At the core of every DIYer is a psychological inclination toward over-preparedness. If there’s the slightest chance that a task will arise, a toolbox is supplied with the appropriate implement to restore working order. As more specialized chores reveal themselves, the toolbox becomes overstuffed, expanding into a shed or even a garage. The local contractor is never contacted.
The DIY spirit exists even in those of us who aren’t inclined to solve every problem on our own, and one thing we and the all-doers can agree on is the practicality of the multi-tool. In the multi-tool, an entire collection of tools is shrunk into a go-everywhere sidekick. But a multi-tool shouldn’t replace the toolbox; it should complement it. Stash one in a kitchen drawer or a glovebox, and you’ll be sure that the occasional unanticipated job never goes without a response.
More Great Multi-Tools
- Gerber Center-Drive ($115)
- Victorinox SwissTool Spirit X ($105)
- Gerber Dime ($18)
- Leatherman Micra ($30)
- Leatherman Free T4 ($60)
- The James Brand Halifax ($50)
- Quiet Carry Shorty ($68)
- Gerber Shard ($8)
Best Full-Size Multi-Tools
The Bond is Leatherman's newest full-sized multi-tool, and it's also a callback to the very first model that the company started with. While some multi-tools jam as many implements as possible into a set of plier handles, the Bond is more sparse, delivering a 14-tool set that's more widely applicable to everyday needs. That list includes a knife blade, wire cutters, screwdrivers and more. (In case you're wondering: that small circle? It's a lanyard loop.) The wirecutters aren't replaceable like they are on some other Leatherman tools, but at this price threshold we aren't expecting that'll be the most-used tool. If it is, consider the Free P2 instead.
Because there are fewer tools in the Bond, it maintains a highly pocketable form that's just four inches long and half an inch thick when closed. We don't like that it doesn't have a pocket clip, but you can buy one separately and the total price will still be less than $60. Our test unit was also a little stiff at first, as is the case with many multi-tools, but breaking it in is part of the fun of owning one.
Weight: 6.21 ounces
Material: 420HC stainless steel
Number of Tools: 14
Leatherman, like Kleenex and Band-Aid, is one of those brand names that has come to stand for the category of products it produces: multi-tools. When you think “Leatherman,” you likely conjure up the Wave, a long-time best-seller among the company’s 50-plus tool arsenal and a favorite of ours until the recent release of the Free P2.
Like the Wave, the Free P2 features all the tools one might imagine should be present in a multi-tool: pliers, scissors, a bottle and can opener, wire cutters, a screwdriver, a ruler, a file. But there’s a fundamental difference in that it, and every other tool in the broader Free collection, has an innovative magnetic construction that makes using those tools much more manageable. The upgrade is twofold: you can now flip open the pliers, balisong style, with one hand, and every smaller implement is also positioned for one-handed use with small nubs that you roll your thumb over to deploy. No more annoying nail nicks and no more opening the pliers just to get to the bottle opener.
We’ve been using the Free P2 for several months now and can attest that the magnetic system, while it might sound like a gimmick, genuinely brings the multi-tool to a higher level of functionality, particularly for tasks that require two hands. It’s more expensive, yes, but the utility combined with the lifespan on these products justify the price; it’s everything that makes Leatherman’s other multi-tools great, but better.
For those in need of more tools than what’s in the Free P2, the Free P4 also has a saw and an additional serrated knife blade.
Weight: 7.6 ounces
Material: 420 high carbon stainless steel
Number of Tools: 19
Best Screwdriver Multi-Tool
The fundamental idea behind a multi-tool — to pack as many individual tools into the smallest, pocketable form — presents a dangerous pitfall. Quantity can become a detriment to function. Think about it: how many of the dozen-plus claimed “tools” are you leveraging in a pinch?
Gerber asked that exact question to the contractors, mechanics, outdoorsmen and members of the armed forces who use its tools. Then, it culled the common denominators and set out to make the ultimate master-of-a-few, failure-at-none multi-tool: the Center-Drive.
The Center-Drive rids itself of unnecessary features and improves the primary tools users employ regularly. Its pliers slide up out of the knife and are spring-loaded so that they can be operated with one hand. Its plain-edge knife blade is bigger than any other multi-tool we’ve come across. The screwdriver gets the biggest upgrade though; it’s full-size and angled inwards so that it can be rotated on a center axis and comes with standard, replaceable bits. It’s one of those ideas that works so well, it makes us wonder why nobody took the screwdriver more seriously before.
Weight: 9.5 ounces
Material: 420 high carbon stainless steel
Number of Tools: 13
Best Ergonomic Multi-Tool
Victorinox’s famous Swiss Army knives are multi-tools in their own right, so it’s not a surprise that the company can pull off a full-sized butterfly-style tool too. In many ways, the Spirit X is a predictable multi-tool, but that’s precisely why it succeeds.
It has a long, frame-lock plain edge knife as well as separate saws for wood and metal. Its needle-nose pliers aren’t spring-loaded, but they are functionally long, with different-sized teeth and built-in wire cutters. Its scissors are spring-loaded, but they’re small (this is the case for many multi-tools, and it’s OK because big cutting jobs will probably call for a full-sized pair anyway).
The Spirit X has the other mandatory tools: a can opener, bottle opener, a Phillips head and two flathead screwdrivers, but it also comes with some extras, like a multifunctional reamer and a crate opener. It also has a unique handle shape that appears almost bent. In use though, that shape provides a more ergonomic grip when operating either fold-out tools or pliers — and makes the Spirit X a notable standby.
