Survival is largely a state of mind. That being said, having some equipment and supplies with you can sure help. Often, this “stuff” is referred to as a “survival kit” or sometimes a BOB (Bug-Out Bag), GHB (Get Home Bag) or INCH (I’m Never Coming Home) bag. These can be from pocket sized up to a large (or perhaps too large) backpack and even larger if a vehicle is available. One critical concept which is not part of any of these is EDC (Every Day Carry). This is not and should not be called any kind of “survival kit”. It is more a “life kit” which can have application in survival situations.
The name is highly specific. This is stuff you carry, every day. And you are willing to do so, because the stuff is frequently useful in everyday situations, of high importance during an emergency, and perhaps most importantly, not obnoxious enough to carry that you look for excuses to not carry it.
These points and the name itself provide a fairly precise guide to what kind of stuff to include in your EDC. Of course, there is no “list” which applies to everybody, since there are a wide variety of lifestyles out there. Instead, there is a process of analysis which can be used as a guide in designing your EDC.
The First Step
Actually, you probably already have an EDC. It is the stuff you “normally” carry in your pockets or purse. It is usually a really good starting point.
You likely have a wallet or equivalent, with your driver’s license or other ID, a credit card or two and some cash, as well as keys to your home and car. Now is a good time to go through these basics and throw out or remove anything which is obsolete. Then make sure that you do have valid ID as well as current medical and other insurance cards, your important contact information, including doctors and dentists, and other items you need for memberships, discounts, services and so on. A picture of your significant other is an important survival item, because some loved ones, if you don’t carry a picture of them, may kill you.
Add anything new but not in there yet; and replace anything which is expired or too worn to be useful. This is a task it would be wise to do yearly.
Money can be helpful in a lot of situations; so make sure you have a reasonable collection of fund sources. Credit cards can be of great value; but only if you are disciplined enough to handle them. If your situation does not allow you to pay the credit card bill(s) in full each and every month, you are better off not using them because they will increase the cost of most things you buy (interest, sometimes by 20% or more) and can get you into a deep hole (massive debt) it will be immensely difficult to get out of. If normal credit card use would be a problem, perhaps you can have a card for emergency use only which you never use or use for no more than one token charge a month to keep it active. Or perhaps it would be better not to have one at all if even that level of self-control would be a stretch. Debit cards can give you the convenience of a credit card without the risk of massive debt, but I don’t recommend them because they are a direct line into your bank account. If there is an error or someone else uses your number, you have to fight to get your money back as opposed to fighting to avoid paying the incorrect credit card bill. Guess which is more likely to be successful. If you have a debit card, have it be on a separate account all by itself, with no overdraft active and only keep an amount in that account you can afford to lose or at least do without for many months.
Cash is king, but it is sometimes obnoxious to get and is at risk of loss or destruction. Still, have some, particularly some small bills and change (for vending machines). For larger amounts of cash equivalency, Travelers Checks used to be the safer way to have significant funds, but these did have some down sides. American Express still offers them, but these days, an AAA cash card or pre-paid MasterCard gives you the safety of Travelers Checks with smaller fees, wider availability, more universal acceptance, and less of a replacement hassle.
Of course you have the keys you need, but keys can get lost or locked in. It would be wise to have a spare of any critical key.
For most people, a cell phone is part of their EDC. If not, why not? If you don’t like being tracked, keep it shut off. If you think you can’t afford one, I suspect you can find one which you can afford (including through government programs) for emergency use only.
I find that my wallet had too much critical stuff in one item which could be lost or stolen, so I split it into three. My wallet has cash (I try to keep it between $100 and $40), three credit cards, $200 in Travelers Checks (left over from the days when they were the only real option) and discount cards, rain checks and coupons. All my IDs, membership cards, contact information and photos are in a card case, with a small bill folded and hidden between some of the pairs of cards. And then I have a coin purse with coins and spare house and car keys. This has always proven to be a successful funding arrangement as long as I am in town with easy access to more resources. Whenever I leave town, I also carry a packet with some $100 bills and $1000 in Travelers Checks in a hidden pocket.
