Swiss Army Knives vs Leatherman Multi-Tools
Victorinox Swiss Army Knives are so well-known that they have entered the territory of an idiom. You can call just about anything a, “Swiss army knife,” and everyone will know that you are trying to describe how versatile and convenient it is. But the classic slick red Swiss Army Knife everyone pictures was originally invented in 1897 and reigned for a long time as the premier multitool. But, a newer name has started making strides toward the top seat.
Leatherman multi-tools was started by Tim Leatherman back in the 80s, and it has become one of the most prominent names in multi-tools. They are good, but are they good enough to square up to the legendary Swiss Army Knife? In our comparison of backpacking multi-tools, there was a clear winner, but not everyone is after backpacking equipment. The only way to decide which is the best multitool manufacturer is to compare the two of them head-to-head in a few different categories.
Right away, the fact that Victorinox specifically calls their products “Swiss Army Knives” should be a strong indicator. The standard models are designed first and foremost as knives. You can tell that based on the fact that they are usually shaped like a pocket knife and feature the knife blade itself as the centerpiece function. They also feature the iconic corkscrew in many of their models, as well as a key ring. Victorinox makes its home in Switzerland.
Leatherman, in contrast, calls their products multi-tools. Their typical model is rectangular and features two arms that fan open to reveal a variety of tools. There is usually some kind of central tool that two arms function as the handles of – most often a pair of pliers or scissors. Gerber uses a similar design for their multi-tools, to give you an idea. The straight edges also allow for many of the models to come with imprinted measurements that let them function as a small ruler. Leatherman is an American company.
Both companies feature stainless steel for the blades and tools of their products as a baseline. You can get knives or tools from either company with different finishes if you aren’t a fan of the blank metal. Though Leatherman is much better about having that as an option — their flagship multi-tools all have an option for different finishes. Victorinox requires a specific model if you want something other than plain stainless steel.
Both Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman tools have optional warranties. Victorinox is so confident in their craftsmanship, they are willing to offer a lifetime warranty on any knife — including kitchen cutlery. However, their warranty expressly only cares about defects and does not cover wear and tear from use. Leatherman offers a 25-year warranty, which is almost as long as the company has existed. They make their multi-tools with durability and mind and believe they make them rugged enough to cover even wear from regular use.
These warranties are only available when you buy directly through their websites, so while you may be able to find a better deal on Amazon, you won’t be able to get the warranties. So, for these comparisons, we’ll be using the prices listed on the Victorinox and Leatherman websites.
These are on the low end of the spectrum of the company’s products. They are still fine tools and knives, but these are suited for heavy work. This is the perfect category for the average person looking for a product for EDC (every day carry). While closed, the Micra comes in at about 2.5 inches long. It’s also incredibly lightweight, making it the perfect multitool to keep on a keychain.
Don’t let the small stature fool you, it still packs a ton of functionality. Its center tool is a pair of spring-action scissors. It comes with three different sized flathead screwdrivers, a combo nail file and cleaner, and even a pair of tweezers. One of the screwdriver arms pulls double-duty as a bottle opener.
Leatherman says in the description that the Micra is a favorite among fisherman and sewers. Though, with 10 practical tools in such a compact, lightweight frame, you certainly don’t need a hobby to make use of this awesome EDC tool.
A look at the Victorinox Evolution 10
This is close to the typical model Swiss Army knife most people imagine in their heads. It’s a bit bigger, heavier, and a touch more expensive, but it has a couple more tools, some of which are more specialized.
It has fewer screwdriver heads than the Micra and is missing the ruler notches and scissors, but it has everything else. In place of these missing features are a second larger knife blade, the signature corkscrew, a can opener, wire stripper, and an all-in-one reamer/punch/sewing awl tool.
At a glance, this seems a bit over the top for around the house use since most of the edges it has over the Micra are tools most people have anyway — this is far from an ideal way to open a bottle of wine, for example. But, if you’re out and about and need a tool in a pinch, you have everything you’ll need for most situations hanging from your key ring.
This is the category of multi-tools that are still reasonable for EDC but put on some muscle. These are perfect for a hobbyist, handyman, or someone willing to gain some functionality in exchange for being a bit bigger and pricier. You might not feel like a superhero with this by your side, but you’ll certainly feel prepared for most everyday problems. At four inches closed and half a pound, this is still a convenient multitool that can keep pace with full-sized tools.
The center tool of the sidekick is a pair of pliers that can serve as needlenose, regular-sized pliers, and a wire cutter. This picks up a can opener as well as a metal and wood file. The sidekick comes with three different cutting blades: a regular knife blade, a shorter serrated blade, and a saw blade. You lose the range of flathead screwdrivers from the Micra, but you get a Phillips head to help make up for it
This won’t fit well on most people’s keychains, but it won’t need to. The Sidekick comes with a pocket clip that can be easily replaced if damaged.
The Victorinox Evolution S557
This Swiss Army Knifes comes in just a bit cheaper, smaller, and lighter than the Sidekick. It still uses a key ring as its main mounting, but it could still fit in a pocket without being too bulky.
This has all the bells and whistles that the Evolution 10 had, and it picked up plenty more. A Philips head screwdriver, scissors, toothpick, and nut wrench significantly broaden the number of tasks this thing can tackle. This model even comes with a pair of pliers/wirecutter combo tool, which most Swiss Army Knives don’t include. It also has a wire crimper, which gives it a slight edge over the Wingman for wire functionality.
The sheer number of tools the Evolution S557 packs into such a small space is both its biggest grace and its biggest issue. The individual tools are small and the moving parts can feel awkward. It has more individual tools than the Wingman, but in a head to head comparison of the tools they share, the Wingman edges out in quality — especially with the pliers. But, in a pinch, you’d be more than happy to have the Evolution S557, even if it’s not ideal.
