Non-Obvious Everyday Bag Items.
September 5, 2013 8:20 AM   Subscribe

My daily/everyday bag is a canvas haversack - about as large as a small messenger bag. I already know to carry things like breath strips and a small umbrella and a paperback around, but recently I've been looking to expand on the everyday items. For example: there was an awkward lull in conversation during a train ride. I happened to be carrying a pack of cards and taught everyone to play German Whist - wonderful ice breaker, great way to spend the trip. I'm looking for things like that, small, non-obvious essentials to put in your bag that can be used in many different situations.
posted by The Whelk to Grab Bag (53 answers total) 138 users marked this as a favorite
Headlamp. It has come in handy a bunch of times and doesn't take up too much space.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

A few zip ties, a granola bar or Clif bar, A hanky/Buff/bandana, and a small first aid kit. Also, a multitool if you don't frequent areas where it would be confiscated.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:29 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

The pen-sized, sturdy Stanley 66-344 4-in-1 Pocket Screwdriver.

I love this screwdriver so much that I gave one to my entire Xmas list one year, and one recipient reported back that she had been in a pub with a bartender in need of a screwdriver, and got a free drink for producing it from her purse. So there's that potential use.

A bit silly, or not: keychain flasks

Tiny plastic bottles with emergency quantities of sunblock, bug spray, medicines, etc
posted by kmennie at 8:30 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Dental floss.
posted by telegraph at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have a squirt p4 leatherman

A copy of the Constitution (got me through a sticky border control situation in London, ironically enough)

Used to have a deck of cards until the box disintegrated from overuse, thanks for reminding me to put another one in there

Pack of tissues

Emergency money (several $1s and at least one $20 shoved in random pockets)

Chapstick, bandaids, hand sanitizer

Tiny pill bottle full of things like advil, benadryl, pepto, and the Rx I take daily


A dog treat or two

A couple small, cheap toys from a stash of Oriental Trading Co stuff I have, to hand out to small stranger kids on transit who are absolutely losing their shit about something. Give them a toy, they magically shut up for the next 20 minutes.
posted by phunniemee at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2013 [17 favorites]

A credit card tool
posted by griphus at 8:33 AM on September 5, 2013

I used to have a little metal tin (about the size of an Altoids tin) with all sorts of crap in it like string, paper clips, superglue, rubber bands, small cable ties, plain keyrings, needles and thread, glasses screws, a tiny lighter, a few short lengths of heat-shrink tubing, and twenty other bits and pieces that could be pulled out in a Macgyver-moment. Now I'm going to have to find it - haven't seen it since I moved house four years ago
posted by pipeski at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've got a hand towel and a couple of empty plastic bags shoved into the bottom of my bag. Both have been extremely handy on occasion.
posted by Shohn at 8:46 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

A glasses cleaning cloth. Band-aids. My mini-planner, or a small notepad. Pens, always more than one, because if there is only one it won't work. Safety pins. Lots of safety pins.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:46 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have LED front and rear lights that can clip on my bike (and also function as a flashlight). I have a battery charger pack to recharge a phone or other item. I have a slim bluetooth keyboard. Pen and pencil and a sharpener.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:47 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding pipeski's tin of paper clips, rubber bands and sundries... with the addition of postage stamps (Forever and postcard rate). Also a dedicated writing utensil that lives in the bag for life's inevitable "I need something to write with" moments.
posted by usonian at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A couple vials of Dr. Bronners unscented soap. Because I have no idea what hideous stuff I'll find in public bathrooms, I'm allergic to a lot of perfume, and I got sick of using Purell 10 times a day on my hands.

Also, ting ting jahe ginger chews! I love those things.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2013

Ziplock bags--one gallon sized, one quart sized, one sandwich sized. They come in useful far more frequently than one might expect.

A change of underwear and socks, stored in a ziplock. If you get soaked, dry underwear and socks are very comforting.

Anti-itch cream, as well as all the bandage and first-aid things mentioned above.

Something you can drink out of. I used to have a collapsible cup that I kept in my bag, and it was great.
posted by MeghanC at 8:54 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

An extension cord with multiple female outlets.

It's not only an extension cord, but a power strip. When you need to charge something, but the only available outlets are taken, you can ask someone to share.
posted by dinger at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A spare battery that can be used for multiple electronics. I use this one because I like that it comes with its own cord.

