Leatherman's new Signal multitool is the first to incorporate essential survival items like a fire starter and a whistle alongside traditional tools like a quality knife blade and pliers. Is it a one-tool solution for the wilderness?
AU Editor's Note: The Leatherman Signal costs approximately $289 in Australia, although it's not yet available across any of the stockists we checked.
What Is It?
A full-size multitool complete with a large pair of needle nose pliers, wire cutters, a decent knife blade, a saw, a screwdriver, a can opener and an awl.
That toolset is similar to what you'll find in a traditional Swiss Army knife, just here augmented by the pliers and with the addition of a ferro rod/whistle and a little diamond-coated knife sharpener that detach from the chassis.
Leatherman calls these "preparedness features" and is targeting the tool at the survival gadget market, putting it up against stuff like Gerber's prodigious range of Bear Grylls-branded stuff. Just here, it's a Leatherman, so unlike Gerber this is actually a quality, made in America tool that will last a long, long time. Leatherman guarantees its tools for 25 years, repairing or replacing them during that period.
Who's It For?
I'm strongly resisting the temptation to make snarky comments about people who think they're going to need the ability to "survive" on their next camping trip or think adding some yellow plastic widgets to their multitool will help them do that.
Leatherman makes some good points about the benefits of packing all those capabilities into a single, lightweight tool that can easily be carried with you. Grab it, and you should have everything you need to go camping.
But, while the knife, saw, pliers and native toolset are all as high quality and as useful as they are in any other full-size Leatherman, the chintzy nature of the "survival" add ons would seem to indicate that this tool is targeted more at the casual camping crowd than it is the hardcore outdoorsmen.
A lightweight, but strong aluminium chassis holds strong, forged steel tools with the knife and saw mounted on the outside, so you can access them quickly without opening the multitool body.
Both the saw and blade are backed up by strong frame locks and designed to be accessed single-handed. The Signal isn't the first Leatherman to do this, but man, it really does make using those components much easier.
Inside the handle, opposite the hammer/clip are the driver, can opener and awl. These lock open for safe use also and their lock doubles as retention for the knife sharpener located in the handle behind them.
This is a fairly limited tool set for a full-size multitool, but is really all you'll ever need outdoors.
The DLC sharpener mounts securely to the outside of the chassis and is easy to remove and refit and can help you maintain your blade's edge between uses. However, it's tiny dimensions and lilliputian handle rule out major sharpening jobs.
Similarly, the whistle/ferro rod mounts into the other side of the handle unobtrusively and securely and will spark a fire or make some noise. But, it's so small that it's easily dropped (good thing they made these parts yellow!) and again you'd be better served by more substantial, dedicated versions of these items.
The saw is the same one you'll find in other full-size Leathermans and is excellent. It's really nice that you can lock it open, that makes putting pressure on it so much easier.
The blade is made from decent-is 154CM steel and I really like its wharncliffe shape. Great for whittling and other utilitarian tasks. However, with serrations over half its 2.7-inch length, it majorly fails at big knife jobs that are common outdoors. Stuff like splitting small branches in half, or making a feather stick is just impossible. The serrations are right where you want to bear down with the blade when you're working with wood; they get in the way.
The pliers are, of course, excellent, and the presence of replaceable wire cutters is very welcome. Those mean you can really use the tool hard, cutting even barbed wire or other tough, large materials and not worry that the subsequent damage will kill your tool.
I also find the striking surface on the bottom of the tool incredibly useful. It's ideal for pounding in tent stakes.
The pocket clip and biner-style clip give you two very good carry options.
At just 7.5oz, the Signal is respectably light for a full-size tool.
Strong frame locks for both the saw and knife make using both secure and safe.
Replacebale wire cutters mean you can really take full advantage of the strong, precise pliers to cut stuff that would otherwise damage your tool. A great does of extra capability when this is all you're carrying.
Quality construction and clever problem solving throughout. This is a real tool for real use, not a toy.
The tool locks closed for 'biner carry.
When pressing the knife open with its thumb groove, you can easily cut the meat of your thumb with the edge. Be careful!
The little "survival" widgets will get the job done in a pinch, but if this is stuff you use regularly, you'll want larger, more substantial alternatives.
Should You Buy It?
As with all multitools, you need to consider how it fits into your overall system.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you'll want a strong fixed-blade knife, a real ferro rod and an actual knife sharpener. And with those items, a smaller, lighter tool makes more sense for little gear repairs or the occasional need to turn a screw. In that role, the Leatherman PS4 excels, actually giving you a wider toolset (scissors!) in a much smaller package. If you need a tool that can come along on a plane ride, the Style PS is nearly as capable.
If you want to carry a full-size multitool outdoors, around the ranch or on the job site, the cheaper Leatherman Rebar would be a better option and still gives you those replaceable cutter blades.
But, if you're looking for a gift to give a Boy Scout or someone who geeks out on survival television, then the Signal should sate their multi-purpose fantasies. But I bet they're secretly wishing for a Tread.