The Ant & The Grasshopper: Prepping For The Rest Of Us – Your Commuter Bag

Alright, hopefully you’ve read my first post in this series about emergency preparedness, but if you haven’t it might give you a little context before diving into this one if you check it out first.

Let’s start small, with something most of us have experience with – our commuter bags. Whether you drive to work or school, take the train, walk or some other method, chances are you carry a bag with you already to tote your laptop, cell phone, wallet and packed lunch to and fro.

In “prepper” parlance, this is your EDC – a fancy-sounding acronym for “every day carry”. But’s let’s just call it what it is, shall we? It’s your commuter bag. It’s just the stuff you need with you every day when you leave the house. For me, it’s got my laptop, Kindle, cell phone, wallet, keys, packed lunch, maybe a magazine or two, my coupon file and my transit card. Great every day stuff, but if emergency strikes while I’m out and about, nothing that’s really going to help me out.

Let’s start by talking about why we should carry a few extra things in our bags before we discuss what we need. Your car might break down on the way home in the dark and you might need to walk to a gas station. You might start to feel unwell on the train. You could trip and bang up your shin making walking home painful. You could get caught out in a bad thunderstorm. Your car could skid on ice and you could get stuck in a snowbank. There could be an emergency that disrupts all transit and driving, and you might be forced to walk home. Basically, a lot of things can happen every day. You shouldn’t fear these things, but instead prepare to carry just a few extra items that might make coping with the unexpected a little more bearable.

If you’re in a situation where you’re going to have to be outside walking, you need to think about staying warm and dry, and making sure your feet are in good shape. You’re going to want the following items that speak to that need –

– Rain poncho

– Emergency blanket

– Hat (in summer a ball cap or similar, in winter a warm knit hat)

– Thick socks (hiking socks are great and take a lot of abuse)

– Sneakers

A poncho has a lot of advantages over an umbrella. It’s going to keep more of your body dry since it’s going to cover you up, especially in a situation where it’s really windy and the rain is coming at you sideways. You can also wear it over your bag, keeping your gear dry as well.

An emergency blanket doesn’t take up a lot of room and will give you an extra layer that will help you stay warm if you find yourself out in the elements for an extended period of time. A few years ago, a lot of motorists got stranded on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago in a blizzard for hours before they could be rescued. Emergency blankets would’ve served them well. Come to think of it, a well packed commuter bag would’ve served them well!

Hats are great. If you aren’t in the habit of wearing one each day, at least get in the habit of carrying one. In the summer it can keep the sun off of you and in the winter it can help you stay warm.

If you have to walk anywhere, socks and shoes are going to be an issue. If you work in an office or professional setting, chances are you need to wear dress shoes every day. They’re fine for walking around a carpeted office and sitting at a desk, but not so great for walking a few miles. If walking is already part of your commute, chances are you wear sneakers already and leave a pair of dress shoes to change into at the office once you get there. This is smart. If you like to vary the dress shoes you wear each day, it might make sense for you to carry a pair of sneakers and socks in the bottom of your commuter bag. Yes, they take up room and add weight, but if you ever need them… you will definitely want to have them.

The next consideration for your bag is food and water. Chances are you already carry a bit of this as well – everyone likes a snack on the go. A few things you’ll want in this regard –

– Water bottle (keep it filled at all times)

– 2 gallon-sized zip lock bags

– 2 paper coffee filters

– Small vial of water purification tablets

– Portable snacks that have a longer shelf life – energy/snack bars, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers, trail mix and nuts are all good choices.

The water bottle and the snacks you probably already carry, but seriously – plastic baggies, coffee filters and purification tablets? Let’s talk about those three things. Plastic bags are great for so many things. You can put wet stuff in them without getting everything else in your bag wet. You can put stuff you need to keep dry (like your phone and wallet) inside for an extra layer of protection. You use them to carry stuff. You can use them as a glove if you need to touch something gross. And you can use them to carry water. Enough said.

Coffee filters and the purification tablets are going to go hand in hand. If you’re out and about and your only source of water is questionable, you need to treat it in some way before drinking it. Filter it through a coffee filter first to remove any gunk or large particles of stuff. This will improve the “mouth feel” of the water, but doesn’t really do anything to make it safer to drink. The easiest thing you can use in a pinch on the go is a water purification tablet. Drop it in, let it sit (follow the instructions on the bottle for how much to use and how long to let it sit) and you’ve got drinkable water. Doesn’t take up much room in your bag, and if you should ever need it, you’ve got it. Human beings can’t go very long without water – the effects of dehydration are dangerous and often fatal. Don’t be caught without a means of drinkable water.

The next category you should consider for your bag is fire/light. It’s wise to carry multiple sources in case one fails. You may want the following in your kit –

– Mini flashlight

– 2 glow sticks

– Lighter

– Matches

– Birthday candles

The mini flashlight is pretty self explanatory. If you have to walk home in the dark, you’ll want one. The glow sticks will be helpful if your flashlight isn’t working for some reason, or if you’re in proximity to a gas leak – you don’t want to use your flashlight or lighter around a gas leak if you need light, but a glow stick can provide light without combusting. Highly unlikely that you’ll find yourself in that situation, so just file that away in the “good to know” section of your head.

