cutters, a saw, a file and that all-important can/bottle opener to crack open your reward for a job well done.
Power Tech Fire Talon
Best Big-Handed Multi-Tool: If you’ve got T. rex arms, this probably isn’t the multi-tool for you. The Power Tech Fire Talon’s bigger size ensures a firmer grip for tougher tasks, and the handle inserts are made of grippy rubber for even more security. The Fire Talon is built using heavy-duty black oxide stainless steel, so it looks stealthy and remains strong. In addition to spring-loaded needle-nose pliers, wire cutters, a stripper and a combo edge knife blade, the Fire Talon comes with two LED flashlights, one at each end of the tool for maximum operating visibility. Which, of course, gives you no more excuses to quit once the sun goes down.
Best Man Jewelry Multi-Tool: Chalk it up as both radical and impressive, the Leatherman Tread ($150-$200) is the multi-tool you can take just about anywhere a bladed multi-tool can’t go. (It even meets TSA requirements.) The bracelet tool, which comes in both stainless steel and black finishes, has a total of 25 tools in its nine links — including Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, hex drivers, a cutting hook and even a glass-breaker. And it can be sized and customized to meet your needs. Just take off the bracelet, fold it to reveal the tool you need and put it to use. When you’re finished, it simply goes back on your wrist. Leatherman is also planning to make an optional watch for the Tread, made with stainless steel, sapphire glass, a rotating bezel and Swiss quartz movement. What will they think of next?
Victorinox SwissTool RS
The Bombproof Multi-Tool: The Victorinox looks like you could run it over with a tank without breaking it. The original SwissTool has been around for over a decade, and we’re glad to see it hasn’t changed much except for some minor model variations — the RS being one of them. Its slightly blunt-nosed pliers remain completely concealed until you unfold the handles, which double as a nifty 230mm/nine-inch ruler when aligned. And though the pliers aren’t spring-loaded, you can crank down on them hard without the SwissTool losing its comfortable feel. All of the folding tools (a whopping 24 in total) are held securely in place by a flap-type spring and lock when fully deployed. The SwissTool carries a lifetime warranty, but you’ll probably never need it.
The Quick-Draw Multi-Tool: SOG has been making great knives since 1986, and the full breadth of their technology makes its way to the SOG PowerAssist multi-tool. Two large blades (serrated and straight-edge) can be deployed with SOG Assisted Technology: Use the thumb peg to open the blades and the patented compound leverage device completes the opening process and locks the blades into place. Easy. On the other hand, when the extremely sharp blades are not in use, they lock in place via safety switches — so you won’t shank yourself while doing a dive roll to get to that loose screw.
The excellent needle-nose pliers add precision and grip well despite the lack of a spring-loaded release. They conceal completely when the handles are closed, just like the Victorinox. The other folding tools, including a patented V-Cut blade, are concealed by a hinged cover, which provides a more comfortable grip when using the pliers but adds an extra step to open (it’s worth it). The SOG’s also easily the best-looking multi-tool in this group, if that’s your thing. At least you’ll look professional.
Columbia River Knife & Tool Zilla-Tool
The Dare-to-be-Different Multi-Tool: This is the black sheep of this group, in that it looks like nothing else here and comes in full stealth regalia. Definitely the most unique design out of the five, the Zilla-Tool doesn’t try to be all things to all people. It goes for the basics and does them well. The slight needle-nose pliers are deployed by a switch in the middle of the body, which releases the spring-loaded handle. The body itself acts as the other handle, providing good grip strength. The large straight-edge blade unfolds using a convenient flipper that engages quickly and acts as a blade guard when cutting. At the opposite end of the pliers, a hex tool holds the hex screwdriver bits stored in the handle, which will also accept other standard hex bits. In addition to having a nylon belt holster, this is the only multi-tool that comes with a built-in pocket clip. The Zilla is big, though, so don’t slide these suckers into your skinny jeans.
The Innovative Multi-Tool: Look at the full range of their multi-tools and you’ll see that Leatherman keeps innovating. OHT stands for “One Handed Tool”, a moniker that’s appropriate here. Its unique design allows one-handed deployment of all 16 of its tools. The retractable pliers open with a quick flick of the wrist, are long and precise, and have a great spring-loaded release. There’s also a simple feature that’s genius: each of the tools is easily identifiable via visual imprints on the handle, removing guesswork from the equation. It even comes with a strap cutter and an oxygen bottle wrench. In desert tan, the OHT also has the military look down pat. Though it might not be the implement of choice to defuse a bomb, it certainly looks the part.
The Evolutionary Multi-Tool: With a total of twelve tools, including a serious saw blade and a great pair of scissors, the stainless steel diesel is well-appointed and very sturdy, with very similar styling and operation as their original version. Wrist-flick pliers on the Diesel work just like the ones on the Leatherman OHT with action that’s just as smooth. The needle-nose pliers are thin and fit just about anywhere you need grip; even though they aren’t spring-loaded, release just takes a finger. The sliding tool locks are strong and secure but can be tough to disengage with gloves or sweaty bare hands. We like the bead-blasted type finish that doesn’t attract fingerprints like the Housewives of —– County series attract botched plastic surgery jobs.