Airport security has provided fodder for countless comedians and hundreds of viral videos, but when the TSA is eyeballing you, it’s anything but amusing. The key is to give them as little reason as possible to hassle you, and that means carrying zero contraband and finding a multi-tool that won’t raise any eyebrows from the folks in blue.
We want to live prepared, whether our feet are on the ground or we’re trapped in an aluminum tube hurtling through sky; and having a tool on hand that allows you to make basic repairs, groom yourself, and deal with the mundane crises of everyday life is every person’s right. But, when exercising that right becomes tricky and we’re getting sideways glances from the guards with the rubber gloves, it’s time to rethink your EDC gear and use one of the 8 best TSA-approved multi-tools.
Disclaimer: While each of the items listed is travel-friendly and meant to be legal for plane trips, the final decision is still at the discretion of the TSA. During times of heightened security, or just because they feel like it, they may decide to snag and flag your harmless multi-tool. Our advice is not to argue.
Pro: Nitride coating prevents rust
Con: Easy to lose
Quick and Clean: This odd little piece has managed to crop up time and again. Whenever and wherever people need something simple that can fit into their pocket, the Shard makes an appearance. Made to be as miniscule as possible, this strange, jagged little item can pry surprisingly well (so long as you find a fulcrum for leverage), get most average screws out in a snap, hack open boxes, score lines, and even do a little wire stripping on the side.
Nite Ize DoohicKey QuicKey Tool
Pro: Difficult to bend
Con: Shallow bottle-opener tends to slip
Ringside: Probably the easiest of all the tools to slip through security, the DoohicKey, with its pun-tacular name, will blend in with your keys and likely won’t draw a second glance from security personnel. The actual usefulness of it depends on your lifestyle, but it can crack bottles, make basic cuts, score and open boxes, or undo a regular flathead screw. The idea here is less to have a one-size-fits-all multi-tool and more to have something that will keep you covered while you get from point A to point B. It can also act as a backup when your normal EDC multi-tool has slipped out of reach because you didn’t slap any paracord on it.
CRKT Viva Keychain Multi-Tool
Pro: Designed by Liong Mah
Con: Too small and soft for harder jobs
Soft Touch: Constructed out of 3Cr13 steel (the cheap Chinese equivalent to 420J2 domestic steel), even if you ground it to a fine tanto edge, it still wouldn’t hold a cutting surface for long. That’s actually good news when it comes to getting the Viva on a plane, simply because it doesn’t feel as hard or dangerous as some of its peers. What the Viva does do is crack bottles, torque nuts and bolts with the closed wrenches, and can go onto a lanyard, a keychain, or a belt loop with ease. It’s basic functions allow you to take it along for dealing with rudimentary tasks while you check any bags with your more dangerous gear.
Gerber Dime Multi-Tool
Pro: Includes keychain ring
Con: Very limited in screwdrivers
Butterfly Pose: The Dime is another instance where there’s a bladed and a non-bladed option, so know which one you’re getting before you arrive at the airport. Using a build that is in line with what most of us expect from a multi-tool, you’ll find that the Dime is able to fold up and virtually disappear, yet houses a respectable amount of equipment. Tweeze, open bottles, file, tighten screws, snag zippers, trim your nails, or hook a button, the Dime is most likely to pass inspection just because it is so ordinary. No blades, no rough edges, just a lot of regular tools for regular living.
Pro: Sturdy enough to survive grinding and altering
Con: Thick prying tip
Something Fishy: Made from a solid piece of 100% stainless steel and equipped with standard drivers for quick action, the Piranha is a thick hunk of metal that is tough to break, hard to bend, and doesn’t have moving parts to fail or falter. It bears a set of open and closed wrench-style drivers, as well as a ¼-inch hex hole at the front for quick tightening and loosening of common bolts. Angled to act as a scraper, with a single flange for opening bottles, the Piranha doesn’t waste space on useless ornamentation. It’s slightly thicker than an ordinary card tool, but that enhances its utility as a small pry bar or nail puller, even if it takes up more space in your pocket.
Leatherman Style PS
Pro: Nearly keychain-sized
Con: Joints tend to stick and develop issues
Keep It Tight: Beware that there’s a “travel” version of the Style PS and an ordinary one that bears a blade, which will likely push it out of contention for TSA-approval. With that said, this is a handy personal appliance that has all the Swiss Army basics in an ergonomic, low-profile body meant to clip to a belt loop or MOLLE strap with the built-in carabiner. Not an ounce of space is wasted, and the Style PS can go into a pocket without crowding anything out. A couple of drivers, tweezers, a file, scissors, and spring-loaded pliers are about all that the PS has on hand, but you typically won’t need much else.
Pro: 23 hex wrenches
Con: Can be tough on smaller hands
Card-Carrying: This is the big dog when it comes to card tools. It’s built for real work on serious machines, as evidenced by the large driver sets which will work on cars and even some industrial-grade equipment. A few measurements in both metric and imperial, along with a straight edge, make the EDC Card a mobile work bench, all while still fitting into your wallet. A small hex driver expands how the card is used by giving you the option of carrying some standard bits for common screws. The corner is a pry bar that runs down a comfortably beveled edge to a lanyard hole for neck carry or tying off a piece of paracord that can be wound around the body.
Leatherman Tread Bracelet
Pro: Adjustable size similar to a metal watchband
Con: No personal grooming items
Rolling Thunder: Reminiscent of the treads on a Panzer tank, the Tread is part fashion accessory, part wearable tool. Constructed with durable 17-4 stainless steel, it adds a level of showmanship to every gesture while also giving you hex wrenches, drivers of all kinds, bottle openers, and box wrenches almost at your fingertips. The lack of any noticeable blades or potential weaponization usually allows airport security to look right past the Tread as a bracelet, not a threat. Make no mistake, sliding it over your knuckles is a good self-defense move, but mostly you’ll just be able to tighten loose bolts.
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