December 3, 2008 (Last edit January 10, 2019)

What is “essential gear”? Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar wrote earlier this month about the Suitcase Test. The premise, as he states it, is “If you had to fit all of your belongings in a suitcase and walk away, what would you pack?” From a personal finance standpoint, this leads to getting rid of a lot of stuff - anything that doesn’t fit in the suitcase - and only buying new things if they fit. I think that a suitcase for your whole life is a little extreme, but I am certainly on board with the underlying idea: there are a few things in life that you need. Things that are essential to survival, either in the wilderness, the post-apocalyptic urban jungle, or mundane life today. These things are essential gear, things that a real man should always keep close to hand. As the Boy Scout motto states, “Be Prepared.”

So, my basic needs as a human being are air, water, food, protection from the elements, and communication with others. Assuming I’m on planet Earth and not kidnapped and released at the bottom of the ocean without a scuba tank (both pretty decent assumptions, since I’m not a millionaire with space-travel hobbies or a high potential ransom), I’ll have air, so that’s one down. Water isn’t much trickier; in day-to-day life I have a faucet, but it’s always nice to have it close in either a bottle or a pack, especially when I’m out of the house. Food I generally assume I can buy, but a knife in my pocket prepares me for the possibility of being stuck in the wilderness. Protection from the elements means shelter and clothes. Easy enough; I tend to consider a waterproof jacket in this category as well; depending on your climate, you’ll need other items as well, like sunglasses, parkas and boots, or sunblock and chapstick. Last necessity is communication. While I could certainly survive without it, I put a cellphone in this category at the very least.

With basic needs out of the way, what else do I need? My job requires me to have internet access; everything comes down via email. To get by day-to-day, I could use public computers, though I’d have very little control over it, so I generally assume a laptop to be essential. A wallet is another necessity, since the aforementioned water, food, cellphone service, and internet access must be paid for somehow, and credit cards means having an ID. My watch? I don’t suppose there’s any real reason to have it, but it sure is convenient. Maybe a watch isn’t essential.

How about a vehicle? Depends on where you live. In New York City, I never needed one, but in suburban or rural Texas there are basically no taxis and subways are nonexistent. My memory isn’t perfect, and my job is hard to stay on top of without notes, not to mention my personal life, so I consider a notebook to be essential. Some people might not need one, others might use their computers or cellphones for the same purpose. Assuming a notebook, then I also need a pen; the notebook won’t be much use without it. And don’t forget about some way to carry all this necessary stuff when I leave the house.