(This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.)
Whether it is cooking, camping, ice-skating, or rescuing; a multi-tool is capable of fixing or cutting anything, anywhere. Truly, no other tool can overcome its versatility and portability. However, the fact is that these tools are ignored although they play an important role in our daily life. These tools are not only highly portable and versatile but are also cost-effective ones, especially for performing light to medium jobs. The best multi tool like those from Swiss Army are usually folders embracing a set of small, specific tools into a comfortable handle that fits inside a pocket. These tools usually appeal to hikers, campers, military personnel, and backpackers. Usually, multi-tools come with a knife blade, pair of scissors, and a pair of pliers. However, many also offer a can opener, tweezer, ruler, screwdriver, LED light, and a toothpick.
This guide will help you find the best multi tool available in the market. For your reference, we have also provided short multi-tool reviews towards the end of this guide.
How a Multi-tool Differs from a Single Tool
The difference in the names suggests the difference in usage as well. In simple terms, a multi-tool is not meant to replace a single tool and perform the latter’s ordinary or specialised job. This is because in many cases, the right tool proves to be a safer and more effective way of handling the required task.
Unlike many other single tools, multi-tools tend to fold and that the joint that is responsible for folding is usually a delicate point. It is a fact that a folding tool is not as strong or durable as a single fixed tool. This is because there could be a failure in a locking mechanism. Hence many prefer a general-purpose knife for use in the wilderness.
However, one cannot deny the wide benefits as well as more convenience of a multi-tool. Unlike a single tool, a multi-tool is a single repository of all tools required while in outdoors and indoors for fixing or making anything. All multi-tools are designed to be portable, lighter in weight, and capable of being carried around easily.
Sensibly, portability and compact size is the main draw. While multi-tools are easy to fit within the pocket, you will come across larger models as well. The larger multi-tools usually come with attachable belt pouches. Diversity is another draw, with many multi-tools offering serrated blades, bottle openers, wire cutters, wood saws, and needles.
Many popular multi-tool components are relatively small, usually, around three inches or less so all of them reside nicely inside the handle. These small-sized tools are legally allowed in most places and are ideal for small to medium jobs.
For better performance, a bit larger tool is fine, but you will have it at the cost of an awkward feeling while grabbing it. Large tools and those with big scissors are banned on planes and schools. However, you might be allowed to carry into government places, provided the blades are within 3.5 inches and are opened with assisted opening.
The small size reduces the required storage and usage space, which is especially essential during an emergency. You can rely on a multi-tool for instant jobs that do not need other tools from the toolbox.
Another benefit is that you can lend a multi-tool instead of giving a costly set of tools to a pal, without any worry for losing any tool. Even for the beginners for craft and adventurous activities, a multi-tool is safe and amazing.
On the con side, having a multi-tool does not necessarily mean that you will be using all of its parts. So, this means you will also be spending on those parts that you hardly need or use quite rarely.
While all the blades may be small, this tool on travelling is usually considered or treated similarly as a pocket knife, survival knife, or a hunting knife. So you will have to check out the local laws to prevent the tool from being confiscated.
Multi-tools are considered reliable for light to medium jobs, provided these jobs are not too hard on hands. Well, do not expect the handle to be ergonomic to take up heavy jobs.
The comfort level is also not commendable for using a multi-tool for a prolonged period, as it can be quite tedious and hectic. This is because even the best model will not ensure the right grip or resistance required for prolonged or heavy-duty tasks.
In a nutshell, components of a multi tool are not as big as well as robust as single tools. But then this is what it means to be practical. Multi tools are not for specialized uses; they are only for generic chores.
2020’s 5 Best Multi Tools Reviewed
Below given are our 5 choices for the top general purpose multi tools available on amazon. All five of them are priced at different ranges and comes with different functionality.
Stanley 84-519K – Best Cheap Multi tool
Stanley 84-519K is ideal for minor repair work at home and outside. It has 12 tools such as a wire cutter, long nose plier, small knife, wire cutter, saw, bottle opener, screwdriver, and curve jaw plier. You can use it for daily and emergency situations. The tool bears stainless steel construction and nylon holster for handling.>>Read our detailed article on this tool.
