Truth be told, when something needs to be fixed or repaired at home, we don’t reach for the multi-tool in the valet tray. Instead, we go to the trusty toolbox in the garage. Individual full-sized tools just make any work much easier.
That’s not to say that multi-tools don’t have their place. Their compact size and multi-function nature makes them much more useful on the go, all while being the more convenient option when doing small jobs around the house, such as when you need to tighten a nut under the sink or when you need to replace a single screw on a countertop appliance. Simply put, if you find yourself needing tools when you’re out of the house, a multi-tool is exactly the kind of thing you’ll want to have in your stash.
With decades of multi-tool history upon us, tons of models have come and gone. Yet, the thing that makes a standout multi-tool hasn’t changed much over the years. Chief among these is a good knife – quite possibly, the single most used function in any multi-tool. If a multi-tool has pliers, it needs to be robust enough to handle any gripping and twisting task, too. Plus, all tools need to lock securely, whether deployed or folded, while the tool, as a whole, needs to be rugged enough for field use. The more compact it is, the more convenient it is to carry, too.
Basically, there’s a lot that goes into a good multi-tool. Here are our favorite full-sized offerings from all the available tools this year.
Leatherman Free P4
Of course, we’re starting the list with one of Leatherman’s Free series tools. The darn things just changed the game with their magnetic locking mechanisms. In this particular case, it allows you to deploy any tool from a pliers-style multi-tool with just a single hand, allowing you to use your spare hand for performing other tasks.
The Free P4 combines two kinds of pliers (regular and needlenose), two kinds of knives (drop point and serrated), four screwdrivers, a saw, and nine other common tools. All tools can be deployed on their own without opening the pliers, so you only need to pull out the Phillips screwdriver if that’s what you need – nothing more. Suffice to say, this is a thoughtfully designed multi-tool that packs a good load of functions. It’s built tough, too, with the entire thing clad in stainless steel and the knives cut in 420 high-carbon stainless steel.
If the 18 tools are a little too much for your needs, by the way, you can also opt for the Free P2, which ditches the second knife and the saw in favor of a slightly slimmer and lighter frame.
At one time, we called it “the best multi-tool in existence.” And for many people, it probably still is. Designed as a multi-tool focused on utility, it confines itself to a core set of functions that it can perform as well as a full-sized individual tool rather than cramming as many into its frame. To do that, it integrates full-sized tools wherever possible, including an outboard knife that’s 30 percent longer than you’ll find in other multi-tools, a center-axis screwdriver with an extended arm and swappable magnetic bits, and spring-loaded pliers (needlenose and regular), among its list of choice functions. Basically, if you want a multi-tool with the best screwdriver and knife in the current market, there might not be a better choice.
There’s a reason the Wave Plus continues to be Leatherman’s bestselling multi-tool: it also might be their best. Sure, it doesn’t bring the convenient one-handed operation of the Free P4, but it does bring a brilliant design that eliminates a lot of the awkwardness that multi-tools typically subject its users when it comes to doing tougher work, with its perfect size, ergonomic grip, and secure locking mechanisms. From the pliers and the high-carbon blades to the wire cutters and drivers to any of the other dozen-plus tools onboard, you’ll find yourself being continually surprised at just how well the darn thing works. It has replaceable bit driver, too, which means you can use it for almost any driving task.
It’s hard choosing between SOG’s Baton Q3 and Q4 models. With the Q3 measuring over two inches shorter than the Q4 when collapsed, though, it’s just a whole lot easier to bring along. We’re particularly fond of its collapsed form, which takes the likeness of a writing instrument, making it one of the most discreet multi-tools you can carry. Seriously, it’s hard to believe how compact this thing gets, especially when it has a generous 13 tools onboard, including needle nose pliers with a bolt grip channel, a knife, four screwdrivers, a can opener, and a few other essentials, all of which can lock securely in place to let you carry out any task in a capable manner.
While the Swiss Army brand isn’t exactly associated with pliers form factor multi-tools, they do make them. And we’re pretty convinced the Spirit Plus just might be the best of the lot. In keeping up with the Swiss Army reputation, they cram a whopping amount of tools into this thing’s 4.1 x 1.8 inch frame. How many is a whopping amount, you ask? In this case, a full 38 functions, ensuring that you have the exact right tool for absolutely any task that comes up. Well, most tasks, anyway.
Do note, it’s actually a three-piece multi-tool. The main tool contains the pliers, the blades, and most of the primary tools, while a separate bit wrench allows you to use any of the six included driver bits, with extra storage slots to accommodate four more. There’s also an included corkscrew that can be lodged at a slot on the main tool to use the tool as your handle. Since three separate items isn’t exactly convenient to carry, it comes with a carry pouch that can keep all three pieces in one place.
If you’d like something smaller while still putting as many tools within reach, you can opt for the 27-function Swisstool Spirit X, which ditches both the bit wrench and the corkscrew for better portability.
For those who don’t really need pliers, but want a bigger multi-tool anyway, you could check out Leatherman’s knife-focused offering in the Free series, which should be a better fit for your needs. With a generously-sized 420HC knife sporting both straight and serrated edges as its centerpiece, the multi-tool takes up around the same size as many pocket folders, all while integrating three screwdrivers, spring-action scissors, a pry tool, and an awl into its list of functions. Suffice to say, the K4X’s combination of compact size, magnetic locking mechanism, and core set of tools make it one of the best choices for those who like to keep things light and simple.