Best Survival Multi-Tool

We admittedly had a hard time writing this article without aggressive bias. We have used Leatherman multi-tools since we were kids and they've NEVER failed. The blades hold their edge, they're sturdy and they're super useful. I personally got my Leatherman Wave shortly after they came out in the late 90's. 

I've tried a dozen or more different multi-tools from multiple companies and the Wave holds its ground every time. I still use the same Wave multitool while the others sit in drawers or truck compartments. 

With that in mind, I wanted to take a fresh look at the modern options and see if I could unseat the Wave as the go-to survival multitool.

The Top Survival Multi-Tools

After pulling out my numerous multi-tools and purchasing a few others I didn't yet own, I came to a conclusion. For common emergencies and survival situations a few tools stand out at the top. 

Best Overall Multi-Tool

20 10 20 14 25 06 original 600x600 leatherman wave

Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool

The most popular, reliable survival multi-tool on the market

Buy on Amazon

Best Compact Multi-Tool

20 11 08 10 42 34 original 600x600 skeletool

Leatherman Skeletool

Our pick: Leatherman Skeletool - EDC Survival Multi-Tool

Buy on Amazon

Best Swiss Army Knife

20 10 20 15 14 20 original 600x600 knife swiss army

Swiss Army Pocket Knife

Top Pick: The Swiss Army Knife is a classic EDC multi-tool that covers everything.

Buy on Amazon

Best 21-Tool Multi-Tool

21 02 04 13 14 26 original 600x600 sog power access

SOG PowerAccess Survival Tool

A popular, reliable survival multi-tool

Buy On Amazon
Best Survival Multi-tool - Leatherman Wave

About This Article

Content:
Scope:
Difficulty:


Table of Contents

Learn About Survival Multi-Tools

Cutting tools have been around since the cavemen. The first recorded multi-tool was invented by a Roman around 200-300 AD. It was a bit awkward to handle. However, modern multi-tools are incredibly portable and handy. 

I've been involved with the Boy Scout program for decades. I've been on over a hundred campouts and other adventures. I've likely used my multi-tool at every one. What I've found over the years is there are really 2 tools you use most of the time. There are a few other tools you use on occassion. The other tools are almost never used. A lot of the tool usage has to do with the type of adventure or work you're doing. However, for most people, a compact multi-tool with a few key tools is all you'll need.

The real trick is to justify the utility of the tools compared to the increase on bulk and weight. While each tool by itself isn't particularly bulky or heavy, adding a bunch of them together along with the structure to support them can add a lot of weight to your pocket, belt or pack. 

Two Most Commonly Used Multi-tool Tools

You can likely cover 80% of tool needs with 2 tools. You can get away with carrying a Leatherman Skeletool for most occasions. I've carried (EDC) the Leatherman Freestyle for years and almost never find myself wishing I had more. The tool-to-weight/bulk ratio is perfect. The 2 most used tools are:

  1. Knife Blade - Whether you're cutting cord, prepping fire fuel, opening food packages, cleaning fish, etc. a knife blade gets used A LOT. If I have a choice between straight and serrated I choose straight every time.
  2. Pliers - I see pliers as stronger fingers. Crimp hardware, pull on things, untie synched up knots, clip zip ties, etc. with either the needle nose or the normal pliers.

Occasionly Used Multi-tool Tools

When you do need more, these are the common tools you'll need. 

  1. Wire Cutter - You may cut ties, twine, paracord, wire and other connectors with wire cutters. It's surprising how oftern you need them.
  2. Driver Bits - Tightening screws when you don't have a dedicated screw driver around is easily accomplished with a multi-tool driver.
  3. Scissors - It's surprising how often I've used scissors to cut paper or open packages. It's not frequent in the outdoors but in vehicles or garage settings it can be common.
  4. Saw Blade - When I was young I was excited to use the saw blade on my tool. However, as handy as it seems, it's not very common that you need to cut a branch 2 inches around or less. It just doesn't get used much. But it's one of the coolest tools.
  5. File Blade - On occasion you need to file down burrs or other wood or metal edges. Some people use the files for their fingernails. 
  6. Can Opener - We've opened a can of chili or soup on numerous campouts. Well-designed openers make can opening very efficient.
  7. Bottle Opener - Very few bottles these days require an opener, especially in outdoor or survival settings. However, I've used mine for holiday bubbly. 
  8. Ruler - In hundreds of outings and trips I've only used the ruler for measuring fish and a few other items. Most of the time if you're serious enough about measuring something you have a tape with you.

