What's in my bag?

December 10, 2018

TL;DR: I like my Goruck GR1. I have a system of pull-out organizers to keep me going.

Jump to conclusions for big thoughts…

I’ve had this conversation over text a couple of times… so I figured I’d write it down more formally. I’m not a hardcore “EDC” guy, nor am I a true one-bag world traveler… I’m somewhere in between.

The Mission

My mission has changed since I started all this. There were a couple of phases, but they inform what’s in my bag as I realized what I lacked:

  1. College. I commuted an hour to school, and frequently spent the night in town. I had an overnight duffel in my car with a couple of changes of clothes, and a Timbuk2 Commuter 2.0 for textbooks and laptop. Towards my senior year, I sent my Timbuk2 back for an RMA, and while using a temp backpack realized how much better my back felt.
  2. Early work. I graduated, and had four bags in my car at all times… one for work, one for overnight, one with workout/climbing gear, and one for Just In Case™. Right before I graduated, my family had experienced (along with most of Alabama) being in the middle of a couple tornadoes. We were fine praise the Lord, but I realized the value of having a few things with me at all times.
  3. One bag. I started to realize I over packed, and was tired of lugging stuff in and out of my car each day so it wasn’t stolen. During a mild snowstorm, I realized it was horrible to travel on foot with three bags you can’t leave in the car. I also got my luggage misplaced on a trip to NZ, and realized how freeing it was to only have a little. I started reading and learning about people who lived out of one bag… and finally I got a bag that could support this lifestyle.

I currently commute a very short distance by car.

The Bag

I eventually purchased an OG Goruck GR1. I knew of the company in college, and admired the bag’s design, but was unwilling to pay the price. As a result, I slowly made my way through the following bags (I’m actually skipping some):

Timbuk2 Commuter

Not a backpack. Surprisingly big, but as I packed too much it hurt my back.

BFG Jedburgh

Great little bag. I thought it’d be a cheaper GR1, but it was pretty bulky, stiff, uncomfortable and lacked internal admin abilities.

Grey Ghost Operator Pack

Great daypack. Not big enough for a onebag and no laptop slot. I was using this as the emergency bag, but it was pretty large for that.

Grey Ghost Steath Operator

Great daypack. Slim and packed well. Not good for onebag, but lovely hiking bag.

Vertx Gamut Plus

Too big. Too much organization. Looked like I was wearing a parachute. I didn’t have this bag long, I almost forgot about it.

Topo Designs Klettersack 32

topo klettersack

This is the first bag I was able to live out of. Large enough to pack overnight, workout, EDC, and some needful just in case stuff. I loved the look of this bag, but a top-loader like this is a pain to get in and out of all day long… I would wind up unpacking the whole thing just to grab a charger.

Eventually a friend bought a GR1. I got to handle it, walked back to my desk and ordered one in December 2014. I haven’t regretted it since. I carry it every day, I work out with it, I travel with it… the internet is full of raving reviews of this bag, and I won’t try to add to them… but here are some pics of my ruck on adventures.

unneccessarily epic mudrun epic playing in the stream with the girls
waterfall rucking in DC tandem biking in Versailles

I started to go through my library to find specific epic photos… but the list got too long. Since I bought it 4 years ago, the GR1 has been with me on every vacation, every work trip, every weekend adventure. I’ve gone one two trips to Europe for at least a week, countless beach/mountain trips, I packed for the hospital stay for my daughter’s birth… I think I’ve got my money’s worth.

Organization

I’ll keep daily stuff like keys, sunglasses, and lip balm in the internal admin pocket. It tends to become quite messy, so I try to keep it clear.

The GR1 has a few major pockets, but most of your organization will come from internal packers. I’m going to separate these out by purpose.

Mission

I have been a software developer, and am presently working as a UX Designer. My daily mission of making money requires a few tools:

Laptop

Sits in the laptop compartment of my GR1. If for some reason I need two laptops, the document slot/holder on the inside can work in a pinch.

Goruck Wire Dopp

I love this little thing. Most days, all I have to do to know I’m ready for work is have my Wire Dopp and my Laptop. If I’m going on an outdoor adventure and am leaving my tech behind… I yank the laptop and the dopp and my bag is ready to go.

Always:

Maybe:

Camera

mountainsmith case

I almost always have a small Fuji camera riding in a Mountainsmith case seen above. I wrote about it, but since then I’ve upgraded to an X100F.

Sometimes when working photography, I’ll use karabiners to dangle a F-Stop ICU from the top of the bag. That way I can unzip the first half of the clamshell, access the gear, and close it up. In that Small Shallow ICU I can carry an Xpro-2, 4 lenses, and gear.

Notebook and Pens

notebook and pens

I use Baron Fig notebooks and Staedler Pens. I wrote a little about it a while back.

