Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Multitool Scoring System

Multitools are, quite simply, the most useful piece of gear you will carry other than a credit card and a smartphone, and those two can't change a tire or work in the backwoods of rural America (no matter what Luke Wilson says about cellphone coverage). This scoring system has been the bane of my existence, or a puzzle I couldn't figure out, for about three months now. The problem is that multitools have so many uses, so much utility, different designs, and features, that one scoring system is difficult to apply to every tool. Under the category of multitool I will be looking at balisong-type plier multitools (Leatherman, SOG Multitools, and Swiss Tools), Gerber's slide-style multitools, the classically styled Swiss Army Knife, and One Piece Multitools like the famous and coveted Atwood tools.

Things like the DPx Hest, which has a bottle opener and a oxygen wrench on a knife are not covered. That would fall under the Folding Knife Scoring System. In some cases the difference between a knife and a multitool is pretty much arbitrary. Is the Tool Logic Light/Knife combo a multitool? I dunno. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Also, I have ignored, on purpose, the credit card toolkits. I have never seen or handled one that was anything other than pure junk.

Here are the previous efforts at systematic scoring:

How can you evaluate something like a Leatherman Charge:

using the same scale as an Atwood Keyton?

Well, after much deliberation, I think I have the scoring system down.

Here it is:

Again, I am using the simple 0=fail; 1=adequate; 2=excellent scale and applying it to ten criteria. The criteria are as follows.


This is the same criteria used in all of my reviews. Basically, it is an assessment of how the product would look on paper.

Fit and Finish

Also, a borrowed criteria, how the thing looks in practice, how all the parts fit together and all of the final touches are executed.


This is a new criteria, one specifically designed for the challenges of assessing multitools. With flashlights or folding knives the purpose is really simple (i.e. light stuff up or cut stuff, respectively). But with an MT, the tools come together, hopefully, in a cohesive way that evinces an intended use or purpose. Every multitool is or should be designed for a specific function.

Some, like the Leatherman Supertool or the Swiss Spirit Road Tour are designed as true tool box replacements. They have massive tools on a massive frame designed to offer you a ton of utility in a single package without much compromise. Others, like the Leatherman Juice or Skeletool, are designed to have a few of the essential tools in an easy to carry frame. The Leatherman MUT, seen here:

is a great example of a multitool with a clear theme. It is designed for gun and rifle maintenance. With a One Piece Multitool (OPMT) the purpose is generally different than that of a full sized tool. Most are designed to ride on a keychain or laynard and get you out of small jams. They are not designed as tool box replacements or even for everyday use EDC jobs. They have very limited functions, basically a few "on the go" type tasks and, of course, a bottle opener, because everything needs a bottle opener, right?

Under this criteria the product will be examined in terms of how well it serves in its intended role.

For example, in my opinion, though this is not a consensus by any means, the Skeletool is a superior EDC MT to the Juice for a few reasons. First, it has a pocket clip. Second, the knife on the Skeletool has an opening hole as opposed to a nail knick. Finally, it has less "throw in" tools, i.e. things that round out a checklist but are rarely used. So in role, the Skeletool would score better than the Juice.


How the tool feels in your hand when you are using it. This is similar to the criteria from the Flashlight and Folding Knife scoring system.


How the tool feels when you are carrying it but not using it. Again a borrowed criteria from the Flashlight and Folding Knife scoring system.


Similar to the criteria in the Folding Knife system relating to steels. The materials in the tool have a large impact on performance and carry. The theme or purpose of the tool dictates what kind of materials are ideal.


Multitool design really had taken leaps forward since the advent of the original Leatherman, the PST (Personal Survival Tool). The tools are now accessible from the outside (meaning with the pliers not deployed). Various makers have solved the "clumping" issue that plagued many tools. Finally, in the area of OPMT, some designs are better than others at giving clearance to different tools. All of these will factor into this criteria.

Retention Method

Borrowed from the Folding Knife Scoring System, this criteria evaluates how the multitool is stored on one's person when not in use. Generally it is a clip or a lanyard ring of some sort, but many larger MTs have sheathes.

Tool Selection

There are few tools that every MT should have. I can't think of a reason not to have a screwdriver of some sort. I can see why designers would leave off an edge on a OPMT, but if you have any storage capacity at all, an MT should have a blade on it as well. It seems like SAKs get you tantalizingly close to a perfect tool complement in a couple of models, but screw things up with a random corkscrew or the like. The purpose of the tool will often times delineate what tools should be on the MT.

Tool Performance

I love the Victorinox Phillips screwdriver, but I prefer the Leatherman pliers. I also really like the Leatherman one handed opening blades, especially the one on the Skeletool. Few, if any MTs have a perfect selection of perfectly executed tools, but this criteria is an attempt to capture the average performance level of all of the tools on the product.

First up, the Leatherman Skeletool CX.


  1. I'm looking forward to the CX review! I just picked one up last week for the very reasons you mentioned in your article. I have a Swiss Tool in my BoB (Bug out Bag) and it bothered me that I wasn't using it as a EDC, but it's too big IMO since I already have a CCW, folding knife and flashlight. The CX fit the bill perfectly and I replaced my folder with it.... For now... ;)

  2. I really like your 0, 1, 2 system so I am glad to see you finally cracked this nut. I will be very interested to get your thoughts on the MTs.

  3. Great set of criteria. I just found your blog a few weeks ago, and I'm hooked. Good work.

  4. Love this post - you really helped me decide what I wanted to carry.