Rarely Used Multi-tool Tools

  1. Magnifying Glass - I've only ever burned ants with a magnifying glass. They can be used to start fire assuming it's not dark or overcast.
  2. Fish Scaler - I've never used or needed a fish scaler. We just cook the fish with the skin on and then remove the skin when we eat them. In a survival situation you might eat the skin as well but in my opinion it's not worth the weight.
  3. Awl - An awl or punch is usually used for sewing hide with sinew or thread. How long would you need to be stranded or lost or surviving outdoors before you'd need to make or repair your clothing using an awl? Again, not worth the weight.
  4. Others - Swiss Army Knives and some multi-tool makers add tools you'll likely never use in a real scenario. As an example, I really wanted to like the Survival multi-tool Leatherman put out called the Signal. However, when I think about surviving using the tiny ferro rod or hammer end it seems very impractical. I think there is a survival tool that could be made for the outdoors but it'd have to be a bit more practical. Hard to outdo the Wave.

The goal is to acquire a multi-tool you'll use frequently without packing around extra bulk and weight. No need to have a tool you'll leave at home because it's too cumbersome. A good multi-tool is the one you'll carry and use.

 Emergency and Survival Uses for Multi-Tools

There are endless uses for multi-tools in an emergency. I was on the trail (hiking, biking, fishing, ATVing) on 200 outings in 2020 - I used my multi-tool many dozens of times. I only used certain tools and used them a lot. Here are some common situations to be prepared for:

  • cord cutting
  • fire fuel prep
  • food cutting and prep
  • device adjustment
  • wire cutting
  • stronger fingers (pliers)
  • crimping
  • measuring
  • sawing
  • package opening
  • can opening
  • filing
  • screw driving (slotted and phillips)

Based on this list of common survival uses we likely need one multi-tool. We'll highlight two tools we think work best: one is an EDC tool and the other is best for go-bags or belt carry. The features and tools should include:

  • durable
  • light weight
  • proven
  • knife blade
  • pliers
  • wire cutters
  • saw
  • file
  • can opener
  • bottle opener
  • large and small driver bits (phillips and slotted)
  • scissors

There are multi-tools with dozens of tools. In more emergency situations you'll never use most of them. For example: how often have you ever seen a fish scaler used? How about a leather awl? Even the ferro rod on the new Leatherman survival tool will likely never get used. For 80% of emergency situations a certain set of tools will get the job done. For the other 20% of the time, the tools you need can't fit on a knife (i.e. car jack). 

A lot of today's new tools are gimmicky or just add weight to the tool. Make sure you get a multi-tool that will actually have use.

The Leatherman Wave is the Best Survival Multi-Tool for Emergencies

Besides the fact the Wave has a proven track record for more than 2 decades, internet research indicates that a huge number of outdoorsmen, survivalists, and preppers prefer the wave because it's sturdy, has the right tool set and is made out of the right materials.

Research

We're looking around the web constantly for new, hot, and top products to feature on this site's catalog. The Leatherman Wave is listed on almost every 'best-of' list we come across. It's not always at the top but it's the most common. 

One blogger noted how popular the name is across the web. We agree with other editors completely. It deserves to be recommended as a top multi-tool product.

So, Why the Wave?

Remember our usefulness-to-bulk/weight ratio we discussed above? The Wave has just the right toolset and yet it's also the right size for regular carry. In my opinion, it's too heavy for every day carry for most of us. However, it's perfect for outdoor activities and survival situations.

