Packing for the end of the world: The essential guide to building your ultimate everyday carry kit

Learn how to properly make your BED.

Ever wonder how Jason Bourne managed to take down half of the CIA all on his own? Sure, he has some mad skills, including how to improvise impressively in tactical situations, but we think he would have had an easier time of it if he’d been packing a solid everyday carry (EDC) loadout. Maybe he didn’t always have time to grab his gear, but a little bit of prep sure would have gone a long way.

That said, you don’t have to be a martial artist or highly-trained operative to realize the benefits of an everyday carry loadout. Whether your preferred acronyms are CIA, FBI, EOD, AFOSI, DARPA, CAPT, 2LT, NFL, or AARP, toting the gear you need to handle life’s chores and curveballs is never a bad idea. 

Getting the right combination of gear can seem a bit overwhelming at first. On the one hand, starting from scratch can leave you scratching your head; on the other hand, you may already have a boatload of gear but simply have no clue what to keep and what to throw in a drawer instead. Either way, that’s where this guide comes into the picture. We created a simple plan to kick start you on the road to EDC greatness.

Saddle up or buckle down: whatever you do, get ready to build your ultimate EDC loadout.

Doing it right with your EDC loadout

Time You’re Going to Need: An hour to start; a lifetime to perfect

Difficulty: Beginner

What is an EDC loadout?

Everyone encounters a time in their life when they think to themselves, “I wish I had a Boy Scout with me.” You know, those brilliant young people who always seem to know how to fix a table, start a fire, or lay out a campsite with nothing more than a Swiss Army Knife. An EDC loadout is like a Boy Scout’s pocket knife, full of practical tools for solving common, everyday problems.

While you may or may not carry a Swiss Army Knife day in and day out, all of the practical, quick-access gear you keep with you everytime you leave the house constitutes an EDC loadout. Your keys, wallet, iPhone, and the pen in your shirt pocket all act as equivalents to the individual tools of a multitool, from the essential knife blade down to the pedestrian corkscrew and tweezers and beyond.  Everyone has an EDC loadout inside of them — most people just haven’t realized theirs yet. 

What should I know before building my EDC loadout?

EDC loadouts vary from person to person, and building the perfect one can potentially cost lots of money. To avoid selling your first-born child for a practical, reliable set of gear, taking a little time to plan is well worth the time investment. We prefer to use the “BED” approach, making it easier to reach your loadout’s full potential one loadout at a time without breaking the bank. “BED” stands for “Baseline, Emergency, and Defense,” the three main loadout types within your overall EDC loadout. Your Baseline gear covers all the essentials and requires minimal adjustment on a day-to-day basis. Your Emergency equipment prepares you for serious situations, such as survival or severe bleeding. Finally, your Defense module gives you exactly what you need to deal with walking, crawling, or slithering threats to life and limb.

What you’re going to need to build an EDC loadout

Everyone has different gear in their kit. Make sure you have the best tools of the trade on hand for this specific task. Don’t worry, we’ve made a list.

Tools

  • Desk or table
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Pen (optional)
  • Budget
  • Clear mind
Packing for the end of the world: The essential guide to building your ultimate everyday carry kit
(Rachel Nickerson/Unsplash)

The EDC builder’s brief

Here’s how to create the perfect EDC loadout customized to fit your needs. Gear up, Ranger!

As you organize and prepare to build out your EDC loadout, we recommend sticking with the BED approach: Baseline (essentials), Emergency (medical/survival), and Defense (self-defense).

The basics: Baseline loadout

Each of us has a unique lifestyle with its one-of-a-kind combination of tasks, habits, and patterns, so before you even start window shopping for cool gear, make sure to create a list of your most critical needs. This list allows you to establish a Baseline loadout, the foundation upon which everything else is built, and the beauty of a Baseline loadout is that it can stand on its own as a complete setup for many individuals.

For most people, their Baseline loadout will include keys, a wallet, a cell phone, a basic flashlight, and a simple pocket knife or multitool. Some may find a watch, belt, pen, notepad, or USB drive to be just as critical. 

Baseline blueprint

To start, get comfortable and write down what situations and settings you encounter on a regular basis, like opening boxes, tightening random screws, or running cables through walls. Ask yourself questions about your work life and other common activities in your life. Each one features a unique combination of tasks that require you to find just the right tools to fit the pastime(s) in question.

Next, consider your normal environment. Weather, lighting, wind, ambient noise, and other factors may determine whether or not you need a particular piece of gear, such as a flashlight or sweatshirt.

