Keychains: The Foundations of Preparedness and Every Day Carry - ITS Tactical

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Keychains: The Foundations of Preparedness and Every Day Carry

By Mark Greenman

I’ve always believed that having tools close at hand is essential to being a highly effective, prepared human being. Because of that philosophy, I usually carry quite a bit of stuff with me — 12 different items distributed between five pockets!

While I love having good kit close at hand, I don’t always have the time or luxury for a full EDC loadout and sometimes this stuff just gets left at home. However, the one constant, regardless of time or clothing, are my keys. Unless I’ve locked myself out of the house, I will always have my keys with me.

Most people I know don’t carry nearly as much stuff as I do, but they all carry a set of keys. Because everyone always carries keys, it’s my opinion that keychain based tools are the most universal and logical foundation for any EDC loadout.

While this advice is useful for gear heads like us, it’s especially relevant when it comes to equipping our friends and family members who are currently not interested in preparedness. In my experience, adding a few small, well-chosen items to someone’s keychain is the most reliable and effective way to ensure they will have the right tools when they need them, without pushing them beyond their comfort limits.

Foundations of Every Day Carry

Every person has different needs, so there is no absolute formula for what should be included on an EDC keychain. In general, I like to select a few useful items that suit the person’s individual style, rather than simply tossing on all the cool gear I can fit onto their keys.

Remember, just because it fits on a keychain doesn’t mean that it should be included — as anyone who has seen a forum pocket dump thread can attest to! Hint: if the keychain looks more like an aviation survival kit then a set of house keys, chances are too much has been added.


Regardless of personal style, the one tool every single person on the planet will benefit from having is a flashlight. Whether it is finding something dropped under the seat in the movie theater, illuminating a dark alley, or navigating a stairwell after a power outage, a small LED flashlight is incredibly useful, and should be included on everyone’s keys.

There are a variety of wonderful keychain based flashlights on the market today, but my personal preference is for the simple high performance of the Photon II microlight.

I’ve been carrying a Photon II for the better part of a decade, and I make a point of giving them to the people I care about. In addition to its convenient size, the Photon II features made in the USA reliability, a 30-foot range with a 12-hour runtime, and can be operated with one hand. Make sure to buy the authentic Photon brand; there are many imitators for less money but, having tried most of them, I believe that the Photon cannot be beat in terms of both brightness and runtime.

Tailored Equipment

So, everyone should have a Photon II microlight or other quality LED on their keys. But from there, the gear selection must be tailored to the end user. Some things to keep in mind when building an EDC keychain:

Is it for a man or woman?

Men generally keep their keys in their pants, while women’s clothing often lacks functional pockets, which relegates the keys to purse carry. Keep this in mind, so you can make sure they will be able to carry the EDC keychain you build, and access it comfortably.

What is their technical proficiency?

Give them gear they will actually use. Some people will get use out of duct tape and a multitool, while others will be better off with a small knife and a lighter.

What do they need? What do they frequently do?

A college student will enjoy a lighter on their keys, while a soccer mom will have more use for a keychain hand sanitizer. Knowing your audience will help you select the most useful items for them.

What kind of clothing do they wear, particularly at work?

If they wear silk slacks, the keychain will have to be significantly lighter and slimmer than if they wear jeans.

What are their favorite colors?

Matching gear to people’s favorite colors will make them enjoy it even more, and will let them know your thinking of them. Just don’t sacrifice function for form (more on this later).


To help illustrate these concepts, and give you some ideas about what types of keychain tools I recommend, consider the following keychains, and the reasoning behind them.

Personal EDC Keychain

My keychain is designed to offer me as wide a range of options as possible, without being too bulky, because I like to wear slim fitting, 5 pocket jeans. The goal is to offer a comprehensive backup to my normal EDC gear, while also being capable enough to serve as my primary EDC if all I’m carrying is my keys (the gym, the beach, etc).

The Photon is a backup light to the larger flashlight in my EDC. The Leatherman Squirt PS4 serves as my “public knife,” for when I need to cut something in public, and as my primary multitool. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Squirt is a little beast, and can easily handle 99% of the tasks one would need a multitool for; I’ve used the Squirt at least once a week for the last 5 years, while I’ve used my massive Leatherman Surge all of 4 times. I will be doing a comprehensive review of the Squirt PS4 later, but just know that I consider it the best keychain tool on the market.

