Veteran Special Operator On The Best Multitool To Have On Your Keychain And Why
Few items offer as much utility when you need it most and at such a low cost as a mini multitool. We break down which should be on your keyring.
You know the old adage: “The best multitool is the one you have with you.” Well, of course, that is true. Even though I prefer to have my full-sized multitool on my belt, there are times I don't wear it due to my attire or simply because I forgot. However, like most of you, I never leave my house without my keys, so having something on that keychain with a few useful tools is an absolute must in life.
That’s what we are going to jump into today—the fascinating little universe of keychain multitools.
My time in special operations spanned from the mid-1980s until 2013. In that time, “multitools” became indispensable. For most of those years, it was up to military personnel to purchase their own. Eventually, they became standard issue. Therefore, I became dependent on having at least a few key tools—a knife, a few screwdrivers, scissors, and pliers—on my person at nearly all times. However, these multitools were primarily worn on your belt when wearing a uniform or clothing that was appropriate for such accessorization.
When keychain-sized multitools became available in different forms, it was quite easy to see their ingenious utility. My keychains always had a bottle opener of some sort on them, so why not have that and so much more? My hunch proved to be all too right. The keychain multitool quickly becomes a useful part of my life. They are incredibly cheap for what they offer, which is huge utility when you need it the most, and you forget about them when you don't need them and are absolutely psyched you have them when you do.
With all of this in mind, I have spent the last seven weeks extensively testing eight of the best keychain multi-tools on the market. Three of these I had previously owned and used for years and five I purchased for this article. They fall into two basic categories: simple fixed keychain multitools and more elaborate folding keychain multitools. I will give you the results of my little journey into tiny tool town and my top recommendations. But first, I want to talk a bit about how I went about getting acquainted with these little tools.
In order to better understand these tools and to get a general idea about how each performed, my methodology was simple. I chose to use each tool available on each item multiple times to mimic real-life scenarios. For instance, if a tool had scissors, I cut coupons out of a flyer or cut off the bottom part of a form. If a tool had a knife, I used it to cut a piece of seat belt strap or to shave off wood shavings for tinder and I used it to cut 550 paracord. If a tool had a pry bar, I used it to pry up a nail in a wood board. And so on. Every tool was tested on each multitool.
Let me put it this way: I screwed in a lot of screws. Both standard and Phillips-head. I even unscrewed a few, just to be thorough.
Additionally, I gave several tools to some local friends to get their opinion. A 67-year-old male veteran, 39-year-old working mother, a 21-year-old male college student, and a 16-year-old female high school student.
Therefore, I am quite confident that this was a fair evaluation for each item.
The Folding Tools
This is a folding multitool I have owned since November 2012. Overall, this thing rocks, but I will go with the bad up-front—the scissors aren’t great. They are very small and the spring has degraded over seven years.
Not great, not terrible in that one regard.
Everything else is amazing. The knife blade is best in class. Its shape makes it less ideal for puncturing, but its strength is great for this class of tool. The plastic package opener is extremely useful. I think that I can speak for many here when I unequivocally state that I have earned both decorations for valor in combat and multiple purple hearts for a life of sporadic warfare with blister packages.
The pliers are also my favorite in this class. The spring action is very solid after all these years and the precision and feel of the pliers has meant they have been incredibly useful in many situations.
Gerber got so much right with the Dime, including the price at around $20 for the basic black model.
Leatherman Style CS
I have owned this folding multitool since May, 2010. It was really my first keychain folding multitool. I went with Leatherman because of my good experience with the company.
This is a very well-designed multitool overall. It is very light due to the skeleton-style design. The scissors are the best of all the tools reviewed here, with the spring action still being perfect after nine years. The knife has the legendary Leatherman sharp edge and takes a sharpening very well. The carabiner clip is nice, but I honestly never carry that way. In the end, it is missing pliers and that is very noticeable. The price isn't the lowest either, at around $30.
Please note, Leatherman also makes the Style PS, which deletes all sharp blades and adds pliers, to make it TSA-Compliant.
Leatherman Squirt PS4
I like the Squirt a lot. It is very small and light at just two ounces. With its clean, rounded design, there is nothing to catch in your pocket or on a keychain, and of course, it has my beloved pliers—pliers are the reason Tim Leatherman decided to start his wonderful business in the first place. So, the omission of pliers on the Squirt is atoned for here.
