Like most large competing brands there are supports on each side of the aisle. Why one person favors one brand over another is not always so black and white. Not only is there functionality of a product but there is also a good deal of emotional points that support a person’s preference and opinion on a brand. With that said I would like to explore the similarities and differences of the top 2 multi-tool companies. As you now likely have guessed I am talking about Gerber and Leatherman. Both companies make a large array of different products but I am going to focus on the brands basic and flagship models. The one-handed open Gerber and the butterfly scissor open Leatherman. Now before I get to far into this I think in all fairness I should state that I am bias to one of the multi-tools for 2 reasons which I will cover later. So in an attempt to balance out any bias I have headed out to social media to gather some intel. I asked 4 very basic questions.
- 1st- Have you heard of Gerber?
- 2nd-Have you heard of Leatherman?
- 3rd-Do you own or have owned one/none/both?
- 4th-Which is your favorite?
I think the line of questions details both experience and preferences of more than just myself. I thought of asking why but to be honest why doesn’t really matter. I know in my own experience that my top 2 reason I prefer the brand I do is based both on logical functionality that I find important in a multi-tool and an emotional attachment because of experience I had while carrying the tool.
So let’s get started with the basic components of each multi-tool:
Gerber Multi-Plier 600 is a one-handed (patented) open, stainless steel, 14 tool multi-tool. The tools are set inside the handle and hidden away from the inside of the hand grip. Once a tool is retracted the Saf.T.Plus is a slide mechanism that must be engaged to put the tool back into its resting position. The Gerber 600 tools include a fine edge knife, serrated knife, 3 flathead screw drivers (small, medium, and large), cross tip screwdriver, can opener, bottle opener, file, ruler, lanyard ring, and of course the needle nose pliers with wire crimper. The Gerber 600 is best carried in a sheath on a belt and weighs in at 9 oz with an open and closed dimensions of just around 6 1/2 inches and 5 inches respectfully.
Leatherman Kick is an unfolding butterfly scissor like open, stainless steel, 9 tool multi-tool. The handle has a Zytel contoured grip with the tools accessible from the outside edges of the handle. The Leatherman Kick includes a fine edge knife, 2 flat screw drivers(small and large), cross tip screwdriver, can opener, bottle opener, ruler, lanyard ring, and also of course the needle nose pliers with wire crimper. The Kick also has a clip making it very easy to carry either on your belt or in your pocket without the need of a sheath and weighs in at 8 oz with a closed length of 4”. The open length for use of the ruler is 8” and an open length for use of pliers is at 6 1/8”.
As you can see there is a lot at first glance that makes these two tools very similar but at a closer look you can also see what makes each tool unique and very open to personal preference and opinion. So what I did to test each one myself is I replaced both pocket knives I carry and wore both tools instead for 2 weeks to see which one I would favor while trying to keep a mental note of why I would favor one over another. The Gerber 600 I wore on my belt in its sheath and the Leatherman Kick I kept clipped inside my left pocket. I think its important to mention I am a disabled Veteran and stay at home Dad that spends a lot of time either working around in my garage or out with my kids on some kind of outdoor adventure. The reason I feel its important to mention is because based on my activity level I pull one or both of my pocket knives multiple times a day. My first thoughts over the past 2 weeks I will have to say that at least for me a multi-tool is a total overkill and way more than is needed on any type of regular basis. In fact both multi-tools were in the way many more times than used. The Gerber on my hip seemed to always catch on whatever I was sitting down on and the Leatherman would partially open in my pocket which drove me crazy. I am not saying I will never have a need for a screw driver or pliers but I can’t warrant wearing a piece of gear everyday just because I may eventually need it. That’s just like saying that I will eventually need a 1/8” socket so I might as well stick one in my pocket so I have it ready for when I do need it. But on the other hand I think having a multi-tool close by is a very good idea. I always have my day-pack with me so that is where I throw mine and it seems to be the perfect place. I don’t have to carry it on my person but in most instances it is only a few steps away when I need it. So now that I got that out there lets dive in and see what we can find out.
Both tools weight close to the same with the Gerber at 9oz and the Leatherman at 8oz, but I think its worthwhile to mention that for only 1oz more you pick up a few more tools with the Gerber. With those extra tools there is a little more to its dimensions with the Gerber being about 1/4 inch longer when both are fully opened and a +1 inch when both are closed. The Gerber 600 is bigger and rattley while the Leatherman Kick is more compact with everything fitting tightly together. With the tight compact fit of the Leatherman Kick is its Zytel contoured grip that really gives it a very comfortable fit in your hand especially while actively using the pliers. The Gerber 600 on the other hand is little more uncomfortable especially where the back of the knuckles rest up against the tools tucked inside the handlles. So while these tools are in your hands there really isn’t much that feels the same other than the simple fact that they are both multi-tool pliers. Both tools are stored differently, deployed differently and holds and deploys their accessories differently. The Gerber is bigger and clunkier while the Leatherman is more compact and designed for better fit and comfort.
