Be sure to check out our entire series on domestic travel:
- Part 1: Why it’s important to plan for your travel EDC
- Part 2: How to build a TSA-Friendly EDC Kit (current article)
We’ll be focusing on domestic travel within the US (and will tackle international travel later), but this setup can easily be modified for your country’s travel restrictions.
One of the most restricted areas for everyday folks is airline travel. The terrorist attacks that happened on September 11, 2001, changed the way countries handled risk. Sometime after 9/11, some restrictions were eased, but most of the gear we utilize on a day-to-day basis is still not allowed.
TSA had announced plans to allow small knives on airplanes, but it was dropped after complaints from airlines, as they continue to limit the tools and gear that we rely on every day.
After thinking through the unknowns of travel and the different considerations we should have when preparing our EDC, we’ve come up with the kit below, which has been successfully carried through TSA security at 5 major USA airports with no issues. We hope that it serves as an inspiration for you on your next trip.
Keep in mind, what you can carry on an airplane is ultimately up to the discretion of the TSA agent you are working with. We strongly recommend leaving ahead of time in case you get pulled out of security for a more thorough search. Also, check www.tsa.gov before your trip for any changes to carry-on policies and rules.
Pocket organizers allow you to have your gear organized, and therefore usable. Whether you’re trying to access your earbuds in the restricted airplane seats or need to access your tourniquet when every second counts, getting access to your EDC gear needs to happen quickly.
With an organizer, you can also move your stuff from your Secondary EDC bag to your travel setup. Add/remove the items to make it TSA-compliant and it makes prep for travel much faster.
If you’re unsure of what size Maxpedition organizer to get, we’ve put together a handy guide to the Maxpedition organizer family.
Having the ability to cut is one of the fundamental functions that a well-organized EDC can bring. Unfortunately, knives of any kind are banned on commercial airlines. Even though you have to leave your EDC knife at home, there are many other tools that are allowed by TSA.
Gerber took their much-loved Gerber Dime multitool and modified it to fit TSA’s restrictive guidelines. You get a compact EDC multitool that weighs only 2.35 ounces and has necessities like scissors, pliers, screwdrivers and more.
It has been my go-to for years, but unfortunately, it seems Gerber has discontinued it. You can still find some a few on the secondary market if you’re really interested.
Another critical piece of gear that is airline-friendly is a flashlight.
Look for a light that is small and lightweight, but also has a higher lumen output. When a concealed carry weapon or pocket knife is restricted, a “tactical” flashlight can be a good option.
Keep your flashlight in your hand and ready to turn on when walking to your hotel or in an urban area at night. Blinding someone with the high beam may give you enough time to get away or at least cause a distraction.
If you need a little help picking your next tactical flashlight, check out our article on: What is the best tactical flashlight? 5 features to consider
We’ve talked before about how scissors are an important part of any intentional EDC, and with travel, it’s even more helpful. You don’t have access to your pocket knife or the scissors kept in your junk drawer. It’s a good way to add the ability to cut in the highly-restrictive environment of airline travel.
Cut loose threads on clothing, use them for grooming or even while giving first aid.
Our teeth are something we take for granted until there is something wrong. If you’ve ever experienced tooth pain, it can be excruciating and can prohibit you from functioning in day to day life.
If you are away from home and bite down on food the wrong way, trip and fall, or even have an old filling that comes loose, having the means to address your tooth pain until you can see a dentist can save a costly emergency dental trip.
Adventure Medical Kit’s Dental Medic contains the essentials for treating dental pain and injury when a dentist isn’t available. It includes basic supplies like floss, cotton, and oral aesthetic to more advanced components like temporary cavity filling mixture and dental wax.
This is a great option if you are going on a quick trip with little time to address a tooth injury or going to a more remote destination.
First Aid Kit
From a headache, travelers diarrhea, a blister, or just having dirty hands, basic first aid equipment is a must. At only 4.5″ x 5″ in size, the Travel Medic is an easy way to add basic first aid supplies to your EDC.
If you’re traveling and will be a bit further from immediate medical care, consider supplementing a small 1-person medical kit with a more robust medic kit.
Traveling and getting a bout of diarrhea or a killer headache can make you thankful you planned ahead. Ensure you are stocked up on everyday medications as part of your Secondary EDC. Inexpensive, small and lightweight, the Best Glide refill packs (for both medication and first aid) are an easy way to be intentional about what you carry.
The ability to start a fire is still the one “invention” of mankind that completely changed everyday life. Make sure you carry that ability with you at all times, because you never know when you’ll need to use it.
There are many fire-starting options on the market, so if you’re unsure of what type to use, read our fire starter guide.
Basic hygiene supplies like soap can mean the difference between sickness and health. When water isn’t available, like before eating a meal on an airplane, hand sanitizer can be a fill-in.
The Sea to Summit Pocket Hand Wash has 50 paper-thin leaves of soap in a hard plastic case. The case seen here has lasted a long time but has come to the rescue in many instances where a public restroom has been out of soap.
Gloves, especially if you are performing first aid on another person, are critical for preventing bloodborne pathogens from getting on your skin and in your body. Always, always, take precautions when it comes to your health.
We talked in Part 1 of this series about planning for unforeseen events, like a biological, chemical or terrorist attack. A basic surgical mask, or even better, a respirator mask, can help you lessen your chances of being impacted when considering the unknowns.