The build quality is excellent and every tool works well, but it was a bit difficult for me to open the various tools. The finger notches seemed just a bit small for my close-trimmed fingernails. With that in mind, this is definitely not a tool where you can access everything with one hand.
At $35, I appreciated the build quality, but I think a bit more effort could have gone into design and practical ergonomics.
Ah, the "plank owner" of the multitool world. Everyone knows about the venerable Swiss Army Knife. This may be the best multitool ever to keep comfortably in your pocket. It is a perfectly smooth-machined piece of beauty. There are no edges that can catch on fabric or interfere with other keychain items. Victorinox has been doing this for so long their new designs seem effortless.
I like that there are two knife blades and one is actually called an “emergency blade.” This is actually a very cool idea. A knife is a very important tool in any emergency. When they must be small for the sake of space, they become less strong and susceptible to damage. Having a backup blade kept to a very fine edge provides a degree of security in your multitool.
The scissors are tiny, but sharp, although I suspect the leaf spring will not last very long. The tiny pressurized ballpoint pen is ingenious. The bottle opener is magnetized. Very cool! Its Phillips screwdriver is best in class.
That said, there are a few tools that are head-scratchers. An orange peeler? A cuticle pusher? I had to consult outsiders for a ruling. My two female testers declared them amazing. I must admit, however, that I have never been in an emergency situation where peeling an orange would have made the difference between life and death.
Overall, I think this is a remarkable tool that was designed for a larger audience and succeeds greatly in that regard. It isn't exactly cheap at about $29, but it packs at ton of functionality in such a streamlined and proven package.
At first, I thought I had no experience with a CRKT (Columbia River Knife and Tool) product. But when purchasing this, I noticed that I had purchased several of the CRKT “Spork” tools in the past, and I love those.
CRKT highlights its designers and the design of the Pryma is no exception. Designed by Danish knife-maker Jesper Voxnaes, it is a very interesting tool. I like that the pry bar is actually wide enough to be a scraper, which is a useful tool to have in your pocket. Additionally, it has the only true “glass breaker” tool in the lineup, which consists of a small ceramic nub flanked by two protective wings to guard the hand. I was unable to test this on an actual car window (without getting jail time), but I was able to shatter several ceramic tiles I had in my workshop, with a bit of effort.
So, this is a very cool multitool, but its sharp form on my keychain and in my pocket isn't ideal. For some, that means it may best be relegated to belt-loop duty using its carabiner clip. At less than ten dollars, it’s really worth consideration.
Obviously, there was a bit of whimsy in selecting this multitool, yet it has several serious tools and as an Army dude, I couldn’t pass it up.
This is one freaky looking keychain item. The designers clearly looked at the MACV-SOG logo from the Vietnam war (a skull) and said “we need to make a bunch of tools fit into this form,” and they sure achieved this goal. Actually, they did so far better than I anticipated.
The standout item here is the blade sharpener, which I used for several older small knives and it did a great job. Also, I do believe this tool is TSA-compliant, which will allow you to take it on a plane. On the downside, I think the 3Cr13 Stainless Steel is a budget decision, which means this tool will wear out or bend at some point. But at less than seven bucks, it is not a great loss for time served.
However, as with the CRKT, the shape is simply not suited for a pocket, with all of the sharp edges. The lack of a carabiner clip means you do not have the belt loop option, either. This is something to consider before you buy.
This entry is very clean in design so you can actually have it in your pocket comfortably. The pry bar/scraper works well, but the extremely flat Phillips screwdriver head built into the tip is about useless with most Phillips screws. The textured grip is a welcome addition for such a small tool.
I have owned this fixed multitool since August, 2012. Hey, as I mentioned earlier, most of us have a bottle-opener on our keychains right? Well, how about adding straight and Phillips head screwdrivers, a wire stripper, and a pry bar, and all for just five bucks?
Word of warning, even though the pry bar is quite tiny, the chances are TSA may confiscate it because they do not allow (angled) prying devices on the planes.
