I have been doing more airline travel in recent years and my desire to NOT pay bag fees has caused me to reevaluate my luggage and packing styles. This led me to utilize a large backpack style suitcase and shoulder bag which allows me to carry on all my necessary items, even for a 1 ½ weeklong trip to both New York and England last year. But that trip also coincided with a bout of on-going backpain (lessened by physical therapy in the months since), and my obsessive need to get my daily miles led to some rather severe bouts of pain as I walked for miles and miles through airport terminals in my quest to reach five-plus miles a day.
So it was that I reevaluated what I carry with me in my everyday bag to work and elsewhere. I took a long look at what I considered the essentials that I always need or would most likely need during an average workday. This is not a new concept as the internet is full of pages and videos devoted to the idea of “prepping” with survivalist and gearheads alike talking about what I was only vaguely aware of beforehand: the Everyday Carry, or EDC.
Philosophies of the EDC seem to vary on the internet, with some treating it as true urban survival (i.e. if the apocalypse started at this very second and you were not at home, would you be able to survive long enough to enact your disaster plan and retrieve your kit?), and others seeing it as a fashion idea wrapped up in male identity (a truly classy man always has these items on his person), and yet others coming at it from the more practical viewpoint of what are the essential items you can keep in your pockets (as in the video below from uber-nerd Adam Savage).
When I approached the idea of thinking through an EDC for myself, I came at it from the practical viewpoint—extended beyond the what-you-can-carry-in-your-pockets philosophy to also items kept in a shoulder messenger bag—but with maybe just an eye towards the fashionable. But before I talk about what is in my EDC, I want to muse just briefly on that idea of male identity and the EDC, because even when the EDC is not verging on the fashion side of approach, it is still wrapped up in traditional ideas of “maleness” that can be a bit dangerous (especially true when you throw weapons, including firearms, into an EDC). This video is a pretty good example of the more restrained “gentleman EDC” side:
I purposefully chose the phrase “man purse” as part of my title for the post because I believe that one phrase not only sums up what an EDC is, but also how men reject the notion of a “purse” as feminine while at the same time embracing shoulder or messenger bags for daily use because of practicality. I love messenger bags and have been using them since late high school. I also may not have a growing collection that I use for various purposes (one that travels because it packs easily in existing bags and that I can break out for conferences, one for daily use, one that is slightly bigger for when I need to take my computer, etc.). But many times some friends have jokingly called it my “man purse,” which it completely is, especially when connected to the philosophy of the EDC.
At its core, EDC is about carrying around necessary items one might logically use daily: basic tools (fingernail clippers, screwdriver, wipe cloth, flashlight), medicines (pain killers, allergy meds, etc.), writing instruments, paper, charging cables, flash drives, keys, phone, and whatever else you might need. Guys are lucky in that the fashion industry has deigned to give us functional pockets in our pants, but not all that stuff will fit in all our pockets without resorting to cargo pants…and nobody should ever wear cargo pants. Period.
Disclaimer: Unless you are in the military, hiking, or otherwise involved with urban pacification during a post-apocalyptic future.
Enter the messenger bag. More fashionable than a back pack, easier to carry than a traditional briefcase, and it survives wear and tear better than a nice leather bag. And for guys, it is completely okay to carry unlike the traditionally feminine purse—for whatever reason. But even if centuries of stupid traditions didn’t make it socially unacceptable for me, a straight white male, to carry a purse, I still wouldn’t because the messenger bag is much better. Like so many things, men’s fashion just makes more sense from an ease of carry standpoint.
Why is it better, you ask? Well, sheer functionality of interior organizations, not to mention zippers that help make it water resistant. To say nothing of cross-the-body shoulder strap that make it easy to manage while carrying. Just like men’s pants with pockets, the messenger bag is more practical and functional.
The messenger bag, and its sometimes greater capacity, also feeds into the darker side of the EDC philosophy of masculine culture. Some EDC philosophy revolves around considering what items a man should be expected to carry with him that can be used in the event that someone needs help. Preferably either a woman in need or to impress women who are in view of such an act. In the back of this type of prepper’s mind, the EDC is constructed as much to impress people as it is with feeding his masculine ego. That the conception of his manliness stems from his preparedness skills—think less boy scout and more macho ass hole. It feeds into our culture of manliness (re: toxic masculinity) in that men are the type to fix problems with their skills and manly tools.