Finally, think about the people with whom you spend most of your time. These individuals can affect what you choose to carry with you on a daily basis. For example, your girlfriend may always be looking for her nail clippers, an item she seems to lose on a daily basis. (Then again, maybe she just loves borrowing things from you.)

Now, using this information, write down the bare essentials you will need for your Baseline EDC loadout. (We recommend doing this in pencil, since changes, they are a-comin’.) Find items that you can carry directly on your person in as many situations and settings as possible. Versatility and minimalist, lightweight designs are your friends.

Know thyself

Before recording your Baseline list in ink, consider your own preferences, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. With these considerations taken into account, pull out your original list and update it accordingly. (Again, we recommend using a pencil for this round of updates.) This may mean adding additional gear to the list, removing gear, or switching out an original item with something that better fits your personal needs and preferences.

Hitting curveballs

Once you establish your basic EDC loadout, start preparing for the unexpected emergencies and other unpleasant events that may catch you by surprise. Unforeseen events can range from a sudden downpour to an unfortunate bicycling accident to a sudden need to rehydrate. Items such as an electrolyte packet, a first aid kit, or a rain jacket can all fall into this category.

Be as realistic as possible about the potential hazards that might derail your life when you least expect it. Ask yourself about the likely curveball that life might throw your way, but push back the temptations to overprep or underprep, since neither approach is helpful or healthy. Your answers to these and similar questions will influence your Baseline kit in one way or another. If you occasionally walk home from work after dark, a tough, high-output flashlight can make your commute safer by giving you a clear view of the path ahead and a literally blinding deterrent for unwelcome company. On the flip side, a wallet with cards and no cash could result in an incredibly awkward situation on your next date.

Now, add any additional gear or make any necessary upgrades to your recently-updated Baseline list. Again, we recommend sticking with the pencil this time around.

Baseline loadout questions

The following list of questions is designed to get you kick-started on building out your Baseline kit. If you notice that we missed any important questions, let us know in the comments below.

Blueprint questions
  • Do I regularly pound away on a keyboard in a cubicle?
  • Do I torque on wrenches all day long?
  • Do I have to monitor a bunch of hyper kiddos every time I clock in?
  • Do I regularly go to the gym?
  • Do I go camping every weekend, no matter the weather?
  • Do I hang out a ton at the range?
  • Do I travel internationally every chance I get?
  • Do I spend my Saturdays and Sundays at soccer games and church services?
  • Do I spend most of my time inside or outside?
  • Do I tend to work late and end up walking to my car in a dark parking lot?
  • Do I regularly find myself in humid, misty, rainy, or snowy conditions?
  • Do I often take notes on random things that come to mind throughout the day?
  • Do my kiddos have a knack for losing things in the deep, dark recesses behind the furniture?
  • Are my coworkers always frantically looking for a pen when it’s time to sign documents?
  • Do my kids always leave the park looking like they just wrestled a bear?
Know thyself questions
  • Do I rely on sunglasses during the summer? During the winter?
  • Do I prefer wearing tighter, hipper apparel with smaller pockets, or do I enjoy something a bit more comfortable and relaxed with more generous pocket sizes?
  • When using a knife, do I prefer a long, stiff fixed blade, or am I better off with a lightweight folder instead?
Curveball questions
  • Could my debit or credit card get declined when I need to pay for a meal?
  • Will I ever find myself walking to my car in a dark parking lot?

Finishing touches

Your Baseline loadout is almost ready. Review your list and make sure you have a solid combination of practical, versatile, and lightweight gear that meets your specific needs without unnecessary redundancy. (Yes, carrying a knife with two blades or a knife and multitool combination is cool, especially if the extra blade fills a unique role or niche. Five of the same blade type might be overkill.)

Congratulations! Your Baseline EDC loadout is now complete, and now, it’s time to start buying your gear.

Packing for the end of the world: The essential guide to building your ultimate everyday carry kit
(Robin McSkelly/Unsplash)

Add-ons: Emergency and Defense loadouts

EDC gear means nothing without the skills to back it up, and this goes doubly for Emergency and Defense gear which make up the second and third types of loadout in our acronym. Self defense, first aid/emergency medical, and survival skills can be an incredibly valuable asset in an emergency or defensive situation, adding more value to your EDC loadout than all your baseline gear combined.

Saving life

First, consider your Emergency kit. In terms of percentages, you are much more likely to face a medical or survival-related emergency than you are a self-defense scenario, so building your Emergency loadout should take precedence over your Defense kit. This collection of gear spans the gamut from first aid and emergency medical equipment, such as a general first aid fit or an individual first aid kit (IFAK), to survival gear, like a fire starting multitool.

