Building Tangible Margin: “What’s in Your Pocket?”

Let me say two things before I get started on Every Day Carry or EDC. First, EDC only works if you carry it. And second, I don’t carry all of mine all the time. So, from a position of admitted imperfection, here are some thoughts and recommendations on putting together your EDC.

What is the purpose of EDC? It is not to prepare you for every possible eventuality. If it were, it would be enormous and we’d never carry it. EDC is the basics. It’s simple gear that you can keep in your pocket/purse/briefcase to deal with common, minor needs and the occasional real emergency. So where do you start?

Cell phone—Chances are good that you have one of these within reach of you right now and consider it invaluable, a nuisance or both. While a cell phone is not 100% reliable under good conditions and may not work during some emergencies, it is a good tool. If you cannot afford a cell phone contract, a phone without a contract should still be able to call 911. Another good option is something like a TracFone where you buy minutes as needed and are not locked into a contract. Some features to look for in a phone include A-GPS, which allows emergency responders to find you if you call 911, and text messaging, as texts will often get through even when reception is too poor for a voice call. Other than a car charger and an earpiece, which is now required in many areas while driving, also consider buying a high-capacity battery and either a crank-charger or a CellBoost backup battery ($4 @ Radio Shack).

Folding knife and/or multi-tool—A good locking folding knife is endlessly useful. This is essentially a pocket knife with the added safety feature of a lock that keeps it from folding on your fingers. Most of them also have a clip that allows you to clip it inside your pocket or on your belt. If you live in Chicago, it’s wise to stick with a blade of 2 ½ inches or less as that is the legal limit. If you are concerned about carrying a “weapon” or simply want a variety of tools look for a Leatherman (or similar) multi-tool or Swiss Army Knife, both of which can be had with locking blades. I carry both a folding knife in my pocket and a Leatherman in my briefcase. You can even start small, if you’d like. The Leatherman Micra and Squirt both fit on a key ring and includes a few small tools including scissors strong enough to cut a seatbelt. I have frequently Micras that have been confiscated at airports for $10 on eBay.

Flashlight—Because I never leave it at home, I like key ring flashlights like the Photon Micro-Light. There are other brands and models, but these are generally tiny, coin cell LED flashlights that have a huge battery life and nearly indestructible bulbs. Though the manufacturer claims they are visible at a mile, they’re best suited for closer tasks—finding the black glove you dropped near your car in the dark, getting out of a windowless room during a power outage, evacuating a CTA train that’s on fire underground, entertaining your pre-schooler, etc. If you have a little more room for your EDC or simply want more light in a compact package, you might choose something using one or two AA, AA or CR123 lithium batteries. The Gerber Infinity Ultra would be a good pick. A slimmer and cheaper option (though less powerful) would be the Maglite Solitaire.

Bandanna or handkerchief—These are good for blowing noses and cleaning glasses. They’re also quite useful as makeshift bandages, tourniquets (only if you know what you’re doing) and filter masks. These are cheap and compact. Everyone should carry at least one.

Whistle—Go with a pea-less design like a Fox 40 or ACR whistle. Both are small, inexpensive and won’t freeze up like the referee-style whistles with the small “pea” inside can do. Though whistles are sometimes recommended as crime deterrent for women, they’re a good idea for everyone. The sound of a whistle carries farther and over more noise than the human voice. If you were to fall down the stairs in a low-traffic area, get stuck in an elevator or get pinned in your car just out of sight of a busy highway, you’re going to find the whistle very handy. Good for connecting family members lost in a crowd, as well.

That is a good foundation for EDC. I carry much more than that (in a briefcase kit) and, depending on your circumstances, you may decide to carry other items. Some things to consider:

