There’s endless discussion about what sophisticated multitool is the most useful. Some modern multitools are paramount to carrying a toolbox that folds into a single block of metal. They’re big, heavy, ungainly, and sometimes impractical. The Leatherman MUT EOD is great for when you need to diffuse a bomb, but it weighs around 12 ounces with a sheath and can be used as a paperweight in a pinch. What about tools you’ll actually carry? It’s been said that the best tool for a job is the one you actually have on you, rather than the one that’s sitting back at home on a shelf when you actually need it. That’s where keychain multitools come in.
Chances are, if you’re awake and have on clothes, you’ve got your keys with you. So a multitool that can attach to your keys without weighing you down ends up being one of the most useful tools you can buy, because you’ll actually end up having it on you and using it when you need it. But what’s the best when it comes to keychain multitools?
There’s a lot of competition and a steady wave of new products coming out in this field. That’s likely because impulse buys are common (the low price and gift-ability makes these enticing ‘why not’ purchases) and development costs are (relatively) low. So sorting out which keychain multitools are actually worth a damn and which are junk is a tall task. After some deep-dive research, we’ve narrowed the list down to a top ten plus one bonus option for keychain tools that will make your life a little easier. All of these are winners, but maybe you’ll find something that fits your use profile closely here.
The history of the Shard is humorous. Years ago, Gerber came out with a keychain multitool called the Artifact that they believed was going to be “the next big thing.” It had a similar form factor to the Shard, but included a folding utility knife with a basic liner lock. To say the Artifact was terrible was an understatement, as any tool that has the propensity for injuring the person carrying it is – the little X-ACTO blade liked to open up when you weren’t expecting it, slicing legs and fingers and hands galore. The Shard was originally a promo “giveaway” item handed out for free at trade shows, never actually distributed. Get it? Shard, like part of an Artifact? Anyway, the Artifact was a huge failure but everyone wanted a Shard, so it wound up in production. It’s probably the only keychain multitool most people need, but it’s not perfect.
It offers a lot of functions in a small size (2.75” long, 0.6 ounce weight) and for almost no money ($7 for the black anodized version.) At the front you have a pry bar/nail puller with a decent angle to maximize what leverage you can attain. The two tines are large and small sized straight screwdrivers, and the notch of the nail puller can also serve as a wire stripper (and can cut strings in a pinch.) The middle of the body houses an angled bottled opener (a must have for any tool!) and the rear includes a built in Philips screw driver. There’s an oversized hole for the key ring, and small amounts of jimping on the top and bottom to give you a solid grip on the tool. I’ve carried a Shard for more than 5 years now and I can’t count how many times it’s saved the day by being on my keys. There’s no reason to not have one.
If you’re looking for something to hold your keys, rather than something to add to your keys, Gerber recently introduced the amusingly named Mullet multitool. It’s a key dangler- it has an open end you can slide onto your pocket or through your belt loop – and has a large split ring with a hole on the opposite end to attach to your keys. Like the Shard, the Mullet has a pry bar/nail puller with a v-notch wire cutter and two sizes of straight screw driver, as well as a 3D Philips driver and a bottle opener.
On top of those functions the Mullet also adds a ¼” hex bit driver at the aft end of the belt loop hanger, and a small straight scraper. A Shard or Mullet can do most everything you’ll ever need a keychain tool to do and then some – in my time carrying a Shard it’s opened countless beers, tightened up electrical plate screws, opened cans of paint, opened crates, cut stray strings, tightened hose clamps, and a million other little things. It weighs nothing and disappears on your keys. The “must buy” item of this list.
Victorinox makes a wide variety of Swiss Army knives as well as some high quality multitools and pocket knives, ranging from enormous behemoths like the SwissChamp all the way down to beautiful simplicity in the form of the diminutive Alox Classic. Alox means the knife eschews the standard Cellidor plastic scales with metal liners for thinner and stronger textured aluminum scales, which survive the endless rock-tumble finish of being on a keyring better than plastic does, while being thinner overall.
At only 2” long closed and weighing 0.6 ounces (a tenth less than the plastic model), the Classic Alox offers the bare necessities for a keychain tool. It has a tiny little straight edged knife made from stainless steel, 1.25” long, held with a traditional slipjoint spring. There’s a nail file that includes a small straight screwdriver on the front edge. And opposite these implements is a pair of spring-loaded scissors that are perfect for newspaper clippings or errant strings. The Classic includes a small split ring on a loop that allows you to attach it to your keys.