Of course, much of the gear likely to end up in your Emergency loadout requires some level of training, especially the medical equipment, so before purchasing medical or survival gear, sign up for some relevant medical and/or survival classes.

Protecting life

In EDC circles, Defense loadouts get the spotlight and with good reason. The ability to defend yourself or your loved ones can never be understated. Yet for some, legally acquiring a concealed handgun can be quite a hurdle, especially if you have a tight budget, live in a restrictive legal jurisdiction, or frequently travel overseas.

We recommend that most beginners place pricey defensive gear lower on their priority list. Why? Three main reasons come to mind: lifestyle and mindset, commitment, and practicality.

Of course, none of these mean that self-defense is unimportant. Our main point is simply that as a general rule, particularly for new EDC practitioners or those living under restrictive conditions, your Defense loadout should probably be the last item on your list of EDC priorities.

Lifestyle and mindset

Concealed weapons, despite their small size, necessitate a dramatic change to your lifestyle and mindset. True, medical training requires individuals to be prepared to handle some high-stress situations, but carrying a firearm or defensive blade demands a degree of vigilance and situational awareness that no other piece of EDC gear ever requires and, doubly, so should you if you ever need to deploy your weapon.

Concealed carry also requires you to count the cost of potentially taking a human life in a worst case scenario. This is something the vast majority of concealed carry practitioners never consider until lead starts flying or blades start flashing, and the consequences could be your life or freedom.

You also must consider all local laws regarding common EDC gear, such as knives and firearms. Schools, airports, and federal buildings all tend to fall into the “knife-free zone” and “gun-free zone” categories, and carrying either tool into one of them, even accidentally, could get you into some serious legal trouble. Be smart and know your local laws.

Until you are ready to handle the mental and moral responsibility of carrying lethal defensive tools, start with something less-lethal that you are prepared to handle, such as pepper spray or a tactical pen.

Commitment

Proper use of lethal defensive weapons, like knives and firearms, requires a high degree of quality training, including courses in CCW law, use of force, local regulations, defensive tactics, weapons manipulation, and threat evaluation. This is a major commitment that tends to get expensive rather quickly, and this level of training can also be overwhelming if you are just getting started in EDC. Additionally, tactical skills and weapons manipulation are perishable skills that must be practiced with consistency in order to maintain them. As such, carrying lethal defensive weapons is a major commitment, and while it should not be overlooked, it also should not be rushed. Nothing is more dangerous than a poorly-trained hero-wannabe popping off rounds the next time an odd-looking stranger walks into your local bank, someone whose only crime may be in the fashion department.

Practicality

The chances of needing and deploying a weapon for self defense are lower than encountering an individual experiencing a medical emergency, even during a mass shooting. As such, new EDC practitioners should seriously consider investing in medical training first. Even advanced first aid training tends to be less expensive than quality defensive firearms training, and the same goes for the required kit which you can take with you virtually anywhere.

Emergency and Defense loadout questions

Before introducing Emergency or Defense gear into your EDC loadout, take some time to honestly answer the following questions. Doing so could save you time, money, sweat, and jail time.

Emergency questions
  • Have I received high-quality training in first aid, emergency medical care, or defensive firearms use? If so, do I practice these skills on a regular basis and run through scenarios in my head in order to minimize the risk of further bodily harm or collateral damage?
  • If I performed CPR on someone, would I cause more harm than help? If I provide first aid or emergency medical care, will I be in reasonable danger of a lawsuit under applicable Good Samaritan laws?
  • Do I know that I could use a fire starter if I suffered a head injury in the backcountry?
Defense questions
  • When using a defensive firearm, can I consistently hit a moving target while under stress, and can I do so without endangering individuals who are downrange of said target?
  • When carrying a weapon for self defense, do I know when not to use it?
  • Do I know when using pepper spray or a tactical pen would be considered excessive force?
  • Do I know where I can legally carry my concealed knife or firearm?

Making the BED

While some Emergency gear may fit on your person, most people will find an EDC bag of some kind to be the most convenient way to carry their equipment. On the flip side, your Defense kit can almost always fit discreetly somewhere on your person, although some gear, clothing, and (sometimes) weight combinations may require a little extra creativity and flexibility.

The need for high-quality training precludes some individuals from responsibly carrying medical, survival, or defensive equipment, making these gear categories supplements to your Baseline EDC loadout. As such, avoid carrying gear you do not know how to use safely and properly, especially self-defense tools, such as a handgun. This will save you money, weight, embarrassment, and, potentially, some serious legal backlash. Instead, get proper training before building out your Emergency and Defense kit.

