What if we want to take my idea of preparing for bad things like spilling coffee on your pants, or the more extreme where you find yourself in an unplanned overnight stay at a hotel near your office. Let’s take that thinking and apply it to those who commute on public transit and need to do it all in a reasonable sized bag. Can we get all that you need to stay in a roughly 26L bag and keep you from looking like a lost mountain trekker?
What Would You Need
You basically are going to need a 1:1 replacement for everything: power; power for your body; clothing; and freshening up. And then you need some emergency items like a first aid kit and others.
So if you could recharge your devices, shower and get ready again, fresh clothing, and some light snacks. That would be a really good base amount of gear to always be prepared with. The upside here, too, is that if you sort this out for commuting, this can be your ‘personal item’ on a plane and you will never stress about double wearing some underwear when Delta loses your shit.
You’ll also want some way of keeping wind and rain off you, so we will include that.
Stay Small, Carry Lots
I can say “really thin, but decent looking, pants” all I want, but that’s not even remotely helpful. So rather than talking generically, here’s the actual items I like for these uses. Let’s dive in, and then see how it all fits within:
- Pants: Some of the best ‘emergency travel pants’ I have found which are comfortable, look fine enough, and dry fast are GORUCK’s Simple Pants. They are a five pocket style, and while you might think getting a darker Navy or Charcoal would be the way to go, I think the Coyote is a better choice here. It looks like a nice pair of travel/hiking pants. Which is admittedly not great, but they don’t stand out, and lack the trademark 1 million zippers of most of these style pants. They are also nice to wear.
- Underwear: You’ve got two really good options here, the Uniqlo Airism which take up next to no space at all, but generally are not comfortable to wear. Or the SAXX Quest 2.0 which take up slightly more space, but are vastly more comfortable to wear. I’d do the SAXX myself, but it’s an emergency use thing so Airism would be fine.
- Socks: There’s a lot of options here, you want something Merino Wool. The issue is that you want something that also works with any of the shoes you could be wearing, from sneakers to loafers, to boots. The only socks I’ve had that balance all of those well enough (for thickness and looks reasons) are Wool&Prince’s Socks. They are a nice amount of padding on the heel and toe, while being thinner throughout the rest of the sock — but not being too thin to comfortably wear with boots.
Let’s pause right there, because while there is no shirt or jacket on that list, just those three would be what I consider the base minimum for me to be able to get by at a hotel. Most hotels will have enough hygiene stuff that you could make it work, and most of the time you could stretch the wear on a shirt. So that’s the base. Now, we are going to incrementally add the things which I think provide huge value, in groupings of value add to bulk added.
- Charger Kit: I think you should have one of these a part of your bag no matter what. But I’ll help you build a specific setup to stay very light and nimble here.
- Charger: I personally like this 30w Satechi charger. It weighs nothing, is pretty small, and chargers fast enough that in a pinch you can toss your device into airplane mode and top it up quickly.
- Lightning Cable: Anker’s 641, 3ft. Amazing quality cable, and you need the length to compensate for terrible plug locations.
- USB-C Cable: Anker’s 643, 3ft. Same comments as the last.
- Micro USB Cable: Any 6” USB-C to Micro USB cable is what you want. While not strictly necessary, these are short enough and still so common on cheaper electronics that I have yet to regret having one on me.
- First Aid Kit: I am going to list a few things as “upgrade” here, but that really isn’t me saying it’s optional. It’s a recognition that this stuff builds quickly in price, because a lot of it needs to be bought in bulk. Annoying, here’s what I think you should pack at a minimum:
- Assorted sizes of fabric bandages. I’ve found about 6-8 is sufficient.
- Triple Antibiotic Oinment single use packets. 3-4 things of them.
- Alcohol Wipes, about 4-6 of these.
- Iodine Wipes, about 2-3.
- Blister Bandages, 2-3. These are a life saver.
- Sterile Gauze, 4×4, 2-3 of them.
- Athletic tape: I roll mine around a cut down straw to make a mini roll.
