Leatherman Wave size comparison against a bic lighter

Leatherman Wave size comparison against a bic lighter

Best Leatherman for Survival – The Mid-Sized Shootout

Last updated on June 4th, 2024 at 05:09 am

When I think multitools, Leatherman and Swiss Army are at the top of my list. While Swiss Army has found its place more in the outdoors as scout knives, Leatherman has made more of a business aiming towards utility and every day carry. However, Leatherman is likely the right tool for anything outdoors… because it has pliers. I argue that the right tool in the sticks is going to be the Leatherman. Pliers are like fingers that are made of metal and don’t have to feel. Picking up a hot handle from a cup that has been sitting on the fire is no longer a problem. Steve Rinella, host of MeatEater is a proponent of the brand that has made its name around pliers. Here are my thoughts on the best Leatherman for survival.

Best Leatherman for Survival: Signal

leatherman signal


  • Outdoor-specific tool set
  • Replaceable wire cutters
  • Ferro rod and detachable sharpener


  • Serrated combo-blade
  • Lots of plastic

I really want to like the Signal and had even gifted it to a buddy in the past. The idea of a survival built Leatherman really gets my juices going. It feels like it has everything you need, nothing you don’t, and a few extra things for fun. I love the idea of an integrated ferro rod and removable sharpener a lot. However, I’m not sure I love the plastic bits they come wrapped in. This might be subjective, but I wish the Signal came in a straight edge instead of a combo edge. The serrated edge is harder to keep and less useful for things like whittling sticks. I’m giving this a “…Meh” as it is cool, but could be gimmicky.

Best All-Around Leatherman: Wave Plus – UPGRADED

the best leatherman for all around use the wave plus


  • Tons of usable tools
  • Outboard knife, saw, file, and serrated blade
  • Replaceable wire cutters in the Plus model


  • The original Wave doesn’t have replaceable wire cutters. Look for the Plus model
  • It’s big in the pocket

I have the original Leatherman Wave. As I was writing this, I discovered Leatherman has come out with the Leatherman Wave Plus in March 2018, which fixes my only tooling gripes. The replaceable wire cutters is huge, as they swap out easily with any other Leatherman of similar size. No longer does one fear cutting into steel wire and marring their beautiful tool for the life of their Leatherman.

Now, unlike the Signal, the Wave has a file/sharpener onboard. This means that there’s no way to actually sharpen the main blade on the Leatherman itself. However, with ~4 sharp edges to work with (main blade, serrated blade, scissors), you’ll be fine with sharpening your blades at home.

The file does, however, have it’s uses. I use mine to sharpen broad heads, my fixed blade knife, my spearfishing spear point, and more. If we’re talking outdoor uses, this is the Leatherman for survival.

Alternative All-Around Leatherman: Surge

leatherman surge


  • Similar to the Wave, but with a leather awl
  • Bigger Scissors


  • You lose the saw
  • Still big in the pocket

The Leatherman Surge is the dizygotic twin of the Wave. The size is the same, many of the tools are the same, but there are differences. With the surge, you get a nice pair of scissors and a leather awl with threading hole. However, you lose the saw and the micro flat head for repairing things like glasses. In some ways, both of these multi tools are the subjective Leatherman for survival. I’m a saw guy, so my nod goes to the Wave.

Best Leatherman for EDC: Skeletool CX

skeletool cx


  • Thinner in the pocket
  • Pliers, knife, and screwdriver
  • The CX model comes with a higher-end 154cm premium steel


  • Limited tools
  • Not as thin as a pocket knife

If this was simply for everyday carry, it would be a fine tool. It’s thinner in the pocket than the other Leathermans, but if we’re talking a Leatherman for survival – this isn’t it. I owned and did a review on the Leatherman CX, which is a higher-end steel bladed variant of the regular Skeletool. The CX gives you a 154cm steel blade which is well worth the extra dollars. The standard variant is significantly cheaper but still a good multi-tool. The tools here are useful, but I’d keep one of the others in the pack.

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