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Unexpected situations happen all the time when traveling, just the time when you need your trusty multi tool by your side. We researched the rules and restrictions to figure out the best way to travel with your multi tool and not have problems.
I am not a lawyer and laws may change. This article is not legal advice, consider my research a starting point to help you find the current requirements for your circumstances.
Multi tools with knife blades of any length are prohibited in airplane carry-on bags and must go in your checked bag. Bladeless multi tools less than four inches long when open are within TSA guidelines but we recommend putting all multi tools in your checked bag when traveling.
Traveling is complicated enough without having additional challenges at security checkpoints. If you accidentally bring a prohibited item into the screening area you have several options:
- surrender your multi tool to the TSA officer
- exit the line to make other arrangements: return your multi tool to your vehicle, mail it to yourself or put it into a checked bag and likely pay additional bag fees
Unless you have extra time to handle the situation your only option may be to say goodbye to your trusty companion and surrender your tool so you can still make your flight.
Are Multi Tools Allowed on Airplanes?
Knives are classified by the TSA as prohibited items but they are not unlawful. As long as you are not trying to sneak a blade thru security you won’t be arrested or charged with a crime if you get caught with one at airport security. You just have to get rid of it before you can pass.
Multi Tools You Can Fly With
TSA Multi Tool Guidelines
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides guidelines for multi-tools and bladeless multitools on their What Can I Bring? pages.
Carry On Bags: Yes (Special Instructions)
Checked Bags: Yes
In general, you are prohibited from traveling with sharp objects in your carry-on bags. Multi-tools (multipurpose tools) with knives of any length are prohibited. Please pack these items in your checked bags. Multi-tools (multipurpose tools) with scissors less than 4 inches may be placed in carry-on bags.
Multi-tool without BladesTSA Multi-Tool without Blades
Carry On Bags: Yes (Special Instructions)
Checked Bags: Yes
My Multi Tool is Bladeless, Why is it a Problem?
The TSA provides a comprehensive list on their What Can I Bring? page but this also splits the guidelines across multiple different locations. Multi tools are especially complicated because they are part of many different categories.
For example, consider the following TSA guidelines for what is allowed in carry-on bags:
- Multi tools with scissors less than 4 inches
- Scissors with blades less than 4 inches from the pivot point
- Screwdrivers less than 7 inches (measured from end to end when assembled)
When reading the restrictions it is reasonable to assume that multi tool scissors can have blades up to four inches long, but its not written that way and leaves things open to interpretation. The reality is that anything with sharp or pointy parts is going to get attention going thru security and may not be allowed, even if within the guidelines. The final decision is always with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.
TSA Approved Multi Tools
TSA Approved is a marketing slogan and not reality. TSA Compliant is closer to the truth but the more appropriate term to use is Travel Friendly. If you really must travel with a multi tool in your carry-on bag, the one-piece pry-bar and credit card style tools have the best chance of breezing through security. See our favorites here.
Folding Travel Multi Tools
We really liked flying with the Gerber Dime Travel tool before it was discontinued, it offered great functionality at a reasonable price point. The Leatherman Style PS has similar functions but it stings a lot more if you have to surrender it (check current price on Amazon).
Traveling with Multi Tool in Your Checked Luggage
TSA allows knives and multi tools in your checked bags, but you need to ensure it is properly packed. Any sharp objects in checked bags should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors. We recommend putting your multi tool in a sheath if you have one, or securing it inside a small pouch or bag.
Theft from Checked Luggage
There are reports of suitcases showing up at their final destination and the owners discovered their multi tools were missing from their checked bag. As with any valuable item in checked luggage, there is risk of theft but we didn’t find any evidence that multi tools were targeted more frequently than other items that are easily pocketed. Filing a claim is a hassle and can take months to conclude, but here is the general process:
- Start with the lost and found location for your carrier, there is a (small) chance they have the item and can help you with the claim process
- Contact the police, the TSA will ask for the police report as part of their investigation and the airline may as well
- Contact the TSA and file a claim, if the TSA inspected your bag there should be a Notice of Inspection (NOI) form placed in your bag, but the TSA investigates all claims regardless
- File a claim with your airline. All airlines limit their liability against loss of high value items, but your multi tool should be within the limit unless you gold plated your original autographed Leatherman PST. They will require proof of value so have your documentation ready.
Bladeless Multi Tools
There are a handful of multi tools designed for workplaces with “No Knife” policies in place. The bladeless MP600 and knifeless Rebar are not multi tools for your carry on, but the Style PS from Leatherman and the SOG Sync I Traveler and Sync II Traveler are advertised as Travel Friendly.
- Gerber: Multi-Plier 600 (MP600) – Bladeless
- Leatherman: Knifeless Rebar, Style PS
- SOG: Sync I Traveler, Sync II Traveler
All travelers need to ensure compliance at their destination as well. US travelers are accustomed to the TSA security check as the point with the strictest requirements, but as we discussed in this article the knife laws at your travel destination may prohibit certain multi tools and airlines can also have their own policies. Other countries like the UK prohibit all locking knife blades so even your checked bag is not an option.
International travelers may have only one option to carry a multi tool – the Leatherman Tread series (available on Amazon). The wristwatch form factor is familiar and non-threatening and is compliant to the requirements for the 37 countries we checked. With the Tread you have a selection of drivers and wrenches, nothing with an edge that could be considered threatening.