I’ll stick the notebook in the front document slot of the Goruck with a Nock.co pen case (it’s surprisingly hard to find a minimal pen case that doesn’t store 50 pens!) holding a pen, an extra, and a little brass ruler I picked up on Amazon. It’s there because once upon a time a water bottle leaked in my backpack and ruined a notebook. It hasn’t happened since, but that’s still where I stick my notebook. I’m thinking about moving the Wire Dopp out there, since it’s more often that I’m pulling that out first when I arrive a location… but tradition is hard to break.

I’ll often also have my Kindle Paperwhite riding up front with the notebook.

Headphones

In prior years, I would carry a pair of ATH-M50s back and forth. I currently just have a pair stashed at work and one at home. :P

Up till a few months ago, I carried my newest pair of Apple headphones… handy for podcasts, working out, calls, or just signalling that you are focusing in a coffeeshop. I now have a pair of AirPods, which are very nice. I have a ghetto Alfred 2 workflow for quickly switching them to my mac from my iPhone, I wish that was more seamless.

If I was going to buy new headphones, I would consult Marco Arment’s incredible super-review of either bluetooth or closed ear headphones.

External Battery

I currently have an external battery for phones in small case with cables for phones and kindle.

Water

photo of the bottle inside the bag photo of a bottle outside

One common criticism of the Goruck GR1 is the lack of an external water bottle pouch. When I know I’m going to be jaunting around and will want water/coffee, I’ll typically either bring a standard Nalgene or Yeti Rambler 18. Whatever I bring, it’s going to be hard-sided, with a solid screw down lid with an o-ring and a handle that supports a karabiner. I once had a with a d-ring closure burst in the bag and ruin a precious journal.

When I place a bottle inside the bag, I will always karabiner the lid to the top of the bag so that it hangs down vertically… this should lower the chance of seepage dramatically.

As to quick access outside the bag for a walking commute… I have an ITW Grimloc on the shoulder strap. It works great for attaching water bottles to the front, which is more convenient for quick coffee access on the subway.

On days when I don’t have room or don’t think I need a water bottle, I have a Vapur Eclipse Anti-Bottle stashed in the Just In Case of my GR1. It’s come in handy on days when I suddenly find myself on my way to a hike after work, or for filling up with water after passing security in the airport.

Shelter

EDC

I live in Alabama, and I drive to work every day. Most seasons, the worst conditions I face are a quick 200 ft of downpour between my car and the office.

Always in my bag: My trusty Outdoor Research Helium II. It packs really well, sheds rain like a duck, and has a single pocket for my phone. It’s small enough that I can always have it with me… sometimes on quick jaunts I’ll clip it to the MountainSmith Camera bag.

The rain shell fits well over my optional Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer I love this jacket. Once again, very minimal as when I bought both these jackets I was trying to figure out the smallest packing system that can handle Alabama’s coldest weather and nastiest rain.

I’ve hiked, climbed, hunted, and run in this gear, and while expensive I’ve been really happy with it.

I also count sunglasses as shelter, so I have a pair of Raybans riding in the mesh pocket.

Overnight/Workout

packing for paris

If I’m packing for a few days, I will pack in my trusty Eagle Creek Specter Compression Cube set and Arcteryx Index Folder (sadly discontinued!) The compression zipper feature is super helpful for packing several days of clothes in 32L of bag.

I’ll also use the Eagle Creek Specter Quick Trip just works as a bathroom organizer in my drawer until it’s time to travel, and I’ll throw it entire in the bag.

Of course, packing in a minimal bag is not possible without a minimal wardrobe. There are many blog posts about what clothing brands to buy, etc. My advice? Don’t overthink it. Bring less than you need and wash on the way. Good underwear and good socks go a long way.

Here’s a sample packing list for a 12 day trip to Paris:

Worn:

Packed:

I also really like my xero sandals… I workout in them, run in them, hit the beach in them, walk between bouldering problems, jaunt around the hotel in them… great use of space in my bag.

Fire and Other Niceities

While my main purpose for my bag’s contents is making code to help students succeed, a secondary purpose is still being able to handle Just In Case™ situations.

I take a lot of inspiration from Hill People Gear’s Equipage List, but I diverge slightly because my environment and mission is different.

I typically have a small bag in my EDC that contains a variety of Just In Case™ tools and gadgets. In the past, it’s been in a variety of neat organizers, my favorites being the GR1 Field Pocket and the HPG Tool Roll. The Field Pocket is nicely repurposable and less obvious if you have “odd” objects in it, while the HPG Tool Roll is lighter weight and has the awesome roll out and use ability.

Having all the “dangerous” stuff in one bag means that making my bag “TSA ready” is as simple as pulling out one organizer out of the bag and I’m ready for the airport.

basic EDC kit

Currently, the kit rides in a small Kifaru Ultralight Pullout and contains:

wilderness kit

I’ll occasionally supplement that with a larger “wilderness” kit, today also riding in a slightly bigger Kifaru pull out:

I always have some level of trauma gear on me. My favorites for EDC are both made by Dark Angel Medical:

Don’t just carry the gear, get some training on how to use it.

Food

I usually maintain a couple cliff bars in the mesh pocket of my bag. It’s always important to have a snack… you never know.

