Car Keys?

5:55 p.m. on May 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Do you carry your car keys with you on the trail, or you do hide them at the car?  There is no point to carrying extra weight, and car keys certainly fall into that category.  I leave all of my keys in the car EXCEPT the car key itself.  That goes in my pack.

Or do you really practice ultra-light backpacking, and leave the car key artfully hidden somewhere so that you don’t have to tote the extra weight?  (And no, please don’t tell me or anyone else WHERE you hide those keys…)

Of course, true ultra-lighters will either take public transportation to the trailhead…or buy a car with keyless entry!

6:22 p.m. on May 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Great topic!

I always have a key hidden on my vehicle, plus I carry a single car key with me in my pack.

I don't like to leave things to chance because I always seem to pay for it somehow.

8:40 p.m. on May 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Just a comment or 2 before it gets moved -

I have been a passenger in a car where the driver/owner lost his keys somewhere during the week we were in the backcountry. He realized it when we were on the final day back to the car. Plus it was a somewhat remote trailhead.

OTOH, there are areas I know where there are sometimes "watchers" who watch to see what you take out of the car and put back in, including motions that indicate where you hid the keys or might make that good DSLR you stash temporarily visible while taking the tiny P&S. Most of these are "smash and grab" types. On one trip where I was meeting friends in the North Cascades, my hosts who live in Washington warned me not to park my car with its AMGA sticker at certain trailheads. That apparently acts as a signal that there might be climbing gear in the trunk which could be resold. Their advice was to (1) only park an old beater car at trailheads and (2) take only what you will need on the trip and leave the car open with easy access to the clearly empty luggage area - no jackets or towels left casually strewn across the back seat (since these might conceal valuables, the "watchers" will definitely investigate).

Here in California, there are occasional waves of "visitors" to some of the more popular East Side trailheads, with returning hikers finding broken windows and open doors.

When we lived in Boston, one time we were climbing at Quincy Quarries. As we were returning to our VW Kampwagen, we suddenly heard a loud alarm bell - someone had pried open one of the windwings on the Kampwagen, which we had outfitted with an alarm. The noise attracted a number of other climbers. We discovered that a group whad been making their way along the parked cars and systematically breaking in grabbing stuff. Our VW was the first in the line (after a couple dozen cars) with an alarm. The brigands dropped what they had grabbed and ran, though they had apparently loaded a bunch of booty into a pickup (some of the first on the scene had spotted them fleeing). One poor fellow had been in the process of moving and had everything he owned in his car. He lost a number of valuable items and found his clothes strewn all over the place.

One suggestion that seems to work well is to hide the keys in an artificial rock (you can get these from geocaching supply sites) and place it in the woods a couple hundred feet from the parking area.

 Yes, this is very off-topic for this forum. Moderators, please move it.

9:39 p.m. on May 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Like Bill's advice with climbers. Cavers are often warned not to have caving stickers on their cars--it's a sure sign you will be out of sight for several hours.

My father-in-law is a locksmith. He insists a hidden key is kept on our vehicles at all times.

As to backpacking. I carry a silnylon pouch my daughter made me as a wallet. I have my driver's license, debit card, a $20 bill, and my car key.

10:47 a.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I carry my keys with me. During the day they are clipped inside the pack. At night they are in my hammock.

1:18 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Keep them with you!

And, it doesn't hurt to have a key hidden, either!

On a youth group trip several years ago, I didn't know that my friend had 'locked' her trunk from inside the car. I didn't know she had the keys in the trunk.  I shut the trunk.

Fortunately, we were able to get the problem sorted out ok, but it took us awhile -- the good thing is, the car was open-- a bad thing was, a bunch of kids had been swimming....

Bottom line-- I ALWAYS make sure I know where the keys are!!

1:18 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Like OGBO suggests keep your stickers off your car..I live 10 mins from a trailhead and I park in a commuter parking area..When I leave my car I have no worries because the sheriff deputies frequestly do drive bys...I worrie more when I park at other trailheads,...I also Could get specialized plates for the Appalachian trail in my state..But that makes me a bigger target for Thieves..I perfer to go low key and come back to a car that hasn't been broken into...I do carry my keys in my pack and keep them in a drybag so I know where their always at...


1:29 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Not all of us have "beaters" we can leave at trail heads (although I have done so when I had a vehicle that counted as such)-- so in that vein:

One suggestion I was given years ago was when parking at a trailhead, have NOTHING in the car; I even leave my radio faceplate at home. No music is a small price to pay to not having anything interesting available in my vehicle.

Pull everything out of the door cubbies, and open any storage space like the jockey box, ashtray, arm rest, etc.  I have even spread paperwork out on the seat to empty the jockey box. (with my name and address turned down, of course.

Also, I ALWAYS leave my trip itinerary on the seat or floorboard, folded; I leave important contact info on the sheet, too, just in case.

When in a high-theft area, I will also just leave a copy of my National Park Pass on the dashboard with a note to rangers that I will be happy to show my original to them upon return.  I was told by rangers to do that; Alas, I have had other rangers get snarky with me about that advice.

