How To Build a TSA-Approved EDC Kit

edc kit

Whether you’re heading off on vacation with the family or attending to business in some other part of the world, traveling by plane presents unique challenges for packing your EDC kit due to the rules set out by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regarding what can and cannot be brought on planes.

What is permitted for checked baggage differs from what is permitted for carry-on and to add to the confusion, regulations are constantly changing. Before packing for your trip, make sure you’re current with what is and isn’t permissible by checking the TSA Prohibited Items list for travelers.

Preparing Your EDC Kit for Traveling

When preparing your EDC kit for travel, evaluate the items you typically carry with you and pare down to only those you will need during your trip. Think about what new threats or challenges you are likely to encounter traveling by plane, in the area you are headed, as well as during activities you plan on engaging in at your destination.

After careful analysis, consider what you already carry that may address those challenges and what additional items need to be brought along. For necessary items that aren’t permitted by the TSA, there are modifications that can be made or alternatives that will ensure your EDC kit is compliant with federal law.

TSA Restriction Highlights

When dealing with TSA restrictions, if you have any doubts, it is best to leave questionable items at home or packed correctly in your checked bags. Carrying any item classified as a ‘weapon’ by the TSA on your person can result in a civil penalty.

The chart below serves as a quick reference guide for what is and is not permitted in carry-on and checked baggage:

ItemCarry-On: ProhibitedCarry-On: AllowedChecked: ProhibitedChecked: Allowed
Sharp ObjectsBox cutters, knives, axes, ice picks, swords, and scissors with blades greater than 4 inchesScissors with blades less than 4 inchesNoneAny of the carry-on prohibited items, but must be safely sheathed or wrapped
Self-Defense/ Protection ItemsBilly clubs, black jacks, brass knuckles, kubatons, mace/pepper spray, stun devices, and night sticksSelf-defense spray with less than 2% tear gasNone, except sprays with more than 2% tear gasOne 4 fl. oz. can of mace with safety mechanism to prevent discharge, must be less than 2% tear gas
ToolsAxes, crow bars, hammers, drills and bits, saws, and any tool less than 7 inches in total lengthMust be less than 7 inches in total length - wrench, pliers, screwdriver, etc.NoneAny of the carry-on prohibited items, but must be safely wrapped
Firearms - must be unloaded, packed in a hard-sided container, and declared at check-inAll firearms, parts, and accessoriesNoneFlares, gun lighters, and gunpowderAmmunition, bb guns, compressed air guns, firearms, flare guns, parts of guns, pellet guns, realistic replicas, and starter pistols
FlammableAny flammable liquid, torch lighters, and aerosols (except those for personal care)One book of non-strike anywhere matches, and one lighterAll flammable items/liquids, and lightersUp to 2 cigarette lighters in TSA-approved cases
LiquidsAll flammable liquids3-1-1:
Less than 3.4 oz.
1 gallon bag
1 bag/person
All flammable liquidsAny non-flammable liquids
Sporting GoodsBats, and hockey/ lacrosse sticksIce skates, tennis racketsNoneAny sporting goods

Alternatives and Modifications for Typical EDC Kit Items

Sometimes, there are items you just can’t do without – restrictions or not. In this article, we’ve evaluated alternatives and modifications for twelve of the most common EDC items that may run afoul of TSA regulations.

Wallet

A must-have for carrying ID and currencies, but resist the temptation to conceal credit card sized knifes or utility tools in your wallet as they are likely to be confiscated by the TSA. It is best to leave these types of tools at home, but if it is a necessity for you, pack them into your checked luggage to avoid any needless hassles.

edc kit
A TSA Agent’s view of your bag

Key Ring

Keep your key ring stripped down to items you will need for traveling from your home to the airport, such as your house and car keys. If you have any self-defense tools like kubatons or knives, make sure to remove these as they will not be permitted. If they will serve some utility at your destination, pack them carefully into your checked luggage.

Phone

Phones are allowed as carry-on, as are back-up battery packs. If you have any credit card sized utility tools or knives concealed in your phone case, make sure they are removed.

Watch

A watch is a safe, compact way to carry survival items such as a compass and paracord, as all items are safe for carry-on.

edc kit
With full body scanners there really is no where to hide prohibited items. Play it safe and travel smart.

Folding Knife

Folding knives are not permitted in carry-on. To choose a suitable alternative that is TSA-approved, consider the ways in which you typically use your knife and what other items could provide similar utility.

A great, travel-safe alternative is the Wenger 16912 Air Traveler Swiss Army Knife, which doesn’t have a knife but contains several other tools that serve a similar purpose such as 1.8 inch scissors, a nail file with an unsharpened pointed end, tweezers, and a mini screwdriver.

