Friday, July 19, 2013

EDC Primer: Minimalism or What EDC folks can learn from Ultralight Backpackers

Have you ever looked at the packing list for some serious ultralight backpackers?  I am not talking about the folks that buy ultralight gear, but the folks that MAKE THEIR OWN.  Here is a modest 3-day pack, not even an extreme one.  But the thing all of these packs have in common, aside from shedding weight, is the idea that they only carry what they use or absolutely need.  There is very little "just in case" stuff.  I have railed against this before, but here is where I will lay out the whole argument--the rather have it and not need it approach is TERRIBLE.  It is expensive.  It is cumbersome.  It makes you look like a weirdo (because you ARE a weirdo).  And it doesn't work.

On the weekend my EDC is down to a few things: my iPhone, a knife, a light, and a wallet.  That's it.  If I am doing a project, I will swap out the knife for my Skeletool CX.  Rarely do I carry more than that, and when I do, it is always a water bottle.  If I am going on a day hike, it is usually that plus a walking stick (little guys on the shoulders wreak havoc on your sense of balance).  Notice, no watch, no pen, no pack of any kind.  When I am at work I will usually scale up and include those things, but the pack is really my Tom Bihn Cadet briefcase.  I carry my keys, too, of course, but nowadays the keys are pretty spare, having no tools on them whatsoever and being housed in the tiniest of set ups--a BladeKey (the 3D printed production prototype is still going strong), a Nite-Eyes 1/2 Steel S-biner (no need to fret about the gate, this thing is SNUG), and my car key/fob (which is all one piece).  Total weight is rarely over a pound and that is usually when I am testing something.  Recently it has been hot and so I go with the ultralight rendition:

Al Mark Hawk Ultralight (.96 ounces)
Steve Ku 40DD (.7 ounces with battery)
Big Skinny Wallet (2.5 ounces)
iPhone (4.8 ounces)
Blade Key Keychain (1.8 ounces)

In that configuration my weekend EDC is something like 11 ounces.

I have a three year old.  He is demanding.  He wants to run jump climb crawl roll all of the time.  I want to be able to do these things with him.  I don't want to have unload gear like Mad Max at the entrance to Barter Town before I play with him.  I want to focus on doing stuff, working on projects around the house, going on hikes, going for bike rides, wrestling with my son in the front yard.  None of these things requires a ton of gear or a ton of weight.

Ultralight backpackers have a thing for gear, sure, but the gear is in service to experiences.  That is why we get this stuff--so we can go do things and still be covered, still be ready for something if it comes up.  The gear is not the end in and of itself; experiences are.  The further I get away from that the more miserable I am.  When I am in that mood the next package that arrives at my door reminds me of the gluttony of modern western living more than it makes me excited for what's inside.  Don't get me wrong, I like gear.  I spend a lot of time thinking about it and writing about it.  But the minute the obsession with gear takes over from doing things with the gear, well then, I quit.  I am selling everything and spending the money on cotton candy (which is the most frivolous thing I could think of off the top of my head).

The next time you look at your "load out" think about what you do with it.  People always say things like "this knife is good for everyday tasks like cutting open packages and light food preparation" on YouTube reviews.  When was the last time you did something that necessitated a 4 inch folding knife?  Sure you might do things other than just cut open packages and light food prep, but virtually nothing I do requires a 4 inch folding knife.  If I need something that big, I'd rather use my RD-7.  Its tougher and more comfortable to use.  Go back and really think about what you do with your gear and why you bought it.  What did you want to do with it?  Are you doing that?  If not, why not?  And if there is no good reason to do that thing, there is no good reason to carry that piece of gear.

Ultralight folks can take things to extremes, sawing off the handles of plastic toothbrushes to save .1 ounce, but that fanaticism is in service to a higher good--the cherishing of experiences.  The lack of weight makes those experiences MORE enjoyable, not less.  Your EDC should be the same way.

Leave that fucking fanny pack at home. 


  1. Do they have anything smaller than that Hawk? I have found that I rarely have need for even a 2.75" blade.

    1. The osprey is smaller but is two hand opening. The Ladybug is smaller and the DF2 smaller but neither are lighter, hence the love for the Hawk.

    2. I got an Osprey recently and it's great. Sure, it's tiny and takes a half-second or so longer to open, but in my office I find I actually open letters more than I get in quick-draw knife fights. So it suits me just fine.

  2. I like all my toys, folding knifes and tools, but usually I just carry my VIC cadet, or lately for summer carry I rethoughteven that, and figured I only need the blade, the cap lifter and the screwdriver - so I bought a VIC bantam to carry in my board shorts.

    For me, and my lifestyle this usually is plenty. Love to carry my little Enzos or the Izula or the Spydies, but if I'm not hiking in the alps or out in the woods, those are more for fun.

  3. Bah.

    (Said with a smile.)

    You know I love the blog and your insights, Tony, but this rings a little parochial.

    Taking minimalism to the kind of degree you're showcasing here is basically an aesthetic stance, which is totally fine, but there's no practicality advantage over carrying a little more and more capable gear. I weighed my EDC the other day. Endura + MT + EDC light + keychain light + handgun + pepper spray = under two pounds, and it all fits in or on my pockets along with keys, wallet, & phone. (If I tote the handgun on a belt holster then all of a sudden I get an extra pocket to spread the gear around -- whoa, super roomy luxury.) I'm an average sized guy and it was not hard to get used to this. I've done it for a few years now.

    I'd much rather use an Endura than a Dragonfly to slice tomatoes and squash, trim a bush in the backyard, or cut some big paper targets at the gun range. It's more comfortable to use a somewhat larger tool with better grip and leverage. The Endura's not really a "big" knife except by the artificial standards of a few restrictive anti-knife carry statutes. It's a medium knife. And it weighs 3.4 oz -- that is so light! One of the benefits of the tech and design race in gear today -- which you've incisively chronicled in many reviews -- is that now we have highly capable knives, well built, with plenty of blade, that are still light and convenient to carry. Yay! It opens up options.

