Finding pocket TSA-approved tools that will get through airline security can be a little tricky. We figured we’d try to bring some clarity—and reveal our thoughts on the best TSA-approved or airplane-safe tools. Of course, when we say TSA-approved we really mean TSA-compliant. Check out our favorite items below that you can (as of this writing) bring with you when flying within the United States.
Much speculation and claims surround approved vs unapproved TSA items. We figured the best way to find out what you can fly with is to simply try it for ourselves. Check the TSA website, and you can get a pretty clear picture of prohibited items. Using that as our baseline, we looked for some pocket-size tools that had items we could use but did not include any of the banned items.
Table of Contents
- TSA Approved Tools Don’t Include Knives
- Are Your Tools TSA-Approved or Airplane Safe?
- Best TSA-Approved Tool for Multifunction Use
- Best TSA-Approved Tool for Your Keychain
- Best TSA-Approved Small Pliers
- Best TSA-Approved Airplane-Safe Keychain Tools
- Best TSA-Approved Credit Card Style Tool
- Testing TSA-Approved Tools in Actual Travel
Editors note: This article is not intended to endorse or encourage illegal behavior by bringing banned items on commercial airline flights. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on what could be deemed as ‘approved’ pocket tools to take on flights with you. In this article, “approved” simply means “not specifically on the current banned list”. Travel with any pocket tool at your own risk. And always remember that regardless of what the TSA rules say, an actual TSA agent has the right to confiscate just about anything, even if it’s a product you’ve brought onto a plane previously or something that is not necessarily banned according to official policies. We know this first hand!
TSA Approved Tools Don’t Include Knives
There are many of us that always carry some kind of pocket knife or another useful compact tool so that we can be like adult boy scouts when the need arises. To be without our knife or other tool leaves us feeling lost when situations arise that require a quick slice or something opened.
When it comes to traveling for a short trip by air, we often do not check our baggage which means that we have to leave our knives and tools at home. This past summer I got tired of not being prepared and figured I would search out and find some sort of pocket tools that we could fly with.
Are Your Tools TSA-Approved or Airplane Safe?
Most manufacturers are hesitant to claim that their product is airline or TSA-safe. After scanning the TSA website and going through their prohibited and permitted items, we have an observation. If it is in question, it probably is prohibited. You can check out the list here for yourself. We included some notable items below that we thought interesting—specifically in the area of household tools:
What You CAN Bring in Your Carry-on
- Bottle openers
- Corkscrews (Really, have they not seen any action films?)
- Duct tape
- Multi-tool (Leatherman-style without blades)
- Screwdrivers (seven inches or less in length)
- Tape measures
- Wrenches and pliers (seven inches or less in length)
- Robotic vacuums (yes, seriously)
What You CANNOT Bring in Your Carry-on
- Any knife
- Drills and drill bits
- Hammers & mallets
- Nail guns
- Tools longer than 7 inches from end to end
- Power tools
Given this short list of permitted items, you really have to look hard when searching for options. We recommend starting small…literally. There are a number of key chain size multi-tools but most of them include knives or blades. A knife of any size immediately disqualifies the tool for air travel… even though my ballpoint pen could do more damage than many of the 2″ blades I’ve seen.
Best TSA-Approved Tool for Multifunction Use
Swiss+Tech ST53100 19-in-1 Micro Pocket Multitool
Swiss+Tech makes this tool out of hardened steel which helps to ensure durability. It includes two hex wrenches, 6 screwdrivers, pliers, a bottle opener, a wirecutter/stripper, a hand drill, and a file. You even get two small rulers with extensions. Best of all, the tool carries a limited lifetime warranty. Priced around $25, this little tool can get you through your travels in a pinch.
Best TSA-Approved Tool for Your Keychain
I already love keychain USB thumb drives. Now, I’m hooked on key-shaped airplane-safe multi-tools. This one in particular packs more than 16 functions into a tiny tool that fits right on your keychain. You get a bike spoke key, multi-tip screwdriver, imperial and metric wrench, ¼-inch bit driver, scoring tip, can/bottle opener, wire stripper, file, and more. At less than $18, these make great stocking stuffers!
Best TSA-Approved Small Pliers
Swiss+Tech ST50022 Key Ring Multi-Tool
The durable and precision-made Swiss+Tech ST50022 Key Ring Multi-Tool TSA-safe tool includes pliers, a wire cutter/stripper, and dedicated Philips and flat screwdrivers. Weighing just 1.6 oz, this little tool is easy to keep on hand since it takes up so little space. While many of these small tools include a wrench, the ST50022 actually works at releasing and tightening smaller nuts. The quick-release self-locking jaws can also keep this tool tightly secured to a key ring. If that doesn’t get you excited—the price might. You can find this tool online for less than $10!
Best TSA-Approved Airplane-Safe Keychain Tools
Kershaw PT-2 Compact Keychain Pry Tool
For less than $10 you can go from a boring keychain to something with a bit of built-in functionality. The Kershaw PT-2 Compact Keychain Pry Tool combines a prybar, can opener, nut-and-screwdriver, and more. It even adds a glass-filled nylon handle overtop the 8Cr13MoV stainless steel body. We love the simplicity of this TSA-approved tool and that should also help you get it through security without much trouble.
Best TSA-Approved Credit Card Style Tool
Widget Credit Card Wallet Size Multitool
Another sub-$10 product, this credit-card-sized multi-tool is forged from heat-treated 420 stainless steel. It should fit in most wallets and weighs just 1 ounce. You get three screwdrivers (including one for eyeglasses), a bottle/can opener, a ruler (cm/in), a nail puller, various hex wrenches—and a protractor. They even make a model with an integrated money clip.
Testing TSA-Approved Tools in Actual Travel
To test out if these TSA-approved tools were commercial airline-safe, we took some with us on several multi-day trips. These involved multiple airports and numerous TSA screening positions. One even went on an international flight. Determined that we would not do our testing stealthily by trying to conceal these tools in our carry-on luggage, we simply carried them in our laptop bag and even in our pockets.
When required, we sent these airplane-safe tools through the scanning equipment by themselves. We kept them completely exposed in a bowl. Never once were we questioned. Now, this is not to say that these tools will always make it through. In fact, based on our experience, some might decide to “confiscate” a random tool on a whim… Still, as far as we can surmise, they clearly fall under “approved”—at least according to this week’s TSA guidelines.
As far as actually using these tools. They came in very handy for tightening a few nuts, clipping wire zip ties, and even making a few small adjustments to some audio equipment. Each of our recommended tools has ample build quality to last for many years.
It is a safe bet that you can find several small-sized airplane-safe tools or multi-tools you can travel with. Just make sure you pick something with no blades. Also—since any tool you travel with risks getting confiscated—keep the good, expensive stuff for when you are home and on the ground!
Where is Part 2?