Flashlight

While some flashlights are permitted, remember when choosing your flashlight that it is considered a tool and therefore must be less than 7 inches in length. Also, be sure to avoid any aggressive-looking tactical flashlights to dodge any additional scrutiny. To see our detailed guide for picking the best EDC flashlight, CLICK HERE.

Be sure to remove the batteries to avoid unintentionally draining them and keep them in a Ziploc bag, similar to how you would store your liquids. The TSA agent may want to try out your flashlight to see that it works, so having batteries packed close by is advantageous.

 

EDC List
Learn how to pick the best EDC flashlight

Tactical Pen

This is a tricky one as it may raise suspicion in the security line and will be up to the discretion of the TSA agent whether it is permitted or not. If a tactical pen is a must-have item for you, pack it in your checked luggage, especially if it has features that could be categorized as weapons.  Check out our comprehensive Tactical Pen guide HERE.

Glass Breaker and Pry Tool

These types of tools are not permitted, but you can replace them with similar items that are less than 7 inches in length such as a wrench or screwdriver.

Our personal choice is the Boker Mini Blade, which is 4.5 inch minibar tool made of high tensile resilient steel and has a fine edge perfect for prying into tight spaces.

Paracord

In reasonable quantities, paracord is a generally accepted item to bring on airplanes. There are several wearable options that save space and raise little suspicion such as bracelets, necklaces, belts, and watch wristbands.

A low-profile paracord belt is a great way to carry 70 feet of 550 pound commercial grade paracord, however it will need to be removed and scanned at the TSA checkpoint. If you’re looking for a good option, check out the Bison Designs Double Cobra Paracord Survival Belt.

edc kit
Make sure you know the rules for wherever you are traveling. Different countries have differing requirements.

Multitool

Typically, most multitools contain a blade and are not permitted by the TSA. Similar to a folding knife, determine the features you are most likely to use and find travel-safe alternatives that can accommodate your needs.

For a utilitarian multitool that is also travel-safe, we recommend the Leatherman 831488 Style PS Multitool, which boasts a host of useful tools and is permitted as carry-on.

Firestarting Kit

TSA regulations allow one book of safety matches as well as one TSA-approved cigarette lighter. Additionally, you can carry up to two additional lighters in your checked baggage as long as they are in TSA-approved containers, such as the Colibri Tranzpack TSA and DOT Approved Airline Lighter Case.

Back-up flammable items or fuel are not permitted even in checked baggage so if you are headed to a situation where you’ll need these items, make sure you can pick them up when you land.

For more information on permissible and banned firestarting items, check out this quick reference guide from the Federal Aviation Association (FAA).

Survival Whistle

Whistles are allowed in both carry-on and checked luggage, however check yours first to make sure it doesn’t contain any fire-making items. Strike-anywhere matches are not permitted in any luggage so you will need to ensure these items are left at home.

Checking Your Bug-Out-Bag When Traveling

If you feel that the nature or length of your trip necessitates having your bug-out-bag on hand, you’ll be happy to know that many of the objectionable items for carry-on are perfectly acceptable in checked luggage as long as they are packed properly. For a FREE Bug Out Bag Planning Tool CLICK HERE.

Bug out bag contents

However, while most items can be checked, under no circumstances can you bring any flammable liquids, torches, strike-anywhere matches, flares, gun lighters, or gun powder. If you’ll need any of these items once you reach your destination, such as fuel for camping stoves, make preparations to buy them once you land.

On the plus side, if you intend to bring any tools, blades or firearms, these items are permitted in checked luggage as long as they’re properly packed. For tools and blades, ensure they are sheathed or the sharp edges well-wrapped to avoid any injury to baggage handlers.

For firearms – including ammunition, bb guns, compressed air guns, firearms, flare guns, parts of guns, pellet guns, realistic replicas, and starter pistols – make sure they are unloaded, packed in a hard-sided container, and declared at check-in.

Want Even MORE Info On Building Your EDC Kit?

If you are looking for even more information on how to build your ultimate EDC kit you can check out my book, The Every Day Carry Guide.  It is a comprehensive manual that will teach you:

  • How to be prepared at all times – no matter where you are
  • How to build your first EDC kit from scratch
  • How to refine an existing kit to make it more effective
  • How to pick the best gear to realistically make you more prepared
  • How to assess threats and risks in your every day life

EDC-Book-w-Button

Conclusion

You don’t need to abandon your EDC kit when traveling by airplane, there easy ways to modify your kit that will retain its usefulness while complying with TSA regulations.

The regulations are not static and frequently change, so make sure you check out the TSA guidelines at least a week prior to any air travel. TSA agents also have the authority to confiscate items at their discretion that raise any alarms.