The EDC Duct Tape Roll is for repairing, building, and obscuring, depending on the need, and has proven very handy in the last few months. The Safety pin is for repairing clothing, and for popping out the SIM card of my iPhone. The handcuff key is in case I get handcuffed to a sinking ship in the north Atlantic, and so far has only been used as a conversation starter.

My most recent, and revolutionary keychain acquisition is the McGizmo key dangler pocket clip, which was given to me by an awesome USN member. Before, my keys sat in a jumble of uncomfortable steel at the bottom of my pocket, but now, with the addition of the dangler, I simply clip my keys to the top of my pocket like I would my knife, and they dangle in a neat, smooth row. The increase in comfort, as well as the ease of accessing my keys, cannot be overstated.

In general, most men will enjoy a keychain fairly similar to mine, provided it has a pocket clip to make carrying it hassle free; this much stuff is a pain in the ass without a clip for most folks. The Mcgizmo clips are hard to find, so a great off the shelf solution is the Tec Accessories P-7 Suspension Clip, which can be had for around $15 online. I’ve own both and they’re wonderful.

However, keys for women will be inherently different, because most women do not wear pants with functional pockets, and will instead require a purse based keychain.

Mom’s EDC Keychain

My Mom’s purse must have five pounds of various knick-knacks, wallets, receipts, and cigarettes inside, so in order to find her keys, she has a neon purple and yellow “Bad Boys Bail Bonds” lanyard, which she loves. I wish I could take the credit, but that’s all her style.

The gear I’ve added to my Mom’s keychain is very much based on her unique personality, and is tailored more toward her daily convenience rather than emergency preparedness. I began with a Purple Photon Freedom, because purple is her favorite color, and they don’t make a purple Photon II. This was a bit of a mistake though, because she complains the flashlight is hard for her to squeeze and confusing to operate, so I will replace it with a standard Photon II.

However, she loves her Orange Spyderco Ladybug, which is her second favorite color. My mom is a huge Ebay fan, so I wanted her to have a sturdy, reliable knife for opening her many boxes; meanwhile, she lacks the technical interest to get much use out of the tools on a Leatherman Squirt. With its VG10 blade and ergonomic handle, the Spyderco Ladybug is the best keychain based folding knife around, with more than enough cutting power for most urban tasks.

Because my mom is constantly scouring the house for a Sharpie to write on boxes, I recently added a mini-Sharpie to her keys so she will always have one handy. Since she’s a smoker, I have included a DIY keychain mini-Bic lighter, which is attached to the opposite end of her lanyard so she can use the lighter while driving. The whistle came for free and takes very little space, so I just hooked it too her keys for good measure.

Friend’s EDC Keychain

My most recent keychain build, and the inspiration for writing this article, is a keychain I just built for a friend of mine. Her primary keychain consists of the Photon II, the Leatherman Squirt, and the Alpha Innovations Stylus Kubaton. The Photon II was an obvious choice, and I included the Leatherman Squirt instead of a Spyderco Ladybug because my friend is a scientist, so I knew she would get a lot of use out of the various tools.

The most important thing on her keys though is the kubaton. I included it because she is very attractive and petit, and recently got beat up by a very ugly, much less petit girl while waiting for a bus. The kubaton is there so she can offer a “kinetic etiquette lesson” to any miscreants in the future. Because a weapon is useless without training, I sent her a kubaton training DVD, and will try and work in some practice next time I see her.

I picked a Kubaton for her self-defense item instead of other options because I like its brutal simplicity, the fact that she can carry it in her hand without drawing suspicion, and because it can allow her to escape from chokes and holds. I chose the Alpha Innovations Aluminum stylus kubaton because it looks like a pen, and not like a weapon or sex toy the way most kubatons do. I hit myself with it prior to sending and the aluminum hits much harder and is far more secure in the hand then the polymer stylus. The shiny aluminum also has the benefit of making her keys easier to finding her purse.

Because she has a purse, and is not limited by pants pockets, I included a bunch of other gear as part of a “tier 2” keychain that she can include at her discretion. She rides mass transportation, so I figured hand sanitizer was a must. Then, I tossed on some keychain duct tape, a mini-bic lighter, and a fox 40 whistle for good measure. Between the two EDC keychains and her sharp mind, I think she’ll be ready for pretty much anything.