The Classic being one of the most popular Swiss Army knives means it’s available in a wide array of colors as well, and if you prefer the traditional plastic handles you also get a miniscule pair of tweezers and a plastic toothpick that nest in the scales – missing from the Alox model. These knives are solidly built, useful in a lot of real-world situations, affordable enough to just buy another one when the TSA steals it, and available from a myriad of retailers.
Now we’re getting into real multitools. It’s really amazing how much functionality Leatherman packs into the Micra, which only weighs 1.8 ounces. The Micra is a top seller for the brand, and the first time you handle one you’ll see why. It’s a butterfly-style folding multitool like their larger models such as the Wave, but much smaller – 2.5” long when closed. It’s different from other Leatherman folding multitools in one big way – the central tool the handles fold around is a set of spring-loaded scissors, rather than a set of pliers. This makes the Micra more useful for day to day tasks rather than repairs, but there’s another Leatherman later on this list that will suit that need.
Other tools are small but well chosen, and all are inside-access only (so the tool must be unfolded to access them.) One handle holds a medium Flat/Philips driver, a pair of tweezers, and a bottle opener/small screw driver. The other handle has a small clip point blade in 420HC, a medium straight screwdriver, and a nail file/nail cleaner. There’s also ruler demarcations on the handle if you need to measure something shorter than 4.7” long. The handle with the tweezers has a built in keyring loop with a small split ring to mount to your keys. The tool set on the Micra is more similar to a Swiss Army knife than to a typical Leatherman product, but they’re all useful things for day to day life, and the whole tool takes up very little space when folded.
The Micra is available in a bunch of colors (plain stainless steel, plus black, red, grey, blue and green) and there’s also a customizable model you can personalize on the Leatherman website with engraving, patterns, and even images and artwork.
The Dime is similar in size to the small Leatherman trio – Micra, Juice, Style – but it offers a bigger variety of tools than the Leatherman options. It’s a folding tool based around a set of pliers, like the Juice and Style PS, offering needle nose pliers at the tip, and rounded “standard” pliers in the middle of the head, with a “last case scenario” wire cutter at the base of the head. Pliers are spring loaded like the Micra and Juice, a feature that’s sadly missing from a lot of larger multi-tools!
One arm contains a pair of spring loaded scissors, a medium flathead driver (that’s beefy enough to use as a light pry bar) and a combination coarse/fine file with a “cross driver” tip (that can be used in both small straight and Philips screws.) The other arm houses a small straight edge blade in a useful sheepsfoot pattern, as well as the Dime’s secret weapon: a “retail package opener” that’s designed to bust through the obnoxious plastic clamshell packaging many things are sold in these days. It also includes a fixed bottle opener with a slot for a pair of tiny tweezers, and a keyring loop with a small split ring included. The Dime’s tools (other than the pliers) are all outside-accessible so you don’t have to open the tool to access them, making it easier to use than the Micra. Quality isn’t Gerber’s strong suit, and reviews are mixed on the quality of the Dime, but it’s well designed, affordable, and very portable.
There was also a variant of the Dime called the Dime Travel that swapped around some tools to be TSA-compliant. The arm that holds the knife and package opener on the standard Dime swaps these sharpened tools out for a nail file shape just like the blade, and the package opener for a “zipper puller” that’s similar to the parcel hook which has confused Swiss Army Knife owners for years. They’ve since ceased production on this, leaving the TSA-complaint multitool market to the Leatherman Style PS.
Ahh, multitools are so boring these days. They all offer the same basic functionality. Oh, this one has a set of pliers! This one has scissors. Oh wow, look, a pry bar. Blah blah blah. How about a multitool you can eat your breakfast with?
The amusingly named Eat’n Tool was designed by Liong Mah – yeah, that Liong Mah – and is the only multitool/spork combination I can think of. It’s designed for camping (obviously!) but it’s small and light enough to hang off your keys if you like to bring your own silverware to the lunch table. You can argue about whether this is a 6 or a 7 function tool – is a spork a single tool, or does it count as a spoon and a fork? I’m not sure. It also includes a set of small metric hex wrenches (6, 8, and 10mm) as well as a small straight screwdriver and – of course – a bottle opener for cracking open a cold one.
