I don’t know if it’s just my personality, but I’ve always been a huge fan of multi-tools. I love the feeling of being prepared and confident to handle situations. I’ve always carried one, whether it be a full-size leatherman or a keychain-sized Swiss Army Knife. However, after 9/11, carrying multi-tools on a plane became nearly impossible due to restrictions on blades. Even tiny keychain-sized multi-tools were being confiscated by the TSA at airports. Though since many of you also prefer to travel prepared, I wanted to explore multi-tools for travelers and some tips to keep in mind if you’re packing one on your trip.
Why bother carrying a multi-tool
Some of you might be thinking that it’s just not worth carrying a multi-tool while traveling. And you might be right! Though I generally prefer to be prepared. Also, if you’re traveling with kids or are going to be in situations where you may not have access to help, it never hurts to have tools. In fact, I’ve had several situations during my travels where they’ve come in handy. This includes fixing a bike seat post that came loose while cycling around Panama and removing cactus needles from my hand in Joshua Tree National Park.
Multi-tool options for travelers
For the most part, anything with a blade is frowned upon when traveling. Luckily, there are some muti-tools that are geared for travelers.
Traditional multi-tools without blades
In the traditional multi-tool category, you have a few choices:
- Victorinox, which is one of the makers of the ubiquitous Swiss Army Knife, has a tool called the Jetsetter. It’s a keychain-sized tool without a knife blade. It’s very basic, but it might be all you want or need to carry.
- Leatherman also has a keychain-sized tool called the Style PS.
- Gerber has a keychain-sized multitool called the Dime. The normal version has a knife blade, but there is a travel version that does not include a blade.
If you’re looking for a multi-tool with a bit more heft and size, you’ll want to check out the Gerber MP600. Though be aware that the tool comes in multiple versions, with one being a knife-less version. I couldn’t find it on the Gerber website, but I did see it on Amazon. It’s possible that it’s discontinued. However, if you prefer a more traditional sized multi-tool without a knife, it may be your best option.
The next set of multi-tools are single-piece tools. These are tools that are usually 1-2 piece tools. They are generally less expensive than traditional multi-tools and more simple and friendly-looking. This is important since I don’t recommend looking “tactical” when traveling. I’ve even heard travel sites recommend against wearing anything that looks military-related when traveling to certain parts of the world. This is to avoid drawing unnecessary attention and scrutiny.
There are numerous examples of tools in this category. For example, I often travel with a tool from KeySmart called the Alltul. I like it a lot since it has wrench tools which are useful for biking. I’m not much of a cyclist, but I do often end up biking when traveling. Having some basic tools to make adjustments is very handy. The other one-piece tool that I often carry when traveling is my Gerber Shard. It’s a very inexpensive and basic tool, which makes it useful for traveling.
The last category of multi-tools is wearable tools. I don’t actually have any of these tools, but they are intriguing. Leatherman was the first ones in this category with their Tread series. These are basically bracelets and watches that have multi-tool bits built into the band.
I don’t know how discrete these bracelets would look when traveling. However, they technically shouldn’t pose an issue when passing through security and may be a useful way to carry tools. I haven’t handled one, so I can’t comment on whether they are comfortable or heavy. While I like the idea of wearable tools, they are a bit pricey and flashy for my taste. Maybe I’m old school, but I don’t want to draw unnecessary attention toward myself, especially when I’m away from home.
How to carry a multi-tool
In terms of carrying tools and knives, I prefer to carry them in my pocket or bag. However, it can be a challenge since we tend to carry a more sensitive electronic gear nowadays, especially when traveling. Keeping your tool from scratching up your phone or destroying your pocket can be an issue. This is especially the case when you’re wearing specialty fabrics that are lighter and more breathable. The best solution that I’ve found is to use a lightweight and thin case. I’ve been using a product from Popov Leather called the EDC Pocket Armor. It fits a variety of tools and knives including single-piece multi-tools and some slim Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman tools. It also has an elastic slot for a small pen, which is very handy. Also, if you have a knife or multi-tool with a nicer finish, the EDC Pocket Armor can help protect it from scratches and wear.
