Three items you should always carry, according to a former Army Ranger

Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, these things will come in handy.

Army Rangers, due to the nature of their work, need to be resourceful no matter what situation they find themselves in. I traded my tan beret and scroll for a camera and notepad years ago, but some things are still useful in just about every environment or scenario you could possibly encounter.

Specifically, over the course of my travels — from kayaking hundreds of miles, to backpacking thousands, across five combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and during a recent trip through cartel-controlled neighborhoods south of the border — I have found there are three things I cannot go without.

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This is not an exhaustive list of everything you need for any and every situation. Rather, these are the things I have found useful regardless of the situation. If you’re on a limited budget, you can go to the bargain bin for these items and still be fine. But if quality is a priority, you should opt for the high-end and find something that will last a lifetime.

Of course, price tags aside, everything comes down to personal preference. The brands that I am recommending here are ones I have used myself or come highly recommended by people I trust.

A pocket knife that is three inches or less.

cheap pocket knife
A cheap pocket knife will go a long way in the most dire situations. (Marty Skovlund Jr./Task & Purpose).

A knife is one of the most diverse tools you can carry. It will cut open a box at work, clean your harvest on opening weekend of hunting season, or be your last line of defense in a bad situation.

I specifically carry one that is three inches or less, as this allows me to legally carry it in most countries, keep it concealed, and not freak my coworkers out if I use it at work. Make sure to do your due diligence on the state and/or country you live in or plan on traveling to, as knives over this length can be considered concealed weapons for which you could be arrested.

What kind should you buy? Personally, I prefer a folding blade as opposed to a fixed blade as a matter of practicality. Benchmade is a good brand that I used to carry and is synonymous with quality and durability, but they are not cheap either.

Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of losing my knife or temporarily not knowing where it is. That can turn into an expensive mishap over time. That’s why I carry cheap four-dollar folders that I find at Wal-Mart now. I can lose as many of them as I want without denting my wallet too badly, and they do the job. Are they as good as my old Benchmade? Nope, but I don’t necessarily need them to be for my normal, everyday chores either.

A durable watch with diverse functionality.

marine corps wrist watch
The watch ticks away on the wrist of a jungle warfare instructor as the squad he is supervising begins the endurance course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan. (Sgt. Matthew Callahan/U.S. Marine Corps).

A good watch might seem redundant in a day and age where nearly every man, woman, and child carries a cell phone at all times. An overreliance on technology is a recipe for disaster though.

Cell phones don’t hold a charge for more than a few hours, they break easily, and depending on your line of work you might not be able to take them into certain places. But a decent watch will almost never let you down. You can take it anywhere, and even use it as a compass in a pinch.

A watch can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be, it really just depends on what your budget is and what your needs are. On the low end, you can pick up a simple Timex and it will last a long time. I used the same Timex that I bought for $35 at the PX for three deployments overseas without fail. If you have a few hundred dollars to spend and want some really great functionality, then you can check out a Casio G-Shock or anything made by Suunto. Whether you are diving in the ocean or summiting mountaintops, these watches are real workhorses and will perform well in nearly every environment on Earth. On the high end, you can find a nice automatic dive watch that is as impressive in a business meeting as it is durable in the field.

How do you use your watch as a compass? First, this only works if your watch has a traditional dial with hour markers and an hour hand (most digital watches won’t work). If you are in the northern hemisphere just hold the watch horizontal to the ground, and point the hour hand at the sun. Approximately halfway between that point and the twelve o’clock mark will indicate which way is south. This is just one of many non-traditional uses for a watch, so do your research. This kind of multifaceted utility makes it an automatic mainstay on the everyday carry list of anyone who takes preparedness seriously.

A good pen and notebook.

pen notebook
Petty Officer 2nd Class Adolfo Valdez records elevations in his notebook to develop a diagram showing point elevations of a foundation. (SCPO Ryan Wilber/U.S. Navy).

Ok, so this is two things, but they go together. It all goes back to my days as a brand new private in the Army, as I was expected to always have something to write with and something to write on. You never know when you will need to take notes, write down an address for someone, or hash out an idea that you know you’ll forget later. You might again argue that you can use your cell phone for these duties, and I would again remind you that cell phones aren’t always reliable. The more obscure uses for these items include using the paper in your notebook as tinder or using your pen as a self-defense tool.

For a pen, my personal preference is to use a solid aluminum “click” pen, which is made by many brands and can be found almost anywhere — I like the Parker Jotter. No need to break the bank on your pen (you know you’ll lose it at some point anyway), but consider spending up to $20 for something that is of real quality. As far as your papyri are concerned, I’m a huge fan of the Moleskin pocket notebooks. They’re durable and just the right size to carry on your person.

Finally, I am a big believer in posterity. A notebook that is used regularly and rigorously will automatically become a piece of history, even if it’s just family history. Your kids will someday show your grandkids Grandpa or Grandma’s old “stuff,” which will include that beat-up notebook. Seeing those GPS coordinates you jotted down or the name of that restaurant you really liked will give them a view into the person you were and where they came from. For me, that is priceless.

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