Water—A liter bottle of water is not a bad idea, depending on your situation and commute. Water weighs about 8lbs. per gallon, so more than this is unrealistic unless you drive daily.
Food—Not necessary unless you have blood sugar problems, but something like a PowerBar takes up little room and may give you the extra energy you need in an emergency.
Watch—Though some folks don’t like them or rely exclusively on a cell phone for telling the time, a watch is useful for all sorts of reasons. A good water-resistant/-proof one from a reputable manufacturer should serve you well.
Spare cash—Debit and credit cards are pretty standard but consider carrying a spare $20 and at least a couple quarters (phone call, unexpected parking meter, etc.).
Pen or pencil—Something compact and reliable. Pencils will never fail you and Fisher Bullet pens won’t leak and can write anywhere. Rite in the Rain makes a rugged, affordable “write anywhere” pen.
Poncho—The disposable type takes up about as much room as a handkerchief and typically only cost about $2-3.
Filter masks—Get a box of the flat, activated charcoal ones (I think they’re Fleet brand) at your local drug store and spread them among your daily bag, your car and your home. I keep two in my kit.
First Aid Kit—It doesn’t have to be big. A small assortment of Band-Aids, a couple of gauze pads, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, a travel pack of Advil, Benadryl and whatever you may use occasionally.
Lighter or matches—I carry a Solo Storm windproof/waterproof lighter in my little kit, but a Bic is just fine. Matches can deteriorate over time, but camping matches that are waterproof should be OK.
Small compass—Though the street numbering in Chicago helps navigation, a small compass can come in very handy if you find yourself in an unfamiliar area. I carry a small Suunto Clipper compass.
Glasses repair kit and/or spare pair—If you rely on contacts or eyeglasses, as I do, a spare pair of glasses and/or the little, drugstore repair kits they sell in the checkout lanes are a must.
Chemical handwarmers—Not essential during the summer but very “handy” during the winter.
Pepper spray—If you live somewhere that allows its citizens to protect themselves adequately, pepper spray’s not the best defensive choice. If you’re in Chicago, however, pepper spray’s about your only option. If you’re a woman (I’m not sexist just realistic), you should carry a small can that you can access quickly, probably on your key ring. My wife’s used it; it works. They’re not a bad option for men, either. I keep one in my car but don’t carry one on me generally.

The amount of gear that you EDC (it’s a noun and a verb!) will depend on your budget, the environment where you live and work and your personal style and preferences. An IT guy who wears cargo pants every day is likely going to configure his EDC differently than the banker who prefers tailored clothes. Someone living and working in the wilds of Alaska will have different EDC needs than the one living in Miami. I don’t like to have bulky pockets or lots of stuff hanging on my belt, so I carry a flashlight, knife, handkerchief and cell phone on me and keep a compact kit (about the size of a thick paperback) in my briefcase. As with all preparedness planning, start small and add or upgrade gear as you see fit and are able.

If you’d like specific recommendations on any of these items, please let me know. I’d be glad to help you find something good on any budget, though if you ask me to recommend a $300 knife, I’ll probably try to talk you out of it.


About the Name

Another Inkling…where’d that come from? Why not Ed92 (high school nickname and year of graduation) or Reflections on Narcissus (angst-ridden thoughts of the misunderstood artist)? Well, I like Another Inkling for two reasons. (Beyond the obvious attempt at anonymity.)

On the one hand, the Inklings were a group of writers who met frequently at a little pub in Oxford called The Eagle and Child. Included among their ranks were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two writers I admire and enjoy greatly. Referring to this site and myself as Another Inkling is not so much a grand appraisal of where I am now but an aspiration and a tip of the hat to these greats.

On the other hand, the term “inkling” can mean “a slight hint or indication” or “a slight understanding or vague idea or notion.” Inkling often carries the connotation of a sense of something impending, which relates to preparedness. I sense that our world is getting more dangerous and will continue to do so until the Lord returns. I hear “thunder in the distance,” an inkling of things to come.

So there you go.


Preparedness Poll Reflections

Though many seemed to view this poll as a test, it was not intended that way. If it got you thinking, though, all the better. I was really trying to answer the question, Is what I’m writing about worthwhile? Am I addressing a need? Let’s see.

The following are the poll questions, the most common response(s) to each and brief reflections:

1) I view preparedness as…something I’m actively working towards—55%

I’d be curious to know whether 9/11, Katrina or other disasters have had any impact on this. Though this isn’t an overwhelming percentage, people are at least thinking about preparedness and believe they’re working towards it. This is good. Based on the responses to the rest of the poll, however, there’s room for improvement. (I include myself in the category of Those-to-Be-Improved, by the way.)

2) I have this much drinkable water stored: None—45%

One gallon per person per day. That’s the recommended amount of water you should be storing. Though three days’ worth has been the conventional wisdom, it is now suggested that four days to two weeks is a better bet. Only 25% had more than three days’ worth stored. If you are new to preparedness, water storage is a very good place to start. Check out this previous post for tips.