My Rancher father-in-law and his son carry the Wave on the ranch daily. And they use it daily. They've tried about every option on the market and the carry the Wave.

What We Like

We love the following qualities:

  • Toolset - the selection of tools is just right for most applications and you don't feel like you're carrying tools you'll never use.
  • Sturdy structure - I've never seen a broken Wave body. The structure is super sturdy and can handle all sorts of abuse.
  • Blade accessibility - The 4 most commonly used blades can be deployed without opening the pliers. With the flick of a finger you can be using the blade of choice.
  • Blade lock release - The blades lock out rigid for safe usage. However, they collapse when needed with a simple push of the lock safety.
  • Needlenose pliers - The size and angle of the needlenose pliers is perfect for most applications. I use the tool on zip ties, fishing, knot untying, etc.

Leatherman Wave vs Other Tools in Normal Applications

Over the years both of my Leatherman tools have become extensions of my hands. Sometimes I'll realize I've been using the tool without consciously taking it out of my pocket.

In preparation for this article I chose to swap out my Leatherman with other tools. I tried products from Gerber, SOG, generic Amazon brands, etc. I missed my Leatherman almost immediately. However, I gave each two weeks and multiple outings. Here's what I found:

  • Some had too much flex in their body. They didn't feel sturdy, especially when using the pliers.
  • Some didn't have access to the blades without opening the pliers up.
  • Some had tools that were superfluous and never used.
  • I broke the blade on one in a normal firewood prep application. That one really perplexed me. I've broken a Leatherman blade once in 20+ years and I was really abusing the tool.
  • Some of the tools were heavy.

Again, I may be biased because of the years of successful use, but I couldn't wait to get back to my trusty Wave.

Caveats and Warnings

  • Multi-tools are made of metal. Metal can break. Using blades inappropriately (i.e. using them as levers) can result in injury.
  • You can't take most multi-tools on the airplane.
  • Honor the blood circle. If you're using a knife, no one should approach you within the diameter of your outstretched arm.
  • Alwasy cut away from yourself.

Our Top Multi-Tool Picks

*Top-Rated Products Only

20 10 20 14 25 06 original 600x600 leatherman wave

Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool

The most popular, reliable survival multi-tool on the market

Buy on Amazon
20 11 08 10 42 34 original 600x600 skeletool

Leatherman Skeletool

Our pick: Leatherman Skeletool - EDC Survival Multi-Tool

Buy on Amazon
20 10 20 15 14 20 original 600x600 knife swiss army

Swiss Army Pocket Knife

Top Pick: The Swiss Army Knife is a classic EDC multi-tool that covers everything.

Buy on Amazon
21 02 04 13 14 26 original 600x600 sog power access

SOG PowerAccess Survival Tool

A popular, reliable survival multi-tool

Buy On Amazon
20 10 20 14 42 19 original webp.net resizeimage

Multi-Function Shovel

Medium-duty, multi function survival shovel and tools

Buy on Amazon

Honorable Mentions

*Top-Rated Products Only

SOG Multi-tool

Gerber Truss

Victorinox Swiss Army Tool

Leatherman Wave+ is the best Survival Multi-Tool

There are a ton of great options for survival multi-tools for emergency situations. Many would be perfect carry options. However, when you think 'best-of' the Wave is the best multi-tool and by far the most popular.

Having said that, also consider the Skeletool and Swiss Army Knives for Every Day Carry tools. 

20 10 20 14 25 06 original 600x600 leatherman wave

Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool

The most popular, reliable survival multi-tool on the market

Buy on Amazon
20 10 20 15 14 20 original 600x600 knife swiss army

Swiss Army Pocket Knife

Top Pick: The Swiss Army Knife is a classic EDC multi-tool that covers everything.

Buy on Amazon

Recommended Next Topic

1This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
2 As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
3 Most reviews are based on personal experience from one of our content editors. Some are based on research and the opinions of other reviewers.

 

Most Popular Survival Products