EDC Performance Art: Reviewing the Victorinox Midnite Manager

As a sort of stunt, I carried the Victorinox Midnite Manager as my only piece of EDC for a week.  I did this three times, most recently about a month ago.  The goal was to see just how well this combination light, tool, and pen did as my only EDC item.  I carried a watch, phone, keys, and wallet too, but I don’t consider those true EDC items as everyone carries those things.  What is the result? Well, its surprising.  The reality is, the Midnite Manager really didn’t work, but it got me REALLY spun up thinking about tools and good design.  This is sort of a backwards review, so I scored it at the bottom, just because I am a completist.

In case you are unaware the Midnite Manager is a 58 mm sized SAK with a pen, a button cell light, and a few of the normal SAK tools including an excellent Phillips driver, a fine pair of scissors, and a pen blade.  Thinking through what I carry on a regular basis, the Midnite Manager seems to have everything I need in one tool—a pen, a light, and blade.  In reality it was just torture to carry and use.  Here’s why.

I am a fan of small blades so the pen blade at around 1.9 inches didn’t really bother me all that much.  I was much happier when I switched back to an easier-to-deploy blade, but it wasn’t dreadful to use the pen blade at all.  The driver was outstanding. I use it all the time even when I am not carrying this multitool.  The scissors were, like all Vic scissors, great too.  None of the steel implements hit poorly at all.

The thing that really did me in was the pen.  The pen here is atrocious.  Not only is it a crappy ball point, the body of the tool was unpleasant to hold.  If you are just signing receipts, it is okay, but if you have to do anything more, and I mean literally anything, it is tough.  Scribbling my telephone number was a bear.  Writing a quick note on a Post It was miserable.  Thinking about taking a page notes made my hand preemptively seizure in protest.  But that was not the worst of it.  Because I am lawyer and go to court and other secure places a lot, the utility of having a blade on my pen backfired and only deprived me of both often.  It might work if you are a contractor or the like where you both don’t do a lot of writing AND you don’t go to secure facilities, but for me, the pen was the thing that killed the Midnite Manager.

The button cell light was pretty meh.  I have done this thought experiment three times over five years and by the third and final time, even with minimal use the battery conked out.  In the first two weeks of use, it was pretty bad.  It is significantly worse than something like the LRI Photon—dimmer with poorer color rendering and zero throw.  If you want to illuminate a door lock, the light kinda works.  If you wanted to shine a light into a dark space you are out of luck.  Hitting something across a field is truly impossible, even street signs 50 feet away don’t pick up the lumens.

In all the Midnite Manager was not better than SAK of the same size without the pen and light.  This is not a truly viable alternative to EDC stuff.  Its a novelty more than anything.  But the lessons I learned ARE helpful in figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and why multitool design is so hard.

First, there is a limit to the advantage you gain from combining tools.  This observation really encompasses two things: theme and size.

Thematically, multitools need to have some shared purpose or shared task.  The Leatherman Signal is a great example of this.  It is designed for hunters.  It has implements that help with firearms.  I am not a hunter so I have never owned a Signal, but its strong and consistent theme among the tools makes all of them more useful.  The Midnite Manager’s tools don’t really have that kind of consistency.  I guess you can say that they are themed around EDC or convenience, but because people’s EDC tasks are so varied, it is hard to make a theme around those things that works.  The Victorinox Cadet does a good job of this, but it does so by keeping the tools very generalized.  There is no ballpoint pen, for example.

I suppose someone that really liked the Midnite Manager or someone that has owned and used it for a long time would argue that all of these things work well together, but really what that is pointing to is this—tools become more useful when we habituate ourselves to them, when we work with them in mind.  I often thing of this as the “Owning a Truck” Phenomenon.  You will do things, approach tasks, and see the world differently with a truck.  My paternal grandfather, who I don’t mention that often because he died when I was 6, was a Borden salesperson in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.  He had a huge milk truck.  On his way back from his sales route he would routinely pick up stuff left on the side of the road and take it home to fix or refurbish it.  To this day some of his refurb furniture is still in the family.  I will post a few pieces on IG when I get a chance.  This is what I mean by habituating oneself to a tool.  That truck changed what he did on a daily basis, and so, like with a tool like the Midnite Manager, person can become accustom to and find utility in almost any tool.  But that doesn’t make the design inherently good.  You just work around the compromises because ingenuity is really the most important human tool.

The other issue is size.  I have written this probably a million times, but there is an ideal length to diameter ratio for a flashlight.  Something like the BOSS 35 nails this so perfectly that I will often fidget with it during Zoom meetings.  Here the light is basically a sticker on the side of the ultra-tiny tool.  Similarly, the design of the pen is so fundamentally compromised by space limitations that even if these tools were themed well, they can’t possibly work well because they are just too cramped up.

Another problem with the Midnite Manager’s design that helped make clear what works on multitools and tools in general is the fact that two of the tools work against each other.  The knife blade and the pen really fight with each other design wise.  Because the Midnite Manager is a knife-based multitool (as opposed to the classic Leatherman, which is a plier’s based multitool), the knife wins the design fight making the pen follow along.  But this is not about the crampy, crappy pen.  Instead this problem is that there are quite a few places where you can’t go with a knife and so the pen is really useless.  I go to more of those places than most people, but everyone goes to a few.  As a result, the utility of the overall device is weakened by this compromise.  There are fewer places where this tool can go because they glued two very different things to each other.  If you have ever tried to do precise measurements with a drywall T you understand the problem.  You have this huge weight cantilevered off one end resulting in a virtually impossible to use ruler (unless your cutting a virtually intact, very large sheet of drywall).  The two functions fight each other.  Only here, it is worse.  One function makes the other illegal to use.  That is bad design.

Finally there is the fact that the Midnite Manager’s compact design isn’t really that special anymore.

If I carry the Spoke Roady, the Sofirn SC01, and any one of a half dozen knives I own, I have something that is very compact, very capable, and can be split up.  It is essentially a no-compromise carry that bests the Midnite Manager in every way.  Of course the carry is a bit more expensive and a bit larger, but it still disappears in a pocket.  Largely this is a new phenomenon created by capable ultra small flashlights.

I have my Leatherman PS4 and a RovyVon Aurora A2 clipped together Spydercollector-style and when I bring a compact or pocket pen, I get way better utility than with the Midnite Manager.  Breaking the pen and knife apart solves a huge number of problems.

I similarly have a kit with the Veleno Designs 38DD prototype (the Quantum and Q2 are based on this torch) and a sprint run version of the Jester with 20CV.  Add a compact pen to that, like a compact G2 (which I have a box of at all times both because it is a good loaner pen and because I need its refills for the Tactile Turn Compact Side Clicky), and you have a super great carry.  Note that the knife and light go together with no problems.

Overall, the Midnite Manager didn’t work as my sole EDC.  It is also not a particularly good multitool.  It also taught me a lot about multitool design and tool design in general.  If you need a score here you go:

Overall Score: 9 out of 20 (2 off in Design, Theme, Grip, Tool Performance, and Tool Selection; 1 off Deployment).

Amazon Links:

Victorinox Midnite Manager

Leatherman Signal

Victorinox Cadet

Drywall T

Sofirn SC01

Leatherman PS4

Rovy Von Aurora A2