When it comes to multi-tools there are only two brands to seriously consider – the Swiss Army knife (the original multi-tool) and the tools from Leatherman.
Standing head and shoulders above all other options on the market today, Swiss Army knives and Leatherman tools represent the very best of the best in the multi-tool space. At the same time, these companies couldn’t be any different and the folding tools and knives have a lot of differences between them.
If you’re trying to settle on a new Swiss Army knife or are thinking about picking up a Leatherman, but want to be sure that you make the right decision, you’ll want to read the inside information we highlight for you below.
Swiss Army Vs Leatherman
Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of comparing these multi-tool options against one another, let’s first touch on the history of these great companies.
Swiss Army knives have built an almost legendary reputation around the world. Their sleek, compact form factor, bright red color, and distinct cross and shield logo are instantly recognizable.
Victorinox, the company that produces the very first Swiss Army knife – for the Swiss Army – has been around 1884. This knife design (the original multi-tool) was patented in 1897 and is an obvious inspiration for Leatherman and everything they’ve built.
Unlike Victorinox, Leatherman does not have a 130+ year company history behind them.
This Portland, Oregon-based operation has been making Leatherman tools in the United States since 1983, though. Right from day one, these tools developed passionate fans that love the quality, utility, and convenience of a Leatherman.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s figure out how do these multi-tools Stack up against one another.
If there’s one thing that both Swiss Army knives and Leatherman have in common, it has to be their dedication to using only the highest quality materials resulting in almost impeccable build quality.
Swiss Army knives are designed around a penknife-style handle with a central “sprung core” that allows all of the different tools and accessories to fold out from the middle. This design originated in 1884 and was really polished in 1897 (when the design was patented) and has been the foundation of all Swiss Army knives ever since.
These tools are made out of proprietary Inox stainless steel that the company helped to pioneer for their tools specifically. This material is known for its hardness, ability to take an edge and retain it, and for its completely rustproof finish.
Leatherman multi-tools are also made out of stainless steel – except for the screwdriver bits, which are made from tool steel.
The result is an almost bombproof multi-tool and knife option that could very well outlast you and the next generation you hand these tools down to.
Fit and Finish
Both companies spend a tremendous amount of time on research and development, prototyping new tool options, and making sure that every addition to their lineup works in concert with the rest of the multi-tool design.
Tolerances are very impressive across the board for both companies.
You’re never going to pick up a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman and feel like it is loose, sloppy, or coming apart at the seams. These tools can stand up to a tremendous amount of use – and even abuse – and still function just like brand-new with very little care or maintenance.
Swiss Army knives and Leatherman tools are hardened to produce a resilient and corrosion-resistant surface. This helps to protect the already tough and durable stainless steel the tools are made out of.
These things aren’t going to fail you anytime soon.
While Swiss Army knives and Leatherman tools feature pretty similar materials and overall build quality, they stand apart from one another quite a bit when it comes to tool diversity.
Swiss Army knives are, after all, pocketknives first and foremost.
That’s the platform that these multi-tools were built on top of originally more than 130 years ago and it’s still the core DNA of these tools. Swiss Army knives are always going to be knives first, with other tools and accessories kind of taking a backseat.
Leatherman multi-tool, though, is primarily a multi-tool straight out of the gate.
These tools are built around a quality pair of pliers, with knife blades and other tools and accessories folding out from the flyer handles. Everything stems from the main plier tool format, though.
While there are a handful of exceptions for both companies, you pretty much know what you are going to get into when you go shopping for a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman.
Leatherman tools have been able to squeeze more accessories and more options into the plier format without decreasing utility than Swiss Army knives have been able to. There comes a point where pocketknives are just too fat in the hand that they become difficult and uncomfortable to use.
The plier design of a Leatherman lets them pack a lot more “under the hood”, which means there’s a lot more model diversity for this brand than there is in the Swiss Army lineup.
If you’re after a pocketknife with multi-tool options, something relatively compact and somewhat limited in comparison, a Swiss Army knife is going to be more attractive.
If, however, you want to have all your tools and the kitchen sink at your disposal in a relatively compact plier format you can’t go wrong with a Leatherman.
On the practicality side of things, it’s hard not to fall in love with Leatherman tools compared to Swiss Army knives – even the bigger, more feature-rich options.
Sure, Swiss Army knives started the multi-tool industry and were far and away the most useful pocket tool on the market right up until Leatherman came along.
As soon as Leatherman introduced their plier format multi-tools, though, the game changed completely.
Swiss Army knives are compact, generally pretty lightweight, and have to fit comfortably in one hand to use the tools available. The pocketknife form factor of Swiss Army knives eventually means that there’s a ceiling on just how big these tools can get.
Stay slim and compact (but somewhat limited with your features) and these things are a dream to use. Start to bulk up, though, and the most feature-rich Swiss Army knife can become a real headache to try and manipulate – especially in conditions that aren’t picture-perfect.
Leatherman multi-tools, on the other hand, can be a lot larger. That means larger tools can be included and more of them. The folding plier setup also makes these easy to use with either one of your hands without the tool ever feeling chunky or unwieldy.
