Keys are an essential item of most everyone’s daily routine. Unfortunately, they can be tricky to manage, as evidenced by some keychains so cluttered they seem to have their own gravitational field. In the fifth installment of Carry Smarter, we explore keychain gadgets and how to optimize your keychain to really unlock its true potential as a mini EDC system.

The essential EDC keychain possesses a few good characteristics: it’s organized, it’s useful, and it’s with you wherever you go. This guide is designed to act as a primer for setting up an EDC keychain. There are other, more expensive alternatives to the options shown here (not to scale, by the way), but these relatively affordable starting points should help inspire some ideas. 


Multiple keys for your everyday routine (work, home, car, mail, etc.) can be difficult to keep in order. Luckily, there are several products on the market that can organize keys and keep them in one place. Swiss Army Knife-style frames for your keys allow for quiet storage and a smaller footprint on your keyring. It might take some getting used to with these products at first— instead of fumbling through your keys, you’ll be efficiently sliding out keys in no time. Here are some great ways to stop that awkward pocket bulge or to transition out of that janitor aesthetic:

With all those keys tidied up, minimalists can stop here and call it a day. However, because keychain-sized gear can pack a lot of utility without adding much bulk to your essentials, the extra keyring space afforded by a slim set of keys makes for a great place for beginners to start experimenting with new tools. From here, we can assemble a compact or backup EDC system.


Carrying the right multitool for your needs on your keychain gives you much more functionality when you need it, without carrying bulkier, heavier dedicated tools for tasks you might do only occasionally. Some useful features to look for include a decent backup blade, scissors, screwdrivers, a bottle opener, and more. You can choose from traditional Swiss Army Knife and clamshell folding multitools, or the newly popular one-piece multitools which focus more on prying and driving than they do cutting or slicing. Here are some great multitools to start off your keychain:


The keychain is a great place to keep a backup flashlight because often times, you could use a little extra light when using your keys anyway, such as unlocking your front door or starting your car for a late night drive. With today’s technology, some keychain lights can even match the performance of full-sized lights. Opting to use more exotic battery types like CR2 or lithium ion cells yields even more powerful keychain options for more seasoned flashaholics. For beginners, here are some AAA and button cell lights that work great as backups or as general EDC lights:


With your keys in place and a backup “core” of functionality in miniature multitools and flashlights in place, you need a secure, yet easily accessible way to carry it all. One common way is to wear your keychain on a belt loop, the other is old-fashioned pocket carry. Wearing keys externally grants easier access, but the risk of losing your keychain is higher. Conversely, front pocket carry is more secure, but takes up pocket space and can cause discomfort or awkward pants bulge. No matter your preference, gadgets like these should accommodate your keychain carry needs:


Lastly, consider all the other gadgets that might make your day-to-day easier or gear you’d want in an emergency. The market for keychain accessories is huge, and it isn’t limited to just urban EDC gear. Explore outdoors or survivalist gear, keychain electronics, phone accessories, and other tools. Here are some ideas of other gadgets that could fit right at home on your keyring that might not be covered in the rest of your kit:

Because of all of the individual components involved, optimizing your essential EDC keychain might require many revisions. It’s difficult to balance adding utility to a keychain without making it cluttered again, and without being too heavy (this can strain your car’s ignition or cause your hardware to fail prematurely). Hopefully this guide can facilitate the process, and you can find a product mentioned here that will elevate your keychain and make your EDC even better.

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Next Up

First Tactical Tactix Backpack

When you're responsible for one of the most iconic EDC backpacks of all time — the 5.11 RUSH — people had better pay attention to your follow-up product. The Tactix is First Tactical's (led by former 5.11 founder Dan Costa) flagship backpack, respecting the great things about the original RUSH and taking them into 2016 with even better features and functionality.

Let's start with lasers—specifically, a laser-cut web platform compatible with MOLLE/PALS. This lets the Tactix maintain a lower profile with no extruding loops but still maintain structural integrity thanks to its two-layer, 500D nylon design. There's room to spare with 7 external and 9 internal pockets with a total of 40.5 liters of capacity, giving you all the organization you need for both light trips and heavy deployments. Removable compression straps, adjustable shoulder and sternum straps, and even side handles let you carry the Tactix comfortably as needed. No compromises were made for the rest of the backpack's production: water-resistant nylon, YKK zippers, and Duraflex hardware round out its construction.

Ready for your next tactical backpack? You can order one direct from First Tactical with free shipping from their online store, or at Amazon at the link below (with Prime-eligible shipping on 5/4).

Buy on Amazon


Discussion (3 total)

What kind of flashlight is it on the keychain in the top picture?
It looks like the mini ml-x from foursevens
love the breakdown. Great guide for the beginner