The multitool as most of us know it has been around since the 80s when Dan Leatherman introduced his prototype. In the 90s, they exploded onto the scene and haven’t quit. The reason: A good multitool gets a lot done without having to pack a toolbox around.
As human beings, one of the things we are known for (besides philosophy and mathematics) is our tool-making ability. You can trace the earliest version of a multitool to back to Roman times, a surprisingly well put together knife, spike, pick, fork, and spatula combo. Engineering saw another milestone in 1897, with the introduction often poorly imitated, never duplicated Swiss Army knife. This timeless tool earned its chops during World War II and has been a staple ever since. You know it when you see it because of its iconic red handle.
If you’re like me, you carry a multitool of some kind everywhere you go. They have been a part of my life outdoors, indoors, overseas, and underwater since I can remember. Multitools have always been there for me from my earliest days in Boy Scouts (a Victorionox Huntsman I got when I was 11), a lifetime outdoors, and serving in the military and law enforcement. I’ve used them at my best and worst. You can never have too many and I keep multitools just about anywhere I think I’ll need one—hunting pack, fishing vest, boat box, blind bag, chest rig, duty belt, and yes, the junk drawer.
The best thing about modern multitools is how general or specialized they can be. Ask yourself the following questions: What am I doing? Where am I going? Who am I going with? When am I going? Why and how? If you’re a hunter or fisherman, you need a good blade, screwdrivers, pliers, and a file. Bowhunter or mountain biker? You need hex wrenches and torx bits. Fishing saltwater or scuba diving? Rust resistance is critical. Let’s dive in to figure out what the best multitool is for your needs.
Best All-Around Multitool: The Leatherman Wave Plus
When any product sells heads and tails above the rest, there are good reasons for it. In the case of multitools, the Leatherman Wave Plus is killing it.
Why? It’s not the cheapest, and this is telling. Throughout my life as an outdoorsman, I’ve tried to pinch pennies where I can. I’ve learned that when you really want something to work well, it’s better to cry once and get the right piece of gear. When it comes to footwear, clothing, and tools that work, life is better if you skimp elsewhere.
The Wave Plus runs around $100. But you don’t hear anyone complaining about it. In addition to abounding positive user feedback, I can tell you firsthand that I wanted one from the minute I picked one up. The thing that impressed me most was its ease of use. This multitool is a smooth operator. It opens and gets to work without a fight.
The Wave Plus packs a total of 18 tools that get to work quickly. Pliers, wire cutters, scissors, two blades, two saws, screwdrivers galore, and Leatherman’s proprietary bit driver. External access to the blades and saws doesn’t require unfolding the entire tool. The biggest complaint folks have is the lack of a pocket clip and the proprietary bit driver (I like the option of a pocket clip). Proprietary designs, while innovative, can sometimes create headaches. However, we are at the point of splitting hairs. Still made in the U.S.A, the Leatherman Wave comes in ahead of the rest.
Best EDC Multitool: Leatherman Wingman
Life is busy. The day starts early and ends late. When your multitool leaves the house every time you do, it needs to function well but be an afterthought to take with. In terms of EDC (Everyday Carry), there is no one-size-fits-all option. Everyone’s EDC needs are different, but there are a few basics to consider. Knife, pliers, wire cutters, and a couple of screwdriver options are where you want to start. The bigger the tool, the more likely it gets left at home. If you’re like me, my work knife and multitool never leave my work pants or work belt (except when it’s time to wash them). I never think about taking it with me. It just goes.
Leatherman offers a good EDC option to consider, the Wingman. The Wingman runs slightly smaller than average size for a multitool, rocks 14 tools, a pocket clip, and is made of stainless steel. Tools include a blade, scissors, several screwdrivers, file, spring-loaded pliers, and bottle opener. The price is $60.
Best Multitool for Cyclists and Bikers: Topeak 30
If you’re a cyclist, you understand tools are essential. If you mountain bike, then tools become even more important. Trail riding practically ensures you will be tweaking and repairing your ride on a consistent basis. Flat tires, popped chains, bent spokes, or wheels will happen.
During my law enforcement career, I spent considerable time as a bike cop on the street. I also ran a bike patrol course for officers. Part of this training involved basic bike maintenance and field repair. Bike multitools are an essential piece of gear for any cyclist, and they are a specialized piece of equipment that gets a lot done.
When I ride, I carry a standard multitool and bike multitool. I consider both essential. Regardless of type, all bikes will have a certain range of adjustment points that require hex wrenches and torx bits. These adjust everything from seats and handlebars to brakes. Then there are chain tools, spoke wrenches, and tire tools. These are essential tools you can’t get basic repairs done without. Aside from packing a small toolbox, only a bike multitool will have this stuff in a portable package.