And safety pins and bandaids and individually packaged wet wipes are what I most commonly give out.
posted by beaning at 9:05 AM on September 5, 2013

A small hardcover notebook.
posted by buzzman at 9:18 AM on September 5, 2013

flat-pack duct tape and/or masking tape. Take a piece of cardboard about 6 or 8 inches long and about as wide as your tape and wrap the tape around it so it packs flat. Useful for everything from labelling things (particularly if you've got a sharpie with you, too) to sealing boxes. Takes up almost no room in the bag.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:30 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I prefer traveling light, and very few things are really "essential" when it comes down to it, unless maybe you're out hiking well away from civilization.

For everyday journeys I do typically have a notepad and pens, a few plastic bags, and some paper towel though. Hardly essential, but can be handy at times.
posted by philipy at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I carry a small tape measure and it has come in handy more times than you would expect.
posted by something something at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Nylon RuMe shopping bag. Great for everything: groceries, the library, carrying stuff home from work, picking up packages at the post office, everything. I like the RuMe because the straps will fit over your shoulder, unlike most nylon bags that must be carried by hand. They also fit quite a bit of stuff, can be washed easily, and get squished into a tiny light ball of nothing! I give them as gifts and everyone loves them!
posted by barnone at 9:45 AM on September 5, 2013

In addition to the umbrella & paperback you've already mentioned, I've got a nice little be-prepared kit that doesn't take up too much room in my small bag. Each and every one of these items has come in extremely handy at one point or another.
Ingredients are as follows:
- safety pins
- duct tape (roll it around itself to make a miniature roll)
- a bit of twine (wrapped into a tiny bundle)
- a few pills of ibuprofin and other necessary remedies
- a spare set of contacts, taped together with the peel-off sides facing each other so they don't accidentally get punctured
- a few bandaids
- a smallish Swiss Army knife
- a tiny flashlight
- a carabiner (weirdly useful in all kinds of situations)
- a kerchief
- headphones
- a compact mini-usb charger
- a tiny little sunscreen stick (solid, not liquid -- it's this stuff)
- floss picks
- chapstick
- emergency $20
- a sharpie and a red pencil
- emergency Clif Bar
- and obviously, a little notebook

If I had a larger bag, I might also include a pack of cards and a little folding cribbage board.
posted by ourobouros at 9:45 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I carry travel-sized dry shampoo and deodorant. It's handy for those days when my schedule changes unexpectedly and I'm not near a shower.
posted by workerant at 9:49 AM on September 5, 2013

seconding Band-Aids, a Multi-tool, Ziplock bags and Dental Floss.
posted by mazienh at 10:16 AM on September 5, 2013

Music Box kit - Have one or two tunes ready to go, and always carry a spare blank punch card for composing on the go.
Anker phone charger - they're not much larger than a regular cell phone, and hold several charges. Comes in super handy on long rides (trains and planes), camping, at festivals, etc.
Zippo - even if you don't smoke, reliable fire is good to keep around. Extra bonus feature is the intricate kit you get to build and maintain at home to keep it running: Spare wicks and flints, filler fluid, etc, all very small and precious and finicky.
posted by carsonb at 10:18 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cheap ear pugs are indispensable for catching a snooze on a crowded plane or even a park lawn.

A USB battery has come in handy more than oncet.
posted by bonehead at 10:39 AM on September 5, 2013

Check out the EDC Forums—there are enough suggestions there to keep you busy (and your bank account empty) for quite a while.
posted by limeonaire at 10:47 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I often find myself in need of a postage stamp.

nthing the Leatherman Squirt. I am continually amazed by how often I use mine.
posted by coppermoss at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2013

I also have a sewing kit, some generic Ibuprofen and cold medicine, plus a pad of Rite-In-The-Rain paper and a couple of pens.

I wish I could remember to add some heat-shrink tubing, though, like pipeksi does!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also always have a MicroBites spork set soft, and a silicone bowl & cup from Guyot Designs.