Here’s where we get into some of the real serious equipment. Most people aren’t going to need to go to this level of multitool, but the people that will want them are going to be glad they have them. These are perfect for the outdoorsy person or someone that wants a full range of tools but doesn’t have space for a workshop.
The Leatherman Wave
The Wave+ is only a bit bigger and heavier than the Sidekick, but it packs a much harder punch. This doesn’t come with a built-in mounting method, so you’ll have to splurge a little extra for a sheath if you aren’t okay with keeping it in your pocket.
This Leatherman multi-tool comes with both a pair of scissors and pliers, though the scissors are smaller than if they were the dedicated center tool. The pliers have all the functionality of the EDC models, but the Wave+ adds replaceable wire-cutters in case they ever get dull or damaged. You also get a wire crimper with this model and a diamond-coated file. The cutting blades get upgraded with notches for a one-hand opening.
If you were missing the screwdriver functionality in the Wingman, the Wave+ has your back. Rather than having the heads on dedicated arms, the Wave+ has two mounts for bits, one for smaller and one for larger screw bits. Not only does this help you with getting just the right size of screw, but it also means you can tackle weirder screws with hex, square, or Torx.
Victorinox Evolution S54
This is the same length as the Evolution S557, but twice as thick and heavy. This is approaching on the point where keeping it in your pocket is uncomfortable. Though, it still only has the keyring attachment, so make sure you have a sturdy ring.
There aren’t twice as many tools in this model, though there are quite a few more. A few more screwdriver heads, a pair of saws for metal and wood, and two files come as upgrades from the EDC models. You also pick up a scaler and hook disgorger, for the fishing fans. Along with a compass, magnifying glass, and a sightline, you’ll have to look for a task this can’t help with.
The increase in size helps with the quality and ease of use with the tool significantly, but it’s still not perfect. The fact that this tool also has fixed screw heads instead of bit mounters is a real dropoff. But the gap between the 32 tools of the Evolution S54 and the 18 of the Wave+ might be big enough to excuse some individual weaknesses.
“And the Kitchen Sink”
This is more of a fun discussion category more than a serious consideration one. For about 90% of people, these tools are way beyond what you’ll ever need. But it’s fun to look at the absolute top ends, and there is likely at least one reader who has been waiting to see how far they can take these multitool brands.
This is a beast of a multitool, weighing nearly a pound and measuring 4.5 inches long. It isn’t Leatherman’s most expensive multitool, but it is their multitool with the most features.
This is practically their Wingman model with all the dials turned up as high as they’ll go. The Surge comes equipped with Leatherman’s largest pair of pliers and one of their largest blades. Speaking of blades, this tool has four different cutting blades, some of which are easily replaceable.
The screwdriver functionality tones down a bit with this model, losing the small bit mount. But besides that, the Surge feathers almost every tool available to the regular Leatherman models. And all of them are the toughest and best versions.
This is still a reasonable thing for the average person to own. All of its features are fine and useful, but they are built to handle jobs far tougher than most people ever would subject them to. You can get the Surge if you want, but the less intense models will probably get you as far as you need.
Victorinox Swiss Champ XAVT
These two brands have been pretty close in price thus far, but not in this category, which is partly why it is less of serious consideration. The Swiss Champ XAVT is a monster. It’s nearly as thick as it is long, and yes, it still only has a keyring mount.
It would be shorter to list the attachments this Swiss Army Knife doesn’t have. Okay, that’s not true, but seventy tools in one knife is still a huge number. Every standard Victorinox attachment comes with this knife. Some of the more notable oddballs among these are a pressurized ballpoint pen, and LED light, a pharmaceutical spatula, and a watch opener. If that wasn’t enough, the case has a built-in clock with full alarm and timer functionality.
As huge as this thing is, one important note is that it is still just a tad bit lighter than the Leatherman Surge. So, the theme continues. Victorinox manages to cram nearly every conceivable tool into the Swiss Champy XAVT, but they are all still on the diminutive side.
This is, by a wide margin, the most expensive multitool Victorinox offers. This is something not meant for arguably 99% of consumers. It borders on a novelty, to be frank. But this behemoth is as close as you can get to having a full-size tool chest hanging off your keychain without actually having one.
Two key patterns emerged when researching these categories. First, Leatherman often had fewer tools, but they were usually better individual quality. Second, Victorinox, with a few exceptions, was the more expensive of the two, but usually only by a bit.
Something else that might not be as apparent looking at just this article: Victorinox has a significantly wider range of options when it comes to multi-tools. Counting combo tool deals and kits, Leatherman has 46 different tools available on their website. (They have technically made more models but several have been discontinued.) Counting special editions, Victorinox offers over 200 different Swiss Army Knives.
If you want a good, all-around multi-tool rugged enough to tackle the jobs it’s equipped for, all at a reasonable price, Leatherman multi-tools is easily your better option. If you’d rather have a fine tool for a ton of jobs instead of a great tool for specific jobs, Victorinox Swiss Army Knives are right up your alley.
Moreover, Victorinox is the better brand to look at if you are in the market for a specialty multitool, such as the CheeseMaster and the GolfTool. They’re also the more attractive option for knife collectors if that happens to be your taste. Leatherman is much better at sticking to a few things and doing them well, though they do have options to customize your multitool with some of their models. In short, go Swiss Army Knives for range, and go Leatherman multi-tools for effectiveness.
Bonus tip: For some bonus tips, check out these short videos for the Swisstool, Victorinox’s take on the two-arm multitool: