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.

Gear Watch: Kickstart Your Keychain

Gear Watch: Kickstart your keychain

In this edition of Gear Watch we check out some of the latest and greatest from kickstarter, featuring gear pulls and flashlights. Read on for more

There is dozen or so gear hook designs on the market, from Munroe Mega Dangler that would set you back three figures to the $7 TEC Accessories version. Many of them are simply hooks that are designed to latch on to the lip of your pocket and make your gear accessible. Until recently, there was very little in the middle range of the market. Then the GearPull was released. I had a chance to get a preview sample of the GearPull, a hugely successful Kickstarter project by Gamble Staempfli. The GearPull was absolutely beautiful, albeit a bit big for my tastes. Fortunately, Staempfli is releasing a smaller design—the GambleMade Mini-D.

But it’s not just a smaller GearPull—it’s a gear hook system. The entire design is modular and can be as simple as a basic hook, or as advanced as a mini version of the GearPull. There are three different kits—the basic hook, the mini GearPull, and the “Developer’s Kit” that basically gives you everything you’d need to stylishly carry around your knives, lights, and other EDC gear. As you can see from the lead picture, the Mini-D can do just about anything you need a gear hook to do. 
The Mini-D Kickstarter goes live on March 23. 
The Key to the Problem
After pens, wallets, and one-piece multitiools, the next most common EDC item on Kickstarter is key-managing devices. There have been quite a few, including one of my favorite designs, the BladeKey. Recently, they have all started to look the same—like a Swiss Army Knife for your keys—and that is pretty boring. The Panny Key is a new, refreshingly different approach to a key device. It looks and functions a lot like the Chawley Changer, but for keys instead of coins. The entire device is a square with milled slots. The keys slide into those slots, accommodating two keys per side. On the spine of the device, there is a slot for a small USB drive. There are a few different carry options, including a lobster claw connector and a pocket/belt clip. The overall design is colorful and, unlike many of the key managers on Kickstarter, relatively inexpensive.
The Panny Key Kickstarter is live and can be found here.
Pens are a dime a dozen on Kickstarter, but one pen recently caught my eye—the Ti-Post RAW.  It’s available in two configurations, one with and one without a stylus.  But the stylus doesn’t really move the needle for me.  Instead, it’s the fact that this pen’s cap can post, or attach to the non-writing end during use. So many of these metal pens do not have caps that can post, unfortunately.  While my favorite of the Kickstarter pens, the Prometheus Alpha, could post, so many others can’t. For example, even full-blown production pens, like the County Comm Embassy Pen, can’t post.  The idea of using a pen and having the cap rolling around somewhere drives me crazy. I’d much rather it be on the end of the pen where its both accessible and, when done right, adds the perfect amount of length and weight to the pen. Other cool things about the Ti-Post RAW is that it is already funded, meaning you’ll definitely get one should you decide to back it.  Finally, it takes a slew of refills and there the tactile pleasure of the raw titanium bar feel.  Its not terribly expensive either, coming in around $65.
The Ti-Post RAW Kickstarter is live and can be found here
Shoulda Been the Ensign
While this isn’t exactly a Kickstarter project, it’s just too clever to not highlight. Spyderco debuted three micro multitools at IWA (a German outdoor trade show) last year and they are finally available.The newly released ClipItTool comes in three configurations, all with roughly Ladybug-sized and shaped blades. You can get a ClipItTool with a main blade and a serrated blade, one with a pair of scissors, or one with a flathead driver and bottle opener. All three tools have 8Cr13MoV blade steel with stainless steel handles and a pocket clip. They are all slip joint designs, meaning there is no lock. They also have a healthy dose of Spyderco’s design language. The way the tool folds into the handle actually aids in grip when using the knife. The tool itself has a hole for easy deployment. Finally, there is a half-and-half finger choil for excellent control. Overall, the form factor looks like a real winner. All of the tools come in at a very fair street price of $25.95. 

To me, the choice is easy—the driver/bottle opener tool is probably the most unique and most useful when paired with the main blade. It also turns the ClipItTool into something very close to one my favorite EDC items of all time—the Victorinox Alox Cadet. The ClipItTool, however, offers two improvements over the Cadet—a pocket clip and a one-hand opening blade. It’s unlikely that anything will unseat the “iPhone” of EDC kit (the Alox Cadet), but the ClipItTool just might. Now all it needs a better, less awkward name. Spyderco Ensign, anyone? It makes clear just who the competitor is and actually sounds cooler than the real name.  
A Light Fix
LensLight makes some sweet, but expensive illumination tools. All of their designs are off the beaten path, some with their Delrin pocket clips and focusable beams. But until now, they didn’t make a model that could tailstand. This seems like an unforgivable design flaw for a light this expensive. They had lights with patina copper and Starlingear beads mounted on pocket clips. They even had one with a matching Strider SNG. But their single CR123a light couldn’t tailstand –  a massive design oversight. Even Surefire, with their relentless focus on tactical lights, offers a tailstanding tailcap.

With the release of the LensLight Mini Ti Delta (pictured), all of that has been fixed. LensLight products are known for having excellent beams, and this model’s output is very competitive with other 1xCR123a lights. You can purchase the Mini Ti Delta at Blade HQ ($220 USD).