How To Make A Survival Key Chain

My first edition of Backwoods Home magazine arrived this week, and I was looking forward to carving out some reading time.  One of the articles that immediately caught my eye was A Survival Key Ring – Your Everyday Tool for Emergency Preparedness by Jeffrey R. Yago, P.E., CEM.

In the article, Yago shares his ideas for putting together a survival key chain.  Think of survival key chains as a miniature, portable survival kit with pocket-size bare necessities.  I thought it sounded like a great idea, so I set out to find a few of the suggested implements.  I added a few more of my own.  First, a few examples when these survival key chains could come in handy.

Ever been stranded on the side of the road in a cold climate?  Ever gone camping and realized you forgot to pack matches or a torch lighter for your campfire?  Ever been in a building you are not familiar with during a complete power blackout?  I have been in all three of these situations, and unfortunately I was ill-prepared.  The survival key chain would have definitely come in handy in each of these scenarios.

The Key Ring

Key ring styles.  Plenty to choose from here, from the basic design to pull-apart dual rings to caribiner styles that look more like rock-climbing tools that key rings. You may decide some combination works best for you, or perhaps you have a weekday key ring and a weekend key ring – one for the office, one for camping expeditions.

pullapartkeyrings springhookcaribiner

Lights and Multi-Tools

Knife or multi-tool.  Lights and a cutting tool are two items I would consider “required components” of any good survival keychain.  Again, you can spend as much or as little as you wish on the various styles.  Utility knifes such as a Swiss Army knife with fold-out instruments may be sufficient for most every-day survival key chains.  However, a heavier-duty mini Leatherman might make more sense for backpacking or camping.  I’ve ordered a Leatherman MICRA model myself because I like the idea of having things like scissors, tweezers, a flat Phillips screwdriver, a mini screwdriver, a bottle opener, and a variety of small cutting tools on me at all times.  Just remember, you can’t fly with something like this, so leave these types of things at home when traveling by air.


Mini LED flashlight.  As for flashlights, we’ve come a long way.  They now make super-bright LED flashlights the size of a quarter that last for hours.  No shortage of these around, and it is definitely something to add to your survival key ring.  From unlocking doors in the dark to navigating, these little lights will come in handy.


Navigation and Fire-Making

Fire starter bar.  Survival television shows often show a guy making a fire by turning a stick 10,000 times into a small piece of wood with tiny kindling eventually smoldering from the friction.  The fact is, this is as hard as it looks, and it take a lot of time and energy – two things you may not have depending on your survival situation.  I’m sure any survival expert would tell you dry matches or a fire starter bar would be preferable, so why not keep one with you.  You never know when you’ll need to make camp somewhere, and a fire is great for keeping warm.  It might be the difference is surviving or suffering hypothermia.

This little fire starter bar fits on your key chain, and generates a hot fire in under a minute.  Using the backside of a pocketknife, or any other metal edge, you simply scrape magnesium shavings onto a sheet of paper, or scrap cloth, or whatever dry kindling you can find.  Then a scrape down the striker rod produces a spark that ignites the magnesium shavings (and your kindling).  Warning:  this produces an extremely hot, extremely bright little fire.  Be sure to take precautions by preparing the area around the fire (dig a little fire pit, clear the ground, etc.).


Compass.  For navigation, basically you just need to find general directions from a key ring compass.  Anything that reliably points North will do. From there you can extrapolate other directions, but for basic navigation something like the model below should work fine.  If you find yourself lost, and you know a little about the surrounding terrain, you may be able to make it to a road, a river, or a town, just by knowing which direction to move.


Self Defense/Rescue

Pepper spray.  Whether you are defending yourself from an attacker, or an aggressive animal, a quick burst of pepper spray may provide a valuable few seconds to make an escape.  I recommend considering something more powerful if you are headed into the woods where you are likely to encounter larger, more threatening animals, but for most urban and rural settings this should do the trick.


Safety whistle.  Few people think of whistles when putting together a survival kit, but it is one of the more valuable rescue tools available.  When I was a kid, I remember a story near my home town of a woman who skidded off the road at night, went down a small ravine, and was pinned in her car, injured.  She did not have the strength to scream, and joggers and bicyclists went by for hours not knowing she was trapped just a couple hundred yards away.  Fortunately, her car was finally spotted a couple days after the accident and she was rescued, barely clinging to life.  Imagine how much better the story could have turned out had she had a safety whistle on her key chain to alert a passerby or rescuer in the hours immediately following the accident.


The frugal side of me recognizes that putting together such a survival keychain from scratch could be costly.  I’d recommend starting off with the basic implements such as the multi-tool and flashlight.  Those will handle the majority of small emergencies you will encounter in your day-to-day lives.  Slowly add to your survival key ring over time to spread out the costs.  Eventually, you’ll have just about everything you need for survival right on your keychain, and with you at all times.

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