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 us. The blades hold their edge, they're sturdy and they're super useful.
I personally got my first 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 other multitools and blades sit in drawers or truck compartments.
With that in mind, we wanted to take a fresh look at the modern all purpose tool options and see if we could unseat the Wave as the go-to survival multitool. For survival, we have found the best option.
After pulling out our numerous multi-tools and purchasing a few others we didn't yet own, we came to a solid 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. Fortunately, modern multi-tools are much more portable and handy.
I've been involved with the Boy Scout program for decades. I've been on hundreds of campouts and other adventures. I've likely used my multi-tool at most of them. What I've found over the years is there are really two tools you use most of the time. A few other tools are used on occasion. The remaining 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 (now discontinued) 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 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 you will use.
While the Leatherman Wave has a proven track record for more than 2 decades and internet research indicates that a huge number of outdoorsmen, survivalists, and preppers we found a new multi-tool we prefer for survival. Don't get us wrong, we still love our Wave. However, the ACTION is better suited for survival activities.
01. Needle Noes Pliers (Reinforced)
02. Standard Pliers (Spring loaded)
03. Wire Cutters (Replaceable)
04. Hard Wire Cutters (Replaceable)
05. Electrical Crimper
06. 420 Knife Blade (Deep profile)
07. First Aid Scissors
08. Wood Saw
09. Cord Cutter (For paracord, twine, rope)
10. Can Opener (Sharp edge)
11. Bottle Opener
12. Wood/Metal File
13. Awl/Hole Punch (Sharp edge)
14. Slotted Screwdriver (3mm)
15. Slotted Screwdriver (5mm)
16. Slotted Screwdriver (6mm)
17. Phillips Screwdriver (Bit extension)
18. Accessory Bits (11 bits)
Remember our usefulness-to-bulk/weight ratio we discussed above? The ACTION has just the right toolset and yet it's also the right size for regular carry. For non-work use, 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 multi-tools on the ranch daily. They've switched to this workhorse as their go-to multi-tool.
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. The ACTION Survival Multi-tool is the same.
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 found I started using the ACTION more than even my Leatherman. However, I gave each two weeks and multiple outings. Here's what I found:
I love my Leatherman Wave and will always have one. However, I've found I use my ACTION more frequently and have an additional one for my bug out bag.
Caveats and Warnings
*Top-Rated Products Only
*Top-Rated Products Only
We've loved our Leatherman Wave Multi-Tools since their debut. They're sturdy and functional. I've personally used mine hundreds of times over the years in day-to-day EDC applications as well as a number of emergency situations.
The Leatherman Wave is the go-to multi-tool for millions of the prepared. Here's why:
Functions - The functions of the Leatherman Wave seem to fit so many situations. From cutting cord, preparing firewood, opening packages, clipping wire, tightening screws, and so much more, the Wave tackles so many challenges.
01 Needlenose Pliers
02 Regular Pliers
03 Premium Replaceable Wire Cutters
04 Premium Replaceable Hard-wire Cutters
05 Electrical Crimper
06 Wire Stripper
07 420HC Knife
08 420HC Serrated Knife
10 Spring-action Scissors
11 Ruler (8 in | 19 cm)
12 Can Opener
13 Bottle Opener
14 Wood/Metal File
15 Diamond-coated File
16 Large Bit Driver
17 Small Bit Driver
18 Medium Screwdriver
Durability - When used as intended, the Wave holds up very well. None of the implements are intended as levers but they do have specific functions. The tool can handle anything short of 'heavy duty' applications.
Size/Weight - The size is perfect for the common hand size and fits into a pocket if needed. It's also light enough to carry on a daily basis.
We love our Leatherman Wave and would recommend it for emergencies and survival, including go-bags and emergency kits.
There are a ton of great options for survival multi-tools for emergency situations. Many would be perfect carry (EDC) options. However, when you think 'best-of' the ACTION is the best multi-tool for emergencies.
Having said that, also consider the Wave, Skeletool and Swiss Army Knives for Every Day Carry tools.
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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.