This article first appeared on TheTrek.Leatherman multi-tools are widely regarded as some of the highest-quality and best-value appliances on the market. Since 1983, Leatherman has been manufacturing and honing its products in Portland, Oregon, where the company continues to innovate and introduce evermore useful offerings, all of which are backed by their 25-year warranty.
Although many of their tools are geared toward DIYers with multifaceted needs, Leatherman recently introduced two new devices that appeal to the outdoor enthusiast: the Signal and the Free T4. I recently got my hands on these models and took them for a test drive to see how they measure up.
- Weight: 7.2 ounces
- Length: 4.5 inches
- MSRP: $119.95
- Number of tools: 19
The Signal is an adaptation of Leatherman’s famed multi-tool for outdoor use. Instead of multiple screwdrivers and carpentry tools often included, it has the outdoorsman in mind by featuring the following tools:
- Needlenose pliers
- Regular pliers
- Wire stripper
- Combo knife blade
- Firestarter (Ferrocerium rod)
- Safety whistle
- Can opener
- Bottle opener
- Bit driver (both Phillips and flat head bits included)
- 1/4″ box wrench
- 3/16″ box wrench
- 1/4″ hex bit drive
- Diamond-coated sharpener
During my testing, I was impressed with the Signal’s robustness; I was able to easily saw through downed branches up to three inches thick, whittle and carve sticks, hammer nails, cut wire, and spark a flame with tinder. Having an emergency whistle included is a noteworthy and impressive feature I’ve not seen on any other similar device and that could be a real lifesaver during an emergency.
The Signal is also versatile in its storage, offering a nylon belt holster, pocket clip, and carabiner-type fastener to allow affixing in any number of ways for easy access. To boot, it features a locking mechanism to ensure the tool doesn’t open inadvertently while in transit.
The tool’s heft, an advantage in many ways, is also the major drawback of its applicability to long-distance hiking. At 7.2 ounces, it’s heavier and more full-bodied than what is typically necessary for most solo trips. While it might not be something I would take on a thru-hike, I would absolutely recommend having it close by on car camping or group trips and weekend climbing adventures when activities may involve building fires, making minor gear repairs, hammering multiple tent states, or tying fishing flies.
- Buy here
Leatherman Free T4
- Weight: 4.1 ounces
- Length: 3.6 inches
- MSRP: $59.95
- Number of tools: 12
The Free T4 is a more compact yet still powerful multi-tool aimed at everyday problem solving. With a significantly smaller profile than the Signal, it’s not in the same category of functionality. Instead, it features the following 12 tools:
- Spring-action scissors
- Pry tool
- Package opener
- Bottle opener
- Wood/metal file
- Philips-head screwdriver
- Medium flat-head screwdriver
- Small flat-head screwdriver
- Extra small flat-head screwdriver
Reminiscent of a classic Swiss Army knife, the Free T4 allows for one-handed opening of all tools and locks them in place once extended. The craftsmanship is top-notch, with the tools sliding out easily and snapping into place. When cutting, poking, or snipping, I never felt as if the tool would collapse under pressure or fail in any way. The outer grips are somewhat tacky and provide a nice impression in the hand without feeling soft, and the blade is razor sharp.
You won’t find many bells and whistles on the Free T4 despite it having multiple features—just the basic necessities and a single pocket clip to secure it in place. Because of the extra tools, the Free T4 is a bit wider than regular compact knives, which can take up a bit of extra real estate in your pocket and requires a little getting used to.
Although I can’t say I’ve ever used a file so frequently that I required it on a pocket knife, I can absolutely see the utility in the other tools for hiking—especially the tweezers and scissors for opening food packages, clipping fingernails, and removing ticks.
The Free T4 is one of the best everyday-use knives on the market and I would happily carry it for most outings. For the ultralight thru-hiker this might be a tad overkill when the Swiss Army Classic SD is available for less than 1 ounce, however it’s hard to match the caliber of this piece.
- Buy here
The utility and quality craftsmanship of Leatherman tools is no surprise, as the company has been committed to excellence for almost four decades, and I have happily owned several of their products over the years. In addition to Leatherman’s perseverance, all their tools are backed by a 25-year warranty—meaning that if you break a bit (as I have done) or the device malfunctions in any way, you can have it repaired or replaced free of charge. That being the case, there is effectively no downside to owning a Leatherman of any kind—and you can’t go wrong with either the Signal or Free T4 for outdoor use.
These products were donated for purpose of review.
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Brandon Chase is a writer, endurance athlete, and guide based in Maine. He is a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State and spent nearly a decade overseas serving at embassies in Egypt, Cyprus, and Pakistan.
Along with a 98-day thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, he has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the West Highland Way, fastpacked in the Himalayas, and trekked around New Zealand and South Africa. He also regularly competes in ultramarathons at the 50k, 50-mile, and 100-mile distances. He is a Lead Guide for Andrew Skurka Adventures and the New England Outdoor Center.