Harley wrote in with a tough question. He’s looking for an ultra-compact tool kit that’s portable, yet easy and comfortable to carry. The tools must also be comfortable and ergonomic to use. He works as an engineer for the Navy, which changes everything.
Naval vessels have narrow passageways and tight spaces, which means you cannot really stroll around with a bulky tool belt or pouches hanging off your side. They also have steep stairways, and low doorways, which when coupled with Harley’s 12-hour shifts pretty much rules out large carry-everything tool backpacks.
Here’s his criteria:
I’m an engineer for the Navy and I frequently have to travel to ships for troubleshooting, etc. This requires opening up a lot of cabinets and enclosures which it seems like every vendor has their own style. Screws, allens, bolts, 2 fasteners, 20 fasteners, every combo under the sun.
It’s 12 hour days and you can’t leave your stuff unattended or it will walk off in a hurry, so a backpack with tools is essential to open cabinets and troubleshoot equipment, but it can’t be too big/bulky/heavy because it’s on your back all day long climbing all through the ship. Big tool belts don’t work either with having to get through tight spaces on board.
Light/ergonomic/yet still practical is key.
Plenty of gimmick 400-in-1 products out there that just aren’t ergonomic to use at all when you’re using them all day long. I’ve been searching a lot the past couple days to find a few key tools to carry with me that fill this odd need.
I didn’t know if you had a past article, or had a list of items you could suggest that fit this bill of compact/multi tools, that also aren’t so compact/combined that they aren’t ergonomic to still use.
I thought it could make for a good article for guys who need to build a compact/portable yet ergonomic/useful tool kit. So far a 6 in 1 screwdriver, and a set of quad gear wrenches, and a multi-tool covers a good amount.
The last item I’m really hunting for is a ratchet with internal socket storage for a few small sizes. I saw your article on the Kobalt one but it’s still pretty bulky so I’ve been hunting for others. Here’s a thread I posted on garage journal with some of my findings so far. I’d love to see what your recommendations are, and maybe see an article on the site. I love all your reviews and articles!
Over at the GJ forum, Harley mentions equipping his tool kit with the following:
- 6-in-1 screwdriver
- 6-in-1 precision screwdriver
- 5-in-1 nutdriver/socket spinner with handle storage
- Two 4-in-1 quad ratcheting wrenches
- Gerber multitool
- LED flashlight
What he’s really looking for now is a 1/4″ socket set with built-in storage, such as this Kobalt ratchet, but that design is a little too bulky.
Built-in storage isn’t really advisable for a 1/4″ ratchet, as it would make the handle too bulky.
Aside from the Kobalt set, the Pakratchet ($23 via Amazon) is the only other self-contained ratchet and socket set that I’ve come across, although I’m not sure I would trust this tool in a high-demand professional environment.
What I would do in this case is pick up a mini Pelican case or Cocoon Grid-It organizer, and put together a small kit with a couple of sockets, an extension if needed, and one or two ratchet options. Maybe a bit ratchet or swivel-head ratchet to be used as a backup or high torque screwdriver bit driver, and another regular right angle ratchet.
Alternatively, Felo ($62 via Carbide Processors) and other European brands make some very compact self-contained socket sets.
There are plenty of socket organizers and holders out there, but I don’t think I’ve seen one that’s only designed to hold a couple of sockets in as small a space as possible.
Recommendations for an Ultra-Portable Tool Kit
If every ounce counts, the following is what I would recommend as part of a minimalist tool kit.
There are a couple of different compact multi-bit screwdrivers, but I have taken a strong liking to my Wera Kraftform Kompakt driver. It comes with internal storage for 6 bits, and a 2-position extending lockable bit holder.
It’s not too small, and not too big, making it fairly suitable for regular use. It comes bundled with a decent canvas holster.
I bought one of these over three years ago, and while I don’t use it very often, it’s one of my favorite screwdrivers to take on the go.
Buy Now(via Amazon)
Multi-Bit Precision Screwdriver
Husky and Kobalt used to offer some nice compact precision screwdrivers with internal storage, but right now, the only listing I could find is for a Husky Torx driver.
If you need something quick and easy, the Stanley 4-in-1 precision screwdriver is quite good. For removable micro bits, Wiha offers a nice option with on-tool bit storage ($26 via Amazon), and there are many options with pouch or case bit storage. There are also multi-shaft drivers, but small standardized bits are going to be easier to replace.
5-in-1 Nutdriver and Socket Spinner with Handle Storage
There are a bunch of interchangeable shaft nutdrivers, but I agree that a bit spinner with built-in storage for a couple of 1/4″ hex nutdriver bits might be the way to go. Or a socket spinner that can be used with 1/4″ sockets to minimize how many loose pieces would have to be carried.
Klein’s new Switch Drive system is appealing, but might be too bulky for a minimalist and super-compact kit. What I would do is add maybe a T-handle driver that could also be used with standard 1/4″ hex screwdriver bits, and keep nutdriver bits in an organizer or compartment of some kind.
4-in-1 Quad Ratcheting Wrenches
I think I would skip multi-size ratcheting wrenches and instead pack a 7-inch Knipex Pliers Wrench. It’s not as narrow as a wrench, but can serve in place of an adjustable wrench for many types of applications.
It might be worth carrying combination wrenches in the most-used size or two.
Buy Now(via Amazon)
The Leatherman OHT multi-tool has become my favorite quick-action tool for when I know I’ll need to use the pliers a lot. While I favor other multi-tools for different tasks, these have climbed the ranks of my most-loved Leatherman tools list.
Some of the OHT’s outside-accessible tools are smaller than those found on other multi-tools, but the tradeoff is well worth it.
There are three styles of LED flashlights I would consider for an ultra-compact tool kit. There are other models, but these are the three styles I would choose from depending on my exact needs.
Maglite’s Mag-Tac is bright and robustly built.
Streamlight’s Stylus Pro Reach is great for illuminating hard-to-reach spaces.
Zebralight’s H502W delivers a wide, bright, and uniform beam, and it can serve as a headlamp or handheld flashlight.
Ratchet and Socket Set
As mentioned, I would either go for a configure-it-yourself kit, or a European-style super-compact set from Felo. Many European brands only bundle their most compact sets with metric sockets, which is why I feel strongly inclined to follow the piece-it-together route.
Facom makes some nice albeit pricey socket sets. For an all-in-one solution, I would look at their fractional sets. This route takes the place of a multi-bit screwdriver and possibly the nutdriver as well.
Sadly, the Facom set shown here is only available with metric sockets.
Buy Now(Facom set via Ultimate Garage)
Where to Look for More Info, and Reader Recommendations
Here’s a tip: do a Google image search for EDC tool kit to see some truly ultra-compact options. Many of these setups aren’t going to be practical for tools that are used on a daily basis, but you’re bound to see some good ideas or clever storage arrangements,
As ToolGuyd readers are always incredible with recommendations, what would you guys recommend for each or at least some of these categories?