Topeak is one of the top-selling names and brands I use. Their latest model is the Mini PT30. It has 30 tools made of lightweight alloy steel. It’s got hex heads, torx bits, screwdrivers, a tubeless repair tool, a removable chain tool, and a master link tool. The chain tool is compatible with single and multi-speed chains up to 12 speed, but it does not work with Campagnolo hollow pin chains. The PT30 is on the higher end of the price range at $50.
Best Multitool for Fishing: Swiss Army Huntsman
Fishing and multitools go hand in hand. I’ve always carried various tools while fishing, whether on the boat, raft, canoe, or foot. If your needs are basic and you’re not packing around too much gear, all you really need is a Swiss Army Knife.
I’ve owned one version or another ever since I was a young Boy Scout, and one has lived in my fishing vest for the last 20 years. I consider the Swiss Army Huntsman to be the perfect fishing multitool. You can scale a bluegill with the blade, and the spring-loaded scissors are perfect for trimming fishing line. The screwdrivers are adequate for minor reel repairs. The toothpick is a great knot fixer, and the bottle and can openers are indispensable. If I’m just fishing on foot for the day with a chest pack or vest and not much else, it’s all I need.
Best Multitool for Firearm Maintenance: Leatherman MUT Multitool
When it comes to firearms maintenance, Leatherman again rises to the top with its patented MUT multitool. The Leatherman MUT was designed for combat soldiers. It has many tools to reach into those tight spots that are always difficult to clean, whether it’s an M4 Carbine or 240B Machine Gun. What works well on the battlefield will work great on the range too. It has a punch handy for disassembly, cleaning rod adapter, replaceable bronze carbon scraper, replaceable wire cutters, electrical crimpers, standard pliers, needle nose pliers, a large bit driver, and a hammer.
The MUT’s most distinctive feature is the bolt override tool, which is designed for clearing malfunctions on any AR platform. This is a highly specialized, overbuilt tool intended for Murphy’s Law. It’s just waiting for something to go wrong. But at $160, you will probably want to ask yourself, is this what I need? It’s a tool for the guy or gal that handles firearms regularly and may encounter a variety of problems on any given day, whether at work or play. Though I think any recreational shooter who can afford it will find it useful on a regular basis.
Best Multitool for Traveling: Gerber Dime Travel
When we travel by air, we do so at the whim of the airlines once we’re through security. As someone who has flown with guns and knives for work and play, I have learned to scale down my carry on. Yet I have had to mail a knife home to myself and have barely gotten through security due to an errant bullet I forgot to remove from the backpack.
One problem with most multitools and traveling is the blade or other sharp objects could, if so desired, be used as a weapon. But now that we’ve been living with tightened security measures for 20 years, the demand for a travel compliant multitool has been met and there are more than enough to choose from. So, what are they and which one is best?
Gerber’s Dime Travel Bladeless comes with the same tools as the regular Dime but without the knife. It has scissors less than 4 inches long, which are TSA compliant and sell for around $25.
Best Budget Multitool: Gerber Suspension NXT
Let’s face it when it comes to just about anything, the price is always a consideration. We have families to care for, bills to pay, and oftentimes we must make our money go as far as it can. It simply may not be feasible to pay $100 for a multitool. I’ve been there, and still am at times, so I want to make sure nobody feels priced out of a multitool market and that their money gets the best it can buy.
Gerber’s Suspension NXT is comparable to the Rev. It sports the basic tools you need: knife, pliers, file, screwdrivers, and scissors which you don’t find on most budget models. It would also fit the bill for an EDC multitool with its pocket clip. It runs about $35.
Q: Is Leatherman still made in the USA?
Leatherman, founded in 1983, is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. While they source a handful of components internationally, the overwhelming majority of the parts and materials that go into one of their multitools is from right here in the States. All manufacturing and assembly take place in their Portland factory.
Q: What is the best multitool for survival?
The one you have on you. But seriously, just about any high-quality multitool can help out when the chips are down. Just make sure you select a model with a full-size blade and stout pliers. Other implements, like saws and serrated blades, and scissors can also help.
Q: Which multitool has the best scissors?
The scissors on most multitools are a bit lacking. Unless of course, you’re talking about the Leatherman Raptor line. This unique multitool is built around a set of EMT shears, which can perform wonders in an emergency situation or when you need to cut through braided fishing line. Unfortunately, their uses are limited by the scissor blades making up the main tool.
As you can see, multitools fulfill an essential role in the lives of avid outdoorsmen, military and law enforcement personnel, and just about anybody else. They are as much an expression of who we are and how we go about our daily work and play. Hopefully, I’ve given you some things to consider and a range of options that fits your needs. Remember WWWWH (When, Where, What, Who, and How) of everything you do and that will tell you which is the best multitool for your purpose.