Annndddd... I won't leave a hidden key in/on the car in high theft areas. I make sure I give my hiking buddy the spare.

1:41 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I once went hiking with a friend who hid his car key under a rock beside the first big tree on the trail (maybe 50 yards from the trailhead). When he went to grab a rock that was already under the tree, he found a car key already under it. Upon my questioning, he explained that it was well-known by the local hikers that this is the tree to hide your key under. I couldn't believe it! What's the point of hiding it if everyone knows where it's at. His explanation was that the local hiking community is respectful enough to not disclose the location to others. I then reminded him that he just revealed the location to me, an outsider. Duh!

As for me, I'll gladly carry it in my pack. 

1:47 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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When hiking down south I carry my keys in a zippered pocket underneath the top flap of my pack clipped to a loop inside. I normally carry around 50 pounds or so, so the addition of a set of keys is negligible.

However, I live in a fly-in only community up north and when at home my door literally opens up onto the largest wilderness area in the northern hemisphere so no need to carry car keys while hiking.

3:17 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Losing keys can be a BIG deal!  We were on our way to a very remote, rarely visited, trailhead in canyon lands when we came upon two guys walking back out.  They were locked out fifteen miles from pavement, almost 25 miles from the first cross road, and almost 35 miles from the nearest civilization.  They were lucky we came along; mishaps like this kill folks in that neck of the world.  It was late May.  With things warming up and drying out, it is anyone's guess how they would have fared, if not for our chance encounter.

Don't carry your keys into the backcountry.  You won't need them and if you relocate them in your pack, as one comment indicated, you just increase the odds of losing them.  I have lost a pair of keys on a day hike, and have been out on another when the driver lost their keys, too.  I once also had to drive a spare key out to a friend who stranded himself hours from our home town.  It wastes lots of time walking back to a phone, with lots more time waiting for spare keys to come from home, not to mention others spending lots of their own time due to your foolishness. 

It is no big deal to hide your keys near the trailhead.  If you are concerned about being watched while doing this, then walk your keys a bit up the trial and choose a identifiable stash location.  Now, about marmots chewing on wiring and hoses...


3:42 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Hmm....... I think i need to start hiding my keys somewhere. I usually take them with me but have this nervous obsession about making sure I still have them.

So if they are in a pants pocket I'll check and recheck, and recheck to make sure they are still there at intervals while hiking.


I used to use a key fob inside my pack until I had to hike out with no pack a few years ago when a black bear took the whole pack (luckily i had the keys in my pants when that happened although the pack did have my wallet, drivers license, insurance card, bank card, etc...)

4:07 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Patman, did you try suing the bear for identity theft? Joking aside, that must have been quite an ordeal. 

I have the same obsession to check and re-check, although I carry them in my pack. I check them nearly every time I put my pack down and throw them in the bottom of my sleeping bag with my wallet when I go to sleep. Never had the misfortune of losing them yet, but I have had someone forget to pick me up at the trailhead and had to walk out many miles until a farmer spotted us and picked us up. Argh!

4:20 p.m. on May 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I actually did write a report on the trip back when it happened in 2012:

10:13 a.m. on May 14, 2014 (EDT)
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I always just suck it up and carry the extra weight and keep my keys on me. I too am religious about where they go in the pack and check them several times a day whenever i open the pack to get something to ensure they are still there.

I don't recommend laying your keys on a rock during a rest break. When i was a young lad taking a zooology class in high school we were on a week long trip in big Bend NP and he left his keys on a rock during a break and we had to backtrack almost 10 miles to find them.

10:50 a.m. on May 14, 2014 (EDT)
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The question of keys brings to mind a particularly long trip I was on lasting several months. About half way through the journey, after living pretty much in the moment for over a month, I opened up my pack and found my “forgotten” keys in the top pocket. I remember thinking “Oh yeah, I have this whole other life!”. It is interesting how a simple set of keys can bring me back from one reality to another.

12:44 p.m. on May 14, 2014 (EDT)
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I carry a car key with me, as well as hide one on the car. I am careful at the trailhead to not obviously hide things in the car. Certain areas are more prone to prowlers. The Enchantments outside of Leavenworth are a high prowl area, as is the area around Granite Falls. I have a Toyota wagon. Not an obvious beater as it runs well. I won't park my good car in the bush as things do have a habit of walking away. Fortunately, the Toyota has a lot of hidden compartments that are only known to those who have them. I have multiple sets of keys and often give a couple of the other members a car key in case of emergency. Such as we become separated.

3:23 p.m. on May 14, 2014 (EDT)
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I take mine and secure them to ME.

6:51 p.m. on May 14, 2014 (EDT)
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surprised no one has discussed electronic keys, increasingly popular.  wondering whether hiding one in a magnetic 'hide-a-key' could result in a stranger getting easy access to the car.  the 'rock-in-the-woods' would solve that.  knowing me, i would never be able to find that fake rock.  

many packs have an internal clip for securing keys.  that's what I usually use, or i put the key in a ziplock inside a zippered pocket.  