Packing for the end of the world: The essential guide to building your ultimate everyday carry kit
(STNGR Industries/Unspalsh)

Collect your gear

Now, the rubber meets the road. Using your list, begin researching and collecting the gear that best fits your needs. To make things easier, break your shopping list into the three main categories: Baseline, Emergency, and Defense.

There are two main approaches to acquiring your EDC gear, both with their collections of pros and cons. We’ll start by looking at a simple Baseline loadout.

Baby steps

The first approach is to build your loadout incrementally, one category at a time, and optimize it as you go. Usually, this means assembling a Baseline loadout with low-cost gear that will get the job done. As you gain more experience with how your gear interacts with your lifestyle, you can begin upgrading, replacing, or tossing your original gear in favor of higher-quality items that better fit your needs and activities. The key advantage to this approach is the low cost of entry versus going whole hog at the get-go. While you will spend more on your gear in the long run, you will gain plenty of knowledge and experience in the process. This means your money will still be well-spent, and you can start carrying EDC gear immediately.

Go for broke

The second approach is to build out everything all at once. This high-risk, high-reward strategy means springing for the best possible gear at the very start. For this to be most effective, make sure you do plenty of research before buying anything, because part of the EDC lifestyle is the necessity of replacing various items as you discover their impracticality in the context of your lifestyle. Few things hurt worse than replacing a $200 Benchmade knife with a $50 Buck because the Buck serves you better than the Benchmade ever could. Not only did you spend more than necessary, but you likely convinced yourself that you are somehow downgrading your gear when in reality that Buck is actually an upgrade. (Truth really is stranger than fiction.) If you have money to burn or you just love collecting high-end gear, this all-or-nothing strategy may be the right approach for you.

The bigger picture

Both of these strategies also apply to your overall EDC loadout. For beginners and those on a budget, firmly establish and start perfecting your Baseline loadout before adding in an Emergency or Defense loadout. For all you go-for-broke types, grab that bull by the horns and drop a thousand bucks or so for some sweet gear.

EDC logistics

Once you collect your gear, consider your final step: logistics. Ultimately, your new collection of blades, pens, gauze, and boomsticks exists to serve you wherever you go. This means you need a practical way to carry everything without looking like a Ranger roaming the streets of Ramadi. A low profile is your best friend, so throwing on your old rucksack from basic or wearing old BDUs with voluminous pockets are less than ideal options.

Study your gear and apparel, then find ways to carry your gear with your normal daily outfits. Pocket knives usually fit into most pant pockets, while pens fit nicely in shirt pockets. Your watch will be right at home on your wrist, while your wallet was designed to slip into another empty pocket. Small ankle kits allow you to store critical medical equipment discreetly beneath your jean cuff, and a little Sig Sauer P365 or a Glock 43 can tuck into a holster inside your waistband, between your arm and torso, or even on an ankle.

Sometimes, despite all these options, your EDC gear will simply be too bulky to carry on your person without turning you into the Michelin Man, especially when it comes to your Emergency loadout. In situations like these, a low-profile EDC bag, such as a casual backpack, a sling bag, or a purse, might be your best bet. Of course, this requires a bit of prioritization. Some items clearly must ride in your pack which will go (almost) everywhere you do, but some pieces of gear are too valuable practically, tactically, or otherwise to go anywhere but on your person, items such as your keys, wallet, phone, and defensive tool(s).

Think through your daily routine, and see how your gear and your bag, if applicable, fit into the scenario. If a bag is too much for you to carry, reevaluate your gear and start initiating product returns. However, if your bare essentials require an updated wardrobe and/or a small EDC bag, then it may be worth the lifestyle change. Ultimately, the goal is to find a reasonable balance between capability and practicality. For emergencies that reach beyond the here and now, consider creating a get-home bag or a bug-out bag to keep in your car.

Boss level

Ultimately, only time will tell you when you reach the point of achieving the “ultimate EDC loadout.” With each passing day, monitor your EDC loadout and be prepared to make changes, a true inevitability. Consistent daily carry of all your gear will tell you what you really need and what is simply nice to have.

As weeks turn into months and months into years, you will learn where you can shed the excess and make proper upgrades, yet you may find your EDC loadout evolving due to changing life circumstances. What a single man carries now may change in a year once he’s married to the woman of his dreams and again a few years later when kids are on the scene. Moving from the city to the country? Expect to make a few changes to your loadout.