To be certain, some, if not most, people who think through their EDC carefully are not this way, at least on a conscious level. For many it is just a practical approach to everyday life. However, there are enough extreme EDC videos that go well beyond what I would consider reasonable, or even within the realm of useful possibility, that you can read the toxic side into their thought processes. Those who carry more than a simple pocket knife (which is more useful on a daily basis than most would think) and/or multitool, or pack weapons for which you need a permit and/or license to carry. Those who have emergency rations or full blown medical kits with them every day. It is great to have a disaster kit at home (I have been meaning to assemble one for a while now, a “go bag” is just smart to have around), but why would you need to carry one with you to the office? There is smart and prepared, and then there is going overboard.
I do like, though, that almost every video you can find on this topic emphasizes that EDC is a personal choice and philosophy. What fits you? As a friend of mine loves to say: you do you.
But there is an underlying question behind this darker side of EDC philosophy, one that I am in no such way prepared or really equipped to answer, of how to navigate our the modern world as so much changes around us vis-à-vis gender, politics, identity, etc. I think my friend’s advice of “you do you” really applies, as long as that entails being kind, respectful, and mindful of others. We’re all going to screw up, but be compassionate, patient, and understanding.
So, with all that being said: what is in my EDC?
Well, any EDC will always start with the basics that pretty much everyone needs to have on them when they leave the house: wallet (with ID, cards, and cash), cellphone, watch, and keys. For me, I hate carrying keys that I know I will not use, so I have three separate key chains: house keys, car keys, and work keys. This allows some customization of what I have in my pockets and keeps my pocket from getting overloaded with heavy metal.
On my house key chain I also have a high-power pocket flashlight, which comes in handy walking home through a forest at the end of the day. But, I hear you asking, “do you need a flashlight if you have your cellphone?” Well, what if your phone battery is low or dead and it is late and dark? This is my boy scout training coming to the fore. Be prepared. I cannot tell you how many times my phone has been near dead at the end of the day just because of regular use and me forgetting to charge it before I leave the office.
There is still a bit of room in my pockets in which I also carry a small pen (the Fisher Space Pen because I am a nerd), a Japanese higo no kami pocket knife (because Japan), a small notebook, and a handkerchief (because between glasses, phone screens, and my allergies it pays to have something handy to wipe with). Also pictured below are my iPod Classic (modded to 256GB capacity) and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones. I don’t normally have these in my pockets, but they are a part of my daily commute and are carried on my person rather than in my bag.
In my extended EDC (EEDC?), aka my small messenger bag, I have what I consider necessary for every day so that I have a comfortable commute to work (an almost two mile walk). This includes what I might need at work, during my lunch break, and maybe an afternoon trip to a coffee shop or after work drinks. Currently in my bag are: assorted notebooks for various work and personal projects, my Kindle (can be substituted for whatever book I am currently reading), a small case—the Camel cigarettes case—for all my various SD cards and flash drives on which I store my important data (because I still don’t trust “the cloud”), a small bag for pencils and pens, a small bag for writing accessories (extra lead, ink, and erasers), a small bag for charging cables, and a small case for business cards (made for me years ago by an aunt).
I am not going to go into what pencils, pens, and notebooks I use. All of that is variable based on stores and taste. I will say that I use a mixture of fountain and ballpoint pens so I can have reliability but also demonstrate a bit of class and sophistication when I want. I have also recently transitioned away from the cheap, disposable pens to nicer ones with refill options. This was done both from an economic standpoint, reusability standpoint, and also wanting something a bit nicer than the $3.99 pack of five from Target.
Lastly is the Altoids tin. Despite its petite size, this is my “break glass in case of light emergency” kit. It contains band-aids, fingernail clippers, an emergency wipe cloth for my glasses/phone/computer, an emergency AAA battery for the pocket flashlight (which has come in handy during the winter when I more frequently have to walk home through the dark), lip balm, a small multitool, and an interior tin with medications. This is a trick I saw in a few videos that I decided to adapt. It is a nice thing to have around and has been useful more often than I thought it would.
If you are curious, my current bag is the Tom Bihn Daylight Briefcase with optional “Absolute Shoulder Strap.” I have a few other bags, including a few nice Fossil bags, that I sometimes pack for conferences if I want something a bit more formal, classy, etc. I also have a slightly larger bag that I can use for my computer on the weekends.
There you have it, my EDC. So, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson: what’s in your bag?