Leatherman Charge Multitool

I’ve carried a Leatherman multitool, in one form or another, for the last 20 years or so. It’s the one thing I use every single day. There are plenty of multitools on the market and each person will appreciate different aspects of each. There are a number of features I like about the Leatherman Charge:

  1. Externally-accessible blades. The 154CM clip-point straight knife, 420HC serrated knife, wood saw, and file are all accessible without opening the multitool at all. Considering how often I use the blades (usually several times a day) this is a winning feature for me.
  2. Interchangeable screwdriver bits. The Charge comes with a basic flat/Philips reversible bit but there is an additional kit with another 20 bits of various sizes. The bits are unique in that they are flat so they fit into a holder that slots into its own pocket in the belt holster. This allows me to carry a variety of bits right along with my Charge.
  3. A bit-extender option available which fits into the holster as well, that serves 2 purposes: a) it gives about a 3″ extension to fit these bits into tight quarters and B) it has a standard hex socket for standard screwdriver bits. So if you need a bit not available from Leatherman or a specialty bit such as a “security Torx” the extender will accept those and many more. This makes the Charge extremely flexible for many different tasks.
  4. There is a second bit holder for miniature screwdriver bits, including is a reversible flat/Philips bit, which is great for tiny screws such as for eyeglasses, portable electronics and such. The fact that these bits are replaceable is fantastic because I don’t have to worry about damaging a bit that can only be replaced at the factory.
  5. Ccissors. The Charge’s fold-out scissors are sharp and precise, capable of cutting many soft materials. The scissor blades are about 1″ long — not suitable for extended cutting sessions, but great for small jobs.

The rest of the tools included in the Charge are typical across the Leatherman line: a bottle/can opener; two types of wire cutters; pliers that taper from a standard size suitable for bolt heads etc. to a needle-nose size; an 8″ ruler stamped into the handles; a file with an aggressive side suitable for wood or metals and a diamond-coated side for fine surfaces or even sharpening a blade. The saw has very sharp teeth in an aggressive pattern which make short work of even sizable branches.

The Charge is a mid-size multitool approximately 4″ long; it fits comfortably in the hand with rounded edges to keep from digging into your palm and fingers. There are 3 different versions of the Charge available, labelled the AL, the ALX and the TTi. The AL and ALX are almost identical, the difference being a ripping hook on the tip of the rope knife for cutting seat belts, linoleum and leather. The TTi has titanium handle scales instead of the black plastic of the AL and ALX. Also, both the TTi and ALX models add a crimper section in the pliers. In addition there are options for stainless steel or black anodized components to suit your tastes.

Overall I find the Charge to be a great mix of durable, useful tools; it’s comfortable in the hand and sized appropriately for many tasks without being too large or heavy to carry easily. The adaptability of the interchangeable bits and convenience of carrying a selection of bits in the holster make it a winner in my book.

-- Victor Reiner  

Leatherman Charge TTi Multi-Tool with Leather Sheath and Bit Kit

Available from Amazon

pStyle Female Urination Device

I have used the pStyle female urination device for over two years. Initially you might think it is gross but I think it is fantastic and I’ll explain why. If you are a guy you have no right to judge or snicker since you don’t have to completely drop your pants to pee while out in the wilderness.The pStyle is a plastic trough that allows girls to pee standing up without dropping their pants.

I carry mine in a little mesh bag with a small squirt bottle of water for rinsing. I keep it in one of the side water bottle pouches on my backpack and one in my glove box.

  1. Before you say this is gross, remember urine is sterile (unless you have some nasty infection).
  2. Imagine not having to drop your pants to pee in the jungle, avoiding getting your butt bitten by insects in the process.
  3. You don’t have to go on a trek to find cover as far away just to pee. In many places cover doesn’t exist.
  4. They come in a rainbow of colors.
  5. You don’t need toilet paper to pee. When done you just pull it forward and out if your pants and it acts like a squeegee. Then you simply rinse with the little water bottle and put away. Your fingers never touch the pee or any nasty bits.
  6. Imagine not having to hold it for long periods for lack of privacy.
  7. You will finally really know how easy guys have it.
  8. You can now tell people “I just don’t pee, I pstyle!” Or “I’m stylin with my pstyle!”
  9. Two years ago a woman I was with on an Amazon trip fell in the river, pants down, trying to pee off the side of the boat. All could have been avoided with the pstyle.
  10. I’ve been doing field work/trips for a long time and just want to make you aware of a product I find very useful and wish I had discovered sooner.
  11. I have researched other types and styles of these devices and I think this is the best. Don’t bother with the other kinds (Go-girl, lady j, etc). They are too soft and flexible so you practically have to drop your pant to get them in place and use them anyway. For me its a p-style or nothing.

I am completely serious about how much I like the pstyle. I have given one to my sister and other field biologist friends and while skeptical at first, they love it after trying it in the field.