- Trauma Sheers (upgrade): people don’t like it when you flick open your knife around their body parts.
- Tourniquet (upgrade): the standard is a CAT, but you need training on that, so I carry a SWAT-T as it is a less training thing. The cold reality is that there are too many mass shootings these days not to have trauma gear.
- Chest Seal (upgrade): as above, same reason. These are in two packs.
- Ibuprofen, 6 pills.
- Benadryl, 4 pills.
- Quick Clot (serious upgrade) not cheap.
- This is a lot of gear, and you need to make sure you know how to use it all.
- Long Sleeve Shirt: there’s two routes you can go here, the first being more casual and the second being more formal. I personally think you want a long sleeve t-shirt or Henley for this. Keep it simple, solid color and you should be good to go. Make it merino wool if you can afford it, though that will add bulk so synthetic is a solid option. A button down would be great for this, but very bulky. I’d go for something like this Vuori, or this Icebreaker. Might seem boring, but highly effective.
- Rain Jacket: This is a make or break for fitting this stuff in most bags. You want something very light, and the absolute best is this from RAB. I have the full zip version they used to make, but this one is even smaller and lighter. This isn’t just for rain, but also for warmth in inclement weather.
- Shemagh: Hirbawi are the best, but they are bulky, so if you are running short on room, Combat Flip Flops makes the second best while making them substantially more compact to fold up if space if tight.
If you still have some room in your bag, these are some items that are not strictly necessary but go a long way for comfort:
- Wilderness Wipes: these wipes are great for feeling a little refreshed should showers not be an option. Or anything else.
- Water Filtration Bottle: I personally think the Grayl Ultrapress is undervalued for what it offers. It’s dead simple water filtration, and a really good filter as well. All in something that’s essentially the size of any other water bottle. I wouldn’t use it all day everyday, so maybe something with a more simple built-in filter would be better if that’s your use case.
- Protein Bars: I like the Lara Bars, they are filling and not awful tasting. Obviously, it goes without saying, that the Quaker Chewy bars are the most tasty.
- Small Personal Hygiene Kit with: hand lotion, tooth brush, tooth paste, contacts/glasses needs, hand sanitizer, dental floss, and anything else you need.
With that lot of gear, I think you have something really impactful for a wide range of uses. Even for non-emergency use, this stuff comes in handy and I keep most of it in my bag or office at all times.
Pack it Down
The big question then is how you pack it all. You want it to be as compact as possible, easy to get to when you need it, and not likely to be spoiled by anything in your bag leaking on to it, but also preventing anything liquid from leaking into your bag as well.
What and how you do this is going to be trial and error, there’s nothing else that really works to sort this out beforehand. To that end, start with what you have, and buy cheap things to try and see what sizes work best. Here’s some general recommendations on things I like and used
- Packing Cubes: these GORUCK ones, and these Tom Bihn are my favorites.
- Pockets/Pouches: the CAP1 is ideal for tech, the Global Pouch for odds and ends, and these Kuiu ones for anything you want to contain from spilling or getting wet (like first aid).
- Ziploc Bags: the cheapest and most effective item for anything.
- NitIze Runoff: a more durable and robust liquid safe waterproof pouch. They are neat, but expensive.
Backpacks Are Best
I’ve been on a big briefcase kick lately, and certainly understand those who abhor the idea of carrying a backpack to work. But if you are commuting, and backpack is really the only bag type that makes sense, and I can’t imagine carrying all this gear with a single strap.
So not only are backpacks generally better, that are far and away the better option here. I personally thing this is a sweet spot for Mystery Ranch and GORUCK offerings. With the GR1 Heritage being a really easy bag to load out like that, and my general pick for this.
Put Up or Shut Up
I took my GR1 26L Heritage and loaded it up with all of the above, there’s still some room to spare (some of the reason I was able to keep the bulk down is because of the sheer cost of some of the ultralight style gear I own):
Even if you are commuting to the office, it’s good to be prepared for a bad day.