Gerber Diesel Multi-Plier
It is a big model, but is the toughest one with ease of wrist-flick usage. Featuring industrial-level strength due to high steel quality, this multi tool is rugged enough to perform even medium heavy tasks. The tool offers wire cutter, nose pliers, file saw, can and bottle openers, partially serrated blade, scissors, and cross point screwdriver with one handed opening mechanism and fully locked blades. It measures 4.92 inches long when closed.>>Read our detailed article on this tool.
It does not come with a sheath, but is sturdy and reliable enough with its stainless steel construction. It offers combo knife, wire stripper and cutter, pliers, three types of screwdrivers, metal file, and can and bottle openers.>>Read our detailed article on this tool.
It is known for its lightest construction, stainless steel handles with Tungsten DLC coating that is resistant to scratch, and carbon-fiber handle scales. Although being compact, it has endless uses just as a pocket knife. It comes with outside-accessible blades, meaning you can open with just one hand rapidly. There is also bit driver technology to customize the model for any task. It measures 3.8 inches long when closed.>>Read our detailed article on this tool.
Gerber Dime- Another cheap multi tool
It is compact and lightweight with easy to use butterfly opening and solid stainless steel construction. It is most valuable item with its 10 tools such as needle nose pliers, fine edge blade, wire cutter, scissors, tweezers, crosshead driver, retail packaging opener, bottle opener, and medium flat driver.>>Read our detailed article on this tool.
Strength and Portability
A rule of thumb in case of multi-tools is that the less is the weight, less is the power too although some exceptions do exist. Thus, a multi-tool is going to be less robust than a full-sized one. However, this does not indicate compromising with functionality. The beauty of such tools is that they are capable of retaining good functionality as per the setup.
When it comes to sharpness and edge retention, knives on these tools can be sharpened just as pocket or survival knives. You can expect the edge to retain itself over time, but this is usually because of less use.
While having the whole toolbox in a compact form in your pocket is a great design, a few parts of the multi-tool are bulky enough not to fulfill their targeted purpose for a few users. They might be just flimsy. However, usually, most multi-tools are portable and have some level of good strength.
When you choose between the full-sized multi-tool and a more portable one, a risk vs reward does exist. Once the decision is taken, it is impossible to change the portability or strength level, although you can replace it with a new model.
What to consider before buying the best multi tool
Most of the times, buyers end up having a multi-tool with too many additional components, which is certainly not the best choice made. This is because it merely adds up to weight without functionality. So, the key here is to avoid selecting a multi-tool instinctively. At the same time, you should not assume that a multi-tool in the toolkit eliminates the need to have other tools.
You need to keep in mind that a multi-tool is there to act as a general backup device. In simple terms, this means it can fulfil unexpected needs without turning back to your resting site for grabbing other tools. Using the right tool is usually a personal choice. So, if your multi-tool performs well for some task, you can blindly use it instead of relying on the specific knife or other tools.
Knowing the limitations of tools is essential to choose the right model for the right jobs. This is why you need to know about your requirements upfront and figure out what is required. For that, here are some questions or factors to interrogate before you go ahead to choose a multi-tool.
Identify Definite and Exclusive Needs
Ask to yourself for which specific purpose you will need a multi-tool – Will it be to fix some tools, electronics, eyeglasses, bike, or tires? Will it be for opening packages? Will it be mainly for rescue purpose? Will be for camping only? Just jot down your needs to make a list along with some emergency requirements out of them, wherein the tool should help you the most. In short, consider potential emergencies and individual needs and shop accordingly.
You may find dedicated tools for some fixes. However, they might seem to be costlier. If the cost does not fit into your budget, look for the one that closely fulfils your requirements. For example, if you will be spending much time outdoors, a multi-tool with a flat head screwdriver handling the irritating little screws, bottle opener, scissors, and a serrated blade.
While multi-tools are ideal to have many useful utilities at hand, they are just not for replacing a real tool kit. In case you need a 12mm wrench for handling bicycle wheels, you simply cannot rely on a delicate multi-tool that is only designed best for small jobs. Just keep this in mind as well.
