We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (2024)

The best multitools we tested

Best multitool: Leatherman Sidekick

Best mini multitool: Gerber Dime

Having the best multitool on your belt or in your pocket is a must for quickly MacGyvering a solution to the various roadblocks life inevitably throws at us, whether you’re out camping or just trying to tinker around the house.

I’m a big road tripper and backpacker, plus I just bought my first condo last year, meaning that I’ve had to power up my skills and tools, going from sheltered dandy to self-sufficient and handy in just a few years. I’ve got an aging Leatherman in my gear closet that’s weathered a cross-country move and loads of in-home repairs, plus a tiny Gerber model that I toss into my backpack for just about every hike and overnighter I complete.

With this in mind, I was curious how the top multitools in stores today would perform in a series of highly structured, unbiased tests. Is Leatherman, the Cadillac of the industry, worth the extra cash, or can you save your pennies and go off-brand?

After a Colorado road trip, a far-flung trek in Patagonia and a series of controlled, head-to-head tests in the comfort of my Boulder condo, we’ve whittled down the competition to crown two multitools as the best. Read on to see what stood out and why.

Best multitool

Lightweight at just 7 ounces and sporting an impressive 14 tools, the Leatherman Sidekick is highly functional and compact. We loved its sturdy pliers, 420HC knives, multiple screwdrivers and, best of all, its low price point.

Best mini multitool

Compact enough to toss onto a keychain or ultra-light backpacking kit, yet boasting a robust array of 10 functional tools, this 2.2-ounce pocket multitool wowed us with its usefulness and portability. Top features include a stainless steel blade, scissors and easy-to-use pliers that double as wire cutters.

We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (3)

We’re big fans of the Oregon-based Leatherman company, and we weren’t surprised when one of its high-performing multitools took home our top prize. For the relatively wallet-friendly price of $70, the Sidekick offers 14 tools, including a file, knife, Phillips-head screwdriver and, of course, those famous spring-action needle-nose pliers that have made the brand’s survival tools so iconic in the field.

When assessing which multitools were the best during our testing process, we noted the number of tools each offered and the potential functionality of those tools. After all, what good is a wine opener if it wobbles or a wire stripper if you’ll never need one in the wild? This is where Leatherman’s Sidekick truly excelled, because even though its tool number was right in the middle of the pack at 14 (the Victorinox Swisstool Spirit X had 24), every one of its doodads seemed useful to the average consumer.

We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (4)

The tools included? A set of spring-action regular and needlenose pliers that double as wire cutters, a 420 high carbon (HC) knife and serrated knife, a mini-saw, a wire stripper, a ruler, a can opener, a file, a bottle opener and a set of Phillips, medium- and small-headed screwdrivers. Like what you see but wish it had scissors instead of a mini-saw? The Leatherman Wingman sits at the same price point of $70.

Another important part of our testing rubric was pulling out and actually using every single tool for its intended function. Some products we tested (like the SOG PowerLite Mini Multitool) offered tools that were nearly impossible to pull out without breaking a fingernail or knives that were barely sharp enough to cut standard office paper. Not so with the trusty Sidekick, which came equipped with fully sharpened knives, wire cutters that worked fabulously and screwdrivers that were a cinch to pull out and locked in place well enough to perform minor repairs on my guitar pedal board and condo’s door knobs.

We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (5)

You might be asking yourself, “What’s the catch?” Unlike more expensive multitools that offer a super-high-quality steel knife (like the Leatherman Charge+ TTi and its harder, more corrosion-resistant S30V knife), the Sidekick comes with a 420HC blade. This is a softer stainless steel that might not hold an edge as well as a pricier model and may require frequent sharpening to maintain. That being said, 420HC steel is great for 95% of multitool users doing home and auto repairs or camping.

Leatherman also gives the Sidekick the same warranty all of its tools get, which is a 25-year warranty on any defects, not counting sheaths and misuse of its products. Those who join the Leatherman Insider program can also extend their warranty to 40 years by filling out a few online forms. This wasn’t the best warranty on the market (SOG offers a lifetime warranty and free sharpening), but it’s still pretty great.

Perhaps most importantly, the Leatherman Sidekick gives users nearly all the same tools as a more expensive model, for a fraction of the price. At a reasonable $70, you get a go-anywhere multitool for home repairs or outdoor activities. Plus, it was the second-lightest full-sized product we tested, weighing just 7 ounces. In short, it’s the perfect combination of low price and high functionality that we look for at CNN Underscored.