The lighter and matches are pretty self explanatory too – if you need to make a fire, those are the top two easiest ways to do it. But you might be scratching your head at birthday candles. They’re a nifty fire aid. If you need to start a fire and are short on tinder, light a birthday candle and hold or set it in your fire. The wax enables it to burn slowly and steadily, giving your fire (hopefully) enough time to catch well before the candle goes out. This also enables you not to waste the limited amounted of fuel in your lighter. Speaking of your lighter, I like to carry a clear one so I can see exactly how much fluid it has left. You don’t want to go to use it only to realize it’s on it’s last legs.

Okay, so we’ve talked about attire, food/water, fire/light – what else is left? Basic first aid and a few little extras should round out what you need to carry. And the best part? This should all fit into a gallon-sized zip lock bag or smaller – meaning it’s a small, light weight addition to your bag. Okay, so first aid. You’re not looking to be able to do field surgery here, but treat minor injuries on the go so you can get on with your day or until you can seek further medical care. You’ll probably want the following first aid items in your bag –

– Pain reliever

– Band aids

– Butterfly closures (for deeper cuts that may need stitches later)

– Alcohol/disinfecting wipes

– Neosporin

– Aloe vera or burn gel

– Ace bandage (If you sprain your ankle or have a bad knee, you’ll want one. Can also be used as a tourniquet in a pinch.)

– Baby wipes (Great for cleaning up without having to use water.)

– Maxi pads (Not just for the ladies – these are great for absorbing a lot of blood without getting sopping and saturated. They also take up a lot less room in your kit.)

– Pair of rubber gloves (In case you need to perform first aid on someone else – you can never be to careful around blood.)

– Mini flask of vodka (If you’re out of pain reliever, this will take the edge of. You can also use it disinfect a wound if you have to, though it will burn like hell. And you can use it as a fire starter if tinder alone isn’t doing the trick.)

– Cough drops

– Travel package of facial tissue (If you have a runny nose while you’re out, you’ll want some. Can also double as toilet paper in a pinch.)

– Mini bottle of sunscreen (because if you have to walk home in the blinding sun, the last think you want to do is get sunburned.)

– First aid card or mini booklet (Because in an emergency, your might draw a blank and forget how to do the Heimlich maneuver.)

– 2 day supply of any prescription medications you take

There are just two more items I recommend adding to your bag – a good map of your local area (street level is best in case you need to plan an alternate route home) and a multi-tool. Multi-tools usually have pliers, a knife, screwdriver, bottle opener, saw, corkscrew, tweezers, etc. on them. Get a good one built to last – I don’t usually brand drop here, but I will this time – Leatherman makes seriously reliable tools that are actually made to use and will stand the test of time. You never know when you’ll need to pop open a bottle of wine on the go. Seriously though, they’ve got a ton of uses and are small – why not carry one with you just in case?

A nice to have item, and the final part of your kit if you choose to add it, is a solar-powered cell phone charger. A phone with no battery is useless, and with all the apps and internetting we do on our phones these days, the charge doesn’t last that long. Having a solar cell phone charger ensures you’ll always have a working phone, even if you can’t plug it in and charge it in the conventional way. They’re pretty small (a little larger than a credit card) and can be had for twenty to thirty bucks, so it’s something you might want to consider.

Now you can throw all of this stuff (except the sneakers if you decide to carry them) into a gallon sized Ziploc bag, or you can get a smaller bag for all of  your survival gear. Toiletries bags are a great size, and they’re pretty sturdy. And if you switch out the bag you carry each day, you can easily move your supplies from bag to bag.

But it’s probably worth talking about the commuter bag you choose to use every day before we close. Briefcases and laptop bags are not a good idea – they’re uncomfortable and don’t have a lot of room for carrying any extras. You either want to go with a messenger bag or a simple backpack. I prefer the backpack since it’s easier to carry. I’m also prone to back pain, so a backpack more evenly distributes the load across my shoulders, as opposed to a messenger bag, which just hangs off one shoulder. I have a small Eastport with padded straps and three compartments – a large central compartment, a medium compartment in the front with a pocket inside and smaller third compartment on top of that. Most of the stuff gets thrown into the largest section, but I keep my hat and power cords (for my laptop and Kindle) in the medium outer compartment, and my transit card in the smallest one. My bag also has water bottle holders on either side. One side holds my water bottle, and the other side is usually empty, which allows me to carry something extra should I need to. On the top hook/handle of my bag I have a metal caribiner clipped. In case I ever need to lash anything to my bag, the caribiner will do the trick.

Oh, and one other thing. If you use something, replace it as soon as possible. You don’t want to need a band aid only to find that you used them all and forgot to put new ones in your bag. And if you’re good about not going into your medications and snacks, be mindful of the expiration dates. You’ll want to use it and rotate in new stuff before they expire.

And that, friends, is a properly outfitted commuter bag. If emergency strikes while you’re out about, you’ll be able to deal with it and get home safely.