In case you haven’t heard of Popov Leather, they are a Canadian leather goods maker that is fairly popular in the EDC community. They hand stitch all their products and source their leather from Horween. This is one of the most famous and prestigious leather tanneries in the US. Popov Leather makes a variety of products, including wallets, belts, watch straps, and travel gear. They are known for their high-quality craftsmanship and all their products include a lifetime guarantee.
Tips for traveling with multi-tools
If you’re traveling with multi-tools, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Keep it small and simple:
While it might be tempting to bring a multi-tool that is at the legal limit (e.g., a tool with scissors just under the 4-inch TSA limit) you’re probably asking to have it confiscated. My advice is to keep it small and simple. Anything that looks complex or potentially larger than necessary is likely going to be inspected and potentially deemed dangerous. Also, bright colored tools like a Swiss Army Knife are going to look a lot more friendly and less threatening.
2. Assume that it will be confiscated:
Even if you meet TSA guidelines, your item is still under the discretion of the officer. If losing your tool hurts your wallet or has some kind of sentimental value, it’s not worth trying to take it on a plane. This is why I love inexpensive single-piece tools like the Gerber Shard or Keysmart Alltul. Otherwise, I recommend putting it in your checked luggage.
3. Be proactive:
If you’re going to take a multi-tool on a plane, I suggest being proactive and opening all the tools before passing through the baggage screening. Many people online recommend putting it at the bottom of your bag and playing dumb, but it’s better to be transparent and compliant.
4. Be polite:
If you’re asked about your tool or told that it’s cannot pass through security, I suggest being calm and polite. Be prepared to explain why the tool meets the guidelines. As with most things in life, being polite and prepared can often alleviate tension and move the situation toward a positive outcome.
5. Bring a stamped envelope:
A lot of people online recommend bringing a self-addressed stamped envelope with you in the event that your tool is denied during screening. That way you can drop it off at the airport postal box to have it shipped back to your home rather than donating it to TSA.
6. Be discrete:
Those of you that carry multi-tools or knives are going to think I’m crazy, but I honestly recommend not using a pocket clip when carrying a tool or knife abroad. Again, it draws unnecessary attention to the fact that you’re carrying something. Instead, I recommend carrying it in your pocket or bag.
7. Know the laws and rules of your destination:
While TSA rules and regulations seem strict in the US, don’t assume that the laws are any more lenient in other countries. Even if you pack your multi-tool in your check-in luggage and are able to carry it during your trip, make sure to check local laws for your destination. For example, many places (such as the UK) have restrictions on the length of knives and on locking blades. The last thing you want is to not only have your multi-tool confiscated, but also found accidentally breaking the law. Even a small knife with a locking blade could be a violation at your destination.
This also goes for other places where there might be a security check. Just because you can take it onto a plane doesn’t mean it will pass the security checkpoint at a government office, museum, or even an amusement park. When in doubt, I suggest leaving it at your home, hotel, or car.
Giveaway for Popov Leather EDC Pocket Armor
Lastly, I mentioned that we were doing a giveaway. Popov Leather generously sent us an EDC Pocket Armor to giveaway to our audience.
You can enter at the bottom of this page or on the giveaway page. You don’t have to purchase anything, but there are multiple ways to enter and gain entries. By signing up for some of the social media channels or sharing the giveaway, you’ll earn extra entries into the contest. The more options you complete, the more entries that you’ll earn. And of course, there’s no pressure to enter! The giveaway runs until Friday, July 12th. We’ll then randomly select our winner on July 13th. I’ll include a link in the video description.
Keep in mind that the contest is only for US and Canadian residents. Though if you’re not based in North America, don’t worry. We’ll have more giveaways soon, so stay tuned!
Do you travel with a multi-tool? If so, which one do you carry? Also, do you have any stories or tips for carrying tools when traveling?