American frontiersmen developed a number of ways to light a fire, including using the flintlock to strike a spark, or even discharging gunpowder into a pile of tinder. The basic tools and skills of daily life, all down through history, were those that kept you alive.
Since the advances of the industrial revolution, urbanization, and the transportation of the last 150 years or so, we've become less dependent upon these basic hand tools to keep us alive. Policemen patrol the streets, keepingus safe, its presumed, from bandits. Basic shelter is common enough that only our most impoverished citizens have no safe, dry, warm bed at night. Food is in abundance such that we have an epidemic of obesity never seen in human history. Miraculous communication summons rescue at our every beck and call. AAA arrives within minutes with fuel or a tow, the paramedics arrive to heal our wounds, and so on. As a culture we have convinced ourselves we have no need to rely on the tools, or even learn the skills, or even develop the mindset, that predominated all previous human history. Self-reliance is, presumably, abnormal.
But, the prepper movement has responded to this dearth of thinking by hearkening back to times when a man (or woman) was responsible for his (or her) own life. One minor feature of that desire to reset a lifestyle back to self-reliance has been the much discussed topic of EDC or every day carry.
There are countless forums, blogs, and other places in which you can read about EDC. See here and here for just a small sample of the discussions on this topic. I do not intend to compete with their expertise; if you wish to devote a lot of time and energy (and money) to EDC items, go ahead. I certainly encourage you to embrace the desire to provide for yourself at all times. However, I'd like to simplify the task, and perhaps, direct you to the actual goal, which is not gadgets and commercialism, but, SELF reliance.
It's easiest to break down the items into the five or six most crucial categories. The five traditional human needs are: warmth, shelter, food, water, and light. One might quibble with the list -- you could add security, withdraw food as an unnecessary EDC item, etc. The list is not set in stone. Context is everything. What you NEED varies. It depends on your job and attire, your commute, the environment in which you live, and so forth. There is no universal kit; each person must assess and analyze. Determine what is best for you and your situation. Decide for yourself what items will work with your occupation requirements, seasons, transportation, etc. Its about self-reliance, after all.
Some basic principles are helpful. First, a common principle is "two is one, and one is none." Put simply, plan on losing an item, or plan on it breaking or malfunctioning. This means you carry a spare. In addition, plan on making that spare an item that uses a different mechanism to accomplish the same purpose -- matches and a lighter, a poncho and a space blanket, etc. Second, commit to carrying this AT ALL TIMES. It's not EDC for nothing. If you don't have it, you aren't prepared, and you could be in a world of hurt. Making it a habit, like grabbing your wallet, phone, etc. will help keep you "survival minded" all day. It's a great way to sharpen preparedness skills. "I have my kit. What would happen if the bus crashed? It's snowing, and it might take awhile to get an ambulance here. That elderly man would likely be a serious injury; I could use the space blanket to stabilize him. I have the lockback knife to cut off any clothes in the way of treating a bleeding injury. My poncho will keep me dry, and so forth." If you carry it and think about it, mentally practice using it, you'll have a huge advantage of already having thought through many dangerous situations before they happen. You'll be quicker to react if they do happen.
What should be obvious is that the items are important, but they are only tools, after all. They need, in order to useful, to be wielded by someone with the skills to use them to their utmost ability. If you EDC, you need training and experience, too. Otherwise you have a pocketful of junk, not real way to save yourself or anyone else.
So, what to carry in an EDC? Here's a simple list which can folded up and carried in the pockets of most any type of clothing (a suit coat, over coat, jacket) or carried in a purse, fanny pack, backpack, etc. From here, knock yourself out!
- Warmth: lighter, matches, fire rod, and/or chemical hand warmers if you can't carry proper fire-making tools.
- Shelter: space blanket and mini pocket poncho.
- Food: snickers bar, handful of hard candy, fishing line wrapped around a bundle of fishhooks, a steel rabbit snare, a square of thick aluminum foil for cooking a meal, etc.
- Water: a water bottle, un-lubed condoms (for carrying water), iodine tabs, hiking water filter, survival straw.
- Light: matches, chemlights, flashlight.
- Security: fixed blade hunting knife, swiss army knife, multi-tool, small handgun.
- Ancillaries: a small first aid kit, sunglasses, a filter mask, surgical gloves, etc.
Notice that several items can serve multiple purposes -- a knife can be used to acquire food, knock up a shelter, or used in self-defense. It's a critical tool because of this. If you can't carry one, you are at a huge disadvantage. In my locale, a knife under 3.5" in length is not considered a weapon, so I carry a multi-tool with a 3" blade. Given my preference, I'd have a 4" fixed-blade Mora knife, but since I'm in a profession where a hunting knife would look a bit out of place, my multi-tool works just fine. (I uses this every day to open packages, tighten loose screws, strip wire, etc.)
You will have to evaluate what you need to cover the bases, but I encourage you to do so. It's easy to put it off, but I'm a firm believer that the decision to EDC is the first step into becoming self-reliant. It's not an irrational decision; it's a natural human act. Welcome to being a normal human!