Leatherman Wave size comparison against a bic lighter

Leatherman Wave size comparison against a bic lighter

Best Leatherman for Survival – The Mid-Sized Shootout

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.

Leatherman Signal –  the Leatherman for Survival?


Pros: Outdoor-specific tool set, replaceable wire cutters, even a ferro rod and detachable sharpener
Cons: 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.

Leatherman Wave + – UPGRADED

Our Pick

Pros: Tons of usable tools; outboard knife, saw, file, and serrated blade; replaceable wire cutters
Cons: Big in pocket, fixed wire cutters

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.

Leatherman Surge

Pros: Similar to the Wave, but with a leather awl and big scissors
Cons: You lose the saw

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.

Leatherman Skeletool – Everyday Carry


Pros: Thinner in the pocket
Cons: Limited tools

The “avoid” rating here isn’t very strong. 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. The tools here are useful, but I’d keep one of the others in the pack.

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