I just mentioned how each tool deploys differently which seems to be what largely separates the Gerber from the Leatherman. The Gerber has a one-handed slide open function while the Leatherman has a butterfly scissor folding open function. As you could imagine deploying a Gerber from a sheath is very easy. You simply reach,grab, and with a flick of the wrist you have pliers ready which is nice when you have your hands full. The Leatherman needs a more deliberate approach. It requires you to use both hands to unfold the handles into position. Is either of these methods better than the other? I think its more a case of personal preference than functionality. While you are able to deploy the Gerber from its sheath with one hand you are not able to deploy any of the multi-tools with as much seamless efficiency. On the other hand while it takes two hands to deploy the Leatherman i think its worth mentioning that the multi-tools are a bit more easily accessible because of their placement on the outside edge of the handle plus having the Zytel contour handle really is light years more comfortable than the Gerbers beefy and clunky design. Once you are using the multi-tools there is another big difference in regards to its functionality and thats is safety function. The Gerber is equipped with the Saf.T.Plus locking mechanism that ensures that while twisting, grabbing, cranking or cutting your will not have to worry about any blades or tools closing on your fingers. The Leatherman Kick does not have any kind of locking function and because of the way the tools fold back into place there is nothing else that could be in the way to ensure you don’t accidentally flip a blade right on the back of your knuckles unless you unfold the pliers back into its closed position. Additionally the Gerber can have its pliers both deployed or retracted without it affecting the functionality of the other tools.
As you can see that the differences that make each tool unique is very plentiful. So how do we quantify so many variables that are based on just as much personal preferences as is functionality. The way we do so many other things here and now in the 21st Century and as already mentioned, I turned to social media. I was able to get 35 people to answer my 4 basic questions.
- Question 1 and 2 were if the survey taker had heard of each brand and since only 1 surveyor had not heard of the Gerber brand I am going to just let those fall away.
- Question 3 was which multi-tool do or have they owned. Most of those surveyed had owned both tools with a total of 30 while only 3 have only owned a Gerber and 2 only owning a Leatherman.
- Therefore I believe it is safe to say that there was enough experience with each brand for question 4 to be able to hold water, which was what brand of multi-tool is the favorite.
Out of 35 surveyed 23 prefer the Gerber leaving 12 that preferred the Leatherman. A side note that I don’t have the exact numbers on but 100% of the few woman surveyed preferred the Leatherman over the Gerber. I speculate the more compact and contoured fit and design has something to do with that.
As I said at the beginning, I am partial to one design over the other. This is why I didn’t want to ask why someone would like one over the other because there sometimes is no rhyme or reason on why something is favored over another.
Why I prefer the Gerber
For me I prefer the Gerber over all. Why, well to start I like the one-handed slide open. While working as a Combat Engineer and working on demolition it was nice to have my hands free to do what I needed and then when I needed my tool all I had to do is simply grab from its sheath and with a flick of the wrist it was deployed and ready. The big and clunky always felt like it had a bit more backbone in the heavy lifting moments. While the logical functionality of the Gerber is very important I honestly think it is only 50% of why I prefer it. I was given my Gerber 600 from 588th Engineer Battalion Supply in 2003 just before we deployed to Iraq for the first time with the 4th Infantry Division. With that said, I had also purchased a knife sheath that I kept my K-Bar in around my right leg. The sheath had a perfect place for my Gerber and so for my entire first deployment that is where my Gerber was. To drive my emotional attachment to my Gerber even deeper in 2005 while serving with the 10th Mountain Division in Baghdad I had the same K-Bar, knife sheath and Gerber but this time it was tied down to my kit on my chest. While on an EOD escort mission I was hit by a suicide car bomb that blasted me from my Humvee. I found myself weaponless on the ground very far away from everyone with my leg gone and only a knife on my kit and right there in its little pocket in the sheath was my Gerber 600. Still to this day I have that K-Bar, that sheath and that Gerber. That was and has always been my constant.
In my opinion there is no design or brand totally better than another. Each tool will have its own pros and cons and each person will have their own needs, likes and dislikes. Hopefully, at the end of the day this will help you make a better informed decision. I think the more important thing is that you have a multi-tool in the first place. They are so incredibly versatile and are perfect tools to be worn, thrown in a glove box, a day-pack or your bug out bag. For the most minimal amount of space and weight you are caring a lot of bang for your buck in regards to basic tools.
Author – Joe Gross is a US Army Veteran with 2 Iraq deployments. First deployment was with the 4th Infantry Division in 2003 and the 2nd with 10th Mountain Division in 2005. Joe is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was medically discharged as a SSG (E6) in 2006 due to combat injuries.