Monday, February 26, 2024

Man-Bag Dump, 2024 Edition: Let's Talk Philosophy

It's been four years since I last posted a bag dump of my man-bag, so I'm overdue to post a fresh snapshot of what's inside. However, before I get into these details, I thought I'd talk a bit about the philosophy behind the gear and its selection.

At a high level, I'm striving to balance the 3P's of gear selection: Preparedness, Practice, and Predictability.


Preparedness is the most straightforward attribute, and here my gear tends to fall into one of four buckets. First, there are convenience items. These tend to be frequently used but low-impact. That is, I use them fairly often, but it would be more of a nuisance than a catastrophe if I went without. This covers things like a reusable shopping bag to avoid accumulating more plastic, a microfiber cloth to clean my glasses, or a dose of Claritin D, which has saved me from a number of annoying allergy attacks due to cat allergies.

Next, there are tech items. Some of these are pretty obvious: ways to charge my cell phone and headphones to turn any space into one where I can get lost in media. Other items may seem over the top, like a folding keyboard and various USB adapters. These items let me turn my phone into a Linux workstation. From there, I can help rescue my customers if their servers go down, or tackle countless other tasks that benefit from having a laptop.

There are also a few outdoorsy items, like a Bic lighter and Aquatabs. I spend enough time outdoors that it's reassuring to always have these items on me. I'm also keenly aware that while I may be planning a day full of indoor activities, I may unexpectedly find myself in nature.

Finally, I carry a few doomsday items. These are on the opposite spectrum of the convenience items: used infrequently, but with high impact. Examples of these items include a trauma kit, a glass punch for escaping or getting into a vehicle, and digital copies of important documents. I'm just as disbelieving as the next person that I will ever need these items, yet there's ample evidence to suggest that nobody is immune from these crises.


Gear is good. But gear plus experience is far superior. But how does one get this experience? One way is through deploying your kit even when it's not entirely necessary. This is what I identify as the goal of practice.

For example, every so often I'll charge my phone from my bag's battery pack even though there's a perfectly usable outlet in front of me. Or I'll use that bag's flashlight when Shira and I go on a winter evening's stroll through our neighborhood even though we could probably forgo a light altogether. Or, I'll grab my folding keyboard and use it and my phone to respond to any work issues that have come up overnight, even though a proper computer is just a few paces away. What these detours lose in efficiency, they more than make up for in experience. I get to learn firsthand if my battery pack is still holding a charge, if the flashlight I intend to depend on in emergencies is as bright as I expect it to be, and if my phone is still on speaking terms with the Bluetooth keyboard I intend to deploy to rescue a customer's server.


Finally, there's predictability. That is, having a very high degree of confidence that your gear is where you expect it to be, and that it is ready to perform. Predictability is key when a situation is stressful. In these conditions, the last thing you want to be worrying about is your equipment.

For example, while on a camping trip with our nieces and nephew, I was separated from Shira and needed to give her a call. I reached for my phone and found, thanks to the heap of photos I'd taken and my neglecting to charge it the night before, that it was dead. Without missing a beat, I pulled out my battery pack and a USB cable, and within a minute or two, I was on the phone with Shira. I didn't need to think: did I pack the battery pack? Did I bring it on our hike? Did I have a working charging cable with me? This was handy for the low-risk scenario of my phone being dead, but I imagine this would make a world of difference should I ever need to deploy one of those doomsday items I mentioned above.

Finding a Balance

The thing about these three goals is that the first one is in direct conflict with the last two. Preparedness can be solved by bringing lots of stuff. But, practice calls for your kit to be as portable as possible, so you'll take it with you and use it as often as possible. Similarly, predictability is optimized when you have fewer items in your kit, as there's less to mentally track and to physically maintain. In short, it can be just as valuable, if not more so, to remove items from my man-bag than it is to add them.

Ultimately, searching for this balance is a game of trial and error. I'm always looking for that sweet spot of having the most effective gear with the fewest items in my kit. Up next is a snapshot of my latest setup.

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