    Sure, I could use my kitchen knives for some of the above tasks, or go fetch a fixed blade from the garage or the car trunk, but I really LIKE my pocket knife ... I keep it lovingly sharp and know it well.

    I wear a 3.5" to 4" bladed modern folder openly clipped to my slacks at church every Sunday in my quiet suburban parish, and nobody cares. No one's ever even asked about it. We live in the South. It's just not a thing here. Nutnfancy's EDC would be a multiple-std-deviation outlier anywhere, but there are plenty of folks in his Mountain West stomping grounds that carry at least as much stuff as I do.

    1. This position has nothing to do with aesthetics. I could honestly care less about how the individual items look or how they look together. I have a strong preference for FRN, preferring the FRN DF 2 over my fancier Nishjin CF version.

      The real point is not the gear or even a criticism of the gear. It is to focus on doing stuff and having just what you need at hand to get those unexpected jobs done, instead of having this load of stuff with you in case something crazy happens.

      I personally cannot justify carrying both a multitool and a medium to large knife. It is simply too much excess weight for very little excess utility. So often we carry stuff in preparation for emergencies that never happen. When I go on a hike I want to go out and see stuff. I want to play with my son. I don't want to fidget with gear or have to hike up my pants every fifteen minutes because I have a toolbox worth of stuff in my pockets.

      Ultimately this is a preference. I am not a collector nor am I one of the heavy carry folks. I have a very small knife collection and light collection and multitool collection. I don't buy stuff to keep it on a shelf. I buy stuff to use, even nice stuff. That is my first preference. My second preference, the one stated in this post, is to ensure my gear is in service to experience, not the other way around.

      Thanks for the well thought out reply. Parochial, sure. It was a large loadout guy for a long time, but over the years, I realized what I needed was much smaller than what I carried. This is a narrow point of view, but for folks with general needs, not EMS/MIL/LEO folks, I think this is about all you can reasonably justify.

      Did this have even a small ring of truth to it for you?

  4. Great advice. Very interesting article. Would've given a 20/20 rating 'til you added the frivolous weight of the F-bomb at the end; should've gone ultra-light on that one.

    1. The possible alliteration with fanny pack was too tempting. Sorry.

  5. I love how people post their "load out" for running to the post office or going to church, and it consists of 2 guns, 3 knives, a couple multitools, 3 flashlights, a few pens, knucks, a paracord bracelet and huge G-shock, challenge coins from 2 or 3 forums, and an Atwood or two. So unnecessary. (I also can't help but wonder if they always carry that much stuff, or if they're just showing off for their friends on the internet).

  6. What do you feel about carrying small things like the P-51(or the P-38) for "just in case" situations? People often find it useful for light prying or screwdriving so that they're not tempted to use their knife for those things and subsequently damaging it.

  7. I am very much in agreement with you on this matter. I always cringe a little when I hear or read people repeat the adage, "Two is one, one is none." If you are worried about breakage, buy quality, service it properly, and replace it at the appropriate time. You'll save money and have a much more enjoyable time.

    I have started to apply this to many areas of my life when it comes to gear. My mountain bike isn't cheap by any stretch, but it's stripped down to the bare essentials and it makes riding more enjoyable for me.

    I even wrote a short kindle book on the subject called, "Ultralight Survival: Make a Small and Light Bug Out Bag That Could Save Your Life"

  8. The point of this post I appreciated most was the importance of experiencing life with your gear in support, not the other way around. I recently purchased a Rhodia Webbie and a few nice writing instruments. What a shame it would be for me to let that gear sit while I keyboard day in and out. I found myself really appreciating the experience of writing again and wrote my young boys a letter as a result. In the same vein, we always bring knot tying books with us when we camp so we can learn new skills while enjoying the gear simultaneously. To me, this is where experiencing life trumps any attainment of grail.

  9. I think sometimes gear for the sake of gear is reason enough to carry something. Is it really necessary for me to carry my xm 18 as an edc, no way. But the point is, I do from time to time just for the fun of it and to get some use and appreciation out of something I've saved a long time for. I get the point of the post and do tailor my edc to my plan for the day,but don't let the things you enjoy using gather dust just for the sake of ambiguous ideals.

  10. A purse by any other name is still a purse. If you need one to carry your stuff, you're carrying too much.

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  12. Perhaps one way to address what I think several people are saying is to think about what we carry in terms of return on investment (ROI). ROI can have multiple forms but the two main ones we see are functionality/ability to get things done and the sheer enjoyment of the gear itself.

    For instance, in one person's evaluation the ROI of carrying a multitool could be high enough to justify the weight. For that person having a tool for (almost) all situations might outweigh the inconvenience of a Leatherman in a belt sheath. It’s worth it to them. In another person's experience (mine, for instance) the ROI isn't enough to justify carrying a Leatherman. I can live with not having a diamond file on belt even if there are times when I might find it handy because the cost (weight, inconvenience) does not justify the return (rarely used). Anthony might find that the Dragonfly is just enough knife for his most common tasks that he demurs carrying the larger and slightly heavier Endura. In his evaluation the ROI it isn’t worth the bigger knife. Anon R.D. judges the ROI differently. It is all in the individual’s assessment. Neither is necessarily wrong. I think we all agree on that point.

    ROI can also show up in enjoyment. Anthony’s post says he wants the gear to enhance his experiences. Jason says the experience can be in the gear. For Jason the ROI of enjoying his fine XM 18 is enjoy to justify its cost. That too is just fine.