-- Margy Green  


Available from Amazon

Chapman Deluxe Industrial Mini-Ratchet Set

About ten years ago I was doing field service on biomedical equipment, this little tool kit got more use than all of the other tools put together. It has 90 percent of what you need for all types of fasteners, and many add-ons are available for specialty fasteners. The tools are rugged and made in America.

For assembly and disassembly, Chapman miniature ratchet kits are ideal for working in tight spaces and are unsurpassed in versatility and speed.

The mini ratchet gives you the balanced leverage you need to loosen frozen or rusted parts without damaging them.


-- Bill Schmalzer  

Chapman Deluxe Industrial #5503 Mini-Ratchet Set

Available from Amazon

Schwinn Smart Phone Bicycle Handlebar Bag

I was looking for a way to securely mount my smartphone to my bicycle to record the details of my workouts. I wanted something that would protect the phone from rain, but still allow for basic touchscreen functionality. I did not want to spend a fortune on this either.

My wife found this on a clearance rack at a local Target and it is perfect. There is a decent sized pocket that can hold a few protein bars, wallet, etc. The phone slides into a clear pocket that folds over the top and secured by velcro. It is impossible for the phone to fall out and having the plastic pocket over the top of the rest of the bag increases the bags ability to keep water out.

I am sure it is not completely water proof and I would not chance it, but I have been stuck in a few minor rain showers and everything stayed dry. There are fancier versions out there, but for the price this is perfect for me.


-- Matt Schirmacher  

Schwinn Smart Phone Bicycle Handlebar Bag

Available from Amazon

Long Nose Vise-Grips

Everyone who is into tools knows about vise-grips (or locking pliers) and most of us have at least one in our tool box. But don’t overlook the small long-nose version. I think it’s one of the handiest tools I own. I’ve had the 4″ version for over 20 years and I go to it for all sorts of things: an improvised handle for my air pump valve lock when it broke, a way to turn a small nut in a hard-to-get to location, a clamp to hold small parts together while the super glue sets. If don’t have massively strong hands and fingers, they are just the thing to get a better grip with. Put some finger tips from a rubber glove over the jaws for a cushioned grip. When they went off to college, I bought my daughters a pretty complete tool set from Harbor Freight. The only thing I added was a 4″ long nose vise grip.

-- Jamie Windham  

Long Nose Vise-Grips

Available from Amazon

American Weigh Digital Scale

I needed a scale to weigh the powdered supplements I take (powders are cheaper than capsules). I bought the AWS 100g x 0.01g Digital Scale in January. It’s about the size of an iPhone and measures up to a limit of 100 grams in 0.01 gram increments.

I also bought a 100 gram weight ($7) to calibrate the scale.

The first thing I did was weigh some coins. A Nickel is supposed to have a mass of 5 grams (here’s a page that lists the mass of different coins). All the Nickels I weighed had slightly different masses. Same with Pennies and Half Dollars.

I also weighed Bicycle playing cards. Each card has a mass of about 1.75 grams. I weighed all 26 red cards: 45.51 grams. The black cards came in at 45.57 grams. The four Aces had a combined mass of 7 grams on the nose. Would the Tens weigh more, since they have more ink than the Aces? I measured them: 7.03 grams. I tried a different deck. Aces: 7.03 grams. Tens: 7.03 grams. (I’d love to weigh these cards on a 0.001 gram scale!)






-- Mark Frauenfelder  

American Weigh 100g x 0.01g Digital Scale

Available from Amazon

Point It

It’s just a bunch of tiny little color pictures so if you can’t communicate with somebody you whip this out and point at a picture. There’s so many pictures in it that you always get the idea across.

-- Tim Jenison  

[[This is from the Cool Tools Show podcast with Tim Jenison. See all of Tim's picks here. – Mark Frauenfelder]]

Point it: Traveller’s Language Kit

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:












What’s In My Bag? – Andrew Maxwell-Parish

Andrew Maxwell-Parish spends most of his time wandering through the realm between art and engineering. He likes to explore playful ways to make technology development more accessible to non-engineers.

I always enjoying finding out about other people’s methods in making their way through life. Maybe it makes me feel less self conscious about my own quirks.

These are the items I deem necessary to have with me at all times.

In my pockets or on my belt:

Keys – I’ve moved to the carabiner method. I don’t regret it.

Wallet – I made this about a year ago with some scrap of canvas that I had laying around. It’s a simple design for carrying a few cards and cash.

Leatherman Squirt E4 – I love this tool. It’s the Squirt with dedicated wire strippers at various sizes. I probably use it about 20 times a day at a minimum and I feel naked without it. It might be one of the least aggressive of the Leathermans but this is by far my most cherished tool.

Leatherman Squirt case – I made this a few years ago to carry the Leatherman on my belt. It has held up nicely.

In my jacket pockets:

Nexus 4 – I have a love/hate relationship with smartphones. Sometimes it feels like an abusive relationship. I’ve learned to remove nearly all notifications that are pushed to the phone.

