This is my 400th product review on this site and for the momentous occasion (for me), I thought it was fitting to review Nik’s Minimalist Wallet. Its fitting because not only is this a great product that really has improved my daily life in the way only a great addition to your EDC can, it is also a product that I did what Nick Shabazz calls a stealth review on many moons ago.
When I first started the site and the podcast (you knew there was a podcast, right?) I reached out to a bunch of different companies making gear in our little niche. I formed a lot of good relationships and over time some would ask me questions. One question that came up over and over again was this one: which EDC item needs the most innovation? Over and over again I answered the same way: wallets. Wallets are exceptionally hard to make because people use them differently. For me my wallet carries a few cards, a few bucks, and my IDs—nothing else. For my Dad, for example, a wallet is a filing cabinet you store in your pants pocket. His is crammed with cards, cash, IDs, affinity cards, receipts, shipping information, small handwritten notes, coupons, maps to buried treasure. Suffice to say his wallet looks like George’s wallet on Seinfield. Then there is my wife’s wallets. Yes “wallets.” She has her “big, do everything wallet.” She has her “I am going out for a fancy dinner” wallet. Then she has her “its Saturday morning and I am going to the grocery store so I need a few cards and coupons” wallet. She has a wallet system, not unlike my system of folding knives, each with a specific purpose. Finally there is my 8 year old son’s wallet. It does nothing other than hold birthday and Christmas money. No cards. No IDs. It just need to hold a lot of cash, mostly $1s. And so in one family you have a good cross section of wallet use and a good indication of the problem. With a knife you use it to cut stuff. It might look different or need to have a different blade shape or lock, but fundamentally what you do with it is the same from user to user. With a wallet, that is not the case. And thus wallets are hard to design.
But there is another issue that compounds wallet design—its dying. Wallets are on the wane. Its unlikely to be a quick and painless death. But with the implementation of e-receipts and things like Apple Pay, the chance that people will have a wallet in 30 years is pretty slim. Cards will migrate to devices and you will never get a paper receipt again. Even cash, cold hard cash, is likely to become increasingly uncommon. A few years ago, in an effort to cut down on corruption and crime, Nerendra Moti, the prime minister of India, issued an order that recalled 86% of all cash in the second most populous country in the world. There were some serious problems, but the recall, which took place in less than 6 months, did exactly what it set out to do—pull paper money out of circulation. With cards going to devices, receipts being of the “e” variety, and cash going away, the future of the wallet is like the future of horseshoes circa 1910.
For now, though, we still need wallets and meeting the virtually impossible design task of making one thing for multiple uses is tough. But Nik’s Minimalist Wallet has done it. It has faced the design dilemmas inherent in the form and like a lot of Tom Bihn products it reinvented the form in subtle and useful ways. This is a great product and if you care about carrying less stuff that is more effective, this is a wallet for you. For me, it basically ended my search for a wallet. It solved the “wallet” for me. Its very rare that something just ends all my searching and inquiry in a specific product niche. In fact, it hasn’t happened since the BladeKey. I had basically given up ever finding a wallet that didn’t miss on a few things until I got my hands on the final version of Nik’s Minimalist Wallet (hereafter NMW).
Here is the product page. The wallet is opened like a reporter’s notebook. You can configure it with the card pockets closed inside or reverse it for card pockets on the outside. I mention this because describing the variants requires an explanation of the pocket layout. With the main pockets on the inside, there are four variants: two pockets, two pockets inside and one outside, one pocket and one ID window inside, and then one pocket and one ID window inside and one pocket outside. The idea with the outside pocket is that it can be used for passcards, so you don’t have to open your wallet to use them. Here is another review. The NWM is available exclusively through Tom Bihn. Here is my review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: Unless your wallet is a fashion accessory or a place to store tons of cash, there is nothing more you need than this.
NOTE: About two years ago Tom Bihn reached out to me regarding this wallet. It was the follow up to a conversation we had about five or six years before that regarding places in the EDC world that could use a bit of innovation. They sent me a prototype. I gave them a good deal of feedback. They then sent a batch of more finished prototypes. I gave them some more feedback. Then they released the production version in a few variations, covered above, and I snagged a Dyneema one with the ID window and no external pocket. Much of my feedback was incorporated into the final design, but truth be told, the original prototype was pretty darn compelling as it was shipped to me all those months ago. I state this up front because obviously I will be a little biased. I liked this wallet and what I didn’t like ultimately was changed in the final design. More on that later.
Its a beautifully simple design, a series of origami style folds with one seam around the edge and a band of fabric covered elastic on the outside. There is a liner, so it is really two pieces of fabric folded and sewn, but in the final analysis this is about as simple as it gets. I find the folded fabric to provide some, but not a lot, of rigidity. Its not floppy and can stand on its own even without cards, but I would think of this like the traditional leather billfold or even something like the Big Skinny. That said, I appreciate the lack of rigidity as it makes the wallet much easier to pocket.
