The DRMacIver survival kit

Up front warning: These are all affiliate links. I doubt I’ll get much out of that, but I have it set up and I was writing the post anyway so I figured I might as well.

I carry a lot of stuff around with me by default. Not in a “Well of course I carry a leatherman with me. Doesn’t everyone?” sense, I’ve just accumulated a bunch of things that solve specific problems. Some of these are personal peculiarities, but some of them have been life changingly useful, so it seemed like it might be useful to enumerate

Very few of these are essential. The essential leaving the house check is wallet-keys-phone (my phone is a Nexus 4. I had a 5 for a while, but it broke and the 4 is just better). The rest of these are more… the chance of my life being dramatically improved by having these available without advance planning is high.

So, yes, sorry. This is my survival kit, not a guide to surviving me. You’re on your own on that one.

Unambiguously useful

  1. Bag. I have a lot of stuff, and while the fashion gods have decided that my gender gets pockets, I don’t get that many pockets. I like satchels. A backpack would be more useful, but vanity. The one I’m currently using as my main bag is a slightly battered and cheaper variant of this one.
  2. Musician’s ear plugs. These are so good. If you have any sort of trouble in loud bars you need to get yourself a pair of these. They cut out general ambient noise while mostly not filtering conversational noise. You should get these ones. I’ve tried 3 or 4 brands at this point and these ones are amazing and the others I’ve tried vary from OK to useless. People spotting that I was wearing these and going “You have literally changed my life” when I explained them is the major thing that prompted me to write this post.
  3. Kindle. I read probably somewhere in the region of ten million words of fiction per year. This used to be a major problem – a lot of my travel weight allowance always went on books, because otherwise I’d run out mid travel! Then I found out I could have a book store in my pocket and, well. I do not leave home without my Kindle if I can possibly help it. Note. You will probably want a case for this. I have the standard hard leather case. I don’t know about the paperwhite, but my previous kindles were very non-durable without a case.
  4. External battery for phone and kindle. I use a RAVPower. The Kindle has a long enough battery life that this is mostly for the phone or for when I forget the Kindle. Phones running out of battery is awful. This battery is huge but lasts me probably 6 or 7 phone charges, so I only need to remember to charge it once a week.
  5. USB cables to go with the above. I’m using these ones, which were recommended to me as giving great charging time, though I find they don’t always stay in my phone very well (other devices such as kindle and battery are fine).
  6. A watch. I have a cheap Casio. It’s pretty great. It’s not the most attractive of objects (though I have the metal one so it’s inoffensive), so it fails the “watch as socially acceptable men’s jewelry” role, but it’s pretty great at telling the time, lasts forever on one battery charge, almost impossible to damage (I’ve put it through the wash) and means that I don’t get distracted by my phone when I check the time.
  7. A water bottle. I have a metal Siggs which is great. I like hydration, but hate disposable plastic. The 0.4 litre size seems pretty good to me – I rarely run out of water for casual use with this size, but it also doesn’t add too much to the weight.
  8. Nail Clippers (generic link. I don’t actually have specifically these ones). My nails splinter a lot, and it’s so annoying to not have these to hand and they take up basically no room.
  9. Ear Phones. Sometimes you just don’t want to listen to your surroundings. I like the Amazon Basics ones.
  10. A key ring to tie things together. I’m a big fan of these ones. They’re super cheap, fit a lot, and are generally very useful.

Ambiguously Useful

These pull their weight enough that I haven’t removed them, but I wouldn’t necessarily rush out and get one yourself.

  1. USB flash drive. I have this one, which is great and can just go on a key chain. It’s ambiguously useful because I don’t think I’ve used it since I put it there. I thought I would use this all the time, but it turns out I just don’t need a USB key.
  2. LED flashlight. I need to see in the dark sometimes, and the phone flashlight basically nukes the battery. Hence a flashlight. The one I have is fairly bulky. I have something that’s a slightly cheaper version of this. I’m considering downgrading to a tiny key ring one.
  3. Hip Flask. I carry this around because I have fairly specific tastes in drinks and am often in places that can’t satisfy them. (Basically I don’t really drink beer or wine much and am a spirits snob). So I thought carrying a hip flask of decent whiskey around would be a good idea. Problem is it turns out I hardly drink these days, and when I do it tends to be in places that will serve me good cocktails. So that’s not very useful after all.
  4. Utili-key. Turns out I do carry a leatherman-ish around with me all the time. I’ve never used it, and that’s not just because I’m bad at opening it.

Things I’m considering trialling

  1. Coin purse. I hate carrying change. I’m wondering if having one of these in my bag would help.
  2. Pill bottle. As previously mentioned, Ibuprofen is an essential part of this complete David. My main concern here is that I don’t feel great about carrying around an unlabelled bottle of pills, and having them in the packet isn’t that inconvenient.
  3. Travel bottles. Mainly for things like moisturiser which are really annoying to need and not have.