Yes, my bag is always 60% full, but I am very rarely without the things I need!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:10 AM on September 5, 2013

Tea bags and a travel mug.
I can usually find hot water most everywhere and sipping on my fave herbal teas is quite the comfort when I'm anxious/stressed from something away from home. Also saves me from consuming junk/comfort food, which I inevitably would otherwise.
posted by greta_01 at 11:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Travel pack of unscented baby wipes, and a spork.
posted by The Toad at 12:17 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:19 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

-One of those Tide stain pens; even if I'm trying to carry the absolute bare minimum this will come with me.
-Business cards. You can write stuff on the back of them and people will have your contact info if they can't read your scribbles.
-I always keep something credit card-sized and plastic that I don't mind breaking (like a store loyalty card) because you can use them as shims, to pry apart small weak things, and (the biggest reason I carry one) they're really great as shoehorns if you're somewhere you need to put your shoes back on, like past the TSA checkpoint.

For awhile, I also kept postcards on me. I had about a dozen of them, stamped, and each one had a small bit of nonsense and a friend's address typewritten on the back. Whenever I traveled for work, I would drop one in the mail when I arrived at my hotel. It took a long time for him to figure out who was sending these mystery postcards from all over the country. Were I to do this again (and thinking about it now, I just might), I would probably just keep a pack of stamped cards in my bag and hand write something whenever the mood strikes me.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:20 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I carry a very small pair of folding scissors in my purse. I cannot tell you how many times they have come in handy. They are so, so useful.
posted by yawper at 1:43 PM on September 5, 2013

Carrying a compact mirror means never having to play weird gesturing games when someone has something on their face or in their teeth.
posted by juliplease at 2:03 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A travel set of eating utensils. The short spork and carry-on chopsticks here (the spork fits in the pouch with the chopsticks) were gifted to me a few years ago and I use them all the time. Really helpful if you eat on the go a lot or don't always eat in the same place. Or you drop the fork from your to-go lunch on the sidewalk and are already too far away from the restaurant to go back. Or if they run out of utensils at the company picnic. Etc.

A tiny bottle of silicone lube. It has many purposes other than the obvious: fixing a stubborn zipper, preventing chafing from shoes or pants or thighs or whatever, smoothing down frizzy hair... it's like WD-40, only safe to put on your body!

Earplugs, for when it is unbearably noisy where you are and you need to be able to sleep/work/not lose your mind.

A couple individually-wrapped sunscreen wipes, for when you unexpectedly end up spending extra time under the daystar.

And this is probably obvious, but I am frequently grateful I have scissors on me at all times. I carry a Leatherman Style on my keychain, which has scissors in the middle (where the pliers usually are) so they're actually useful, and not the useless fold-out scissors found on other multitools.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:10 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

* clean, folded garbage bag (weirdly handy in so many situations)
* ziploc bags rolled up with a handy group of rubberbands
* emergency kit -- that includes bandaids, dental floss, pain pills, sugar pack, safety pins, glass cleaning wipes, tissue, etc. that fits in an eyeglass case
* flashlight
* there is a small folding knife and bottle opener/prybar on my keychain
posted by jadepearl at 4:34 PM on September 5, 2013

Oh, one other thing along with flat-pack tape - a pair of nitrile gloves. The fold up way flat in a little change purse and they're great for unexpectedly having to deal with gross stuff. Most recently I had to move a dead animal, and I was quite glad for the gloves.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:41 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Shout Wipes. Sewing kit. Tums. A folding pill box with ibuprofen, allergy pills, immodium, etc.

A bandanna, charging cords for my phone, eyeglass cleaning cloth. bottle opener, pens, sharpie, paper. Flashlight. Small pack of tissue and hand sanitizer.

I have repaired friend's clothing in the middle of carnivals, and shocked people when I have a benadryl for an allergic reaction.

But most of all, my bag is ALWAYS big enough for me to carry a small knitting project.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A headphone splitter and extra pair of earbuds
posted by rmless at 8:37 PM on September 5, 2013

One or two plastic bags folded into compact triangles.

How to fold a plastic bag into a triangle
posted by Cog at 11:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

I find that one good spoon is sufficient for most meals-on-the-go. (Of course, I also have a leatherman to use as a knife.) I've been meaning to add a bowl or tupperware-ish container to my kit as well, since I'm now in a city full of food carts.

The leatherman is pretty obvious, especially if you're a mechanic-y type. I mostly use the pliers and screwdrivers, but when I lend it to people it's always for the bottle opener.

Bananagrams is a great icebreaker when traveling if hung on the outside of your pack, because the bag is distinctive and many people are familiar with it it.

I favor pocketable graph paper notepads, which nobody seems to sell, so I bind my own with heavy thread and a strong needle, using cardstock cut from cereal boxes (or similar) for the covers.

