US company Leatherman was founded in July 1983 and released their first multi-tool the same year. Numerous and varied multi-tools, most based around a set of pliers, have joined their line-up in the years since. They introduced folding knives into their range in 2005 but following a complete redesign, a new range of multi-tools was introduced in 2019. These are the Leatherman FREE range.
Beside any central pliers, all the opening tools were placed on the outside of the tools and, radically, magnets incorporated that are intended to reduce wear and supposedly improve reliability and longevity of the tools. No nail nicks are provided on the tools which are mostly flicked out by a thumb. Tools boast ‘haptic locking’, though what that is supposed to mean, who knows. Haptics is ‘the science and technology of transmitting and understanding information through touch‘. From the hefty FREE range of tools, there are few that could be seriously be considered as being suitable for backpacking purposes. At a stretch, the Leatherman FREE T4 may meet the needs of a true Leatherman aficionado who wants a particular set of tools and to stay with a favourite brand.
The Leatherman FREE T4 is a pocket tool with 12 functions/tools. It is beautiful to look at and is very modern in design. Some might think the squared off profile a little ‘blocky’. Certainly it is quite chunky and not great to hold in the hand, being a little uncomfortable in prolonged usage. However that is not something that most lightweight campers or backpackers are likely to be demanding of their knife or multi-tool. All the tools can, with practice, be opened and closed one-handed and lock into place but are easier to use with two hands until things free off with use. However I do not find the release clips particularly ergonomic and they are not that easy to use.
“Designed & manufactured in Portland, Oregon”
The clip point blade is hollow ground and the slightly unusual, blade shape is supposed to improve the tools cutting capability but I find the extended point on such a short blade just means that it is more difficult to use simply for cutting thicker blocks of sausage or cheese, and has to be hacked through bread rather than carving. Typically for Leatherman, the blade is made of their standard 420HC (High Carbon) steel, 54-56 HRC hardness, so should retain an edge for a while before requiring sharpening. The blade comes reasonably sharp out of the box. It is a shame that this supposedly new flagship model, that is supposed to point the way for Leatherman, hasn’t benefited from a better quality steel, especially considering its high cost and direct competition. At 2.60mm across the back of the spine, this is an especially thick blade for its modest size. While this prevents it flexing, it does make it a little more difficult to carve through more resistant foodstuffs etc. However the hollow grind does help in getting cutting off to a good start. Unfortunately this blade also includes one of my pet peeves, a hole in its back for opening the blade one-handed. Great, but this also means, especially on such a short blade, that food gets caught up in this hole and is crying out to fester while harbouring bacteria. The blade is 65mm long with a curved cutting edge of 53mm. Both lengths being short enough that the blade falls within UK permissable carry laws, however the locking function excludes it ‘without provable good cause‘.
Situated on the same side as the blade are two further tools. A double sided file and a pry tool. These are opened together with a flick of the thumb, select which is wanted then close the other. In common with the blade, these and all the other tools lock fully open. The pry tool is just that. It’ll open a paint tin with ease, lots of them on trail aren’t there… However this tool also incorporates a good and useful package opener. Not spectacularly sharp, this will open boxes easily. I find it practical in use and there is little danger of damaging contents inside a box while opening, which is often the case when using the tip of a blade to do this.
The file only provides 40mm or less of file surface on each side. You will never be able to tackle a large job with this, not even a moderate task to be honest. They really are quite short files. But if all you want to do is take off a bit of swarf from a freshly cut pipe, be it copper or plastic, this will smooth or round an edge sufficently well. File finishes are not fantastic but adequate. Both single-cut wood and cross-cut metal files will also file finger nails but are pretty rough for that job and you won’t get a smooth finish. There is a good 3mm flathead screwdriver at the end of this file. I would like to have seen a diamond file incorporated, an opportunity lost. However, and this a major critique. The new FREE series is loudly proclaimed to centre around their ‘magnetic architecture‘, I cannot see the sense of having a metal file on a tool containing magnets, This tool is going to attract more than its fair share of metal swarf, filings and anything else magnetic. Metal debris will build up in the inner frame and pivots of the tool. And don’t store it anywhere near your compass…
The other side of the FREE T4 also has three fold out tools. The scissors are pretty chunky on this tool despite still only having blade lengths of 21mm. By comparison, the scissor blades on the far smaller 58mm long Victorinox are 16mm long. They are comfortable to use for light work however and there is a slightly widened lever where the thumb rests. The scissors lock open once the handles are opened. The jaws have a thin metal tension spring extending into the tools body.
Situated alongside the scissors is an awl. This combines an awl with a 2mm fine flat head screwdriver to the detriment of actually being an effective awl. It will drill a hole in wood or a leather belt but rips through thick cordura rather than cutting. Handily, there is a large sewing eye in the awl. The screwdriver itself, despite being advertised as an ‘extra-fine’ tip by Leatherman will still only just about fit the small screws on my glasses. It has to be forced against the head, difficult with glasses, and risks tearing the head out. It would have benefitted from being even finer. I fear Leatherman were worried about owners using this for incorrect tasks and damaging the screwdriver as a result, thereafter putting Leatherman’s 25 year warranty to the test. The remaining tool in the frame is another screwdriver, this time a flattened profile No. 1 and 2 Phillips that works well with a wide range of common heads and is combined with a bottle/cap lifter. Both of the larger screwdrivers on the T4 are really well made. They lock in place, will withstand a fair amount of torque and tips are of high enough quality steel that they won’t round or tear out easily.
A deep carry pocket or belt clip is fitted to the side of the T4. This clip can be removed by unscrewing two torx screws, but not repositioned. Much of the frame is stainless steel however Leatherman have departed from their norm and incorporated glass-filled polymer inside the attractive metal scales. The entire tool is 93mm long. At its widest across both width and depth, it is 24mm (across lock button and pocket clip for the latter). If the pocket clip is removed this is reduced to 19mm. Slipped into the blade side of the T4 is a small pair of stainless steel tweezers, not often found on larger Leatherman tools. The 41mm long tweezers with 3mm chamfered angled tips are nothing special as they are very thin and flex with ease. But still, it is good to have these rather than not.
The square profile of the Leatherman FREE T4 is certainly attractive but doesn’t make it comfortable to use unless the size of your hand and fingers enables you to fold fingers comfortably around the ninety degree angles. I don’t find it comfortable at all. But, it is perfectly fine for brief and light tasks.
Now comes the crunch for backpackers looking for lightweight options- this tool is no lightweight at 122.8g. As an everyday carry, or slung into a car glove box, that weight is acceptable but for what tools the Leatherman FREE T4 comes with, there are lighter and probably better alternatives for taking on trail. Leatherman also make larger FREE multi-tools and a similar sized FREE T2. The lighter 94g T2 comes with only blade, combined pry tool/package opener with flat screwdriver tip, Phillips screwdriver and the awl combined with fine tip flat screwdriver and bottle opener. The loss of scissors on the T2 significantly reduces that tool’s usefulness on trail.
This is a good multi-tool. It will be interesting to see how the magnetic architecture holds up over the years. Three Points of the Compass feels that many of the tools are not of much use on trail and there are alternatives that combine those tools which are useful in a smaller and lighter package. However this is a good ‘around the house’ multi-tool and deserves consideration.
Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.