If you’ve ever thought about buying a folding knife, you’ve almost inevitably encountered the might of the Leatherman and Victorinox Swiss Army Knife brands. Both are iconic in their own way, so it’s a tough job to point to one or the other and easily say which is better – but we’ll sum up the strong points and weak points of each to give you the best shot when making your choice. We have a separate Victorinox Swiss Army Pioneer X review, but this article is dedicated to comparing Swiss Army Knife to Leatherman multitools in general.
We’ll focus on the full-size part of the range, ignoring Victorinox Swiss Army’s mini-knifes and Card tools, as well as Leatherman’s ingenious but left-field mole grips and shear tools. And if you want to keep your options open, check out our guide to the best camping knife right now.
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Leatherman vs Victorinox Swiss Army Knife: material quality
The good news here is that both brands offer excellent overall build quality, very importantly for the more detailed tools in either range, and absolutely vitally for small items such as screwdriver bits. The traditional Swiss Army penknife build of handle scales wrapped around a central sprung core has been imitated endlessly, but rarely as well as the original - invented in 1897. The company’s own Inox stainless steel construction of the springs and each individual tool keeps things easy to clean, free of rust if treated slightly carelessly and generally shiny and new.
Across the pond, the Leatherman build quality is also impressive. Leatherman multi-tools (named after founder Tim Leatherman, who invented the original Pocket Survival Tool) are made from 100% high-grade stainless steel (apart from the screw bits for the tool adapter which are tool steel), designed to be corrosion-resistant and quite hard. Tolerances are impressive, and years of causal use and abuse won’t phase a Leatherman - they’re tough as old boots.
Winner: Victorinox Swiss Army, but only by a thin margin.
Leatherman vs Victorinox Swiss Army Knife: tool types
This is the real battleground between the blade-forging titans, because there are plenty of points of difference here. The biggest is the distinction between the two brands - Leatherman starting out as a multi-tool, Swiss Army a pocket-knife. As a result, Leathermans are mainly based around a folding set of pliers, with tools folding from each handle, while Swiss Army knives tend to stick to a single block of blades, tools and springs. There are exceptions of course, but those themes run throughout the vast number of models in both brand’s armouries.
Swiss Army takes the prize for outright tool numbers with relative ease - the Victorinox Work Champ XL has an impressive 31 functions, and the Victorinox Swiss Champ XXL a somewhat-impractical 73. Meanwhile, the Leatherman FREE P4’s mere 21 looks positively minimalist. That said, the Leatherman pliers are genuinely proper tools, machined to extremely tight tolerances, with wire cutters that actually work ‘in the field’, making the Leatherman a redoubtable tool in such a compact size.
Winner: Victorinox Swiss Army for sheer numbers.
Leatherman vs Victorinox Swiss Army: practicality
On the counter-point, the improved leverage of the Leatherman’s pliers make the platform as a whole more practical for more serious tasks, especially in the cold or exposed situations where gloves are required. The Leatherman platform is more a mini toolbox, handy on the belt for field repairs and on-the-hoof bodging, the Victorinox more a desk drawer or home tool for those myriad of small tasks that don’t really warrant hunting out the full toolkit.
Overall, if you actually need a solid pair of pliers, and maybe some other bits and bobs, then the Leatherman is your winner. However, if compactness and wider utility are your watchwords, then a Victorinox will absolutely do the job, many times over.
Winner: A tie
Leatherman vs Victorinox Swiss Army: brand reputation
Both brands are well thought of and established firmly in the outdoor community. Leatherman was set up in Oregon, US, in 1983, while Victorinox Swiss Army knives hail from Switzerland, invented in 1897. While that’s an obvious win for Victorinox Swiss Army in terms of duration alone, warranties offer an interesting insight too.
Victorinox AG guarantees all knives and tools to be of first class stainless steel and also guarantees a lifetime against any defects in material and workmanship, according to their website. Meanwhile, Leatherman's 25 year warranty covers tools that have failed as a result of a material defect and / or workmanship, and will replace them with current models if the old model is no longer available.
Winner: Victorinox for its lifetime warranty, although Leatherman’s 25 year pledge is no lightweight boast.
Leatherman vs Victorinox Swiss Army: price
There is a bewildering range here in both camps, but while the Swiss Champ XXL and it’s 71 functions are priced energetically at £329, some of the more portable options are more wallet-friendly, coming in around the £20 mark. Indeed, the £23 Spartan is without doubt a classic camping knife and handy pocket tool that’ll handle everything from opening wine bottles and canned goods to stripping wire, and plenty in between.
In the Leatherman camp, it’s a different story, with the entry level full-size Leatherman Bond clocking in at £59.95, running up to the heights of £229.95 for the Leatherman Charge. The latter might only have 19 tools to choose from, but in addition to the needle nose pliers there are hard wire cutters with replaceable jaws – a premium, professional grade tool by anyone’s standards.
Winner: Victorinox AG
Leatherman vs Victorinox Swiss Army: verdict
So, which should you buy? Well, as our rundown demonstrates, the Victorinox Swiss Army platform has the widest range of knives at all price points, offers a lifetime guarantee and is without doubt a quality product. The Leatherman range might be smaller and more spendy to access, but there’s no lack of quality there either. Indeed, if it’s pliers or wire cutters you need, then the Leatherman is in a class of one.
Also to be fair, when fixing anything from a vintage car to a small plane, a damaged tent or a broken camping stove, a pair of pliers is absolutely top of the need list. Our personal advice? Pack both.