A couple years ago, Ben Rivera was on vacation at Disneyland. He’s the CEO of Leatherman, so he’s always got at least one multi-tool on him. On that particular day he was carrying a bespoke tool on his belt. As he approached the entrance, Rivera figured he ought to stash it in case the guards decided to hassle him about it. That thought came to him a moment too late, though—a guard had seen him stuff the tool in his pocket.“They said, ‘No that’s a weapon, and you’re trying to sneak it into our park,’” he recalls.

He refused to surrender it, so a guard escorted Rivera back to his hotel to ensure he didn’t try to sneak something so lethal as folding pliers into the Magic Kingdom. “That was the last straw,” Rivera said.

The plight of the multi-tool is real. Once considered the smartphone of analog gadgets, its functionality has been undermined by cellphones—Why fix stuff when you can call for help, or order a replacement with the flick of your thumb?—and Draconian security regulations that label multi-tools a dire threat to public safety. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘I used to have a Leatherman tool but they took it away from me at the airport” he says.“This is a problem that I’ve seen growing, not just for Leatherman but for everyone in our industry. We’re less valuable.”

Rivera returned home determined to find a solution to this mounting problem. What he came up with is the Leatherman Tread, an ingenious update to the classic multi-tool that turns individual bits and drivers into links of a bracelet. You can mix and match them “like apps on your iPhone,” says Rivera.


Like a Bike Chain, For Your Wrist

Rivera had a sketch of the Tread before he even returned to work. It looked like a bit like a bike chain, with interlocking tools. Many Leatherman tools are “wearable,” but not like the Tread. A bracelet made sense: It allowed you to have your tools on you, literally, all the time. It also required each bit, wrench and driver to be tiny, so you wouldn’t encounter trouble from the TSA, Disney guards or anyone else. The longest, sharpest bit—a pointy sim card removal tool—is just under a quarter-inch long, well within TSA regulations. And there are no sharp edges on any of the links.

Black Tread QM1

In theory, using tools as interlocking links was a brilliant industrial design decision. In practice, it was trickier than clicking a few pieces together. Leatherman already made a set of flat tools you could use interchangeably with its multi-tools, and Rivera hoped to use those to build the Tread. But when those tools laid against the curve of the wrist, they caught hair and fabric. Ouch.

“It was uncomfortable,” he says.

Rivera studied watches to learn the art of making many links rest gently and comfortably against the skin. Watch links are small enough to lie flat when connected. The tool links are slightly larger, which meant Leatherman would have to give each tool a slight curve to have them lay comfortably on the wrist. “I said, ‘I’m just going to design it the way that I would want if I didn’t have to worry about how to make it or how much it would cost to make it,’” he says.

The bracelet is highly engineered. Each stainless steel link has a hex-shaped cut out to reduce weight and serve as a wrench. To eliminate catching and scratching, links are chamfered and screws recessed. To use the bracelet, you take it off and articulate the links like a tread. You select the tool you need, and use the remaining links as a handle. It provides a rigid grip for leverage and control.

You can choose from 25 tools—flat and Phillips screwdrivers, a cutting hook, a carbide glass breaker—and it comes with a bottle opener clasp because that’s non negotiable. Everyone needs a bottle opener. Rivera says he can fit eight on his wrist; as a lady, I’d opt for something closer to five. Leatherman offers an optional watch to go with the tool, and it also works nicely with a Moto360. Rivera says there are plans for a universal adapter for other watch faces in the future. Starting this summer you can buy the bracelet for $150 or $200, add a watch face and it’ll run you $500 or $600, depending on finish.

The Tread is so bonkers it almost seems like a novelty. But in a time where everyone is desperately trying to figure out how to make a wearable that’s actuallyuseful, it turns out a screen isn’t nearly as cool as an old-school multi-tool.