These are some thoughts I had about tools with which you can carry on flights.

TSA Restrictions

I remember getting on planes with my trusty original Leatherman Wave in a modified horizontal holster. (As an aside, the original Bianchi-made Leatherman Wave holsters are still the best holsters ever made for a multitool.) Those days are long gone, even my mini Swiss army knife (SAK for us knife knuts) isn’t allowed on any flight. The TSA has a list or prohibited items. Sometimes international flights will have different restrictions; I once lost a knifeless SAK to a baggage check because I didn’t know that scissors were verboten on Asiana flights.

A summary of the restrictions are:


Item Description
Scissors Metal with pointed tips and a blade length greater than four inches measured from the fulcrum are not allowed.
Knives Except for plastic or round bladed butter knives
Drills and Drill bits prohibited
Hammers prohibited
Saws prohibited
Tools greater than 7” length prohibited
Ice Picks prohibited
Corkscrews corkscrews with sharp foil cutters are prohibited


Item Description
Round bladed butter knives permitted
Screwdrivers less than 7” in length
Pliers less than 7” in length
Wrenches less than 7” in length
Scissors Metal with blunt tips and blade length less than 4” from the fulcrum
Knitting needles permitted
Nail Clippers permitted
Corkscrews corkscrews without sharpened foil cutters are permitted
Lighters permitted (!)
Safety Matches One book of safety matches are permitted (!!)


There are three main categories of tools suitable for carry-on, general purpose one-piece tools, multitools, and no-infringing standard tools.

One-piece tools

All of the tools in this section, in my opinion, owe a debt to the pioneering efforts of Peter Atwood. His Prybaby started a revolution (I think they up to Gen5 now) in the EDC (Every Day Carry) crowd. Original tools made by him are still in very high demand and pretty much always sell out. It took a while, but mainstream makers caught on and now there are many available across all price ranges. Since all of them are well under 7 inches and also don’t have any blades, they are all allows on board flights.

For a tiny, simple one-piece tool, you can’t go wrong with the $8 Gerber Shard. You can pry with it, open bottles with it, rip open a package, and it even has a nice philips driver on the pointy butt end.

For a slightly larger (but cheaper) tool, the Nite-Ize DoohicKey is a great choice with a built in ‘biner, bottle openeer, and standard wrench openings.

Leatherman also has a nice set of different tools to choose from, all under $12 Leatherman 1,4,5,6,10

For a premium on the others, you can get a titanium tool from Boker (a higher end German knife maker) called the Boker Plus Vox, it includes a carbide glass breaker protected by a pair of o-rings.


The pioneers in this area, Victorinox and Leatherman, both have the best two TSA approved multi-tools. The tiny Victorinox Jetsetter is a wonderfully tiny tool with a combination screwdriver-bottle opener combined with a pair of tiny scissors. If you haven’t used the small Victorinox scissors, they are the best made small scissors around. I use mine pretty much everyday; they are so precise and accurate that using them is a joy. I wish Victorinox would make a Cybertool 34 minus the awl and the blades. That would be a wonderful tech oriented multitool.

Leatherman used to have a knifeless fuse, but that seems to have been discontinued. In its stead is a smaller, but still very robust Style PS which has lightweight but useful pliers, scissors, carabiner/bottle opener, a combination phillips/flat screwdriver.

Standard Tools

If you’re a techie like me, then most of the time the tool you need is a screwdriver which fits the item before you. Many of the above tools have serviceable screwdrivers, but none of them are what I’d choose if I were at my work bench. When I’m at my workbench, I reach for my Wiha System 4 screwdrivers. Yeah, I know there are Chinese versions of these screwdrivers for a fraction of the price, but you get what you pay for. Wiha bits are tougher, more precise, will last longer, and are guaranteed. I’ve never had any issues with any of mine.

For a travel screwdriver, I think it is hard to beat the Wiha 75093 System 6 Bit set. For a package just slightly fatter and longer than a sharpie, you get 14 precision bits of all sizes, a wonderfully compact carrier, and the familiar System 6 handle and extension. At $30 bucks it’ll last you a lifetime and should have you covered for 90% of the small jobs you encounter. Oh, and if you regularly disassemble Apple products with pentalobe screws, then the 75097 may be the right match for you.

An inexplicable omission from the System 4 system are the Pozidriv bits. Really Wiha? You have every Torx and every Pentalobe, but no System 4 Pozidriv bits?

If you just want a small compact screwdriver set, then it is hard to beat the compact power of the nieko mini ratchet. At $9, it’s a steal, well made and you can swap out the bits for ones you’ll use regularly. Chapman also makes a similar ratchet, but it only works with their bits (which have a special stop built into the sides) so I can’t recommend it.

For some jobs, having an adjustable wrench can make things so much easier. Knipex makes the best ones I’ve encountered, and their 6” Wrench should have no objection from the TSA. Unlike other adjustable wrenches, the Knipex wrenches apply parallel pressure against the nut as you turn, minimizing the possibility of slippage. They also open their jaws wider than adjustable wrenches of similar size. These are pricey, though, at $46. But again, you get what you pay for. After I tried one, I donated all my screw-style adjustable wrenches and got a 10 and 7 inch with the 6 inch for travel.

Scissors are an incredibly useful item to have, but given the high probability of having an overzealous agent take them, I lean towards cheap. I carry 6.5” blunt/blunt dissecting scissors which are all stainless, really sharp, and you can get find them on ebay for crazy cheap. I think I paid less than $8 for three delivered from within the US. One for my desk, one for my travel kit, and one spare.

Measuring stuff

I recommend a simple compact cloth tape measure like this. Very handy and takes up practically no space. And if you want, you can add in a nice $2 6” Stainless Ruler, which has utility far beyond its $2 price and minuscule volume.

Possible Kits

One Tool Only

Small Tech Oriented Kit

Small General purpose kit

Full Kit

Very similar to my carry-on toolkit.


So, even with the current restrictions, you can travel with a pretty complete set of tools in a compact case. I didn’t touch on flashlights or consumable tools (batteries, duct tape, wire, zip-ties etc.) but I’ll reserve those for another post. I was originally going to have a section on building a check-in tool-set but this post is already super long so I’ll wrap it up here.