The Eat’N Tool has been a big seller for CRKT – so much that they expanded the line to a larger model. The larger model Eat’N Tool XL is a more full-sized Spork, along with a stepped multi-wrench in ½, 3/8”, ¼”, 7/16” (11mm) and 5/16” (8mm). A full sized bottle opener is complimented by a sharpened can opener and a flat screwdriver/pry tool. Both tools are oddly specific for camping, but sometimes you just need a spork!
If the Victorinox Classic was the minimalist answer to a keychain sized Swiss Army knife, then the MiniChamp is the tiny toolbox. It’s like they hit the enormous Swiss Champ with a shrink ray, allowing you to fit 18 functions into a tiny 58mm package that weighs only 1.58 ounces.
Tools on the MiniChamp cover a lot of bases. There’s a plain edge blade, of course, along with a pair of spring-loaded scissors. There’s a magnetized Philips screw driver that includes a bottle opener and a wire stripper rounding out tools on that side. The other side crams 5 narrow tools in, including a smaller blade, an orange peeler (that’s probably also a good box/package opener, with a sharpened hook), a cuticle pusher, a ruler and small screwdriver, and a nail file/cleaner. The MiniChamp includes a pair of removable tweezers, as well as an extendable pressurized ballpoint pen that’s actuated with a grey sliding switch. There’s also a loop with a tiny split ring to attach it to your keys.
There are several variants of the MiniChamp available, including an Alox version with thinner textured aluminum scales that skips the tweezers and ballpoint pen, and the Midnite MiniChamp which trades the tweezers for a little LED flashlight. The Midnite model is available in solid red as well as translucent red and blue.
The Griffin Pocket Tool came out a few years ago as a crowd-funded project on Kickstarter in 2014, which is where I first ran into it – back when EDC gadgets on Kickstarter were still a novelty. I was utterly fascinated and got an early production model. Since then they’ve expanded the lineup to include a mini version as well as the version I recommend here, the Griffin XL.
The Griffin is at its core a key dangler, which can be used in either a pocket or on a belt loop. The clip opens on the side into a central cavity that functions as a multi-wrench. With the XL you have a choice of a metric or a standard model, and as someone that works on cars the metric model seems eminently useful – the center wrenches are 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12mm, and the key ring hole is also a 13mm hex wrench. Additionally, the channel formed by the pocket clip functions as a ¼” hex bit driver. The top corner near the keyring hole is a scoring tool for marking wood, and of course there’s a bottle opener – which works in a reverse pull. The far end of the tool functions as a pry bar, straight screwdriver, and nail puller, and the side of the tool is marked for use as a ruler/straight edge.
The big downside to the Griffin is that using it as a keyring prevents you from using the 13mm hex wrench, although I suppose you could just remove your split ring in a pinch! These wrench sizes which are common fixtures on cars combined with the XL actually being large enough to use as a key dangler (the original is just too small, in my experience) make it worth the extra money.
The XL is also available in standard wrench sizes, with the center wrenches being ¼”, 5/16”, 3/8”, 7/16” and ½” as well as a ½” hex for the key ring hole. Since early production of the Griffin they’ve changed over to EDM wire cut for production with CNC machined edges for better quality. The Griffin XL is 4.3 inches long and weighs 65 grams (2.2 ounces) and costs $40, but there’s also a titanium upgrade available with the same dimensions which drops the weight down to 1.1 ounces for $70.
Leatherman makes so many exceptional small multitools that keeping it down to just two on this list is a challenge. We don’t even mention the Style or Freestyle! (Oops.) But the Squirt is an exceptional piece of equipment that fits on your keys and provides so many essential tools. It’s remarkably useful for something that’s 2.25” long and weighs 2 ounces.
The size is similar to the Micra, but the basic layout is quite different. The primary difference being that the main tool of the Squirt is a set of pliers (more on that later) while the Micra has scissors, and all the Squirt’s secondary tools are outside accessible. Like the Micra, the pliers are sprung (which is a great feature for minimizing fatigue from use) and feature needlenose at the tip, regular pliers for turning bolts in the center, and a small wire cutter at the base. The blade is 1.6” long and made from full flat ground 420HC, accessed with a traditional nail nick. A small wood/metal file sits next to the blade on that side, while opposite that you have spring action scissors, a small flat/2D Philips driver, and a medium flat driver that also has a bottle opener built into it. A metal loop on the end comes with a small split ring to attach to your keys.