8:41 p.m. on May 14, 2014 (EDT)
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"A key is a key, no matter whether it is a shaped piece of metal, a fingerprint, a retinal scan, a sequence of buttons to be pushed, a dial to be rotated in a certain sequence of patterns, a series of sounds (perhaps vocal), or an encoded electronic signal"

9:57 p.m. on May 14, 2014 (EDT)
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I wonder if I could trade the corkscrew on my Swiss Army Knife for a car key?

That would be more useful to me.

7:12 p.m. on June 1, 2014 (EDT)
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My practice has been to bring only keys I actually need to get to/from the trail (and into home when I return). So there isn't enough weight or bulk to worry about. I usually use the clip found inside most packs to keep the keys from getting lost.

Now that I think about it, maybe this isn't such a good idea. If a bear were to carry my pack away (as they have been known to do in Yosemite), then I'd be stuck upon my return to the trailhead. Then there's always the occasional criminal on the trail who could steal them ... But I suppose in either situation I would have bigger and more immediate concerns than how to drive home ...

9:22 p.m. on June 1, 2014 (EDT)
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I've an electronic set of keys for my current car, and the one before it had an internal microchip - if either gets wet, I don't get home. 

Mine gets put inside a waterproof pouch and is kept on my person. 

Mostly because the "city boy" in me knows better than to hide mine under a rock or in a magnetic box around my parts - leaving a car unattended for an extended period of time by itself is enough a risk.

Lightening my pack weight this season has a twofold benefit of it never being so heavy I want to put it down and walk away from it - I can keep it with me. While bears aren't a concern for my geography, thieves are.

Would add, too, that I usually clean out the interior and either leave things at home or in the trunk so nothing desirable's visible through the windows.

9:17 p.m. on June 2, 2014 (EDT)
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@Eric, hopefully not getting too far off topic ... still in line with "where to store the key" ... I've seen others comment that they never leave their pack alone.  On a practical level I am curious how to achieve that.  For example when I set up camp, it's usually not too close to the water supply, so after setting up camp I go off to fill my containers to be filtered.  Likewise, if I go off to "do my business" it's well away from my campsite.  Do you/people carry your pack with you each time you do these things?

Then there's the matter of the pack at night when I'm sleeping.  I always hang it from a tree (but just high enough to get out of reach of marmots).  If a bear were after it I suspect I'd be hard pressed to stop it.

10:12 p.m. on June 2, 2014 (EDT)
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Bill, no worries, dude. It's a good conversation-starter and I'm gonna go ahead and make a new thread about it. Pick up where we left off over there! :)

3:25 p.m. on July 3, 2014 (EDT)
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I always hide a key either on my car or under a rock near the trailhead. 

At locations where there tend to be a lot of visitors and/or break ins, I usually hide the key under a carefully chosen rock in a spot that won't be disturbed.  If the TH seems pretty unfrequented and safe, I'll just hide the key on the car somewhere. 

I almost never take a key with me, for the same reasons others have mentioned. There are just too many ways for a key to get lost on trail, no matter how obsessive one is about it. If you're hiking in a group, leaving the key at the TH also means other members of the group can access and drive the car in an emergency. 

10:48 p.m. on July 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I take my door key/ignition key with me. It gets looped on a zipper pull on the inside of my removable bag on my pack. No chance of it getting lost or coming loose and dropped on the trail.

Couple things to consider: Duct tape a key around the axle near your wheels/brakes. They'll get dirty and covered and damn near invisible within a few days and make a good emergency back-up. Also, since it stays there until an emergency, nobody can see you hiding your key at the trailhead.

Most cars have plastic inner fenders that are merely cosmetic and have no structural purpose. A small self-tapping screw, bolted through the key will keep an emergency key safe and out of sight.

If you have a trailer hitch on your rig, put a wire loop through a key, slide your hitch pin through the receiver, through the wire, and through the other side and secure with a Master Lock. You can use a small twig or a multi-tool to reach the wire and retrieve the key, and to an unknowing less-than-honorable person, it would appear perfectly fine.

8:53 a.m. on July 14, 2014 (EDT)
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My car key, like many today, has a chip in it and supposedly won't work to start the car if it gets wet.  That makes it more difficult to hide a key, especially on th car.  Spares are expensive, too.  I have heard that "lock out keys" are available that don't have the chip and are not very expensive (leave the key with the chip in the car and just take the lock-out key to use for the door), however a couple of dealers have looked at me like I have two heads when I asked.  The hardware store recently got equipment to make "side cut keys" as they called them and they looked at me funny when I asked, but then said I must mean "practice keys" (i.e. they can practice making keys on cheap blanks instead of the expensive real blanks) however they had used up all their practice keys practicing, so the search continues. 


6:48 p.m. on July 14, 2014 (EDT)
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I one time locked my bike at a busy trailhead in Sabino Canyon near Tucson AZ, I laid my bike lock keys down and then forgot them on the ground beside my bike which was locked alongside many others. I hiked 3 miles before I was going into my daypack or pockets and found they were gone and practically ran back and found them still laying beside my bike even though other bikes had been removed and new ones in the place. Either no one noticed them or did and left them in case the owner was nearby.

10:48 p.m. on July 14, 2014 (EDT)
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hitch to trailhead. :)

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