Many of us like to pack along a little knife when backpacking or travelling. But what to take when flying. Rather than lose a favourite to zealous security, there are some little tools that don’t include a blade. Three Points of the Compass looks at three options.
Few of the knife manufacturers have bothered to produce bladeless ‘airline friendly’ options for those flying who have to contend with getting past airport security. It is always possible to pack a favourite blade into hold luggage, to be retrieved at destination. If you do that, do ensure you check on local knife law at your destination. It may be simplest to just forego the blade and consider what other tools are important to you. Do you want to have a pair of scissors, something to keep on top of manicure duties, perhaps a screwdriver or pliers for working on electronics, possibly even a zipper pull for that unexpected emergency. Victorinox, Leatherman and Gerber have all produced something that may tick the box for you.
Victorinox produced what is probably the most popular knife in the world with their Classic, however even the modest blade on that is not going to get past airline security. In 2012 Victorinox introduced their Jetsetter range. These eschewed most bladed tools and concentrated instead on including a small range of other tools, such as screwdrivers, thumb drives, nailfiles, even cuticle pushers! It looks as though sales have not been particularly good and most Jetsetter models have since been discontinued.
There isn’t a great deal included on the Jetsetter so the little 21.3g ‘knife’ will happily hang unobtrusively with a bunch of keys. The only tools are a small pair of very good sprung scissors, a magnetic combination tool that will open bottles and handle smaller Philips screws, and the usual Victorinox scale tools of tweezers and toothpick. There is another, expensive, variant of this tool that includes a USB drive, called the Jetsetter@work Alox.
The combination tool is not much use in practice, capable of nothing more than opening a bottle or tightening a small Phillips screw. But if that is what you want to do, then…
The tiny scissors are very good, however the flimsy tweezers are barely adequate for most tasks. They have too wide tips for small tick removal and flex too easily to grasp obdurate thorns and splinters. Three Points of the Compass holds a persistent dislike of the toothpicks found in many Victorinox knives and just about any alternative tool installed in the scale rather than a toothpick is an improvement.
The red scales are familiar to many and this tool is definitely going to invite enquiry. Opening all the tools should satisfy most security, but as with the other tools looked at here, even scissors will not pass some security checks and it is possibly going to be confiscated. Thankfully it is a cheap tool and the loss shouldn’t be that great, simply annoying.
Leatherman have produced nine keychain-sized multi-tools over the years. The longest standing of these, and the most popular, is their Micra. However that includes a blade so cannot be considered for taking into the cabin.
In 2011 the 44.9g Style PS was released. This modern looking tool with skeletonised sides is a great deal more expensive than the Jetsetter yet doesn’t actually have a great deal of capability. But the main tool can be useful and may encourage people to prefer one over the the other. This is a small pair of spring loaded needlenose pliers. There is also a smaller pair of sprung scissors in the handle. Beyond these, there is just a nailfile with a small screwdriver tip, a pair of tweezers and a carabiner that can be used as a bottle opener.
The most popular small multi-tool produced by Gerber is their good looking yet reasonably priced Dime. In 2015 Gerber released a ‘TSA friendly’ version of the Dime that has no blade beyond those on its small scissors. Like the Leatherman multi-tool tool, the 68g Dime Travel keychain multi-tool is again centred around a small pair of needlenose pliers. These are exactly the same pliers as found on the Dime, both have jaws that will twist apart slightly under heavier strain. The bottle opener is amongst the best found on any key chain tool. The tweezers have good angled tips and the spring loaded scissors are as good as the Leatherman but not as good as the Victorinox.
The Gerber Dime has small and medium screwdrivers which include 34mm long fine and coarse files. Neither are up to much and are unlikely to be of much use for anything. The end of the file has a 6.5mm flat screwdriver tip that will handle light work but any torque will twist or snap the tool. All the tools are extraordinarily stiff to open and will break finger nails.
Gerber included a zipper-hook on this tool. This is probably the most useless tool ever released by any knife manufacturer. It is a genuine waste of both space and opportunity. If you have a broken zip, use the pliers.
Reviews for this little airline friendly tool were scarce and invariably poor on its release and it appears that Gerber has discontinued it. It is not difficult to find, often available at a reasonable price, far below book value making it then comparable to the Victorinox in cost.
Phillips screwdriver- small
|58mm x 18.58mm x 9.25mm||21.3g|
|Leatherman Style PS||Scissors|
Mini-pliers, with wire cutters
Phillips/flat screwdriver- small
|76mm x 20.60mm x 10.50mm||44.9g|
|Gerber Dime Travel||Scissors|
Mini-pliers, with wire cutter
Flat screwdriver- small
File- coarse and fine
|70mm x 20.55mm x 14.45mm x||68g|
So, which to take when flying? The Victorinox is small light and reasonably priced, but lacks much in the way of functionality. If a small pair of pliers is attractive to you then the Leatherman is good quality and becomes a tad more useful than the smaller Victorinox. The Gerber is a cheaply made Chinese offering that offers almost as much functionality than the better quality Leatherman. Personally, I would rather have a small tool that included a blade and would include something different to all three looked at there, then place it in my checked in luggage.
Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here. These include more in depth reviews of the three tools shown above.
I don’t feel tempted by any of those, since lack of a knife blade messes up usability too much. Travelling with a knife is no problem as long as it’s in a checked bag (even a tiny one) rather than carried with you on the plane. You can also mail it to your destination address (if you have one) before leaving.
Lately I’ve been happy with a Milwaukee folding boxcutter (utility blade) as my main EDC knife. It is quite sturdy, has enough blade length for most of my daily non-culinary uses, and I don’t mind messing up the blade hacking something since the blades are easily replaceable and cheap. For travel my idea is to simply bring it with no blade, and get some more blades at the other end. I haven’t tried this yet though.
I would worry about those bladeless but complicated looking multi tools. TSA is clueless and likely to confiscate them anyway.
Maybe it is possible to modify the SAK tweezers to have angled tips, using a grinding wheel or a file. I might try it with mine.
You might already be familiar with Felix Immler’s videos but I just discovered him on youtube. He does outdoor stuff exclusively with SAKs and has written a few books about them. Any SAK buffs who haven’t seem him before, try typing his name into youtube search. His videos are a real treat. I particularly liked the one about how to use the SAK reamer (the recent ones with a hole in the blade) as a sewing awl. I knew that was its purpose, but never knew how to sew with it. It turns out to be complicated but effective, and he explains it wonderfully.
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Thanks for the link!
I have yet to find videos of someone using just a small knife for everything so look forward to work though this channel.
There is a Youtube video of Mors Kochanski talking about the evolution of his kit and the knife bit is really interesting as he started using a simple folding lock knife.
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I remember a peice of travel advice from my youth so a long time ago about always packing a sak. The main recommend use was for fixing shower heads.
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