Just take it out before you fly, or they will flag you in some airports.

Random Other Stuff

Here are some honorable mentions that aren’t currently riding in the bag.

Magpul DAKA Pockets

These are awesome. Useful for lots of things, reusable, labelable… very handy. I have a couple that I’ll pull in for things like food, baby wipes, documents I don’t want to get wet… think of them as a rugged reusable sandwhich bag, and I’m sure you’ll find good uses. They work quite well as bags for cables and small electronics, because of their heft they hold their shape and stay slim which is great for packing.

HPG Tool Roll

I know I mentioned this before, but it’s a great piece of gear. I store tools and gear that I only need every once in a while, but the ability to lay out all my tools out to fix a bike or build a fire is just wonderful.

Planck Light

Once upon a time, I used to take a KBC Poker II back and forth to work as a main keyboard, but now I’m playing with this uber minimal keyboard. It’s quite fun, and rides with me most of the time, but it’s not required. I have other keyboards at work, and don’t work from a coffeeshop that often these days.

Razer Orochi

Another discontinued gem.This was the best mobile mouse I’ve ever seen, with bluetooth and wired support in a nice little portable package. Back in my college days of laddering SC2, this was always with me, but now it’s handy for long days of design or editing.

Diaper Bag

I’ll throw my daughter’s changing mat wipes/diaper combo in there for outings. I’ve thought of making a more robust system out of a maxpedition medical bag, including some contractor bags for waste disposal… but later I suppose.

Rucking as a workout

goruck light

I’ve taken up hiking as a hobby, it’s a fun cardio that’s not as hard on my knees. I actually completed my first Goruck Light recently, and so that’s the patch currently proudly displayed on the front of my bag.

I’ve got the 20lb and 30lb weights, sometimes I’ll bring them in the bag in the laptop slot when traveling as a little extra workout.

To learn more about rucking, check out this page: “What is rucking”.

Problems

None whatsoever, can’t you tell I have it all together? Seriously though, it’s not perfect for a few reasons:

The GR1 isn’t expandable.

Constraints are a good design inspiration, and working 99% of my trips completely in one bag has encouraged me to bring a little less and live a little more. However, for longer trips or when carrying camera gear or caring for family… it’d be nice to have 10 more liters. cough I can’t afford a GR2, cough.

I haven’t seen a good way to expand the volume of a GR1. For extended trips, I’ll typically take a small duffel or day bag as a “personal item” and put some of the stuff I’ll want on the plane in there like cameras and kindles, or extra shoes. I have been using Bomber Duffle, but I’ve burned through five of them, three of which disentegrated within five minutes of me trying to zip them up.

I’ve got my eye on the TAD Azimuth Duffel, being packable and not too big.

The GR1 is too expensive.

Goruck recently hiked up their prices dramatically. When I bought my GR1, it was a really good purchase, but with the price increase it’s a harder sell. If I was buying an EDC today, I’d probably take a look at offerings from:

Tom Bihn

A favorite of the onebag community, these bags are often found on the backs of some hardcore travelers. Well made, well organized, and not so fashionable or military that they scream “steal me!”

Evergoods

A relative newcomer, evergoods CPL24 is probably the bag I’d end up trying today for EDC. If I’m going to buy a slightly bigger travel bag, their new 40L Civic Transport is where my money will go.

PDW

Another hipster favorite, these bags are a nice blend of backcountry and city. I don’t care for the hipbelt on a bag that size, and it’s a little too… woodsy, but they are nice.

Hill People Gear.

A backcountry favorite of mine. Not very conducive to EDC with laptops, but incredibly comfortable weight harness and well built.

Mystery Ranch

While a tried and true bag company, I used to ignore MR for my usages because they weren’t particularly laptop/EDC friendly. Some of their newer bags are really close to what I want though… the urban assault 21L and the Prizefighter are steps in the right direction.

Triple Aught Design

This EDC fanboy favorite isn’t less expensive… and until their Axiom line they didn’t really have a laptop or normal workspace friendly option. Howevever, their brand new Axiom 24L is just about the right size and feature set. I’m also interested in their Spectre series.

Goruck

Who am I kidding? I’d probably buy another GR1.

Conclusions

To pack minimally, don’t buy more bag, own less stuff.

Use modular lightweight organizers based on function to make your bag more universal.

Audit your stuff regularly to remove that which isn’t used.

References


  • 2019-07-04 08:42:36 -0500

    Add TAD to the list

  • 2019-07-04 08:36:33 -0500

    Add mystery ranch to the list of alternate bags

  • 2019-04-03 14:08:18 -0500

    Expand the bag recommendations

  • 2019-03-04 09:33:54 -0600

    Still fixing typos

  • 2019-03-04 09:32:01 -0600

    Fix typo in evergoods URL

  • 2018-12-11 08:44:23 -0600

    Fix sentence about Magpul DAKA pouches

  • 2018-12-11 08:40:57 -0600

    Add packing list to #clothes

  • 2018-12-11 08:35:13 -0600

    New post: What's in my bag