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Leon's Blog

Five ways to carry survival tools on a belt

Five ways to carry survival tools on a belt

Some of the best survival tools are ordinary items adapted to different uses. Check out the Okay’s Key Safe.

by Leon Pantenburg

key safeMy dad  was a carpenter at the Iowa State University residence halls. During an average day, he’d be all over several different halls on the widespread campus, fixing things.

That required a lot of keys, and Dad’s ring probably weighed close to five pounds. The key ring was too heavy to use a retractable system, so he bought a Key Safe  and threaded it on his belt. Dad hung his key ring on that clip, and the system worked very well for him during his 15 years at ISU.

Years later, I adapted Dad’s key system to work with all the survival stuff I end up carrying. The key safes are available at most hardware stores, and cost about three to four bucks. I wear one on my belt every day, and you’d be amazed at the survival items that can be clipped onto a belt for easy carry.

Here are five items you can carry on a key safe:

These quart electrolyte drink plastic bottles can make servicable canteens when some paracord and duct tape are used. They are easily carried on a belt clip.

These quart plastic bottles can make serviceable canteens when some paracord and duct tape are used. They are easily carried on a belt clip.

Keys: This is a no-brainer. I always carry a keychain survival kit, but sometimes, I end up with too much stuff in my pockets. The kit and my car keys can be carried very comfortably on a belt clip.

Sheath knife: I came up with a system for safely carrying my beloved Mora 860. The Mora comes with excellent steel, and a pretty sketchy sheath. On my way to modifying the sheath, it occurred to me to use Dad’s key system. (Check out the how-to video.) Essentially, you modify any sheath with a D ring (also available at any hardware store), clip it onto the key safe, and it swings free. It is a very secure system, and I’ve modified most of my knife sheaths to work with this.

Water bottle: I generally carry a Nalgene wide mouth water bottle, wrapped in duct tape, with a loop of paracord attached. This loop can be attached to the key safe, and is my standard setup for bluegrass festivals. The gatherings are typically in the summer, traditionally hot, and water is either expensive or scarce. This is a great urban water carrying system.

Compass: Any gear you can attach, you will keep. I carry my compass on a paracord lanyard with a whistle and a small LED light. The paracord is clipped to the key safe, and the compass generally goes in the thigh pocket of my BDUs.

Butane lighter: To quote me: ” Any gear you can attach, you will keep.” This is important when you carry a butane lighter for survival firestarting. In the backcountry, I typically three on me: in my pants pocket, in a coat pocket and in my pack. (I DO NOT have an irrational fear of hypothermia. My fears are very rational and thought out!) Drop a butane light in the snow and the fuel gets cold and won’t work. Drop it in a creek and it may get broken or lost. A lighter that falls out of a pocket into a campfire will explode!

I tape a poptop to all my lighters, and I’ll clip the lighter directly to the key safe. Or, I may attach the lighter system to a lanyard. The key safe is handy and secure.

Survival gear doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to do the job when you need it.

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View Comments (2)


  1. Leon

    09/01/2015 at 08:50

    Amen, brother!

  2. Pete M

    08/28/2015 at 16:39

    If more people did this on “day hikes” we would have far fewer body recoveries and a lot more rescues… Fail to plan, plan to fail.

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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