Best mini multitool: Gerber Dime

After spending hours reading online review sites and customer surveys raving about the petite performance power of the 2.2-ounce Gerber Gear Dime, I was stoked to get one in my hands for a round of vigorous, controlled testing. I’ve had a Dime in my backpacking gear setup for three years now and though I’m not repairing backcountry ski bindings in the wilderness or guiding multiday trips in remote Alaska, I’ve been happy with how it performed on long thru-hikes like California’s John Muir Trail and weekend van-camping trips with my partner.

The Gerber Gear Dime features 10 tools that are all straightforward to use without breaking a nail. Plus, each tool is one we could see ourselves needing in a pinch. Case in point: When I recently ventured into Chilean Patagonia with Wildland Trekking, I packed in a hurry and had forgotten to cut the itchy, annoying tags off my thermals and sleeping bag. Despite its small size, I was able to use the scissors on my Gerber Gear Dime to quickly and easily clip the tags on the go for 10 days of no-chafe hiking.

We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (7)

Another tool I found surprisingly easy to use in a pinch was the Dime’s Phillips-head screwdriver. On morning number two of my gaucho-supported trek through the mountainous wilds of Pampa del Zorro, I noticed that the handle of my carabiner mug was rattling and loose. I could flip out the small screwdriver bit and tighten the loose bolts for stress-free coffee sipping. Another bit of great design? The Dime has a keychain ring and a bottle opener built into its outer shell, so you can open a brewski without fully opening the tool.

Unlike my other favorite mini multitool, Leatherman’s Micra, Gerber centered its flip-open design around a functional, albeit small, set of needle-nose spring-loaded pliers that double as wire cutters. These would be ideal for bigger repairs in the wild (such as bolt tightening) or grabbing hot metal cookware out of a campfire. On the other hand, the Micra flips open to reveal a sturdy pair of scissors and offers a small, precise set of tweezers. Ultimately, we decided that the pliers-plus-scissors combo was more useful across a wide variety of activities, but if your work frequently gives you splinters or you live in an area replete with ticks, the Micra and its tweezers are an awesome second-place choice.

We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (8)

The one tool we found laughable on the Gerber Gear Dime was its file as it wasn’t sharp enough to perform even the most minor fingernail cleanup. This is a shame because Leatherman put a fully functional metal file onto its similarly sized 1.8-ounce Micra. It’s also worth noting that Gerber is cagey about disclosing what kind of stainless steel it uses in its products (whereas Leatherman’s Micra boasts a decent 420HC steel). This might mean that the Dime doesn’t hold an edge as long as expensive steel, so if you’re a big-time whittler, size up. I’ve had my Dime for over three years now and it’s still going strong, but if durability is a priority for you, I’d recommend upgrading to a larger and more robust tool, like the 5-ounce Leatherman Skeletool CX, whose knife is made with 154CM stainless steel.

Best of all, Gerber Gear’s Dime was one of the cheapest multitools on our list and, at $29, it was the most affordable of the pocket-sized tools we tested. Although it earned the same scores as the Leatherman Micra, at the end of the day we had to award the Dime our mini multitool pick because of its great performance, petite size and stellar price point.

How we tested

We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (9)

Not only did we spend hours scouring top review websites and online marketplaces to assess which multitools are the most beloved and which brands offer the highest quality products, but our editorial team also conjured up an extensive, unbiased series of control tests that could be performed at home or in simple daily use cases. We put together a testing rubric to put each of these tools through the wringer and uncover which one was the most durable, useful, portable and best-performing multitool.

With a specific focus on each multitool’s size, weight, number of tools, usefulness of tools, performance and stability, provided warranty and price point, we tallied the results and then ranked them all based on their scores in each category. I also carried around the four top-performing tools for a month to assess their portability and functionality in daily life and on hiking trips.

Below are the different experiments and testing rubric categories we used when pitting these 14 top multitools against one another for this article.

Portability

  • Size: We assessed the length and width of each of the multitools we tested.
  • Weight: We noted the weight, in ounces, of each of the multitools and considered this against the number of tools each offered.
  • Carry options: We counted the number of carrying options (e.g. carabiner clips, keychain rings, included sheaths and belt clips) for each multitool, and if each tool would make a good everyday carry.