A tool carried all the time is always preferable to a tool carried some of the time. Hopefully by now you understand why the keychain tools are the most reliable for every day carry, and have some good ideas as to which tools are optimal.

I have had great success with my EDC keychain, and those close to me have greatly enjoyed theirs. If you’re looking for a fun and reliable way to increase someone’s preparedness, an EDC keychain is a pretty good place to start.

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  • Austin

    I put my keys on a carabiner and hook it at about 7 o’clock. Then, I can either let it hang, or if I want to be a bit less jingly, I can tuck them into that pants pocket, which only contains my back-up knife. That way, it doesnt take space up in my front pockets, where I usually carry stuff I don’t want to sit on (i.e. electronics, pens, bulky items). My keys consist of keys, duct tape, a keychain tool, a whistle, thumb-drive, and soon to come is a flashlight.

    • D. Hide

      My setup is very similar to yours. I carry it at 10 o’clock, but it’s in between some pouches and gets stuffed into an important front pocket, so I may take your idea to wear it at 7 o’clock. Thanks! Now to decide which side…


    • Austin

      If you put your wallet in your back right pocket like I do, I would suggest the left. If its in the left, probably the opposite, if you want to tuck them into your back pocket. Not all pants are the same, some can barely hold my wallet, while some can and have room to spare. So it truly depends on what you put in those pockets. But removing your keys from your front pockets will give you a LOT more room, which is important if you don’t want to look like the Spanish armada walking down the street with your bulging pockets.

    • Slave2TheGrind

      Im in IT and moving around up and down all day. Im also big (6’5″, 400lbs) – yea – fat bastard. But my walk around is important to me. I have a hoodie jacket (its cold in labs and parking garages) I have a lock blade knife in the front left pocket with a small pad of paper and pen. Right pocket is wallet, 9bulb LED flashlight, and key ring (paracord fob, two light titanium drings, swissarmy knife/tool) – You would think thats it but I also use a neck lanyard (w/1bulb LED, watch, flashdrive, compass, corp ID)
      – putting wallet into back pocket can screw up your hips, and leave you vulnerable to pickpockets.
      My two cents

  • Squirrelcop

    Not to be a dick, but its sort of a shame to spend all that money on Medeco locks, and then post pictures of your key profile for all to see (and duplicate).

    • Squirrelcop

      That was a little harsh. Sorry. I just dont want you to get burglarized.

    • Mark Greenman

      No, that is valid and useful advice, hopefully no one who reads ITS is on some devious keymaking tip, but I certainly won’t be putting up pic’s of my new house keys. Thanks for the heads up.

  • guardsman

    Great article, my keychain is fill with tools I can’t do without.

  • Steven

    How do you attach the landyard to the mini lighter?

    • Virius

      Yeah I would like to know as well. It looks from the picture that you pulled out the bottom somehow and pinched the cord in there, I have tried some various ways of attaching cord to a lighter but most have not been successful because of the look they have when completed.

    • Virius

      Never mind, at closer inspection I see that it is attached with Gorilla tape or something of the sort.

    • Nate Reim

      Looks like he used ductape and 550..

    • Mark Greenman

      Hey guys, here’s a detailed DIY I did on making the keychain mini-bic. Its a great way to keep from loosing you’re lighter:

  • Ty

    I just want to say that the Key Dangler is not a McGizmo, and that it is a gadget by Munroe Knives. Both are great craftsmen, and you could in fact have a McGizmo spring gate clip attached to the Munroe Titanium Dangler. Good article, your coverage is just spot on and I’m glad you picked this topic. 🙂

    • Mark Greenman

      Thanks, that is a bit embarrassing to have misquoted it. It was a gift from a USN amigo, but still I should have double checked. Very glad you liked the article besides that!

    • Ty

      Yep, good folks on that forum.

  • I know it’s supposedly the “foundations” of every day carry, but I can’t stand to have all that crap on my keychain. I have two keychains: one with the remote to my truck and a spare house key, which stays on my belt, and one with my car key and house key, which I take off to use. Other than that, I might have one discount card on my keychain, but I just hate the jingling wad of weight on my belt or in my pocket. I have never understood how anyone can sort their keys out of a wad of junk like that.