Those of you who are not apartment-dwellers may very well have more water than you realize; the typical water heater has a reservoir of roughly 30-60 gallons which can be used in an emergency. Whether you own a home or live in an apartment, filling the bathtub will give you at least 25 gallons of water (possibly much more for those with “luxury” bathtubs). It’s probably wise to treat this water before drinking it, but it can be a great source for hygiene and other cleaning needs.

3) I keep a flashlight within reach of my bed: Yes—55%

Most do but a fair number don’t. I’d ask the latter group, Why not? They’re cheap and could save your life in the event of a fire, break-in or other emergency. Any reliable flashlight will do, but a sufficiently bright flashlight can be used to temporarily blind an assailant if needed and will cut through smoke more effectively. A headlamp can be valuable if you anticipate having to carry anyone or have exit doors that require two hands (like I do--not ADA-approved). Recommendations: SureFire G2 , Maglite C- or D-cell or a Petzl headlamp.

4) I have the means and know-how to make drinkable water: No—65%

You may not realize it, but you do have the means to make water drinkable. If you can boil water or have plain, unscented chlorine bleach, you can treat a lot of questionable water. Water with chemical contaminants will require a still or filter suited for that application, but most of what you’ll run into are biological contaminants, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Here is a handy resource for boiling times and chlorine bleach treatment. A good water filter can be a worthwhile investment, too. I have a portable version that can treat 500 gallons with a single filter cartridge. Camping and backpacking suppliers are good sources for easy and portable water treatment.

5) Thinking about preparedness makes me feel...unprepared, I know I should prepare but haven’t—50%

Both those who’ve done nothing and those who have done much may feel unprepared. Ultimately, you can’t address every possible scenario, nor should you. You have to do some sort of risk assessment and determine what you might encounter and what you can do about it. Start small. Stock up on water, buying a couple gallons a week for a couple months. Then make a small list of bulk non-perishables and watch for sales. Buy $10 worth a week for a couple months and stow it in a designated spot. Although reading this blog and other preparedness resources may make you feel as though you have a mountain to climb, it is easy and necessary to start with small steps and just keep at it. Will you be a blessing or burden in a time of crisis?

6) I have this much non-perishable food stored…not sure, whatever’s on my shelves—65%

Fortunately, food is not essential. And you may very well have many days’ worth of food in your kitchen and just not know it. It is prudent to stash some away for a snowy day, though. Even if you are willing to go on an unanticipated fast, your family may not be so amenable to the idea. An extended power outage or blizzard could quickly leave you with non-perishables as your only foodstuffs. See this prior post for some ideas on storing food for emergencies and this one for a look at Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

7) I carry some basic preparedness items (Swiss Army knife, small flashlight, First Aid supplies, etc.), other than a cell phone, daily: Yes & No—50%/50%

“Be prepared.” It’s not just for Scouts. I’m going to look at Every Day Carry (EDC) very soon on this blog. There are numerous factors to consider, but there are some very fundamental items that I think everyone should have on them. Those of you who do carry some basics, I’d be curious to see your list. Those who don’t, I’ll try my best to convince you.

8) I try to fill up my car’s gas tank…when the tank hits half full (half empty?)—65%

I was pleasantly surprised by the responses to this question, but I fear that the positive responses may have been partly due to my lack of a “quarter tank” option. Filling up at half tank is a discipline that doesn’t come naturally. My grandfather was a state trooper in Indiana and always filled up at half a tank, because he never knew when he’d have to take off on a chase or drive partway across the state. Living in Chicago, the possibility of a mass evacuation is very real, but there are plenty of non-End-of-the-World scenarios that would warrant this. Just being able to keep your car idling for heat in the event of a winter accident could make the difference between life and death.

9) I have an evacuation/get out of town bag ready to go: No—85%

The responses to this one didn’t really surprise me, but I’d love to know what you thought when you read the question. It’s not a nice thing to think about, I know. We’ve already looked at “Staying Put” but will examine the far more intimidating option of “Heading Out” in the near future. A pre-packed bag of gear is an essential element, and I’ll try to lay out some basics for putting your own together.

Thanks again to all who weighed in and to those who've just stopped by. It would seem that there is an interest in and a need for practical preparedness. Faith, politics and culture comments are thrown in for free! I’ll do my best to make your visits here worth your while.