The Best Multi-tools and Keychain ToolsBuying Guide
Multitools are ounce for ounce the most useful thing you can carry, albeit at somewhat of a compromise. They may never be the best tool for the job, but they’re rarely the wrong one. Recently, the multitool market, once justifiably dominated by Leatherman and Swiss Army Knife tools, has seen much greater diversity with the rise in popularity of one-piece multitools—ultra-compact pieces of metal designed to hang on your keychain with a number of functionalities. In the third installment of Carry Smarter, we list our top picks from both classic multitools and the new wave of one-piece multitools.
The one-piece multitool trend has not gone unnoticed by the big manufacturers—both Leatherman and Gerber, among others, now sell one-piece tools. Of all the mass-market one-piece tools out there, the Shard stands a cut above the rest. Its simple, functional design features a swift and easy-to-use bottle opener, a decent pry tip, and most notably, a unique 3D Philips screwdriver on its end. Its black coating hardly holds up to everyday wear and tear, but the premature patina is forgivable given the Shard’s price and performance.
This gem is one of our favorites – we’ve mentioned in another post how much we love it. Few tools are as classy, useful, affordable, and well-made as the Cadet. Victorinox swapped its iconic bright-red cellidor scales in favor of a ribbed aluminum material they call Alox—making the tool not just visually appealing, but also more durable and much thinner. The Cadet’s tool implements are uniformly excellent as expected in a Victorinox knife. Unfortunately, you won’t find scissors or pliers on the Cadet, as it foregoes these implements to achieve a great balance of useful tools and slimness. The Cadet is often found riding shotgun to much more expensive custom knives in a given carry, and understandably so—it’s a real worker that makes any EDC better, regardless of your budget.
Released just less than two months ago, the ClipiTool is a strong newcomer to the multitool market. It’s a phenomenal tool—compact, inexpensive, and very easy to use. Being a Spyderco design, it unsurprisingly has wonderful ergonomics with a one-hand opening blade, a pocket clip, and an in-hand feel unmatched by any other multitool available. Its blade is also impressively useful, thanks to its full flat grind. The ClipiTool line offers three variants: blade + scissors, blade + saw, and blade + driver/opener. We prefer the driver/bottle opener configuration best, as it provides more distinct functions instead of merely different methods of cutting.
Of the myriad of options from Leatherman and SOG for general purpose, medium-duty work, none are better than the Skeletool CX. An inconvenient commonality of multitools is that they’re heavy, bulky, and generally lacking a strong knife implement. The Skeletool CX avoids all of these missteps with its excellent knife, robust drivers, and comfortable design that feels great in-hand and rides lightly in the pocket. Perhaps its only minor shortcomings are that its pliers are stubby and aren’t spring loaded. Nonetheless, the Skeletool represents a huge leap forward in design from Leatherman. The CX is the version to get for its better blade steel alone, as its carbon fiber doesn’t significantly reduce weight. Overall, its great medium-duty tools and fantastic knife implement make it a viable replacement to a dedicated pocket knife in your kit.
If the Skeletool doesn’t have enough tools to get the job done, you have a few options—the Victorinox Spirit or Swiss Tool, the Wave, a few SOGs, and the Charge. Natural selection in the marketplace has shown the Wave reigns supreme. Time and time again, companies release tools designed to best the Wave with little success. Even Leatherman’s own feature-packed Charge, meant to improve upon the Wave, falls short. The Wave’s success lies in its compliment of tools—it has everything you could reasonably need and nothing you don’t. Furthermore, its blades can be easily accessed using one hand, without opening the tool. Its pointed pliers are decent, but we feel their lack of a spring-loading mechanism holds the Wave back from truly being heavy-duty perfection.
Carabiner-based multitools seem so promising in theory—always hanging around, doing work even when they’re not being used—but they are often disappointing in practice. Although a few carabiners deviate from this trend, none are as awesome as the Carabiner V.3. While it features only a minimum selection of tools, each one is extremely well-executed. An amazing one-piece design outfitted in premium materials, hand-made in small batchces by master craftsman Jens Anso, makes the V.3 easily worth its steep price.
Once legendary, Gerber’s quality has declined significantly over the past decade. Compared to the competition, recent Gerber products have suffered from dreadful fit and finish causing multiple major recalls, and exorbitant prices for subpar materials. The Dime, however, is a glimmer of hope for a turnaround to Gerber’s former glory. With its more complete tool complement, the Gerber Dime outclasses the popular Leatherman Squirt as the new reigning champ of the keychain tool market. The Dime was the first keychain tool to feature a useful clam-shell cutter for stubborn retail packaging, setting an example for other keychain tools to follow suit. Its fit and finish varies wildly, but for the price, a good copy of the Dime is a steal.
In this Internet Age, where a mill and a blog can give rise to a new tool brand, the market has seen a proliferation of one-piece multitools. Peter Atwood is the most famous and his tools are the most sought-after, but the Chopper from TT PockeTTools matches, if not bests the functionality of Atwood’s finest designs. The Chopper is a perfect one-piece multitool—compact, with a great bottle opener and a handy assortment of other implements. The snag edge, just under the pry, is perhaps the best surprise here—enough to tear open a package but not so sharp as to cause concern when stuffed in your pocket. Compared to Atwood’s tools, the Chopper is fairly affordable and reasonably available to purchase (the newest batch will restock in May).
This is about as minimal as I can get. There's something in each pocket and everything gets used at least once per day. I just got the Key Smart after seeing it featured on the site, and it really helped organize my keychain. I've got multiple bands for the Timex, but leather is my go-to.
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