The ultimate EDC loadout fits your needs and your life while changing as little as possible. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Packing for the end of the world: The essential guide to building your ultimate everyday carry kit
(Supply/Unsplash)

A specialist’s pro tips to building an EDC loadout

While building and perfecting my own EDC loadout over the years, I have picked up a couple of tips that could be worthy of your consideration. Creating a custom loadout takes time, patience, and a little applied brain power. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  • When taking the incremental build approach, make sure to prioritize your most critical gear first. If you are a plumber who works in dark nooks and crannies, spring for a quality flashlight before snapping up a fancy Kershaw pocket knife.
  • When shopping for gear, put some serious thought into purchasing multi-purpose items whenever practical. This will minimize the bulk in your pocket and the hit to your pocketbook.
  • While minimalism and versatility are your friends, there are times to buy single-purpose items instead of a jack-of-all-trades solution. This may even mean purchasing a duplicate item in order to achieve your goals. A Leatherman is rarely a wise choice for a defensive blade, and a SureFire light may not be equipped with a low-output mode for finding your keys.

FAQs about EDC loadouts

More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief. 

Q. What should I carry for EDC?

A. Everyone’s EDC loadout will vary, but we recommend the following items as a bare minimum: keys, wallet, phone, small pocket knife/multitool, and flashlight. For the extra-prepared, we recommend throwing a minimalistic first aid kit and either some pepper spray or a small defensive firearm, such as a Glock 43 or a Sig Sauer P365, into the mix.

Q. Should I EDC a knife?

A. In most situations, a pocket knife or multitool can be an excellent EDC tool. In most situations, you will end up completing smaller tasks, such as opening boxes, tightening random screws, or slicing fruit. A knife or multitool can be incredibly convenient for completing even the most mundane chores, causing you to wonder how you ever survived without one.

Q. Should I EDC a handgun?

A. As long as you feel comfortable doing so, obtaining a concealed carry permit and incorporating a firearm into your EDC may be a wise decision, particularly in a world with increasing numbers of violent crime, civil unrest, and terrorist attacks. On the flip side, those who are uncomfortable carrying a firearm should not be pushed to do so.

Ultimately, your level of training and legal restrictions will dictate your ability to EDC a handgun. If you are not trained to shoot a handgun properly in a defensive context, then absolutely do not carry. If you live or work in a legal environment which makes safely carrying a firearm illegal, such as in most schools or in restrictive cities or states, then do not carry a defensive handgun.

Q. Where do I carry my EDC?

A. This will vary somewhat depending on your gear of choice and your typical wardrobe choices. Generally, EDC gear will fit nicely into front and rear pant pockets, on belts, or around a neck or ankle. The human body can bear a decent amount of weight around the hips with minimal diminishment of mobility, so investing in a quality belt may help distribute that extra weight a little more evenly. A small backpack or a purse are another possible option for carrying slightly less essential gear.

Q. How much does an EDC loadout cost?

A. An entry-level Baseline EDC loadout can cost anywhere between $50 and $100. Throw in Emergency gear, and tack on an extra $30 to $50. Those interested in going whole hog with Baseline, Emergency, and Defense loadouts from the very get-go can easily spend $300 on the low end. Throw a defensive firearm into the mix, and your starting point will be closer to $500.

Got questions, comment below & talk with T&P’s editors!

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CCW holsters

CrossBreed MiniTuck IWB Handgun Holster

DeSantis Belly Band

Galco Ankle Guard (Glock 43)

Flashlights

SureFire EDCL1-T

Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA

MagLite Solitaire

Olight i1R 2 EOS (keychain)

Streamlight ProTac 1AA (EMS)

Knives

Victorinox Classic SD

Gerber Paraframe I

Kershaw Barricade

Buck Stockman

Ontario Knife Company Rat II

Gerber GDC

Ka-Bar TDI

Spyderco Delica 4 Lightweight

CRKT M16-14D

Benchmade Triage 916 (rescue)

Multitools

Gerber Dime

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman Squirt PS4

Leatherman Skeletool CX

Leatherman Raptor (EMS)

Leatherman Style PS (bladeless)

Pens

Pilot Precise V5 Rollerball Pen

Zebra Z-Grip

Rite in the Rain All Weather Durable Clicker Pen

Wallets

Mr. Shielder Carbon Fiber Wallet

Bulliant Leather Wallet

Magpul DAKA

Fossil Elgin

Bull Guard RFID-Blocking Bifold Wallet

Serman Brands Carbon Fiber Money Clip

Watches

Timex Ironman Classic 30

Invicta Men’s Pro Diver 8926OB

Seiko SNE329

Seiko SNN241

Citizen BM8180-03E

Casio G-Shock Rangeman GW-9400

Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical

Casio G-Shock GA1000-1A

Writing pads

Rite in the Rain No. 135 Top Spiral Notebook

Rite in the Rain EMS Notebook

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