Tools offered

  • Tool count: We performed a simple tool count on every multitool and marked down the number of included functions.
  • Tool usefulness: We noted the practicality and ergonomics of each tool offered, relative to basic repairs and outdoor needs.
  • Tool categories: After noting the tools on offer, we assessed if the multitool was intended for a specific kind of consumer, like a general contractor or an avid camper.

Performance

  • Knife testing: We used the straight-edged and serrated blades in every multitool to cut through paper, cardboard and small pieces of firewood. Afterward, we marked down the relative blade sharpness and pressure required to cut each material.
  • Steel quality: Where applicable, we noted the type and quality of steel used in the construction of each multitool.
  • Tool shakedown: Over several hours, we pulled out every tool for each model and used it for its intended function. We sawed wood, cut wire, filed our nails, clipped and lifted a ceramic mug, snipped paper and cardboard, and screwed and unscrewed a small, handheld electronic device’s backing. We also noted how easy or difficult it was to pull out each tool from its casing.
  • Ease of use: While pulling out and using every feature on every multitool, we paid careful attention to the tools’ durability, ergonomics and intuitiveness. We specifically noted when a tool was tough to pull out without breaking a nail.

Warranty and price

  • Online cost: We searched the web and noted the listed online cost of each multitool we tested, then scored it relative to its similarly sized competitors.
  • Warranty: We read each product’s website for warranty and repair information and wrote down how many years are included for each multitool, plus what that warranty actually covers.
We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (10)

When selecting a multitool, it’s important to consider specs and features, not just the number of tools offered. These days, most pocket tools are designed with pliers, scissors, wire cutters, a flathead driver, a Phillips-head screwdriver, a file and a knife. After that, the offerings can get more creative and downright perplexing.

Some tools, like Leatherman’s Signal, are designed with the outdoors person in mind, offering extras like a fire starter, whistle and mini-saw. Others, like the Leatherman Skeletool CX, are streamlined to seven functions but are made with higher-quality steel for use with harder materials in the home or workplace.

Dozens of steel varieties are used in today’s knife blades, varying widely in cost, hardness and corrosion resistance, and, in general, more expensive multitools will boast better-performing materials. 420HC (high carbon) is one of the most commonly used metals and is essentially a modified version of classic stainless steel with added carbides to enhance its hardness. It’s a lower-cost steel and though it won’t easily corrode or break down, it might require more frequent sharpening than, say, a 154CM steel blade.

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Steel quality will affect how well your knife can hold a blade and, as a result, how often it’ll need to be sharpened and maintained. It’s said that a dull blade is more dangerous than a sharp one (because you’re more likely to press harder, slip and injure yourself), and if you’re frequently using your multitool, most online forums recommend sharpening its dulled blades every one to two months.

Lastly, if you invest in a pricey, high-quality multitool, consider the specific use cases you’ll encounter. Do you want to use most of the provided tools one-handed? Will you need a corkscrew, or is a simple bottle opener sufficient for post-hike libations? Some multitools, like Leatherman’s Signal, offer outdoor-specific features like a ferrocerium rod firestarter while others, like the brand’s Charge+ TTi, have a high-quality S30V steel blade and replaceable wire cutters for hardcore, in-the-field work. Narrow down your specific needs, and you can likely save a few dollars on what tool is the perfect fit for your lifestyle.

Other full-size multitools we tested

While the Leatherman Skeletool CX is a fantastic multitool, it doesn't have as many tools as the Sidekick and costs $20 more.

With a simple, straightforward set of seven tools and a knife blade made with high-quality 154CM stainless steel, the Skeletool was one of the highest-scoring multitools in our tests. Its large bit driver, ergonomic pliers and built-in carabiner clip, all jammed into a petite 5-ounce package, make it a great pick for those who need a knife, screwdriver and pliers. Ultimately, its lower number of tools and price ($20 more than the Sidekick) kept the Skeletool from nabbing our top spot.

Most people don't need a multitool this expensive but if you're looking for something to use at work, the Charge+ TTi might be worth the investment.

This is the ultimate multitool for those who have expendable income. The Cadillac of the bunch, if you will. Made with high-grade metals (e.g. an S30V knife) and built to last with features like replaceable wire cutters, the Charge+ TTi is a sturdy 8.9-ounces of fantastic tools, including a large bit driver, file and scissors. It was a touch too heavy and expensive for most daily users to make it into our winner’s circle. Still, it’s a phenomenal multitool.

