The Leatherman and REI-exclusive ‘Topo’ multi-tool series amps up Leatherman designs with laser-etched topographical map lines. The result is simple but it manages to evoke a sense of the outdoors.
Of course, if you’re cynical, the laser etchings are just a cool new decoration.
Either way, the exclusive new REI ‘Topo’ Leatherman variants are aimed at REI’s outdoor-loving audience. To get us a closer look, REI sent Man Makes Fire three review units: The Leatherman Signal, Skeletool and Freestyle.
At the core, these three Leatherman variants are essentially the same as their standard counterparts — the primary difference is the topographical line laser-etched blades, along with an added black or green finish.
The Skeletool and Freestyle share the same blade with the same laser etching while the survival-oriented Signal uses a different blade with a different set of topo lines.
They both look fantastic in person. Of course, the laser etchings really are just some fancy styling that will get nicked up with use, but if the photos of this review caught your attention, well, you’re the kind of person Leatherman and REI designed these variants for. Count us in.
Before we take a closer look at each multi-tool, you should know that Leatherman pricing overall is pretty stable across most retail outlets — not a lot of variation. The REI ‘Topo’ versions cost about $10 more than the non-topo versions, which REI also sells. Is it worth it? Up to you. If you’re looking for a special gift for a backpacker, hiker, camper, climber, hunter or fisher . . . odds are, those kinds of people will appreciate the laser etching.
Leatherman Signal Topo Review
The Leatherman Signal ‘Topo’ Multi-Tool is one of our favorite Leatherman multi-tools. On one hand it’s beefy and strong and on the other hand, it’s a bit heavier for backpacking than we’d like (7.5 ounces). And yet, it has a saw, knife sharpener, emergency whistle and a built-in fire-starting ferro rod.
If I were lost in the woods, I would want the Leatherman Signal with me. Being able to start a fire is a lifesaver, no doubt about it. In fact, I just gave a Signal as a gift for this very reason — if the new owner ever does get lost, at least he’ll have a chance at starting a fire. As for the signal whistle, it’s small but surprisingly loud and shrill.
The Leatherman Signal is well-balanced in your hand, giving you a decent grip when it’s closed. You can open and close the blade one-handed. You can open the saw blade one-handed, too (but it wasn’t designed for one-handed opening).
The needle-nose pliers are well-machined with zero side-to-side play in the joint. The blade is quite solid. The saw blade is a bit more flexible — but still plenty suitable for sawing branches to make a shelter or spear or whatever.
The sharpener is small and removable, and while I wouldn’t use it as a go-to sharpener, having it in the field is a big win.
The fire-starter ferro rod is also small, but again, the key is always having it ready. If you’ve never forgotten matches on any trip, bravo to you, but it has happened to me on those impromptu sorts of trips where hey, a fire on the beach is still legal or the portable barbecue igniter failed.
The bottom line is, get the Leatherman Signal if you want a survival-oriented multi-tool that can do most everything well.
Leatherman Skeletool Topo Review
The Leatherman Skeletool Multi-Tool is one of Leatherman’s more popular models, and for good reason: It’s lightweight, has a handy carabiner clip, and it has the core tools that you need most: A blade, screwdriver, needle-nose pliers and bottle opener.
I like the Skeletool Topo for its better pocketability over the Signal when wearing lightweight shorts because the Skeletool weighs in at a reasonable 5 ounces. I can clip the Leatherman Skeletool to a backpack or a fly fishing sling pack or use the pocket clip to pocket it and keep it handy.
It’s really a great design and a decent compromise multi-tool. One of my all-time favorites.
Leatherman Freestyle Topo Review
The Leatherman Freestyle Topo is one of the more curious Leatherman multi-tools. Frankly, I’m not sure if I like it or not. It only has a blade and the needle-nose pliers (with the standard wirecutters built in). It doesn’t have a screwdriver at all. For a single blade, it’s overweight (4.5 ounces) for no good reason — except it does have decent pliers. Except if you’re going to go this light and small and simple, I’d rather pack a Leatherman Squirt PS4.
When it comes to the Leatherman Freestyle, it’s much harder to recommend it as a gift — let a buyer pick it on purpose for their own specific needs. That way you’ll avoid the confused look they’ll get as they search for a screwdriver or bottle opener.
But still, the Freestyle must be appealing to someone — it’s hard to imagine that Leatherman would keep producing it without some sort of fan base. Either way, we still like the laser-etched topo lines. Leatherman and REI nailed the laser-etching design in all of these multitools.