Everyday carry items are a hot topic, and it seems like everywhere you look people are suggesting all manner of things to carry around with you. Some things make sense on a surface level — some paracord, a compass, and compressed paper towels all seem like good things to have on hand after all. However, I’ve also seen inclusion of things like spinning tops, or flimsy, credit-card-sized survival tools.
If you were to carry every piece of kit recommended as “essential” everyday carry (EDC) items, you would be absolutely bogged down by the sheer weight of everything. The majority of those recommended items may very well spend their entire lives unused, tucked into a forgotten corner of your backpack. This is not your bug out bag, and you don’t need everything under the sun to help you get through your day-to-day. While all individuals have different needs when it comes to their everyday carry, I want to cut through some of the fog and discuss some items that you will actually use every day.
First, let me start off by saying that I am unequivocally a knife guy. When camping or thru-hiking, I always make sure to have two full-tang high carbon steel knives with me at all times. One less than five inches for fine, detailed work like making feather sticks or notching, and one huge one for heavy work like chopping and batoning.
In town and at work, however, you will never catch me busting out my Benchmade or TOPS knife to cut open a cardboard box. Instead, I carry a nice multitool. Quality knives are expensive, and there is no bigger drag than being constantly worried about misplacing it on accident and finding yourself out $200. Multitools come in a variety of sizes and prices, from the inexpensive and ubiquitous swiss army knife to my Leatherman Wave. This variety gives you the option to choose a multitool that is specifically suited to what you need in your everyday life.
While yes, the blade on most multitools isn’t ideal for a survival situation or even camping, it’s important to remember what you’ll actually be using it for. Chances are, you’ve got it to break down boxes, open packages, or maybe cut up an apple. In addition to a cutting tool, you actually reduce the amount of kit you have to carry since a good multitool should have any tool you might need in your day to day.
Forget a paracord bracelet, I have never once had occasion to use paracord outside of an actual wilderness situation. What I do use is a small portable charger that makes my life infinitely easier. Over the years, battery technology has come leaps and bounds, and now a portable charger the size of a deck of cards can charge your phone several times.
If you carry one of these, you will no longer have to awkwardly ask the bartender if they have a cable you can use. Though they usually offer you one, albeit begrudgingly, it does little to help with your sense of self sufficiency. Partner a portable charger with a portable solar panel, and you’ll soon forget what it was ever like watching that battery bar dwindle down to nothing on your screen.
I find these portable chargers to be especially useful in visiting new cities. Without one, you’re bound to have to head back to your hotel to charge back up, and when you’re doing a bit of urban exploring nothing is worse. Not having to worry about being able to navigate strange streets without mapping tools can give you a real sense of freedom.
I keep a first-aid kit handy literally wherever I go. I have a fully stocked kit in my home, a smaller kit in my vehicle, and in my backpack I carry an ultralight solo first-aid kit just in case. Luckily, when you’re out and about in your daily life, you have other resources to draw on if you come across a medical emergency.
Even so, it is always wise to carry a first-aid kit with the bare essentials in it at all times. You never know when you’ll need a pair of tweezers for a sliver, moleskin for blisters, or bandages for any minor cuts and scrapes. If anything, people around you will be grateful that you have these items handy.
Building one of these kits yourself is incredibly easy and inexpensive. All you really need is a trusty Altoids tin, and whatever medical supplies you use most often. I supplement mine with antacids and pain medication, as well as sneaking in some razor blades and a small signaling mirror (it’s hard to break those survival habits!).
There are few things more useful in your day-to-day life than a notepad and a pen. Whether you’re making a list, quickly jotting down an address or phone number, or writing down your thoughts, a notepad and high quality pen are essential. Unlike the notes application on your phone, these tools won’t run out of batteries when you need them most.
For the pen, I like the Fisher Space Pen, Zebra pens, and Lamy. The Space Pen gets top billing on my list because of its utility, graceful design, and reliable pressurized ink cartridges. Zebra pens are inexpensive and write exceptionally well, and would be a fantastic choice for anyone on a budget. Finally, Lamy pens come in last, but only due to price point — these are far and away my favorite pens to write with, however the cost is prohibitive for something you could potentially lose while out and about.
As far as notepads go, any inexpensive memo pad will suffice. Honestly, half of the time I end up writing notes directly onto my arm if I happen to be in a rush. If you are the type of person that likes the best of the best, then I suggest a waterproof notebook like Rite in the Rain or something similar. Having the option to jot down notes even in a downpour could come in handy.
Finally, what I consider to be the absolute most overlooked item for everyday carry: an organization pouch. Though they are not absolutely necessary, having all of your kit organized in the same place is a real time saver. While a backpack may have enough pockets to store all your daily gear, they are spread out across the entire bag and it can become easy to lose track of where you put what.
There are many different styles of organizational pouch, from the traditional zippered pocket, to a pad criss-crossed with elastics that hold any small item in place. I prefer the latter, as with a loose pocket smaller items tend to settle to the bottom, requiring you to dig around a bit. When they are held in place and put back into place when you’re finished with them, it operates like a well organized toolbox and you know exactly where all your important gear is.
Generally made from cordura, cotton, or ripstop nylon, these types of organizational pouches tend to be heavy duty and long lasting. I’ve actually come to use these as organizational tools for my bug-out-bag as well as my standard solo camping kit, and I no longer have to dig around through side zippers hoping that my fire starting equipment hasn’t disappeared from where I thought I’d put it.
As mentioned earlier, everyone has different needs when it comes to EDC gear, and you may very well need all of the bells and whistles that you have in your backpack. As long as going forward, you carefully consider what you actually end up using, you will be able to pare down your kit to a more manageable size and streamline your gear.
Ross Cowan is a freelance writer who lives in Idaho. He enjoys white-water rafting, long camping trips with his partner and dog, and is an avid hiker. Follow Ross on his Twitter @RossCowanWrites.