Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Be Ready

Why do you carry what you carry?  In the scrum of acquisition we sometimes forget that these things we take with us are supposed to have a purpose, not to be worry stones or outlets for our fidgeting.  The bustle of conversations over steels and emitters and the like sometimes fogs our view.  What is it that these things do for us?  We need to ask that question every now and then.

For me there are four kinds of tasks I do.  First there are the constant things--being a father or a husband or maintaining a house.  These are endless things you simply do as a function of living your life.  Making sure these are meaningful, it seems to me, is one of the guarantors of happiness in life, but that is another subject for a different post.  Then there are the big projects, long term things that have an end point, but usually span years.  For me things like this are no problem.  I have always been good at putting my head down and chipping away.  I huffed it through law school and philosophy graduate school (and Being and Time in German), so these things don't daunt me.  Then there are the medium sized tasks--projects smaller in scope that take a few days or a week.  I have never been plagued by these either.  But then there are the things that nibble away at your time--reading emails, returning voice messages (only to leave a voice message in an endless string of unanswered phone calls), paying a bill, getting a prescription.  None of these are projects.  None take up all that much time, but if you don't manage them as they come up they consume all you do.  You fight them off until, like the tide, they overwhelm you.

Its these things that necessitate, for me, carrying what I carry.  Sure I have a knife on me for an emergency and a light can get me out of a pinch, but in reality those events are so few in far between, that they would not justify me carrying either item.  But when you turn things around look at what you really do, what really consumes your time during the day, you realize that these microtasks are your enemy.  My EDC is my weapon against these enemies.

Here is a pretty typical day:

I wake up, shower and check emails.  I then say hello to my wife and I then get dressed and notice a thread hanging off my tie.  I go greet my son in his room and he tells me he lost one of his stuffed animals.  I get him dressed and try to get him downstairs.

In that quick twenty or so minutes I already have two microtasks--cleaning up my tie and finding my son's stuffed animal.  Obviously I cherry picked this morning to make a point, but the point still stands.  There are so many little things that come up and end up consuming your day that if you have a little bit of kit with you, you can take care of them instead of letting them linger.  The longer a microtask is on your to-do list the more time consuming it becomes.

I carry with me the following on a daily basis:

My smartphone--an iPhone 5S
My water bottle--a red Hydroflask
My wallet--a Bellroy Card Sleeve
My bag--the Tom Bihn Cadet
My keys--with the awesome slim Blade Key
A pen--one of a few in rotation with a couple of spares in the bag
A knife--again one of a few in rotation
A light--rotation
A watch--rotation

Here is a sample pocket dump, sans the work stuff--the bag, the pen and the bottle:


With this complement of things I can do a lot of stuff.  I can open packages.  I can help a coworker change the lamp in her headlight (though she has since got married to perhaps the only guy good enough for her, so Steven, I bequeath this task to you; Steven reads this blog).  I can take a file downstairs into the dankest basement this side of the Tower of London.  I can jot a note or "transcribe" an entire court hearing.  I can slice open some weirdo fruit/vegetable thing that one of my coworkers brought for lunch or dispatch the insane packaging that toys come in nowadays.  Only the Hydroflask works at a bigger goal than an immediate, unpredictable, unforseeable microtask.

On the weekend I almost always carry my Leatherman Skeletool on of the days.  That one thing helps me get so much stuff done.  Every door knob in my house or loose switchplate is fixed.  It is the cruise missile in my arsenal fighting the 50s monster movie creep of the microtask.

But that's not enough.  Taking care of little problems could justify carrying snake venom.  By carefully and thoughtfully analyzing what I carry I have stripped stuff to the bone and then beefed up my kit until I am comfortable.  Like many folks I have done this in successive waves and every once in a while something will stick.  

To me, this is the essence of why I carry things every day.  They make me more productive.  They cross those tiny microtasks off the list and prevent me from be overwhelmed by having ten little things to do, all of which are unrelated, and all of which take a different set of skills and tools.  By having a basic set of tools with me I can pass through a day and have as few of these "time barnacles" stick to me as possible.

Its not just about having cool stuff and showing it off on Instagram.  Its not just about having something made of an exotic steel or a stag handle. It is about getting things done and making life easier.  The minute your kit is detached from that rationale, as opposed to the mantras of preparedness that dominate the internet (the god awful "one is none" and "rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it"), you have become a collector or worse, you have become this guy.  Justify carrying things by using them. This notion that you need triple backups is great for preparing your home for an emergency like a big snowstorm, but it is not a way to go out into the world.  That mindset is not preparedness but paranoia. This is one reason why I don't bother with a paracord bracelet or a giant fighting knife--I just don't need them.  I can see situations in which a person would need those things, but I don't encounter those times and places in my daily life.  

Carry stuff to be ready. 


  1. There's something to be said for beauty for it's own sake too, no? You American pragmatist, you. :)

    Of course we needn't carry things to enjoy beauty, just like we needn't carry things to be able to use them. Around the house, I can just reach in a drawer to get scissors which would be better for snipping a loose thread than a knife. Or grab a screwdriver the rare times I find a screw loose. Boxes can be opened with a key. Knives and scissors can be left in the workplace kitchen or in one's office/cubicle/locker. Flashlights could/should be left in the car.

    The time I needed a knife or multitool the most is when I'm traveling, since that's when I'm not around my toolbox or kitchen utility drawer. For years I carried a tiny Wenger pocket tool chest, and used the scissors for trimming my beard or cutting threads, the knife for cutting food, the tweezers for splinters or errant hairs, the toothpick for cleaning teeth and other things, etc. But since they were banned by TSA, I've learned to live without.

    I think we carry things to feel prepared more than to be prepared. Our love of beauty is at least as operative in our selection of the items that accompany us daily, imo.

  2. Nothing wrong with collecting cool titanium flashlights, titanium bolt pens, exotic steel folders. I use mine daily.

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  4. Paracord bracelets as EDC baffles me. Seeing dudes who would never have been seen dead in a bracelet 10 years ago... wearing a bracelet. I wonder if I could tactify earrings to somehow see them all wearing tactical/survival doodads in their earlobes in the same span of time from now? Firesteel earrings.

    *Kickstarter for firesteel earrings meets target in 24 hours*

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  7. This is a great article. It inspired me to really take stock of my own EDC, which included a Vic Spartan and a Wingman to "cover all the bases".

    As an experiment, I logged every time I used one of my EDC items for three months. Aside from my light and pen, the tools I used most often were: knife, bottle opener, screw driver, and occasionally the pliers and scissors. I never once needed to open a can or a bottle of wine, pull a splinter, file something down, or pick my teeth.

    As a result, I've put my Spartan in my desk drawer and traded in my Wingman for a Skeletool. It gives me a nice portable set of the tools I use on a regular basis. If I can't tackle a job with it, I know it's time to grab the toolbox. :)

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights on EDC, Tony. Your site's a great resource for EDC beginners like myself.

    Keep up the great work!