    • Mark Greenman

      Its really a matter of how you carry the keychain. With a P7 or similar key clip, they keys are suspended at the top of the pocket, where they lie flat in a slim, neat row. The weight is at the top of the pocket, and it is every bit as comfortable as carrying a pocket knife. Without the clip, it can be a pain in the ass.

  • Good stuff. I also carry a Photon LED on my key bunch, it’s the Freedom version so you can adjust the brightness if required and increase run-times (also has strobe, SOS, blinking mode). The spare battery coin cells are carried in my wallet which also contains other small EDC items. The cutting tool on my key bunch is a V Cutter, good for cutting cord, zip-ties ect and can also be utilized as slot head screw driver. I also have a 3 inch paracord fob that can deploy 6ft of cord in seconds. I prefer to keep my EDC it lighweight and compact as I carry the keys in my jeans. I am aslo considering adding a Multi Tool (Leatherman Squirt, Gerber Clutch or a SOG Crossgrip).

    • Mark Greenman

      I cannot recommend the Leatherman Squirt more highly. Its made in the USA (unlike the others) and can be had for $25 shipped from Amazon or Ebay.

      Here’s a very detailed review, just to show you how capable this tool is. There’s a reason I hardly ever use my Surge.

  • Joe

    I bought the photon II about a week ago and love it. It is much better then the kuboton/flashlight combo I had before.

  • Billy

    My EDC key chain got too heavy/bulky, so I separated it into small groups with 20mm McGizmo clips, tiny split rings, and one welded ring in the center. Now I can easily swap out the items that I am less likely to need. This “modular mod” has been really handy.

    I also prefer a AAA flashlight (currently a Fenix LD01) in place of your Photon II because I can stick it in the 5th pocket of my jeans and let my key chain dangle from that (or get tucked into the lower pocket if I’m in stealthmode LOL), thus also taking the place of your clip. They feel quite secure and haven’t failed in the few years I’ve carried them this way. Plus the flashlight is VERY bright, has great runtime, and some come with SOS/beacon mode.

    Good article though!

  • titus scroad

    I recently found this website

    They have a ton of useful miniature tools, flashlights,knives, lighters etc as well as lots of other useful gear. One of my favorites is the split pea lighter.

    I’m not affiliated with the website and not a paid endorser, I just find them to be a good source for unique stuff that some mind find useful for their EDC needs.

    • Mark Greenman

      I love county comm, I’ve been shopping their for years. Big fan of the Maratac AAA, some of their nylon gear, and my recently purchased titanium keychain prybar.

      But the peanut/split pea lighters are really mediocre fire tools in my experience. I carried one for about a year, and my experience was: They require two hands to open, are totally at the mercy of the wind b/c they lack a wind screen, they unscrew in the pocket, and their internals are cheap Chinese 99cent manufacture. They are waterproof and elegant looking, however.

      It was my overal dissatisfaction with the peanut lighter that caused me to create the Mini-Bic keychain, which is a far more capable lighter in my experience.

    • For anyone living on the otherside of the pond is also an excellent resource for EDC gear – worth a look if you live in the UK / Europe.

    • Thank you so much for that site! I live in the UK and am just getting into EDC – everywhere I look for great EDC gear has been US. I was just about to get a Maratac AAA from CountyComm, but there delivery process to the UK is a bit complicated. Seems Survival Depot sell it too, perfect!

      Thanks again, and thanks Mark for a great article!

  • Tango

    Great article I think i’ll start building mine on my next days off thanks. Only one question I hope tight fitting five pocket jeans isn’t code for skinny jeans. LOL

  • TOR

    I often end up carrying my keys while running and generally hate having a big bulky bunch of junk on there. The key ring I carry every day has a tiny gerber knife and the 3 or so keys I regularly use. I have another ring for rarely used keys. A handcuff key is not a bad idea I guess. I keep a lighter in my pocket.

  • “Dr.”Dave

    Hahahah, its awesome to see that some one else has the same idea I did for duct taping some 550 cord to a bic and putting it on their key chain. I use that bic more than anything else on there, car keys included. >.<

    I wear my keys at the 10:00 position through a belt loop. I used to carry them at the 9:00, but I now wear a double magazine pouch there, so they're in the way.

