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.
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.
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.
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:
When you do need more, these are the common tools you'll need.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
We love the following qualities:
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:
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
*Top-Rated Products Only
*Top-Rated Products Only
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.
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.