The simplicity of the design not only leads to a very clean aesthetic, it makes for a comparatively small and easy to pocket wallet. It doesn’t take up much room in any direction being only slightly larger than the cards it carries.
One issue with this small design is that the wallet is not great at carrying cash. It can carry cash if need be, but it is not ideal. I generally fold my bills in half and then half again and tuck them behind the cards, but if you are mob boss, a junkyard manager (working for a mob boss), or someone else that deals almost exclusively in cash then this is not your wallet. If you have joined the vast majority of people that have a few bills and mostly cards, then you are all set.
Fit and Finish: 2
The materials are like fine, high end leather. They are more flexible, less rigid, and the result is something that is not quite as clean as a leather wallet. But don’t let the less form fitted look fool you—this is a masterfully made wallet, one that has held up exceptionally well for more than two years. And, because it is Bihn-made, it looks virtually new. More on this below.
The clear plastic ID window has yet to fog. The elastic ban has not slacked or loosened. And of course the Dyneema has been invulnerable to damage. These materials aren’t the same thing as leather, but I have been surprised at how well they hold up. The band will probably loosen over time and maybe the ID window will fog, but at that point you will have gotten a lot of use out of the wallet, years, and for around $24 you can get a new one. I am perfectly content with that value proposition, especially if the wallet continues to wear at this rate.
The overall footprint, as you can see above, is quite small. With a durable exterior, the NMW slides in and out of the pocket. In fact, in pocket is so good it is hard to even notice that it is there. This has led to two trips through the washer and drier to zero effect. It also led to a trip into a swimming pool, again with zero effect.
I don’t carry any contents that would be harmed by water and so, for me, the so-light-its-not-there carry of the NMW is a huge plus. It also does well in both the back pocket (which is an orthopedic no-no apparently) and in the front pocket. I can even carry it in my breast pocket with no problem.
With two pockets and flip open access, it is hard to make accessibility an issue. With so little to the design there is very little getting in the way. Even with cash, which I fold a few times, its still quite easy to get to. Folding cash makes it hard to figure out how much you have, but, as I have said a few times already, I am not a big cash carrier. If you are, drop the accessibility score down a point, or, better yet look for a different wallet.
With clean seams and a host of nice colors, this is a fabric wallet that looks quite good. It will never have the appeal of a glorious leather number, but it is miles away from the Spiderman wallet that most fabric wallets end up looking like. I think the Dyneema’s grid pattern makes for an especially nice look.
The thing is indestructible. Seriously, there is nothing I have done to this wallet that has caused damage. And really there was nothing that even made the wallet look worse for wear. Bihn’s stuff is always nice looking and tough as nails, so this is not much of a surprise, but if you have no experience with Bihn, get ready. This is a Methuselah piece of kit, right up there with the HDS Rotary.
With the flip open design nothing can fall out. The wallets with external pockets are pretty tight, but I imagine it might be possible. As it is, this is a great wallet even if you only have a pair of cards and some cash. Unlike metal wallets, retention in fabric and leather wallets is never an issue.
Like with bags, the more pockets you have the more likely you are to lose stuff. Thankfully, the NMW has just enough pockets but not too much. I really can’t think of any reason to go beyond two or three pockets, especially if you don’t carry cash.
With its hyper thin fabric and insanely small footprint, the NMW is a model of efficiency. It can, when pushed carry about 8 or 10 cards and yet it still is thin enough and small enough to ride in a breast pocket. No wallet comes close in this regard.
Fidget Factor: Low
If you are so desperate to fidget that you are turning to your wallet, your in dire straights. I can’t think of any wallet that has a high fidget factor, other than an especially nice leather wallet that feels great sliding between your fingers.
Fett Effect: Very Low
If you use the word “patina” to describe the wear on the floor mats of your car and do so with a hint of love in your voice, this is not the wallet for you. My tester was about two years old when I got the production version and once the contents were removed I could not tell them apart visually. This is a key to Bihn’s success. He makes stuff that last forever and looks great doing so. My Cadet is well over five years old at this point and other than some yellowing around the zipper covers, it is like new. The NMW is the same way.
Value: Very High
This is a superior design, with excellent materials, fit and finish, and clever touches for $24. Doesn’t get better than that in terms of value.
Overall Score: 20 out of 20; PERFECT
If you aren’t into high fashion wallets, I think it is safe to say that the NMW “solved” utility wallets. It does everything you want in a wallet, it looks clean and distinctly non-Spiderman wallet, and it is thin and durable. This is a great piece of kit. If you carry credit cards or cash or IDs—in other words, if you are human—you should get this wallet.
I normally don’t cop out here, but the NMW so far outpaces the competition that there is very little reason to list anything else. The All-ett is similarly thin, but not as capacious. I also liked the Big Skinny, but it doesn’t look as nice after time. Two years after purchase it looked like a nice wallet that was left on the interstate during rush hour for a month. Really though, nothing is all that close.