Consider the Versatility Factor
Once you identify your needs, it is time to analyse the versatility factor. For example, if your requirement is camping, consider how many tools you would like to carry in your multi-tool. You may prefer carrying a can opener, screwdriver, pliers, and scissors in your pocket.
However, a multi-tool is highly convenient, too, in such a situation. It is feasible and easy to use, as there is no prior experience required for using it. Smartly designed, the foldable multi-tools offer an excellent user experience. Just held a perfect one in your hand, and lots of work can be easily accomplished.
Identify Your Way of Carrying the Multi-tool
The next requirement to find out is how you will be carrying the multi tool. The fact is that it is useless to have a bulky multi-tool if you do not have a pocket or some other way of carrying it around conveniently. At the same time, having one with 50 tools is good, but if they cannot remain with you, they are of no use. Thus, it is essential to pick a multi-tool that eases your travelling weight. Here are some options to consider:
- Keychain Multi-tools: Are smaller but highly portable, allow carrying even in keychains everywhere. You can find some versatile and rugged models.
- Pocket Multi tools Are bulkier and larger but yet fitting inside pant pockets, purses, briefcases, and backpacks. Such tools come with many capabilities packed into a manageable size, reflecting good strength overall.
- Belt Multi-tools Are big size options offering real tools, replaceable wire cutters, and full-size pliers within one handle. While mostly they will fit inside a pocket, they are huge enough to put in a sheath that stays on your hip. These full-size models are rugged enough for performing big tasks and ensure durability as well as good strength.
- One-Piece Multi tools: Are flat and thin models made from a single steel piece to perform well for a variety of tasks. You can clip them to keys, put in a bag, or add to a belt loop. However, their capability is restricted, as you cannot expect more beyond a convenient wrench and screwdriver acting as a scraper.
In short, you will find multi-tools in a variety of sizes, as explained above. Just consider the carrying ability, and you will find the right model quickly.
How to Choose the Best Multi-Tool?
Choosing the right multi tool depends largely on how you will be using it. So basically, you need to choose your tools or components of a multi-tool, as per the identified requirements.
After that, you should consider the design and quality, which also depends on how you will use the tool. In short, a multi-tool needs to be of the highest quality affordable by you as a buyer, as anything low in quality shall result in injury or breakage.
Factor 1: Components
If you are a foodie, you would require a corkscrew, small blade, and bottle opener to open bottles or can of juices and cut some fruits. For a camper, a straight blade, a serrated blade, can opener, flat head screwdriver, tweezer, wire cutter, and needle-nosed pliers are essential.
While the preferences and usages will govern the selection of components, it is recommended choosing a multi-tool with the least components. Still, you can go for some more useful tools such as toothpick and tweezers if they do not add to the usage complexity or weight. Choosing a model with a clip to tie a lanyard is also handy if you wish to protect the tool from falling into a heap of snow, mud, or in the dark.
Multi-tools are just not as same as workshop tools in terms of standards. Of the two, multi-tools are used for repairs during travelling. Its regular usage as a workshop tool simply ends up damaging the tool or your item under repair. Following are some basic tools required for emergency repair purpose:
- Allen Wrench/Keys: Consider having varieties to cover up all possibilities, including sizes of 2, 2.5, 4, 6, 5, 3, and 8mm. The 8mm one is adequate to squeeze tight crank bolts but is not reliable to perform as a big workshop tool.
- Torx Key: Is chiefly for brake rotor bolts. Chances are high for you to see a disc pad separator on some models.
- Chain tool: Is small in size due to it is somewhat clumsy, but there are many good options. No matter which one you choose, the desired job is always done.
- Spoke Keys: Are somewhat tricky to use, as they are often clutched on another tool. Capable of doing the job, most variations come in different sizes to offer maximum nipple/spoke combinations.
- Screwdriver: Is mostly as a flat-nosed screwdriver.
- Spanners: Are usually in the standard sizes of 8 to 10 mm but are a part of several smaller multi-tools.
