The Best Multi-tools and Keychain Tools

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).

The Best EDC Keychains

Keys are an essential item of most everyone’s daily routine. Unfortunately, they can be tricky to manage, as evidenced by some keychains so cluttered they seem to have their own gravitational field. In the fifth installment of Carry Smarter, we explore keychain gadgets and how to optimize your keychain to really unlock its true potential as a mini EDC system.
The essential EDC keychain possesses a few good characteristics: it’s organized, it’s useful, and it’s with you wherever you go. This guide is designed to act as a primer for setting up an EDC keychain. There are other, more expensive alternatives to the options shown here (not to scale, by the way), but these relatively affordable starting points should help inspire some ideas. 

Multiple keys for your everyday routine (work, home, car, mail, etc.) can be difficult to keep in order. Luckily, there are several products on the market that can organize keys and keep them in one place. Swiss Army Knife-style frames for your keys allow for quiet storage and a smaller footprint on your keyring. It might take some getting used to with these products at first— instead of fumbling through your keys, you’ll be efficiently sliding out keys in no time. Here are some great ways to stop that awkward pocket bulge or to transition out of that janitor aesthetic:

KeySmart 2.0 ($23)

: Elegant Swiss Army Knife-styled key organizer.
True Utility Keyring ($11): An affordable, simple shackle system with extra hardware.
KeyPort Slide 2.0 ($29+): A high-tech, high-end retractable key system. Most configurations can get expensive.
BladeKey Bolt ($25): Another simple option for keeping keys together. 

With all those keys tidied up, minimalists can stop here and call it a day. However, because keychain-sized gear can pack a lot of utility without adding much bulk to your essentials, the extra keyring space afforded by a slim set of keys makes for a great place for beginners to start experimenting with new tools. From here, we can assemble a compact or backup EDC system.

Carrying the right multitool for your needs on your keychain gives you much more functionality when you need it, without carrying bulkier, heavier dedicated tools for tasks you might do only occasionally. Some useful features to look for include a decent backup blade, scissors, screwdrivers, a bottle opener, and more. You can choose from traditional Swiss Army Knife and clamshell folding multitools, or the newly popular one-piece multitools which focus more on prying and driving than they do cutting or slicing. Here are some great multitools to start off your keychain:

Victorinox Manager ($25)

: Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
Leatherman Style PS ($21): Solid, travel-friendly multitool.
Gerber Dime ($18): A complete, unique toolset for your keychain.
Nite-Ize DooHickey ($6): An affordable one-piece tool and carabiner.

The keychain is a great place to keep a backup flashlight because often times, you could use a little extra light when using your keys anyway, such as unlocking your front door or starting your car for a late night drive. With today’s technology, some keychain lights can even match the performance of full-sized lights. Opting to use more exotic battery types like CR2 or lithium ion cells yields even more powerful keychain options for more seasoned flashaholics. For beginners, here are some AAA and button cell lights that work great as backups or as general EDC lights:

Olight i3S EOS ($25)

: Excellent all-around starter keychain light.FourSevens Atom A0 ($25): Unique wide beam and useful moonlight mode.Veleno Designs Quantum D2 ($48): Innovative design for an enthusiast’s keyring.LRI Photon Freedom ($11): Simple, easy, minimal backup light.

With your keys in place and a backup “core” of functionality in miniature multitools and flashlights in place, you need a secure, yet easily accessible way to carry it all. One common way is to wear your keychain on a belt loop, the other is old-fashioned pocket carry. Wearing keys externally grants easier access, but the risk of losing your keychain is higher. Conversely, front pocket carry is more secure, but takes up pocket space and can cause discomfort or awkward pants bulge. No matter your preference, gadgets like these should accommodate your keychain carry needs:

Corter Bottlehook ($37)

: Sturdy combination of bottle opener and keyhook.Nite-Ize S-Biner SlideLock ($5): A locking version of the popular carabiner.TEC Accessories P-7 ($12): A pocket clip that suspends your keys to prevent pocket bulge.OBSTRUCTURES Small Pry/Open ($32): A solid one-piece multitool that can serve as a suspension clip or a keyhook.

Lastly, consider all the other gadgets that might make your day-to-day easier or gear you’d want in an emergency. The market for keychain accessories is huge, and it isn’t limited to just urban EDC gear. Explore outdoors or survivalist gear, keychain electronics, phone accessories, and other tools. Here are some ideas of other gadgets that could fit right at home on your keyring that might not be covered in the rest of your kit:

Split Pea Lighter ($15)

: An impressively small emergency lighter.Kingston DTSE9 ($6): Lots of storage in a tiny package.Nomad ChargeKey ($29): A cord-free way to charge your mobile devices.
Mophie Power Reserve ($50): Stay connected, not tied down.

Because of all of the individual components involved, optimizing your essential EDC keychain might require many revisions. It’s difficult to balance adding utility to a keychain without making it cluttered again, and without being too heavy (this can strain your car’s ignition or cause your hardware to fail prematurely). Hopefully this guide can facilitate the process, and you can find a product mentioned here that will elevate your keychain and make your EDC even better.