Why three credit cards? My primary one, which I use everywhere I can should be obvious, but not every place takes it. My backup one is for when the primary one is not accepted. It is also the only one I ever use on the internet or over the phone. The third is from a particular store and it is the only one they accept, so that is the only place I use it, although it serves as backup to the other two. If I leave town, that third card is taken out of my wallet and kept separate.
Optimizing Your Current EDC
Once you have the “universal” EDC of ID, money, cell phone and keys completed, list everything else you normally carry. Consider not only how and how much you normally use it, but how it might be used in an emergency. See if there is anything which could be replaced by something just as useful in everyday life and more useful in an emergency. One area particularly useful to investigate is your cell phone, it is best if the one you carry not only reliably makes calls, but offers other functions you need normally or in an emergency.
Weed out anything which you never use and which would not be of value in an emergency. This makes your “current” EDC as optimal as practical. Hopefully some of the things from the next section are already part of your EDC.
Extending Your Current EDC
Now that you have tweaked your existing EDC, you should look and see if there is anything you can add which would support YOUR normal life as well as helping to extend it in an emergency. Here are some things to consider which would be invaluable in an emergency, and each would be of value normally for some people:
Flashlight. I can count on the thumbs of one hand the days when I did not use my flashlight at least once. It would usually not be wise to go any bigger than a two cell CR123A light, and you can go as small as a watch battery powered “key-chain” light. AA and AAA batteries are easier to come by than CR123A batteries, but they are more prone to leaking and have destroyed several of my AA/AAA flashlights, and don’t put out as much light or run as long. I suggest a light with multiple brightness levels, so you can choose between a little light for a long time or lots of light for a much shorter time. In an emergency, consider how much more lethal or at least unpleasant the situation would be in complete darkness.
Knife. I use a knife almost as often as I do a flashlight. Most days, there are fingernails to be cleaned, packages to be opened, labels to be scraped off, strapping to be sliced, food to be cut and other knife tasks. If allowed by laws and corporate policy, best is a single hand opening, locking, quality knife with a three to four inch blade. But whatever will do the tasks you need done and you are allowed and willing to carry should be your choice. In an emergency, a knife is invaluable, including defensive use if you have training in that and the knife is appropriate.
Multi-Tool. If you don’t lead a technical life, you might not need one of these multi-tools. For the rest of us, these portable pliers, wire cutters, screwdrivers, file and saw, among other tools are quite useful. Many also have a knife blade, which might allow it to serve in place of a knife. These tools are of use in many situations, “normal” and emergency.
Lighter. If you smoke, you probably have this covered. Otherwise, you might not need this unless you do tasks which require heat/fire (i.e. using heat shrink tubing). Still, fire is a key requirement for some emergencies, so a mini butane lighter or a sealed “peanut” lighter or at least a ferrocerium bar is a good thing to have.
Large (Engineer’s) Bandana. I normally use this as a sweat rag, dust mask, pad against heat or pressure, and a shade from the sun for my neck. In an emergency, it can do not only these functions, but also filter particulates from water, be used for first aid, carrying things, and if a bright color, signaling.
Duct tape. A small piece often comes in handy and wrapping a few feet around a small core does not take up much space. In an emergency, duct tape can be used for first aid and other purposes.
Paracord. Ten feet or so of paracord can serve as a leash, belt, shoelace or lashing. A convenient way to carry it is woven into a bracelet, key-fob, lanyard or other object, as long as it is a “quick deploy” weave. The most common “Cobra” weave is actually a series of knots which takes forever to get undone. In an emergency, it can serve as a tourniquet, restraint or made into a weapon.
Safety Pins. A couple takes no room, weigh nothing, and often come in handy. Add a needle and some thread, and you can handle repairs to clothing and equipment whether merely embarrassing or life threatening.