What Happens to Multi Tools Confiscated or Surrendered at TSA Checkpoints?
No, that TSA Agent inspecting your multi tool isn’t thinking it will be a great addition to their collection. The TSA has a zero tolerance policy and employees can be instantly terminated if they’re caught pocketing confiscated items for themselves. However these is almost zero chance you can recover your item
All items surrendered or confiscated at TSA checkpoints become government property and procedures vary by state. Most valuable items will be resold either at auction or a surplus storefront. You can find the details for your state at USA.gov, some states do online auctions or even eBay listings.
Are Multi Tools Allowed on Trains?
Amtrak is a major mode of transportation between the big cities in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic but limited in other parts of the country. We were surprised to learn that Amtrak carried 31.7 million people in 2018, around 87,000 each day. Knives are prohibited in both carry-on and checked baggage on Amtrak.
Amtrak Prohibited ItemsAmtrak Baggage Info
Sharp objects, including but not limited to axes, ice picks, knives, spears, and swords
*Scissors, nail clippers, corkscrews, and razors are allowed in carry-on baggage.
**Sheathed equipment, to include fencing equipment, are allowed in checked baggage.
Amtrak is the only long-distance passenger train line in the United States. There are intercity lines such as Alaska Railroad and Virgin Trains USA in Florida. The website for Alaska Railroad states that concealed weapons are not allowed on trains or in depots, but we called to confirm that multi tools are permitted in checked baggage. Virgin Trains USA (Brightline) prohibits all knives.
Sharp objects, including but not limited to: knives; straight razors; ice picks; axes; and swords.Brightline Terms of Service
Other passenger train services in the US are commuter rail and part of local public transportation networks, each with their own regulation by the state, city, or transit authority. For example in Are Multi Tools Legal to Carry in NYC? we found that the MTA is more restrictive than NYC law which is more restrictive than New York State law. The MBTA follows the requirements for Boston and restricts knife blades longer than 2.5 inches:
No person, except as provided by law, shall carry on his person, or carry under his control in a vehicle, any knife having any type of blade in excess of two and one-half (2½ ) inchesCity of Boston Municipal Code
The Metra in Chicago also limits blades length to 2.5 inches, While San Francisco limits blade length to under 3 inches.
No person shall carry concealed on or about his person any knife with a blade more than two and one-half inches in lengthChicago Ordinance § 8-24-020
“dangerous or deadly weapon” shall mean: any knife with a blade three inches or more in length;SF Police Code Article 17, § 1291(a)
If you are not in one of the 12 states that have a statewide preemption law the patchwork of local ordinances can be difficult to navigate. In addition to applicable state laws, check the laws for areas that you travel through (including city and county level) and not just your destination.
Are Multi Tools Allowed on Cruises?
The top five cruise lines have varying rules, Royal Carribean and Celebrity Cruises prohibit all knives regardless of length. Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines permit knives with blades up to four inches long, while Princess Cruises limits passengers to 2 1/2 inch blades.
However, passengers report that even multi tools within the guidelines are likely to be challenged at the security screening. Cruise lines are leery of passengers bringing tools like pliers and screwdrivers on board the ship.
Personal grooming multi tools like the Leatherman Style, Micra or the Gerber Dime have the best change of making it through but don’t bring a tool that you would be heartbroken to lose. Multi tools in checked bags may be confiscated and if you bring it in a carry-on bag be prepared to give it up at security.
Carnival Cruise Line – Prohibited Items:Carnival Cruise Line Prohibited Items
Knives, scissors and open razors with blades longer than four inches. (Recreational dive knives are allowed, but must be held in the custody of the Guest Services Manager or Chief Security Officer and must be checked out/in by the owner for dive excursions during the cruise. Large scissors used by scrapbook and quilting enthusiasts are at times permitted with prior notification from the Security Services Department, but are held on board in the same manner as dive knives.)
Royal Carribean – Prohibited Items:Royal Carribean FAQ
Sharp Objects, including all knives and scissors. (Note: Personal grooming items such as safety razors are allowed. Scissors with blade length less than 4 inches are allowed.)
Princess Cruises – Prohibited Items:Princess Cruises FAQ Prohibited Items
Knives with a blade over 6.35 cm (2 ½ inches) or ½ inch at widest point. This includes bladed weapons, sharp pointed weapons, daggers, sabers, swords, axes, ice axes, hatchets, straight razors (shaving safety razors are allowed), razor blades not in a cartridge, box cutters, ice picks, meat cleavers and utility knives.
Flick knives, gravity knives, switchblades or lock knives. Small locking pocket knives with blade lengths less than 6.35 cm (2 ½ inches) and widths ½ inch or less are allowed.
Scissors with blades longer than 4 inches.
Tools of trade/hobby including any type of hand or power tool.
Norwegian Cruise Line – Prohibited Items ListNorwegian Cruise Line Prohibited Items List
Knives with a blade longer than 4 inches/10.16 cm
Celebrity Cruises – What Not To Pack:Celebrity Cruises Before You Board
Sharp Objects, including knives and scissors.
Personal grooming items such as safety razors are allowed. Scissors with blade length less than 4 inches are allowed.