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Updated May 2022
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Buying guide for best multi-tools

The multi-tool is a brilliant invention. Instead of a loose collection of tools rattling around in your pocket, backpack, or toolbox, you can carry an invaluable selection in one compact and convenient package.

The difficulty comes when you start looking at which multi-tool is best. There are different sizes, different grips, and different materials in addition to choosing which tools you need, like knives, scissors, screwdrivers, files, and rulers – to say there are plenty of choices is an understatement.

Here at BestReviews, we thrive on these kinds of challenges, and we love finding you the perfect product. 

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Many multi-tools today are specialist collections, a set of tools tailored to a certain profession or activity.

Which multi-tool do you need?

The most important factor when shopping for a multi-tool is deciding exactly what you want from it.

The original "multipurpose tool" has become a whole range of devices, and some have become highly specific. There are models aimed at fisherman or hunters, electricians or cable workers, snowboarders and skiers, hikers and campers, surfers, motor mechanics, cyclists – the list sometimes seems endless.

Even if you don't fall into one of those descriptions, it's important to look at the things you want most, and the things you can leave out. You might think you want a “general-purpose” or “all-around” model, but those descriptions don't actually help much. It might seem a great idea to have 20-plus different gadgets, but maybe it's not so attractive when you discover that multi-tool will be 7 inches long and weigh 10 pounds.

Do you really need to get stones out of horses hooves? Are you actually going to use that toothpick when your multi-tool has been in the bottom of your rucksack for a week?

Let's break the options down into more detail.

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Did you know?
Identifying your most frequent tool needs is the first step in determining the type of multitool best suited to you.

Carrying your multitool

There are three basic sizes of multi-tool: keychain, pocket and full-size.

Keychain multi-tools

These, as the name suggests, are the most compact. They can be under 2 inches long and weigh just a couple of ounces yet will normally contain between six and ten tools. This makes them very useful for many light tasks. They are ideal for purses as well.

Pocket multi-tools

These are actually a little difficult to define. Usually about 3 to 4 inches long, they can weigh anywhere from a couple of ounces to half a pound, and have from six to twenty different tools. It's by far the widest category because of the variety of options and easy portability. However, larger ones might be more suited to a bag or rucksack than your pocket.

Full-size multi-tools

These are the heavyweights of the multi-tool world. Although clever engineering means some are no longer than pocket versions, the biggest can be 6 inches or longer and weigh a pound. The main benefit is the number of tools you get. Fifteen or more is common, with close to thirty available from some manufacturers. These are designed for the toolbox, for hanging on a work belt, or keeping in the trunk of your car.

When thinking about portability you should also consider:

  • Does the multi-tool have the option to attach a lanyard?

  • Does it come with a good, tough case? Nylon, though not always considered a “quality” product, is light, hard wearing, and won't rot if it gets wet.

  • Does the multi-tool or its case have a belt loop or other work-related fixing?

Compact vs. versatile

If size and weight aren't a problem you can have just about anything you want, but if you don't need all the bells and whistles, keeping it as compact as possible has several advantages.

  • If you're hiking, every ounce saved makes your pack lighter.

  • If you're biking, a multi-tool designed for cyclists avoids unnecessary weight.

  • If it's going in your keychain or in your purse, do you really need a chisel? A wood file? A crimper for detonation caps? (Yep, you can have one if you want it!)

Humor aside, the important point is that multi-tools offer a huge amount of choice.

If you take time to study what's available you can have the size, weight and composition of tools that suits your needs just about perfectly.

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Did you know?
Not all multi-tools come in the traditional pincer-handle form. “Tactical” models look like ballpoint pens and include tools such as flashlights, seatbelt cutters, and glass breakers.

Quality counts

Most of us don't treat our multi-tools with kid gloves, but we still expect high performance from them. Materials and construction make a big difference to durability. Here are some things to look for:


  • All good multi-tools are constructed mainly from stainless steel. It doesn't corrode and it's very hard. Cheap multi-tools can made from a variety of alloys and many claim to offer high durability. Our advice, however, is only to buy stainless.

  • If razor-sharp edges on your multi-tool blades are important to you, look for vanadium carbide steel (S30V or S35VN). You'll probably pay a premium, but it's one of the best materials in the world for cutting instruments.

Rubber, carbon fiber, and titanium

These three materials are sometimes used for handle scales (the outside grips).

  • Rubber offers a softer, more secure feel than the usual steel handles, and it's warmer – though not everyone likes rubber handles when working in damp conditions.

  • Carbon fiber and titanium are light, strong, and molded to give better grip. There's also a fashion element here: they look quite stylish compared to your average tool!

Gear drive

The mechanism inside tools such as pliers, grips, and wire cutters, is normally a simple hinge or lever. A few of the best multitools offer gears or compound leverage instead. These multiply the force applied by your hands. So much so that one maker claims their geared multitool can cut through coins.

Locking tools

This is another feature of the better multi-tools. Tools will lock in their in-use position. It makes them easier to work with and it's safer: there's no risk of a sharp blade closing up on your fingers.

"A gear drive multi-tool increases the leverage on pincer-type tools to provide significantly more force than you typically get from bare hands."

Sprung tools

Most low-cost multi-tools have tools that are hinged. They pivot on a hinge pin to open or close, and this pin can loosen over time. With this kind of tool you usually need both hands to open things up or close them.

Higher quality multi-tools have a spring action that makes opening individual pieces a one-handed task.

It also means closing is much more certain; it’s easy to tell when a tool is properly seated in the handle.

Outside opening

This convenient feature means many of the tools can be opened out and used while the main body of the multi-tool remains closed.


A manufacturer's confidence in their product is often reflected in their warranty. When it comes to multi-tools, makers of the best models provide warranties ranging from 25 years to life!

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Tim Leatherman first came up with the idea of the multi-tool in 1975, but it took him eight years to bring the “Pocket Survival Tool” to market.

What does a good multi-tool cost?

There are so many choices when looking for a multi-tool, it's hard to pin down what you should expect to pay.

You can find cheap keychain multi-tools for light, occasional use for as little as $10. Top brand versions can be $30 or more.

Likewise, you can find decent pocket multi-tools endorsed by celebrity survival experts between $40 and $60, though those from the most recognizable companies will probably cost twice that.

Even the most expensive, function-specific multi-tools are seldom more than $150.

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