This multitool had an astonishing 24 tools, but they were more difficult to pull out and use than the ones on our winner.

Though the Victorinox Swisstool Spirit boasted an impressive 24 different functions (the most of any tool we tested), many were tricky to pull out and use effectively in our testing. While some tools, like the pliers, knife and scissors, performed beautifully, others, like the can opener and wire scraper, seemed excessive. Add in the fact that its handle was more slippery than others on our list, and it’s easy to see why, for $145, your money could be better spent elsewhere.

The Signal is better suited for outdoorsy types than people looking for a general multitool. If that's you, you'll be happy with its functionality and tool offerings.

Designed for the rugged outdoorsman, the Leatherman Signal offers specialty tools like a mini-saw, ferrocerium rod (for fire starting) and a safety whistle. While it was durable and intuitive to use, like most Leathermans we tested, we felt its price and specificity made it too niche for our overall pick.

The SOG Flash MT's tools weren't as simple to use as our winner's, and it doesn't have scissors, which quickly took this tool out of the running.

We love that SOG includes free sharpening (with a simple $10 shipping fee), plus a limited lifetime warranty on all its tools. That being said, the Flash MT’s tools weren’t as ergonomic or easy to use as the other full-size multitools it was competing against. In standard use cases, the wire cutters and knife performed poorly. Plus, it has no scissors.

While the $20 price tag may be enticing, the RoverTac's performance was much worse than other tools we tested.

At the ultra-low price point of $20, the cheapest on our list, I really wanted to like this RoverTac multitool. However, its shockingly dull knife blade and heavy 10.7-ounce weight disqualified it from being our overall winner.

The Leatherman Wave+ has 4 more tools than the Sidekick but costs way more. Unless you need the extra niche tools, we think our winner is the better purchase.

Considering that its stainless steel knife blade is the same quality metal as the Leatherman Sidekick (420HC), it’s surprising that the brand’s Wave+ comes in at nearly twice the cost. Sure, it boasts 18 tools (as opposed to the Sidekick’s 14), but do you really need a diamond-coated file or an electrical crimper? It’s a great multitool but at $120, we couldn’t find enough standout qualities to differentiate it from the pack.

A fantastic micro multitool, pick this over the Gerber Gear Dime if you want scissors instead of pliers.

If you’re fine spending a little extra money and prefer scissors to pliers, the Leatherman Micra is a phenomenal keychain-sized multitool. At 1.8 ounces, it was a smidge lighter than our overall mini winner, the Gerber Gear Dime, and it managed to pack an impressive 10 tools into that slim package. Both the tool’s scissors and knife were excellent, and fun extras like its file and tweezers were easy to use.

A solid multitool, the Leatherman Free T4 is a bit too expensive for what you get when compared to the Gerber Gear Dime.

At 4.3 ounces and an incredibly compact size, we liked the sturdy screwdriver, sharp blade and nifty tweezers that come packaged in Leatherman’s Free T4. Unfortunately, it did not feature a flip-open design with pliers, and it was a touch too expensive and heavy to take home the top prize in our mini multitools category.

If you need a small tool with a bigger blade, this might be a good pick, but our winner the Gerber Gear Dime is lighter and cheaper than this one.

The Armbar Drive felt like a lighter, slimmer version of Leatherman’s Skeletool, which we adored. Its eight included tools were all useful and durable, but its 3.1-ounce weight and dull blade ultimately led to its downfall. It was also pricier than our mini multitool winner, the Gerber Gear Dime.

This tool is incredibly small and lightweight, but its performance wasn't up to par with the larger, more ergonomic tools we tested.

At a scant 1.1 ounces, the bitsy Rambler was the tiniest multitool we tested for this piece. Unfortunately, this also amounted to significantly poorer performance in the field. We liked its knife, scissors and file, but most tools (like its screwdriver) were too small and thin to use comfortably.

This mini tool was on the more expensive side and many of the tools were incredibly hard to pull out and use.

The SOG PowerLite Mini Multitool was one of the best-rated and most expensive smaller tools we tested, as we had high hopes for its 19-tool design, which comes in a lightweight 4.6-ounce size. Sadly, its ultra-dull knife blade and poorly performing scissors and wine opener were utterly disappointing. Many tools were also nearly impossible to pull out of the metal casing (yes, even with neatly trimmed nails).

We tested 14 multitools. Here are the 2 that are actually worth your money | CNN Underscored (2024)

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