Pen/Pencil and Small Notebook. For jotting down information you don’t want to forget, making lists, doing designs and leaving notes. In an emergency, the paper can be used as tinder to help start a fire and the pencil/pen as the windlass of a tourniquet. There are also “Tactical Pens” which are sturdy enough to be used as weapons if you are trained with them.
Tape Measure. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always having to measure things or estimate distances, and I’ve carried a small 10′ pocket tape for years. Recently, I changed to a free one from my insurance company, it’s only 6′, but has both inches and centimeters. This is probably not of use in an emergency, though. And they wouldn’t let me into the courthouse with it. I guess they were afraid I might measure something.
Magnifier. A Fresnel lens is the size of a credit card and can help you read “the fine print” or regular sized print if you don’t have your reading glasses or your eyes are strained. If you want/need more power, there are small folding magnifying glasses available. In an emergency, these also can be used to start a fire.
Pair of Exam Gloves. These are good to protect your hands if you need to do something gooey, sticky or toxic, or avoid contaminating something. In an emergency, they can protect you from disease.
Pair of Foam Ear Plugs. Not only can they help your concentration in a noisy environment, it protects your ears if you get into an environment with a harmful level of noise.
Final EDC Tweaks
Think back over the last month or so. Was there anything you needed and did not have readily available? How common was that need? What was the impact of not having it? Would that item meet the criteria for your EDC?
And lastly, consider your weaknesses. Is there a medication which if you miss taking or did not have available, would impact your health? Having a keychain pill capsule with a dose or three would be wise. Do you wear contacts? A lens case would be worth having in case you need to remove the lenses. Are you in an environment where you are at risk from other people? Defensive equipment may be indicated, but only if it is legal and allowed, you are trained in its use, and you are willing to put up with any annoyances involved in carrying it. Pistols are the most obvious choice, but if this is not a good match, there are also collapsing batons, knives, pepper sprays, tasers, stun guns, a cane or walking stick and some even more esoteric defensive equipment.
One thing to consider which is not of much use “normally” for most people is a whistle. Even if I’m not going anywhere near the outdoors, I like to have one readily available to scare off attacking people or animals or if I happened to be caught in a collapsed building or become immobilized out of sight.
If you live “off the beaten path”, you may want to augment your EDC with some basic “survival” gear, in the city the only thing I carry only for emergencies is one of those Mylar space rescue blankets.
Nowhere in the specifications does it limit you from including “weird” things. Things I carry which support the oddities of my lifestyle include a small pry bar, a tiny music/video player/radio with earphones, a few disposable “anti bacterial masks”, some Ibuprofen, a folding hair brush/comb, a folding tooth brush, an audio Bible, a “phone charger” battery with cables for everything, a small tablet, a small bottle of hand sanitizer, a small set of knife, fork, spoon and chopsticks, a small shaker of lemon pepper, a tiny tube of sun screen, a tiny tube of shampoo (I have no idea why I have it or where I got it, but there is was when I was going through my pockets), a Lightload compressed towel, and a earphone/microphone for my phone.
Carrying Your EDC
Once you have selected your EDC items, lay them out and figure out how you are going to carry them. First choice, of course, is the pockets you have. Next best is a small pouch on your belt. Other options are a fanny pack or pocket vest (such as those from Scottevest, which is the only way I could carry all the stuff I do). It is not optimal, but a separate bag such as purse or computer bag will allow you to carry things, but might get separated from you.
As you work out how to carry things; you may find that some things just “won’t fit” and you will need to remove some items from your proposed EDC. Of course, this decision should be based on comparing its utility to the difficulty in carrying it.
Once you have what seems a practical EDC selection, try it out for several days, keeping an eye out for things which cause annoyance are at risk for being lost or damaged or you decide just are not worth the trouble. Remove, replace or repackage things as necessary. Eventually you will end up with the EDC which is practical for you. Oh and as you move forward through life, keep an eye out for things which you find out you do need, and would meet the criteria to join your EDC.