For Your Pocket

James Brand Ellis Review: This is the Modern Swiss Army Knife We’ve Been Waiting For

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If there were only one iconic pocket knife, it’d likely be the Swiss Army Knife. The James Brand wants to replace it. Today, the company released the Ellis, its first multi-tool. Don’t think of it as a Leatherman though; there are neither pliers nor wire cutters here, just a partially-serrated blade, a screwdriver that doubles as a bottle opener and a scraper tool. It’s simple, and that’s the point.

That’s also because Ryan Coulter, the company’s founder, and the rest of the team wanted it to be uncluttered, like a Swiss Army, and drew inspiration from the historic brand. “We’re big fans of Swiss Army and that design ethos,” he says. “I always think that Swiss Army has done the best job of making good everyday carry knives and tools that are not positioned in either the tactical or the outdoor space.”

Video: The James Brand ‘The Ellis’ Review

But one of the problems with Swiss Army Knives is that they don’t lock. “There’s always this potential to close the blade on your fingers,” Coulter says. So in creating a tool along the same lines, one of the most critical line items was locks, but the team found that adding that simple mechanism complicated things. The release of the Ellis is actually a re-release; the tool first came out a few months back and was quickly recalled. If you pressed on the closed screwdriver/bottle opener while the knife was open, the lock could disengage.

Coulter says that some consumers thought it was a secondary feature, but it wasn’t what he had envisioned. “It was something that unless you knew about it, it could surprise you. We wanted to make sure that we had 100 percent confidence in the mechanism and how to use it, so we went back and changed it.” The new Ellis has a double lockback design, with each implement having its own mechanism. It looks identical to the first though; the included tools haven’t changed at all.

The James Brand reached out to friends and more importantly, consumers, to figure out which to feature in the Ellis. What are the items that people need all the time? “A bottle opener and a screwdriver,” says Coulter. “Those are the things that, besides the knife blade, get used like 90 percent of the time.” Specialized implements — things like awls or magnifying glasses — come at the price of increasing the size of the tool. “We were focused on what can you take out of this, what’s the most minimal thing you can do and still make a multi-tool?”

The result is a modern interpretation of a classic; a tool that balances the iconic familiarity of the Swiss Army Knife with the James Brand’s unique perspective on everyday carry.

Gear Patrol also recommends:
Opinel No. 10 Folding Knife ($30)
The James Brand Elko ($60)
Gerber Center Drive Multi-tool ($85)
A Conversation with Ryan Coulter, Founder of the James Brand

Ryan Coulter of the James Brand talks about his first pocket knife, where a new knife design begins and what’s always in his pocket. Read the Story

Tanner Bowden

Tanner Bowden is a staff writer at Gear Patrol covering all things outdoors and fitness. He is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and a former wilderness educator. He lives in Brooklyn but will always identify as a Vermonter.

More by Tanner Bowden | Follow on Instagram · Contact via Email
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