General Purpose Tools

Cool Tools 2019 Holiday Gift Guide: Kevin’s picks

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Gift suggestions from Cool Tools' founder

The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from our website, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. This week: Kevin’s picks!


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Best belts

I use only nylon web belts. They don’t have holes, so they are infinitely adjustable. And they use hard plastic for the buckle so I don’t have to remove it in airports, saving me hassle. There are many styles and colors, all can be trimmed for length. The one I use is this generic model. — KK


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Minimalism notebooks

I’ve long been a fan of blank (no-lines) Moleskine notebooks, large and small. I recently switched to Minimalism Art notebooks which are very similar, maybe better, quality and half the price. They also come in bright cover colors. — KK


Blendable color markers

For sketching and painting I favor alcohol-based markers, which let you blend colors like a watercolor brush, but with the convenience of a felt marker. The preferred premier markers are the extremely expensive Copics. An equivalent inexpensive alternative for blendable markers with dual tips (fat or point) are Bianyo. I can paint quickly easily in a notebook using a travel set like these 72 Bianyo markers — KK


Two-sided magnetic measuring spoons

These magnetic measuring spoons are handy because they have two sides for each measurement. The oval side fits into smaller jars, and I can alternate between wet and dry ingredients without having to wash a spoon. Also, the magnets keep them together so I never have to search for the one I need. — CD


Four legs

Hiking poles give me two extra legs. They are most useful going downhill, over uneven or wet terrain. I bring them wherever I hike, especially when I travel, because I use a collapsible set from Black Diamond that folds up to less than 14 inches (36 cm). That not only fits in carry-on luggage, it will also hide away in a day pack, so I can take them out only when needed. The $75 Distance Z-Poles are lightweight aluminum, unfold in a second, and are very rigid. You can get featherweight carbon fiber if you want to pay more. — KK


TSA-proof knife

After decades of using a Utili-key as my choice of a small knife to pass through airport security, I lost it in the woods. I replaced it with a Victorinox SwissCard. This tool is a mini-Swiss Army knife flattened into a plastic holder the size of credit card but thicker. It has a tiny (1.5 inch) sharp blade, scissors, tweezers, a pen, toothpick, and a pin. You can carry it in your wallet or bag. Goes through security. There is a knock-off version which remarkably adds a magnifier, a light, and four screwdriver heads in the same size card for half the price at $9 — but you’ll need to sharpen the flimsy blade. — KK


Werewolf, intense social game

When we meet for family reunions, or gather with friends, our favorite group game is Werewolf. Classrooms and corporate retreats also play Werewolf. It’s a deduction/deception game, extremely social, that is as much fun to watch as to play, so it can involve everyone. The games are exhilarating, surprising, and addictive. The only gear you need are some cards. While you can get by with an ordinary deck of cards, a set of dedicated Werewolf cards makes it much easier. After you’ve played a number of basic games, it’s easy and fun to play with variations, which are supported by this deck of Apostrophe Werewolf cards ($11). — KK


Cloud magnetic key holder

I saw one of these cute cloud-shaped magnetic key holders ($7) at my friend’s place and wanted one immediately. It solves my one recurring problem: not knowing where I put my keys. It came with adhesive backing so I was able to “set it up” right away. Easy peasy. — CD


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Smallest, cheapest flashlight

This ThorFire is the brightest, cheapest ($22), smallest, lightest LED flashlight that runs on a single AA (rechargeable) battery. Rugged, made of metal, it will stand up on its end. I have them everywhere. — KK


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WiFi smart plugs

I bought this 2-pack of GoldenDot WiFi smart plugs for $17 on Amazon. I used one on our bedroom’s air filter and the other on our garage door (to turn of the power so no one can open it with a remote). It was easy to link the plugs to Alexa and Google Assistant. I now control these appliances with my voice. I also put the air filter on a schedule, so it turns on at night and off in the morning. — MF


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USB rechargeable lighter

Forget butane-lighters or matches. This $13 gooseneck electric arc lighter has a lithium-ion battery that can light hundreds of candles and barbecue fires on a single USB charge. — MF


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Sturdiest big umbrella

We’ve had one of the rainiest winters in memory. I normally carry a compact foldup umbrella in my bag, but when I head out from my house in the rain, I grab the Blunt near the door. This full-length umbrella is built like a tank. It is super sturdy, larger than a solo umbrella but not as big as a golf umbrella. There are no pointy corners (they are blunt, hey), and high winds won’t faze it a bit despite its large sized canopy. It would take an actual hurricane to invert it. You’ll lose it before it wears out. It’s expensive ($79), but worth it. — KK


Most comfortable flip-flops

Sanuk Yoga Slings are made from recycled yoga mats and are unbelievably comfortable to walk around in. The thong sandals have stretchy fabric straps that you can pull around your ankle so that they never fall off. I gave a pair to my mother-in-law, who was born and raised in Hawaii and maybe the ultimate authority on flip-flops, and she loves them. — CD

See our other 2019 gift guide picks to date. Want more? Check out our 2018 Gift Guide picks, as well as our 2017 Gift Guide, 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide, 2014 Gift Guide and our 2103 Gift Guide

12/2/19