Recently, I’ve gotten into thinking about my EDC (every day carry). And I’ve been setting it up so that everything I could conceivably need and possibly carry in a reasonable weight is on me at all times. Since it doesn’t really bother me to have a backpack, and the only real limitation is that some stores ask you to remove it to prevent shoplifting (which I think is silly, really. It just makes me concerned for my bag, and maybe slightly less prone to shop with you.) I do have everything in a backpack. And now I carry a lot of stuff.
In theory, my system is modular, moving up from pockets to fanny pack (bumbag) then satchel (which I hardly use any more) and finally to backpack. But in practice I find myself just carrying the backpack everywhere. I don’t like going without things, and since in my city it’s illegal to use disposable bags at stores, it’s handy to have around so that I don’t continually have to either carry around a cloth bag and look like a loser walking back to my apartment, or buy a “reusable” plastic or paper bag for a dime every time I go shopping. That should also answer the question of whether or not I have the bag full. I don’t, in order to put things in it when needed. And if I filled it, I would look very out of place (I say that like I don’t already). The bag would be about a “me and a half” wide, in addition to me, which is far too big to be convenient.
But that really does beg the question: do I need my backpack at all? The simple answer is no. Most people get by with a phone, wallet, keys, and maybe a pen and stylus. Some people also have iPads (tablets) and laptops, but I’m guessing those people don’t carry those around all the time. My first-aid kit, fire-starting methods (lighter, matches, flint and steel), poncho, flashlight, notebooks (I am a writer and artist, after all) and other things aren’t really necessary for day-to-day life. But they might come in quite handy at some point, and indeed when I have been out I have used these things, although I’ve used them more for the needs of other people as I am more prepared for what I’m going to be doing. Still, the items are useful.
But how useful does an item need to be to have you carry it every day? Most people could stick a multi-tool on their keys (I have one) and either have that be enough for every task they face, or never even use it. And it would just sit there taking up space and having taken $20 out of their wallet.
Obviously my first-aid kit is impractical, but it could save a life, so I keep carrying it. But for most (social) people it would be far too much of a hassle to keep anywhere but their car. (Side note: you should absolutely invest in a decent first-aid kit to go in your car. Absolutely everyone should have one, seriously, that is something I truly believe should be ubiquitous). I carry it around really because most people don’t. And if something bad does happen, I might not be the best trained to deal with it, but I can at least provide equipment and not be completely useless.
Most of the other items I could do without. In fact I could probably just tailor my items to match up with the groups I’m around most often (for instance, if I’m around a smoker a lot it’s less likely I would need a lighter) and compensate for what they lack. Together, in that scenario, we’d all make one prepared person. But really, I’m with enough different groups of people, and sometimes I go for stretches without really interacting with a group of friends, so I carry all of the things that might be useful to me in any scenario. That is where my level of carry ends, though. If it would only be useful to someone else, and not to me, I don’t carry it. Or, if it’s far too impractical to carry. My bag is a little less than 20 pounds (estimation: it varies) and I wouldn’t want to carry more than that for any significant amount of time.
So do I really need to carry it? No, I really don’t need to carry much. That list I made earlier of what most people carry was fine with me for years, and I had even less in school (I only had a pen and my keys in my pocket then). It’s very easy to get by with that. And the amount of things needed to excel is far too much for most people. I carry around a lot because I like to be prepared. I don’t want to get caught up later because I didn’t take time at the start. And I understand that won’t work for most people. What do you really need to carry every day? Nothing. A phone and a credit card will do almost everything you’d ever need now. But really you don’t “need” to carry anything. In the end, what you choose to carry is based on what you think is the best balance of what you might need, and the lightest load so you don’t get bogged down. And I might go a bit overboard, but I don’t sink.