The Leatherman product run gets the nod in this department.
Durability and Longevity
Both of these manufacturers take their tools and their reputation very, very seriously.
Victorinox, the people behind the Swiss Army knife, has been able to build and grow a business for more than 130 years on the back of these pocketknife multi-tools. You’re not going to have that kind of success – generational success – unless you are making quality products that people trust.
All of the knives and multi-tools made by Victorinox are made from only the highest quality materials (their own proprietary stainless steel, as we mentioned a moment ago). More than that, though, all of their products are backed completely by a lifetime guarantee.
You know your investment in a Swiss Army knife is going to be protected. You never risk any of your cold hard cash when you snap up one of these pocketknife multi-tools.
Leatherman also stands by their products, though they only have a 25-year warranty on tools that have failed because of material defects or workmanship issues.
That’s not quite the safety blanket for outdoorsmen, sportsmen, and professionals that rely on their multi-tool on a day-to-day basis when compared to Victorinox and their warranty. But it’s still better than most of the rest of the industry.
Another cool thing about Leatherman is that they will replace any of their, discontinued multi-tool models with the newest model possible if their product fails within this warranty window.
There have been stories about Leatherman “stretching” the warranty window a little bit as well, making sure that their customers are taken care of even if the 25-year timeline has passed. Their customer service has always been top-notch and that’s something to consider.
Even still, we have to admit that Swiss Army knives have a better warranty just because of their lifetime nature.
It’s tough to compare these tools based on price alone if only because the most bare-bones and basic Swiss Army knife (something like the “Spartan”, for example) has no direct comparison to a bare-bones and basic Leatherman.
That’s why we decided to focus on value instead.
For the money that you’re spending you can usually get a little more functionality and a little more utility out of a Leatherman than you could a Swiss Army knife.
This isn’t to say that Swiss Army knives aren’t quality purchases. It doesn’t suggest that you should steer clear of these options or that they are overpriced.
Not at all.
We are just saying that the functionality, utility, and overall practicality of similarly priced Leatherman tools outpace comparable Swiss Army knives.
Swiss Army Knife Strengths and Weaknesses
The biggest reasons to get your hands on a Swiss Army knife over a Leatherman would be because of its “pocketknife first” design and the lightweight, portable nature of these tools.
Even the most bare-bones Leatherman is still going to be a pretty bulky tool. It’s going to be heavy, it’s sometimes going to be clumsy to wield (especially if all you need is a pocketknife), and it’s going to take up a lot more space on your belt, pocket, or pack.
On the flip side of things, this same pocketknife’s first design and the lightweight/portable nature of Swiss Army knives means that they become big, bulky, and uncomfortable to use when you start to stuff more and more multi-tools in them.
At a certain point, these things just become too big to handle comfortably, and that makes them a little less practical and a little less reliable.
|1||Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife, Red ,58mm||$19.99||Check Today's Price on Amazon|
|2||Victorinox Swiss Army Huntsman Pocket Knife (Red)||$32.52||Check Today's Price on Amazon|
|3||Victorinox Swiss Army Multi-Tool, Tinker Pocket Knife||$21.81||Check Today's Price on Amazon|
Last update on 2022-11-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Leatherman Strengths and Weaknesses
Leatherman tools, on the other hand, are sort of like a miniature toolbox on your belt.
The plier design makes them super useful, very strong and leaves lots of room in the handles for full-size (or close to it) tools to fold right out and lock into position.
That said, these tools are always bigger, always bulkier, and always heavier than a Swiss Army knife. You’re never going to slide a Leatherman in your front pocket and have it disappear.
Breaking out a Leatherman to whittle down a branch for s’mores is overkill in a way that using a Swiss Army knife isn’t. You’re not going to want to use a Swiss Army knife to clean fish or cut into a camp sandwich, either.
Last update on 2022-11-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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At the end of the day, choosing between a Swiss Army knife and a Leatherman boils down to what you want out of your new multi-tool and how you expect to use it going forward.
Swiss Army knives are incredible little pocket knives.
The blades can be sharpened to a razor’s edge and are compact enough to be comfortable when folded up in your pocket but big enough to use at home, at work, and around a campfire reliably.
The most popular Swiss Army knives also find a way to balance size with utility. They’re never too big, they’re never too bulky, and they always fit comfortably in your pocket and your hand.
Leatherman tools, on the other hand, are tough to beat when you want to have an arsenal of almost full-sized tool options on your belt.
The pliers these tools are focused around are some of the best in the business. Leatherman could probably sell just their folding pliers alone and make a mountain of money – that’s how good they are!
While a little heavier and a bit bulkier, these tools are super well-made and engineered to last a lifetime and then some. Don’t be surprised if you’re handing down a Leatherman you used daily to the next generation.
Regardless of whether you decide to snap up a new Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman make sure you order them from reputable sources.
Because these tools are so popular there are a lot of counterfeits out there, cheap knockoffs that look like the real deal but will only frustrate you and fail a whole lot faster than the real deal would have.
Truth be told, if it was up to us (and you have the budget) you’d get your hands on one of each – a relatively simple Swiss Army knife and a full-featured Leatherman.