We are still learning the impact on first responders on 9/11 in New York City, mostly due to the dust from the blasts. Could a respirator have made a difference in 9/11? We can’t fully know, but due to their small size and small weight, having one as part of your Secondary EDC could be a wise decision.
In addition to the obvious benefit of healing cracked lips (and airplane cabins are notoriously dry), use it as a makeshift lubricant for tools, to waterproof seals or seems, a propellant for making a fire or even an emergency candle when used with a q-tip.
If you add an eating utensil to your EDC, you’ll be surprised at how often you use it, and this is especially true when traveling. Grabbing food on-the-go increases the chances you’ll be stuck in your seat with your salad or soup and no way to eat it.
Food and Water
Being stuck on an airplane without access to food, or only getting water when the flight attendant is able, can set you up for a situation where you need to rehydrate and refuel.
Carry energy bars or a quick protein (like peanuts) to hold you over and make it a habit to refill an empty water bottle or buy a bottle of water once you are through TSA security.
Carrying cash is something we feel is a critical part of any EDC. We’ve written a 3-part series on this, so if you haven’t read it, please do.
Ensure you always have enough money to cover incidentals and even more importantly, get home if you need it.
Paracord, Twisty Ties, S-Biners
Straps or handles can break, cords can become unruly, and being able to respond to these needs can make a potentially large inconvenience have a quick fix.
Mend a broken bag, make a strap, remove lint … there are endless uses for duct tape, especially when you’re far from home.
Back-up Identification and Documentation
Keep a copy of your passport, drivers license, car insurance, credit cards, airline, rental car and hotel information with you. This is important because:
- TSA will let you back on the airplane with no identification, but it’s made much easier with a copy of your IDs
- Proof of insurance if you’re in a car accident in your rental car
- If your wallet is stolen, having a copy of your credit cards makes it easier to cancel them
- If your phone is stolen, not knowing what hotel you have reservations at can quickly reveal your dependency on technology (this happened to us at Option Gray and we were in downtown Chicago, unsure of what Marriott property our reservation was with)
- Your airline’s toll-free number and reservation’s locator code can be your ticket to getting help quickly
Treat these copies as well as you treat the originals. Once you get to your destination, keep them locked up in the hotel safe so if you lose your wallet and other Primary or Secondary EDC gear, you can access these back-ups. An alternate idea is to take pictures of your ID’s and documentation and keep it on your phone (that is password-protected) or on an encrypted thumb drive.
Depending on your needs, where you are going, how long you will be there and what you will be doing at your destination, consider including:
- Your phone charging cable. You likely will pack one in your suitcase, but having a backup charger in your EDC Kit will help if your charger is lost, stolen or forgotten.
- Back-up battery for your phone (many versions are available on the market), which came in handy for us recently when we were unexpectedly stuck on the tarmac for almost 2 hours. Being able to charge your phone can give you the ability to call and reschedule flights, call friends or family, or just waste time when you are stuck waiting
- Headphones or earbuds
- Back-up batteries for your EDC flashlight
Notebook, Pen and Permanent Marker
We talk often about having the ability to write things down and that it’s a critical part of any intentional EDC. Hopefully, you carry a notebook and pen as part of your Primary EDC, but having one as part of your Secondary EDC is a great back-up option.
A solid metal “tactical” pen can be used as a weapon in a self-defensive situation. It is allowed in the highly-restrictive areas of airline travel.
Traveling to an unfamiliar area, you are likely dependent on the map feature built into your phone. If you lose your phone, it gets stolen, or something much more catastrophic happens, take control of navigating by having a hard-copy map with you.
Investing in a detailed street map of your destination is best, but even having a few printable maps of the city and region you will be traveling to can set you in the right direction.
Talk to any road warrior and they’ll have their own nightmare story of travel. Delays, cancellations and being rerouted are inevitable. Paired with the hygiene basics we talked about above, having a clean pair of underwear can make a big difference in your comfort level.
If you have room, keep a spare pair in a ziplock bag (to store the dirty pair once you change).
Be sure you check out “Part 1: Plan for your travel EDC Kit” to understand why it’s important to take such precautionary measures that we’ve outlined here.
Additional tips for building out your EDC Kit:
- Expect to check your carry-on bag: If your EDC Kit is in a bag that you are carrying on, ensure that you can successfully move it to your “personal item” that is stored at your feet. If you’re one of the last to board your flight and there is no more room in the overhead bins, you will be forced to check your larger bag and you won’t get it back until the baggage claim at your destination (which exposes it to loss or theft)
- If you will be at a location for an extended period of time, you can always consider mailing a package to yourself to your hotel. Priority Mail is fairly affordable, can get to most places in the US within 2-3 days and is (mostly) safe. This would allow you to EDC a knife and other gear
- Any liquids or gels have to be under 3.4 ounces and will have to be put through TSA security in a quart-sized bag. This includes a Bic Lighter, hand sanitizer or any other items that fall into this category
- Pull out your blade-free multitool or any other objects that will undergo additional scrutiny and place them in the plastic bin as you go through TSA security. We’ve found that it speeds up the screening process, it gives agents the impression that you are not hiding anything, and prevents them from digging through your entire Secondary EDC kit
What do you have as part of your EDC that is TSA-compliant? Any other tips for fellow travelers?