Input from others
As a retired soldier, that experience was, of course, factored into how I looked at each item. However, I believe a good small multitool should be on every keychain. It seemed necessary to solicit the opinions of others who represent a reasonable cross-section of users. Here are their words.
Daniel (67-year-old male veteran):
“I have used tools all of my life and I picked up a Leatherman soon after they hit the market. I am older now and suffer from a bit of arthritis, so I need a tool that opens easily. Most of these folding ones are just too damn difficult for me to open. The black Gerber (Dime) was the easiest to open, but still a little fussy. I would like this in silver so I can see the little tools easier. (The dime is available in colors with silver tools)
Jessica (39-year-old working mother):
"I just love the Swiss-Army (Victorinox MiniChamp) one. It reminds me of an old pocket knife my Dad used to carry. On the first day I used the scissors, the knife and the tweezers. I have my eye on that cuticle pusher, just to show you it‘s necessary. Haha!!”
Jordan (21-year-old male college student):
“Well I just turned 21 so the bottle openers come first I really like the Leatherman Squirt the best because it has every tool I need and it looks nice on my keychain next to my black car key fob. But that skull (SOG MacV Tool) is badass! Can I keep it?”
Kaitlyn (16-year-old female high school student):
“I am really bad with being a fix-it person but I really like the red Swiss [Victorinox MiniChamp] one. I used the scissors to cut some class photos and the file actually works really good on my nails. This would be nice to have in my purse. Just in case.”
This was both easy and not easy. I had to let go of some preconceptions about what I had been using for years and the realization that I needed to consider that others may look at the assessment differently than I. A keychain multitool is not meant to defeat The Empire, or to take on the zombie apocalypse. It is something that is in your pocket or purse every day to get you out of conundrums as they arise. They should make your life easier, not just help you get out of extreme situations. So, the damn thing needs to travel well, and above all else, it needs to work without any fuss.
For the fixed multitools, I narrowed them down to the Gerber Shard and the CRKT Pryma. The Shard has been with me for years and the price is certainly a plus. But, if I were to choose, I would go with the CRKT Pryma. After testing I can definitely see how that scraper function can be quite useful. The addition of the hex wrenches makes the few extra dollars worth the purchase. So, if you want a fixed keychain tool, CRKT Pryma is the tool for you, but I would highly recommend you get a folding keychain multitool if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars.
The Victorinox MiniChamp is just about perfect for most people. Spend $30 bucks, throw the mini Swiss Army knife on your keychain and it will never bother you and it will give you some great tools when needed. And it has a pen! One hundred percent of everybody has needed, but hasn't had a pen at some point. And it works. Even with my Wookie-sized fingers. I had moved away from Victorinox in my professional life, but this thing is solid. Every tool works exactly as advertised, even if not to perfection. I wish the knife were just a bit sharper.
While the Victorinox is great and its form and function make it a wonderful choice for a wide audience, for myself, I found an early personal choice to be the best choice. I need pliers. This is what set Leatherman apart from other multitools upon its introduction. Pliers. Now, the Leatherman Squirt has pliers and is actually quite small, but my trusty Gerber Dime just felt perfect in every way.
So, the Gerber Dime will remain the mini multitool on my keychain. I have a long history with this tool, which I actually purchased based on the recommendation of a friend. It has helped me in big and small ways on countless occasions and absolutely validated the need for a well-designed and well-built multitool for a keychain. Most importantly, when I compared it to every tool mentioned above, nothing eclipsed it.
It is simply the best keychain multitool that money can buy. I plan to sharpen and maintain it for many years to come.
- Best OverallGerber DimeSummarySummaryExtremely useful and affordable. All tools are functional, durable and necessary.ProsProsPrice. Knife blade. Pliers. Retail package opener.ConsConsExposed bottle opener may get caught on other items in pocket.
- Honorable MentionVictorinox MiniChampSummarySummaryVery well-designed and ergonomic. This multitool is meant for the largest audience.ProsProsEmergency knife. Pen. Clean design.ConsConsPrice. Knife sharpness and durability.
- Best ValueCRKT PrymaSummarySummaryBest tool for those on a budget. It is well designed and sturdy.ProsProsPrice. Scraper. Glass-breaker.ConsConsShape may be uncomfortable in pockets.
Contact the editor: Tyler@thedrive.com
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