Factor 2: Size and Weight
Size and weight are essential if portability is a priority for you. If you are a backpacker or keen traveller, it is obvious to go for a small and lightweight model that does not allow you to let go of essential components. Just keep in mind that although portability is one of the main selling points of a multi-tool, not all multi-tools are light and small. Preferably, you would choose a model that is below one pound in weight to lessen up the hiking burden.
Factor 3: Blade
Many people will tell you to have knife blades in multi-tools, which means having blades out of your toolbox. If you need a knife to be used hard and frequently, you should be able to hold it at ease, in different grip positions.
Positioning a knife’s blade from a multi-tool is usually gradual and tedious, which is not at all acceptable during an emergency. In this situation, having a separate knife of good quality is a better idea. However, the reason why you would need a blade out of toolbox or in a multi-tool is that it gives you the ability to take it anywhere.
Factor 4: Blade Material
The material of the blade has to be steel in our opinion, although you can choose other options such as titanium as well. Steel is quite popular when it comes to making blades for a knife or a multi-tool. Usually, while 420HC is good, a better option is 154CM is better and the best is S30V or VG-10. It is best to choose a better choice; as such a material ensures longer edge retention.
Factor 5: Design
A smart multi-tool design allows maximising the ratio of tool to weight and optimising comfort level while the tool is in your hand. Such a design will also have less space where waste gets accumulated only to reduce the effectiveness of cleaning. So, it is best to look for an ergonomic design.
Factor 6: Build Quality
Not all multi-tools are made using quality materials, although they may appear identical. While a few manufacturers use economical steel, some choose robust designs. What you need to know about this difference is that the risk of rusting accelerates with lesser steel or other material quality.
The overall construction should be lightweight and durable. Further, the quality of each part should be acceptable. For this purpose, you need to first check out the knife blades, like a blade of inadequate quality is more problematic than a screwdriver of poor quality.
Similarly, good blade quality indicates the overall sound quality of the tool. So, it is best to go for a material of high quality. Although it costs a bit more, it will retain a sharp edge of the blade for a longer time. This applies to tools with serrated blades whose edges are tougher to sharpen than smooth ones.
Factor 7: Functionality
Many models come with all sorts of components, including flashlights and magnifying glasses. But you need to know whether such tools are of any use to you or not. Although it is tempting to go for such models with all sorts of components, it is not worth doing so.
For conscious buyers, it is most alluring to choose a super simple model, but it is wise to ensure that all useful components are there to get the tasks done. You will also need to consider in what environment you are going to use these tools.
For example, if you need an everyday carry and use one at a retail shop, a Victorinox model with a ballpoint pen and package opener can be an ideal choice. However, if you prefer a general-purpose one with priority on portability, a Leatherman model is the way to go. Similarly, for cooking while camping, a model with openers and some utensils is the best bet.
Factor 8: Suitability
Suitability is perhaps the most critical factors based on which you will judge the effectiveness of other factors in this list. After all, it makes no sense to have a tool that has all sorts of components but does not fit your desired usage. So, when it comes to suitability, consider the ease of carrying the tool and tasks to be performed using the tool.
For example, for those who do not wear a belt, it is good to have a multi-tool in a well-embracing pouch. For camping, you will need a blade, cutter, screwdriver, and flashlight, all of which helps in lighting a fire or erecting a tent.
Similarly, if your hands are large and wish to do more of difficult and heavy tasks at job sites, it is unwise to choose a Key chain multi tool. For EDC, a small pocket-size model with pocket clip is the way to go, while exclusive pot-gripper pliers with the lightweight multi-tool are for backpacking.
Factor 9: Ease of Use
Well, this is something that both naïve and experienced buyers would not miss to have. Struggling to get the tool from pocket or opening it is troublesome.
Factor 10: Value for Money
Well, this is last but good factor to check out. If the budget is not a major metric, it would have been easy to grade products. However, in reality, we all have a budget to go with, due to which what is obtained in return of the hard-earned money is perhaps the most vital metric or factor to consider. Consider those models that feature an inventive design rendering much more than the competition in terms of price and giving superb value for money.
It cannot be denied that a multi-tool is an indispensable tool for almost all of us. However, you will get maximum utility only if you have the best multi tool with the right components