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.