First off, let me once again point out that while it has been a very successful model for Leatherman, I am not a big an of the Tread. I want good, solid, real tools from Leatherman and this seems like an overpriced gadget, designed to generate hype in a brand that has lately not given us much in the way of cool new, solid, real tools to rave about. That having been said, if I was really that disinterested, I would not have bought either a fake or a real one, so that proves that there is something pervasive about it. Either that or, I'm a multitool junkie looking for an excuse.
The first thing you notice is the box- it will take a very close observation to spot what is wrong here.
The real Tread is on the left and the fake is on the right. Notice that the colors on the fake are brighter and that the image is slightly larger. These are not differences you are likely to notice without having the real one to compare to, but you can also see that the image and logo are slightly off center on the fake box, and perfectly centered on the real one. I will admit that I didn't notice the offset logo on the fake until both boxes were side by side and my girlfriend Megan pointed it out.
The end panels of the boxes are virtually identical as well, with the real box having slightly smaller Leatherman brandings than the fake, although again this is not something one would notice without having both for comparison.
Flipping the boxes over we see that the real box (again on the left) is virtually identical to the fake one. In this case there has been a bar code and price tag added to the real one, but I am not sure at what point they were added, and so I wouldn't count on that as an identifier. Both have trademark info, although it does slightly differ- however one is marked 2015 and one 2016, and as any collector knows, the wording and placement of these types of marks often change from year to year on legitimate products, and so should not be considered an identifier either.
Opening the box we see the presentation is virtually identical. To make it easier to identify the fake, I have added some green paint to the logos and reversed the connecting links everywhere except where the ones between the strap cutter and the clasp, because the links impact the cutter ends when inverted. Everywhere else they seem to be fine when inverted.
Pulling both Treads out of the box gives us another clue as to which one is real and which one is fake. The real Tread fits perfectly onto the elongated foam oval while the fake sort of sits loosely on it's shorter, fatter one. The real one seems more like it was designed to fit (which it was) while the fake appears to have been a setup for another product (possibly a fake watch or different bracelet) that was used out of convenience. The foam in the real Tread box is also much more dense than the cheaper foam found in the fake. If you can gain access to the inside of the packaging, this should be one of the first telltale signs of whether the Tread you are buying is real or not.
Getting rid of the packaging, the two Treads look and feel remarkably similar. They move the same and the finish is almost identical. At first glance they are almost impossible to tell apart. If you are one of those people that can look at the above photo and claim to instantly know the difference without the cues I have offered (links and paint) then I suggest you chalk that up to my poor photography skills. I have been spotting fakes and working with companies to identify them for about twenty years now, and I see no appreciably difference in finishes or feel.
Ordinarily the various bits aren't as well formed or the assembly is substandard, but in this case there is very little to distinguish the fake from the real thing. The cutouts and screwdriver ends are just as precise as the real McCoy.
I mentioned the discoloration on the sides of some of the links in the original forum thread, and if you look at the above pic you see the Leatherman also suffers from the same issue, only not as pronounced. I am assuming both use a similar process to blacken, however Leatherman either uses a slightly better version of the process, or merely has a more skilled person doing it. I'm not sure this would be an indicator on a natural stainless finish, but it certainly is obvious on the black version.
It is also possible that the fake uses a lower grade of steel, which may be evidenced by a lower density, so I put both on the scale to see how they stacked up. As you can see, there is a slight variance in weight- 1 gram to be exact.
I wouldn't count that as an indicator either- for those not familiar with the metric system, 1 gram is a drop of water. It is a negligible amount and my scale could easily vary by a gram from one item to another... and in fact the difference may be even smaller, as my scale won't do portions of a gram, meaning one may have been 173.6g and the other 173.4g, and both were rounded off. It is such a small variance that I'm sure any two legitimate Treads fresh off the assembly line would vary by this much or more.
Getting into the nuts and bolts of it (literally) we can see another noticeable difference- the screws for the real Tread are only black on the head and neck, while the threads are left uncoated while the fake one is black all the way down. I would imagine that Leatherman doesn't coat the threads because of concerns of shed paint gumming them up. But, the process of only coating half of a screw that is about a quarter of an inch long takes some effort, which is probably why that's one of the corners that the knockoff manufacturer cut. You can see that the real Tread's screw is also slightly more robust, and it will not fit in the hole on the fake, while the fake screws can turn awkwardly into the holes in the real Tread.
The connecting links themselves are also interesting. They are almost identical, except the finish on one seems a bit better able to withstand use while the other seems to rub off a bit. What might surprise you is that the one that has the finish removed in the above picture is the brand new in box, still factory sealed until I got it and handled it enough to take these photos, while the finish on the fake still looks perfect despite a few months of wear.
The same goes for the other side of the connecting link, and if there was any doubt about which one was which (maybe I confused them at some point) I would like you to have a look at the Tread itself.
Even though my camera focused on the cutter instead of the side of the link you can see that there is no black finish on the ends of the links where the connection links attach, while the fake has black ends.
I will probably end up deconstructing these both eventually and comparing each link with each other one, but for now trust me when I say that the links themselves are almost indistinguishable between the fake and the real Tread.
The text and injector pin marks from the casting process are just as pronounced on one as they are the other. I doubt anyone here could identify the real ones from the fake ones without the other for comparison, and worse, I doubt most of us could sort them out 100% from a pile of real and fakes. In both of the above photos, the real Tread is on top and the fake is on the bottom.
Getting to the business end, as noted previously the clasp on the fake features too ball bearing detents to hold it closed while the real Tread only has one. This may be the easiest way to identify the fake from the real Tread, as it should be easy enough to pick out from photos, and is certainly easier than pulling screws out to see if they are the same color all the way through. You'll also notice that the real Tread seems to be just as scratched and scuffed as the fake, again despite the fake having been worn for months and the real one being factory fresh. Not a good sign for the Tread.
You will also notice something else- what I'd originally thought was a glob of black paint on the fake is actually a bottle opener icon, which is more defined on the real one than the glob-ish look on the fake.
Getting back to the ball detent, I have to wonder why Leatherman went with only one detent, while the fake one has two. Is Leatherman's ball detent that good that they only need one or did the cheapo decide it was just easier to use two? This is one of those things that needs time and testing to decide on, but I will say that the fake has never inadvertently come loose on my wrist, even when bumping into things, which is something I do often.
There's one more thing to point out and that was something I hadn't picked up on until I was putting everything away. Again, I don't know if this would be something that would be noticeable on the natural stainless version, but here it is anyway.
The scribe on the real Leatherman is uncoated. My guess is that this is a high carbon insert on the real Leatherman and just moulded in on the fake.
So what does one conclude from all of this?
Well, the real Leatherman is superior for a few reasons, such as the (theoretically) better ball detent, (slightly) thicker, uncoated screws and real scribe, but the fake hits back with what appears to be a better coating and, let's face it, a hell of a lot better price. Is the real Tread worth roughly 4 times the price? That's for you to decide. All of this is just there so that you can make the right decision and not pay full price for what turns out to be a fake.