The Squirt is sold in two variants – the PS4 (which is described as above), as well as the niche ES4 which is meant to be a pocket toolbox for electricians. The only difference is that the ES4 swaps out the traditional pliers for a set of multi-gauge (12, 14, 16, 18, and 20) wire strippers, while keeping narrow needle nose pliers at the tip and the wire cutter at the base. It’s priced the same as the PS4, and while it won’t be as useful in day to day situations, it would be quite valuable if you work with wiring frequently.
Everything needs to have a party trick, something to make it stand apart in a crowded field. As you might guess, the EverRatchet has a reversible ratchet cleverly built in to the body allowing you to more effectively use ¼” hex bits when making repairs. The system is ingenious – a small torsion bar runs the length of the tool and forms one corner of the contact patch with the bit. Depending on which way the tool is facing, it will grip clockwise and slip counterclockwise or vice versa, allowing you to tighten or loosen screws without constantly repositioning the tool.
If the screw is particularly stubborn, there’s a fixed ¼” hex fitting at the tip of the tool you can use as a “breaker” then switch your bit to the ratcheting position as well. The end of the tool is a scraper/straight screwdriver with quasi-sharpened corner for a box opener, and there’s the requisite bottle opener on the underside. You’re able store a single standard ¼” hex bit in the center of the tool, secured with two chemical resistant elastic bands, and if you remove the bit there’s a miniature multi-wrench fitting with 5 and 6mm hex slots as well as a wire stripper notch. The far end of the tool has 7 and 8mm hex fitting and a hole to mount a key ring to, and the outside of the tool includes thumb grips, metric and imperial rulers, a file, and angle markers.
The EverRatchet measures only 2.4” long, and is available in stainless steel – which weighs 0.7 ounces – and titanium – which is only 0.42. It comes standard with a #2 Philips bit as well as a custom sized fire starter flint that fits in the tool. It would be a very handy keychain tool even without the clever ratchet action, but the ratchet really brings it over the top for me.
Do you ever see something and are immediately struck by how amazingly clever and simple it is? This happened to me when I spotted one of these SwissTech 6-in-1 tools on my friend’s keychain at a bar. Ever a curious gear nerd, I asked him what it was and he unfolded the arms, unlocked it, and handed me a fully functional set of pliers. Mind blown.
The SwissTech series of multitools are beautifully simplistic – the pliers lock onto a keyring by folding the arms up next to the plier head, which prevents the head of the pliers from opening. When you need to use it, you just fold the arms down so they point away from the pliers and it magically unlocks. Not only does the SwissTech 6-in-1 have good general purpose pliers and precision pliers, it also includes a wire cutter/stripper under the pivot. Both of the arms that lock the pliers closed are screwdrivers, a #2 straight screwdriver and #2 Philips. With the clever design of the pliers there’s no split key ring to deal with, and they stay put until you need to unlock them and fix something. At $9, they’re the closest to the Gerber Shard in terms of being a screaming deal-for-money.
The 6-in-1 tool is miniscule when folded up, measuring 1 7/8” by 1” and weighs 1.6 ounces. There are other SwissTech folding plier keychain tools as well if you’re looking for more functions in exchange for more size, but the 6-in-1 covers all the bases of a miniature tool. The 9-in-1 version might be worth considering, but the 19-in-1 and MicroMax 22-in-1 might be a bit of guilding the lilly, even if they’re shining examples of how many tools you can fit in a small space.
Bonus: Rexford RUT
Are all these keychain multitools exciting, but not scratching your itch for high end gadgetry? May we recommend the Rexford RUT (Rexford Utility Tool.) The RUT is a premium keychain multitool that is intended to be used when you don’t want to beat up the edge on your nice knife – since it uses a replaceable utility razor. The body is 6AL4V titanium, and the razor slides in and out of the body with a side switch that locks the blade in place both open and closed. Being a multitool, it includes a pry bar/straight screwdriver on the opposite end as well as a bottle opener, and a ¼” hex bit driver that’s also where you can attach a split key ring.
At around $150(!) these tools are very spendy, but the sliding utility blade mechanism is neat, and owning an actual Rexford for only hundreds (rather than thousands) of dollars appeals to some. There are also versions of the RUT sold through TAD Gear (Triple Aught Design) featuring the brand’s topographical pattern.
That’s our list – obviously it’s not comprehensive, but all of these keychain multitools will provide functionality in a way that makes life easier while not weighing you down. Did we miss your favorite? Send us an email!