Do I recommend you follow suit and go out and buy all these things? Well, maybe. I think carrying a bag is a good idea in general (especially if you’re one of those freeloaders who relies on other people carrying a bag), and once you’ve got that having some of these is really helpful.

I don’t normally have comments open, but I’ve opened them for this post, so feel free to share any essentials you have. I promise not to edit my affiliate code into the link. :-)

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12 thoughts on “The DRMacIver survival kit

  1. Bill Mill

    I have a weakness for “what’s in my bag” posts, which I imagine many people do, so here goes. For a weekend trip:

    1. Bag: I recently bought a goruck gr1, and am super happy with it. Good laptop protection, square-ish for maximum volume, ridiculously overbuilt, not too many pockets. Downsides: not cheap, no chest strap.
    2. Notebook: I’m a huge fan of the Leuchtterm 1917 hardbound notebooks
    3. Pen: uniball vision elite
    4. Knife: cheapo swiss army knife because the TSA steals them all the time. I do use this all the time, mainly for the bottle opener and to open boxes.
    5. Headphones: I prefer the over-ear style, I hate having something in my ear. Love my Sony MDR-7506s.

    I don’t like to wear a watch, and I still read physical books, so that’s pretty much all the important non-laptop things I carry.

    A useful tip: buy a bunch of toothbrushes and put one in every bag you own rather than try to remember yours.

    1. david Post author

      I like the toothbrush tip.

      I should give the Goruck a try. They look nice, and all my backpacks are either a bit shitty or really huge, but the satchel is awful for carrying a laptop.

      What do you actually use the knife for? I’ve had one in the past but I found I literally never used it.

  2. Rae

    You didn’t mention what kind of wallet you carry. Since you’re carrying a bag anyway, would you be opposed to getting the kind of wallet with a coin purse in it and just keeping it in your bag? (This is the one I use. I’m on my second on now but the first one lasted for years and years.)

    1. david Post author

      The main problem is the wallet is multi-purpose – it often ends up in a pocket, and I really dislike extra weight in pockets.

      1. Jacob

        I don’t love the weight in the pocket but I still really like having a coin purse in my wallet. Before I got that I always had piles of change everywhere. Now I spend it. I use a slightly older version of this Eagle Creek wallet.

  3. Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson

    I pretty much exclusively wear cargo pants and shirts nowadays; gets me an additional bunch of pockets.

    I have blister packs for a selection of important medication (allergy meds!) in my backpack and in my most commonly used messenger bag. Also, pens — both artist’s and office; and several of my packs have deposited business cards.

    Small card wallet: metro card, key card, …

  4. Nicola

    Things I add: Lip balm, pack of paper tissues, folding hairbrush, elastic hair ties and a pouch of medications and adhesive bandages. My keyring has a cash stash containing an extra note. My earphones are noise-cancelling, I occasionally need to make the sounds of engine noise or aircon go away.

    Things I take away: My phone serves as book, torch and watch well enough for me. I have drinks and nail clippers at work but don’t bother carrying them.

    1. david Post author

      I’m bad about using lip balm. It’s a fault.

      A hairbrush is, uh, rather less of an essential for me. :-)

      I used to use my phone as book, torch and watch, but I’ve found unbundling these functions genuinely very life improving. As I joked on Twitter: “A lot of this list is things your phone can do but is shit at”.

  5. Anonymous

    It’s worth being aware that in the UK any blade (regardless of length) with a locking mechanism is illegal to carry without a good reason, where “good reason” is quite narrowly defined and doesn’t include just having forgotten to take it out of your bag. See

    Many Leatherman-type multitools fall foul of this, and it’s quite easy to find yourself in a situation (e.g. returning from the pub) where the police suddenly care about what you’re carrying. The fact that you’re a nice person who would never dream of getting involved in violence doesn’t necessarily protect you, and even a caution for this type of offence can have quite serious consequences in other areas of your life.

    Feeling compelled to warn people about this after a friend’s very unfortunate recent experience.

    1. david Post author

      Yup. The utilikey is solidly in the safe category though. It barely counts as a blade, and doesn’t have a locking mechanism.

    2. pozorvlak

      The flip-side is that non-locking knives less than 3in long are fine, and most Swiss Army or similar knives fit this definition (I suspect it was framed to include common penknives). I carry an SAK everywhere; when I was arrested at a protest the cops just noted it down along with the rest of my possessions and gave it back to me when they eventually let me go.

      Oh, and PSA: police cautions in general have serious consequences, and if a police officer offers to “let you off with a caution” then they’re trying to get you to admit guilt. Think very hard, and preferably get legal advice, before accepting one.

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