The Freestyle has been one of the most anxiously awaited models from Leatherman for some time, but has gone through a number of changes since it's inception. Originally it was expected to look like the Skeletool series, and in fact, we had heard about the Freestyle long before the Skeletool emerged. Still, at the 2008 SHOT Show I had seen three very similar variations of what was expected to be the Skeletool, Skeletool CX and the Freestyle. At the time, the Freestyle was expected to have the same basic layout of the Skeletool, only with a fixed “multipurpose” driver expected to fit both slotted and phillips screws, rather than the interchangeable bit drivers found on the Skeletool series.
2009 brought on some serious changes to the design as we found out when meeting with Leatherman's personnel at this year's SHOT Show- the Freestyle was re-introduced, and while still similar, it was very different from what we were expecting. This new version is significantly smaller than the Skeletool as the carabiner and bit driver have been removed, leaving the Freestyle with only a plier head and one handed opening, liner locking knife blade, which are identical to the Skeletool's. The pocket clip is also retained on the Freestyle.
The Original Three- Skeletool, Skeletool CX and the original Freestyle Prototype with carabiner
This may sound kind of useless- after all, the Skeletool was a minimalist tool, and the Freestyle is little more than half the size, and less than half the function (the Freestyle gives up 4 screwdrivers, carabiner and integrated bottle opener), but the Freestyle is not without it's charm.
The original Freestyle Prototype included a fixed "multidriver" instead of the bit driver found on the Skeletool Series
In fact, the very theory of any minimalist type tool is that while it may not have the “everything but the kitchen sink” type mentality, it is more likely to be carried, simply because of the convenience factor. As a result, minimalist tools with less features become infinitely more useful because they are less likely to be sitting at home in a drawer or tucked away on a glove compartment. Since the Freestyle clips beautifully, and unnoticeably into a watch pocket of a pair of jeans, there's really no excuse not to carry it.
What the Freestyle does have is a very reasonable set of light to medium duty pliers, with integrated wire cutters and a hard wire notch, although I wouldn't suggest tackling anything too robust with them- they are after all on a small tool. They are similar in size to the Juice line of pliers but are somewhat more comfortable to use due to the more ergonomically shaped handle- that is unless you are trying to use them “backwards” in which case you'll be pretty unhappy. I don't see that happening too often really as the Freestyle slides into your palm quite naturally.
With such a small profile, it would be easy to think that the knife blade would be uncomfortable and awkward to use, but much like the pliers, it really isn't. I'd hate to cut vegetables for a large buffet lunch with it, but for most on the fly type cutting chores such as opening boxes or packaging, stripping wire or just carving a handy hunk of wood it is more than adequate.
Overall, the Freestyle is a very compact, very handy little tool despite not boasting a lot of features. The differences between the Freestyle and Freestyle CX models are the same differences as between the standard Skeletool and Skeletool CX. The standard Freestyle has a zytel handle insert and 440 series steel blade, while the CX features a carbon fiber handle insert and 154CM blade. At a glance they are easy to tell apart as the standard Freestyle has a bead blasted grey finish and partially serrated blade while the CX version is treated to a black finish and plain edge in addition to the CX and 154CM markings. It is noteworthy that the carbon fiber insert does not in any way increase the strength of the tool (non load-bearing component) nor does it significantly reduce the weight. Like the Skeletool, I wouldn't opt for the CX version unless you had a specific need for the upgraded blade steel.
Leatherman did a good job of guessing what their customers would want, as within a few months of this latest version of the Freestyle being announced, several members had performed “carabiner-ectomy ” mods on their Skeletools, effectively creating Freestyles before there were Freestyles.