    I use a Kershaw carabiner knife (, some duct tape, a front sight adjustment tool for an AR-15 (I work at a shooting range, so its kind of handy), a micro swiss army knife, a bic, a P-38 canopener that belonged to my grandfather (He used it to open C-rats in WWII and it still works), about 12' of black 550 cord tied in a paracord deployment knot ( …Thanks for that, by the way. Usefull stuff, paracord), a hand cuff key, and my home keys on a separate split ring.

  • devin lipari

    Great article. Although, as a locksmith, i must advise anyone of adding to much weight to your keys can cause accelerated wear and tear on your cars ignition and key. Other then that, i completely agree with the premise of this article. As for me I carry my house and car key, a swiss-tech micro tool, classic swiss army knife and the most needed of all key chain tools: the bottle opener.

  • Jason D.

    Great Article!!!!

    I second the comment on the Fenix LD01. Quite possible the finest compact EDC light that I’ve carried and that includes the SureFire T1A Titan. My personal solution is to use a mechanic’s stainless steel wire ring that secures with a threaded ferrule for my EDC pocket tools. This allows me to easily remove one of the items if needed such as when I need to use the light and the multitool at the same time and keeps my keys separate from the tools for the same reason. Furthermore, these rings are collapsible and flexible as they are made from braided stainless steel wire and much more comfortable in the pocket.

    My tool ring includes the Fenix LD01, Victorinox MiniChamp, County Comm Peanut Lighter, P-38 can opener, custom titanium mini prybar and a paracord fob with reflective stripe.

  • Brian

    The pants clip is genius! After reading this I went straight to the shop and built one. It keeps my keys in pocket much more comfortably (my key ring looks like I’m a janitor). I thought is was a scam but, as soon as I put it in my pocket I was sold. Great info.

    • I know what you meen Brian, I had known about the pocket clip for years and always figured it was a waste of money, but once I used one there was no going back. Kind of like when I got my first knife with a pocket clip, no way would I go back to pocket carry after that.

      How did you make yours?

    • Jim M.

      I made mine from a pen pocket clip.

  • Joe

    I’ve found that using the kubaton as a handle, making the keys a flail, is more effective and easier than using it in a traditional method.

    • Joe, could you please expand on that? I’m always interested in ways to use something more effectively.

  • James

    I carry a flashlight already, and my cell phone has a backup light on it also. So I disagree that every keychain needs a light on it. And one HUGE thing you left out is pepper spray, its a non lethal compact self defence solution, that actually has a pretty good range on it also. I think this would be a better option than a kubotan, unless you are trained to use one effectively. However you would not be able to take pepper spray traveling, or to court. I verry much endorse the Leatherman Ps4 I have carried one for years, always useful.

    On my keychain besides keys: I have the leatherman Ps4, and Cold Steel Inferno pepper spray. Both work very well and are a compliment to my carry system.

  • Oli

    What is the lime green T-shaped item in the second photo in this article? What’s it for?

    Just curious as the rest seem to have a purpose. 😉

  • Kyle Ware

    I liked the idea of a good edc keychain a lot, so I got some ideas and started one of my own. I have always carried my keys on a carabiner, and one day the Snap-On tool truck came to work and I saw the Kershaw carabiner tool ( and decided that would be a good starting point. It’s a little bit bulky and I don’t like the made in China tag, but so far I am happy with it. I will be adding a flash light and duct tape roll next and then decide where to go from there to keep it from getting way too bulky.
    Thank you for the great idea.

  • Anyone have any experience with 550 paracord monkeyfist keychains? Besides paracord and possibly good looks, is there any use for them? I’ve heard they can be used for self defense, but is that just referring back to the monkeyfists sailors used?

  • don Roberto

    Not to be anal-retentive or anything, but I’m gonna be anal-retentive. It’s not Kubaton, as in a baton from Ku, but Kubotan, as in a self-defense tool developed by Tak Kubota.

    New to the site, late to the party, but Mom was an English teacher, and spelling errors just irk me.

  • Noel Cecil

    I have 2 on my key ring. I used a large cotter pin ( 3/16 X 2 1/2 ) wraped about 2 yrd of gorilla tape. It worked great so i decided to make another for electrical tape. I used a ( 5/32 X 1 1/4 ) cotter pin. Im planning on exchanging the electrical tape for Battle Systems Coyote Brown Vinyl Tape.

  • Geoff

    Another good source for EDC stuff in the UK is they have lots of CountyComm and keychain stuff and flashlights.

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