Lip balm – Burt’s Bees. Sometimes my lips get chapped.

Headphones – Some cheap ones to carry with me at all times. I tend to listen to music all day, every day.

Moleskine Cahier Journal (3.5″X5.5″) – I have yet to find a design notebook that I prefer to this one. The cover is flexible, pages are blank, the size allows you to carry it with you everywhere. Yes, Moleskine is trendy but they happen to make a notebook that is very functional for me.

Uni-Ball Onyx Micro pen – This is my preferred pen. It gives a nice crisp and dark line.

In my bag:

The bag – I’ve been making my own messenger bags for about ten years now. My first bag was a modification of a canvas U.S. mail bag that I found at the amazing Ax-Man in St. Paul, MN. Ax-man is probably one of the greatest surplus stores in the world and walking into this shop is what made me want to work with electronics. After that bag wore out, I started using scrap pieces of canvas from outlet fabric shops. This is probably bag number five for me. I find myself wanting to make a new bag every couple of years and usually end up giving the old ones away.

MacBook Air – Unfortunately, Macintosh is the only OS that will allow me to use all the software I need on one OS. As soon as there is a high quality and intuitive CAD package compatible for Linux Mint (come on Fusion 360!), I will be moving back over. Until then, Mac it shall be.

Kryptonite U-Lock – I bike everywhere. This lock is absolutely necessary. Sometimes I have a cable lock with me as well to lock up all the wheels.

Sunglasses – My brother found some Ray Bans on the street after a parade in Detroit. He gave them to me because he is an outstanding guy.

3D printed Nexus 4 Camera mount – This is a device to mount my phone to a tripod. I connect it to a Giottos mini ball head mount to have 360 degree rotation. I got really into making photo spheres of environments and this setup works really well to get decent quality captures.

Flexible tripod stand – This was a couple of bucks on Amazon and it nice to carry around with you. Nothing amazing but definitely better than trying to balance your camera on a ledge.

Leatherman Wingman – I bought it cheap and it is nice to have these tools with you. My brother (see my note from earlier) bought me my first Leatherman for Christmas when I was 13. I’ve been a fan of their tools ever since.

3D printed bike light to tripod adapter – I bike everywhere and there are quite a few times that I regret not having a larger sized tripod. I figured I could have an attachment on my bike to be able to mount a camera to it. At the time I had access to high quality Objet printers and I made and printed this design one afternoon. It allows me to disassemble my bike light and connect this device into the mount. It works well enough but the design could be refined.

Pens and Sharpies – Allows need to have a few extra with me.

Anker USB Battery – Compact and nice to have when I need some extra power.

1/8″ audio jack – Certain car share vehicles don’t have the audio jack inside. I carry this one with me for the rare times I use one of these cars.

USB drive – I don’t use these very often anymore but it still comes up.

USB to Ethernet connector – The MacBook Air doesn’t have one to my occasional frustration.

USB charger – For powering up!
USB Hub – In case I need a little extra something something.

Bike tire patch kit – There is a lot of broken glass in the areas I’m biking. I have a mental map of bike pumps I can use in the areas I bike but having a patch kit with me is pretty essential.

That’s how I roll. Please don’t mug me.

-- Andrew Maxwell-Parish  

[[Cool Tools Readers! We will pay you $100 if we run your "What's in My Bag" story. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]]

Sharkk iPad Mini Keyboard

The Sharkk keyboard for the iPad Mini turns your iPad into a fully functional, highly portable computer. One you can do serious work on in addition to using all the apps you love.

It’s not just a keyboard, it’s clam-shell case that both protects your iPad and still allows you to use it in landscape and portrait modes. Your iPad Mini will double in thickness but the gains in utility more than compensate, in my opinion. I still marvel at the fact that I have such a powerful device in a format the size of a paperback book.

Quick list of just a few apps that become that much more useful with a proper keyboard:

1. Evernote
2. Office for iPad apps
3. Textastic (great code editor with FTP, SFTP, Dropbox, etc. integration)
4. ServerAuditor (terminal emulator)
5. Codea (kick ass Lua dev env for the iPad)
6. Trello (collaborative task organizer, very useful/flexible/powerful)
7. Editorial (text editor with integrated Python interpreter for macros, workflows, etc. Recommended)

Note: It’s not all roses. Sharkk’s quality control leaves something to be desired. I ordered 3 keyboards on Amazon that were all defective in one way or another. One email to Sharkk’s support team and they sent me a working keyboard straight away.

Note: There are two firms selling the same (presumably OEM’ed) keyboard case, Sharkk and CoverBot. Had and loved the CoverBot case with my iPad Mini but when I upgraded to an iPad Mini Retina, Apple’s updated Bluetooth stack broke a number of keyboards, including the CoverBot. The Sharkk one, however, works fine.

-- Paul Clip  

SHARKK Apple iPad Mini 3 Keyboard

Available from Amazon