If you have any doubts, there is a handy Can I Bring… tool and TSA app that can both be found here. If you’re still unsure, your best bet is to leave the item at home. If the item is a must-have for your journey, look for travel-safe alternatives or places you can purchase one once you reach your destination.

Your Thoughts?

Have you ever had an item questioned at security that you thought was safe for carry-on? Share your experience with us in the Comments section below, thanks!

Chris

Chris Ruiz

My name is Chris and I created this site to help ordinary people prepare for the uncertainties of the modern day world. I believe that a well-prepared society is the best safeguard against any natural or manmade disaster.

16 comments on “How To Build a TSA-Approved EDC Kit

  1. Excellent article with critically important information for travelers. Thanks very much.

    Surely we’d all like to have all our EDC gear with us when we fly somewhere, but there’s the problem of determining ahead of time “what’s allowed” when passing through the TSA “filter”; you have addressed the matter well and thoroughly. Trying to comprehend and reconcile FAA/DOT/TSA regs is one of those exercises that takes us “down the rabbit hole”; but the guidance you offer throughout the article seems solid, especially this:

    “When dealing with TSA restrictions, if you have any doubts, it is best to leave questionable items at home or packed correctly in your checked bags. Carrying any item classified as a ‘weapon’ by the TSA on your person can result in a civil penalty.”

    Your article goes hand-in-hand with another recently published article about a real-life survival event, which can be accessed with this link: http://www.theprepperjournal.com/2015/01/16/are-you-prepared/

    Had the people involved in that incident been equipped even with the TSA-approved EDCs as you suggest, the magnitude of the protracted difficulties they encountered would have been mitigated.

    You ask, “Have you ever had an item questioned at security that you thought was safe for carry-on?” Yes, and just last night we were laughing about the time I got the “full-service TSA treatment” after the TSA X-ray machine reader mistook the harmonica in my carry-on briefcase for a semiautomatic pistol magazine.

    1. A harmonica mistaken for a magazine clip? Amazing! I guess that shows that is better to be safe than sorry!

    2. This is funny, because I’ve had the same issue with my harmonica…. many many times.

      Its made for a few uncomfortable moments, until I soothe them with a sweet tune!

      1. Wow, I can’t believe this is a common thing. I guess hiding a tommy gun in the violin case is out of the question too.

    3. Actually this is a worthless article. There is no such thing as a “TSA approved EDC kit.” Individual screeners have the authority to prohibit anyone from boarding with any particular piece of gear, despite what any written guidelines might state. If a screener says you aint getting on the plane with a safety pin and he/she refuses to listen to reason, then you aint getting on the plane with that safety pin. No supervisor will overrule them and their is no appeals process. Since an EDC kit is of no value at 30,000 feet the only sensible thing to do is put it ALL in checked baggage.

    4. And if anybody is stupid enough to think they are getting on a plane with that Leatherman PS multitool min their pocket, yeah, good luck with that one.

  2. On the multi-tool side I carry an LM Wingman with the blade removed (UK law, I have no “reasonable” excuse for locking blade in public, so I carry a SAK Spartan for blades). Its a simple mod, using a small thick washer to replace the blade. I don’t know if this is possible with other models. Good article, Im a fan. Cheers!

  3. Nice article…but remember that TSA approved ends at our borders. I’m a big fan of the Leatherman PS multitool but had mine confiscated minutes after landing in India. Yes, they have security both coming and going in their airports and all of it is a hassle. Makes you want to hug a TSA agent when you get home and that’s saying a lot…

    1. Hey Jerry, excellent point. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s a shame about the Leatherman though!

      Chris

    2. I had a similar problem with my scissors when departing Amsterdam. I carried a nice 4″ pair of sewing scissors in my EDC kit. Travelled all over the U.S. with them and no problems with TSA. Flew TO Amsterdam, then Istanbul, back to Amsterdam, up to Norway, back to Amsterdam again and had them confiscated before boarding back to Seattle. Security contractor said they were against Delta security policies even though I had flown there on Delta from the U.S. with them. She said had I been on KLM to the U.S. they were OK but not on Delta. Had to give them up and order a new pair from Amazon.com when I got back to the U.S.

      1. That is bad to hear, sorry you got stuck with the wrong set of rules against you. Thanks so much for sharing your experience though, we can all learn so much from each other’s knowledge.

        Thanks,
        Chris

  4. If traveling international, make sure to check airport regulations. I’ve had both small grooming scissors and tools (nail file and 1″ blade) confiscated from my carryon when traveling in Asia.

  5. Travelled into and leaving Switzerland with a Swiss Army knife in carry-on as long as the longest tool (or blade) was less than 4 inches long when open including the handle.

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