Weight: 8.7 ounces
Material: Stainless steel
Number of Tools: 22
The Best Small Multi-Tools
Best Budget Multi-Tool
Gerber's Armbar Drive is a pocket knife in feel and a multi-tool in function. Its folding 2.5-inch blade is its primary implement, but its handle also houses Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, scissors and an awl. A rotating piece on its butt adds a bottle opener, pry tool and hammer surface too. We like how all of these elements are present without the Armbar becoming bulky — it fits comfortably in your pocket (but lacks a pocket clip) just like a knife would. If you don't need pliers, a file or other specific implements, this small and affordable multi-tool is the way to go.
Weight: 3.1 ounces
Number of Tools: 7
Best Mini Multi-Tool
The Dime measures in at a mere 2.75 inches fully closed, which means you can attach it to your keychain or throw it in your pocket without worry. For something this small and light, it boasts an array of tools that includes real spring-loaded pliers, spring-loaded scissors, screwdrivers and a nifty blade that’s designed to slice open plastic clamshell packaging. Best of all is the bottle opener that’s at the ready without opening the tool at all. In this price range, there are bound to be a few drawbacks: the Dime’s tools don’t open as smoothly as other multi-tools, and you have to really dig your fingernails in to open some of them. But the positives far outweigh the negatives, particularly for its size.
Weight: 2.2 ounces
Material: Stainless steel
Number of Tools: 11
Best Scissor Multi-Tool
Leatherman’s expertise in packing a bunch of tools into one practical package extends beyond full-size multi-tools. The Micra no bigger than a disposable lighter, yet functions (and looks) much like Leatherman’s larger multi-tools. One big difference: instead of pliers, the Micra uses scissors as its central tool. The opening action is clean and satisfying; the scissors are sharp and spring-loaded; the nine other tools are useful for most people's everyday needs. If we were to pick one standout feature, though, it’s the Micra’s simple shape — perfect rectangles are ideal for keychains.
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Material: Stainless steel
Number of Tools: 10
Best Swiss Army-Style Multi-Tool
Leatherman built the Free T4 on the same magnetic platform as our top multi-tool pick, the Free P2. It offers the same benefits — easy, one-handed opening and locking tools — but in a more pocketable form that calls to mind a classic Swiss Army Knife. It has 12 tools, including spring-loaded scissors and tweezers, as well as the classics such as a knife, screwdrivers and awl. It's available in an even smaller form called the Free T2, but we've found that the T4's additional tools are worth the near-negligible size difference.
Weight: 4.3 ounces
Material: Stainless steel
Number of Tools: 12
The Best Keychain Multi-Tools
Best Solid State Multi-Tool
The aptly named Shard appears to be a mangled hunk of metal, but look closer and you'll find a surprising amount of potential tools, all incorporated into a single-piece structure. The total tool count is six, and that includes a pry bar, small and large flathead drivers, a wire stripper, bottle opener and Phillips head-like driver. (Gerber includes a lanyard hole as a seventh "function," but we don't think that counts.) Despite its strange shape, all of the Shard's tools work surprisingly well. It's no stand-in for a full-size or even a small multi-tool, but it'll definitely add some utility to your keychain. The only downside we've found is that it's quite pointy, and you can often feel that in your pocket.
Weight: 0.6 ounces
Material: stainless steel
Number of tools: 6
Best Multi-Use Bottle Opener
There are a lot of keychain bottle openers out there, but few are as handsome as The James Brand's Halifax. It isn't just a bottle opener though — the Halifax has a large oval for a keyring and a flat edge that acts as a flathead screwdriver or scraper in a pinch. For most of us, that’s all we need. Sure, it's pricey, but that's because it's made of 6AL-4V titanium
Number of Tools: 3
Best Key Organizer Multi-Tool
The Shorty is an EDC tool designed to keep keys organized in your pocket. Quiet Carry designed with extra functionality though, transmitted through a fold-out multi-tool (you can also order the Shorty with a knife blade). The tool combines a bottle opener, seat belt cutter, flathead screwdriver, scraper and pry tool, and has a frame lock for sturdy use. The great thing about the Shorty is that it houses the tool and your keys in a minimalist rectangle, freeing you from the clutter of a dangly keychain.
Weight: 1.6 ounces
Material: 416 stainless steel
Number of Tools: 5
Types of Multi-Tools
A multi-tool is a multi-tool… right? A picture drawn in the mind’s eye likely renders a chrome-silver gadget with twin handles that fold open to reveal pliers, plus a variety of cutters, drivers and openers that fold out of either side. (It may even have the name Leatherman etched into its side, but that brand is by no means the only multi-tool maker to hold in high regard.)
That image is the classic multi-tool, but the category has grown to be more general and all-encompassing. Practically speaking, any tool with multiple functions is a multi-tool. In this guide, we’ve broken the category down into three groupings.
The first, full-size multi-tools, is like the example above. These are full-featured tools designed for any task. This is a toolbox-worthy tool that often comes with a leather holster that can attach to a belt.
The second, mini multi-tools, refers to pared-down and more portable versions. The highly specialized tools have typically been stripped away to leave only small versions of the essentials. These tools are diminutive enough to go unnoticed in the fifth pocket of your jeans.
Our third category is keychain multi-tools. These tools are highly minimal and aren’t designed to replace anything else you might carry. Instead, they tend to serve as keychains with some additional functionality supplied by a bottle opener.
What Makes a Good Multi-Tool?
The answer to this question is entirely subjective. Today, there are so many types of multi-tools available that you can easily find an option with a toolset to serve the needs and tasks that you encounter most often. Those who want the most function possible should opt for a full-size tool. Others will achieve optimum practicality with just a bottle opener and a small knife.
There are, however, some qualities that we look for in deciding which of these tools are best. A multi-tool’s main features, such as pliers and knives, should be robust enough for use in almost any situation. All tools should lock, and scissors and pliers should, ideally, be spring-loaded. Generally speaking, if a tool is present, it should be useful.