Thursday, June 15, 2017

Putting the Murse on a Diet - Applying Ultralight Principles to an Every Day Carry Bag

Despite how positively goofy it no doubt makes me look, I've definitely been a fan of regularly carrying a bag full of extra goodies. (As a side note, said bag needs a better name. Murse? Man Bag? EDC Bag? Who knows.) The problem with any gear setup is that carrying too much is almost as bad as carrying too little.

There's both a physical and mental penalty for overdoing it, whether we're talking about a man bag, your fishing tackle box or your Yoga kit. On the physical side, carrying extra stuff literally weighs you down and can limit mobility. On the mental side, carrying too much means it's hard to keep track of what you actually have. The result is that you can be thinking you're carrying X, when you aren't. Or worse, think you don't have X, but you do.

So while I like having some essentials on hand to solve problems and deal with the curve balls life throws my way, I also wanted to skinny it down as much as possible.

In my latest attempt to do this, I took a page from /r/Ultralight, the Reddit community obsessed with trimming weight from backpacking gear. While I'm not as hard core as many of the users over there, I do appreciate their methods and philosophy (to a point) and was glad to take a few pages out of their playback to help me lighten my load.

In the world of ultralight backpacking there are two ways you can trim weight: carry less stuff and replace your stuff with a lighter version. I applied both of these ideas to my daily setup.

On the 'carry less stuff' front, I found it helpful to be disciplined about carrying items that met two criteria. Either the item had to be used frequently (like my little Flip & Tumble shopping bag I use all the time) or have relatively high value (you may not use Imodium often, but when you need it, you absolutely positively need it). The less frequently I use something, the higher value it should have. So it only makes sense to carry a Res-q-Me that I plan never to use, because it's of such high value. Carrying stuff 'just in case,' where the case is likely never to happen, is a trap I wanted to avoid.

Like any gear related pursuit, the selection of what gets carried is always in flux. Still, I did some pairing down and was happy with the results. I was pretty confident that I was carrying stuff I'd use regularly, or would be worth its weight in gold should it be needed.

That brought me to step two of the process: replace heavy items with lighter versions. For this, I followed closely in the footsteps of /r/Ultralight, and busted out the food scale. I then made a spreadsheet of what each piece of gear weighs:

I then went through and noted what the heaviest items were. In my case, the portable keyboard, backup battery and bag itself were the chief weight offenders. I then cloned this spreadsheet and went to work searching Amazon for possible replacement items. By using weights mentioned on Amazon or elsewhere, I was able to get a sense of what my weight savings would be if I went ahead and made these purchases.

Here's what I arrived at:

This simulation step turned out to be surprisingly valuable. Considering replacing items on an individual basis, wasn't especially compelling. But, simulating the changes showed just how big an impact I could have. At the end of the day, I realized I could drop nearly 1.3 pounds. That may not seem like much, but that's dropping more than a quarter of what I carry.

Here's a quick tour of the substitutions I made.

Our first stop, my beloved Perixx 8051 keyboard. For most folks, carrying a keyboard around everywhere is probably a mistake. It's exactly the kind of "just in case item" that weighs you down and doesn't have a lot of value. But in my case, because I'm a computer programmer who owns his own business, my keyboard is essential. Using it and my phone, I can fix customers issues from nearly anywhere. With a browser and ssh, I can program my way out of quite a few problems. Ultimately, the keyboard may be heavy, but its far lighter than carrying around a laptop, which would be the alternative.

Because of both the frequency and value of carrying a full size keyboard, I knew I wanted to keep it in my rotation. But, I supposed it made sense to look for a lighter version. I was pleased to discover this iClever ultralight version. Check out how it stacks up against the Perixx:

It's less than half the weight, nearly half the thickness and maintains the full size keys. It has a improved keyboard layout (finally, the arrow keys are in a sane location!). Time will tell if I like or hate the ergonomic angle on the keys; though may every-day keyboard has this style. The keyboard does everything I could ask for, including automatically turn on and off when you open and close it. The only issue: like my Perixx, it doesn't lock open. This means that using it to type on my lap is a pain. I need to find a solution to that.

Next on the chopping block, my Anker 10,000mAh portable battery. This thing is an absolute game changer. This item alone nearly justifies carrying a man-bag. Having it means being able to keep my phone alive. And with my phone, I practically have super-powers, from important tasks like using Google Maps or making an emergency phone call, to more mundane things like turning an hour long wait into a virtual trip to the movie theater.

While I knew the Anker was heavy, I appreciated the plush safety net it gave my phone. The 10,000mAh version of the battery charges my phone nearly four times and has two ports. With a little research I learned that I could drop down to a 5,000mAh battery and save nearly half the weight and nearly half the thickness:

Time will tell if cutting down to a 5,000mAh battery is the way to go. It still provides quite a bit of cushion for my phone, as I can charge it just about twice. But still, we'll see if it's the right trade off to make.

And finally, the biggest weight offender was the bag itself. I really like the iBagBar small messenger bag. It's big enough to hold essentials, yet small enough that you're not carrying a full size messenger bag *everywhere*. I also very much like the fabric flip lid - it's a simple design and totally quiet. I like the canvas styling because it's neutral and in my imagination gave off a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe.

But man, is it heavy. And also, by downsizing, it was getting too large for the items I was carrying.

Amazon has a billion bags to choose from, many of which have free return shipping for prime members. In fact, I found that some bags had colors that were free return shipping while other colors weren't. For example, the lime green version of this bag has free returns, while the other (more appealing?) colors don't.

I went ahead and picked out a few bags on Amazon that claimed to be lighter weight and that had free-returns and pulled the trigger on them.

Out of the bunch, the winner was the Wsdear Sport Small Crossbody Bag. It checked nearly all the boxes. It's lightweight, coming in at 158 grams versus the 588 gram iBagBar and has good organization. I can use the main compartment to hold most of my items, there's a slot in the main compartment which nicely fits my keyboard and battery, and there's a front pocket which holds essentials like hand sanitizer and tissues. Best of all, it has a big slot in back that I can drop my phone into, rather than having to shove it in already full pockets. There's even a tiny pocket in front that fits my wallet, which is handy when I'm wearing gym shorts without any pockets.

The main shortcomings of the bag are quality and style. The zippers just seem so fragile. Part of that is probably a good thing and contributes to its weight, but I won't be shocked if the bag doesn't hold up. At $16.00, I'm fine just calling this an experiment to try.

And then there's the style. I can't say it's ugly, but it does feel very, shall we say functional? Gone is my Indy vibe, and now I'm a lot closer to the 80's fanny pack style. Scary, I know. Like I said, it's an experiment. Ultimately, a guy carrying a bag of any kind around here looks wrong, so I just need to accept that and move on.

Whew. So it's done. I've got a lighter bag. And the thing is, I'm happy with the result. The setup is noticeably lighter and didn't give up much in the way of functionality. Of course, this is always a work in progress, so I assume I'll look back at myself in 6 months and laugh at my naivete. Such is the joy of being a gear head.

Update: And for completeness, here's a snapshot of what's in the bag:

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