And elastic hair ties, even if you don't have long hair, are basically high-quality rubber bands. If you're vigilant and aren't squeamish about it they can often be acquired from the sidewalk for free.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:26 AM on September 6, 2013

I'm kind of surprised this hasn't been mentioned, but I try to remember to have a bottle opener and a fold flat foam can-cooler/coozie/stubby holder. You never know when a beer would be nice, and the stubby holder is a must for warm weather.

And a flask, because in for a penny.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:09 AM on September 6, 2013

So, I get that you are a dude, but hear me out: highest absorbency thin maxi pads in a ziploc. Or the high absorbency stick-on depends liners. Or a packed-down bench diaper/absorbent liner in a ziploc (if you have room). Because sometimes there are tjings that need to be sopped up and you will not want to use a travel towel for it.

A baby diaper will also work. It all depends on your level of dignity.

Along those lines: a small ziploc with silica bags in it for the unfortunate collision of electronics with liquids.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 4:49 AM on September 6, 2013

Retractable tape measure. You can get a small one from Ikea for £1.25.
posted by mippy at 6:44 AM on September 6, 2013

One forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings.

(I'm sorry, couldn't resist!)

In all seriousness, I carry:

A High-CRI headlamp, so colors don't look all weird. (I actually have an older, discontinued model.) Also, it runs on AA's, same as my camera, so the spare set does double duty.

Two USB-serial interfaces, one TTL, one RS232. These are the Leatherman of debug interfaces.

A little universal lithium battery charger. This charges cellphone batteries, camera batteries, pretty much any removable lithium battery, from any USB port. (The fourth photo shows how it clips onto the battery. Contacts adjust side-to-side for spacing.)

A universal flippy USB cable (or two), though lately I also carry a cheap Lightning cable for when iForgotmycable folks need help. (Because the above universal charger only works if batteries are removable, which theirs aren't.)

An IKEA paper tape measure, the kind you get for free in the store. Weighs under a gram and it's adequate for most of my needs.

Some small diagonal cutters (which work great as nail clippers too) and an awesome little screwdriver, the only one I've ever found which includes a stubby driver for 4mm bits.

A small beach-ball.
posted by Myself at 8:05 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

White Socks and a couple of Sharpies. Two minutes of creativity and you have sock puppets.

Locking pill boxes. I gave up on non-locking a long time ago.

Ceramic box cutter. Get in/out/through things without having a knife to be confiscated for one reason or another.

A couple of sheets of baker's paper ... split with a friend. great for picking up wrapping/eating/whatever. I use it to split foods amongst my kids that come in"one bag".
posted by tilde at 1:31 PM on September 6, 2013

I carry a couple of rubber door stoppers, to secure a door when needed as there is no lock or I don't have the key for the lock.

a pair of binoculars(i live in a fairly low population area and do a lot of field work for my job (public works engineer).

a pair of mechanix winter gloves.

write in the rain notebook and pencils.

a sillcock key (operates a lot of outside water spigots that don't have standard knobs on them so people won't mess with them).

stainless steel straw

collapsible bowl

posted by bartonlong at 1:51 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm rather envious of a friend who has a matching fan and chopstick set he picked up in Japan.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:05 PM on September 8, 2013

This is my satchel packing list for when I'm packing for holidays / short breaks / work meetings:

Adapter plugs + an extension wire if possible
Pens ++
Pocket fan
Clear plastic folder (strong one) for any documents I pick up along the way
Paracetamol +/- loperamide / dioralyte
Pocket Tissues
Refresher / Baby wipes (useful at the end of a long trip!) - I save these from KFC meals :-P
Lens cleaning cloth
Bottle to carry water
Blindfold (to sleep in bright places)
Pack of cards
Pocket torch
Gerber shard keyring tool
I used to have a camera, alarm clock, book, portable music player, calculator etc. on my list by my smartphone now does all that.

I'm going to add that Cog's triangle-folded plastic bag suggestion as well in future.
posted by inbetweener at 7:20 AM on September 9, 2013

I really like Spyderco's assortment of tiny knives - well-crafted and kind of beautiful

Once you find a couple you like, look for lower prices on Amazon.

I don't see these on the page yet:
a bar of dark chocolate, an inflatable ball, an e-reader(e.g., Kindle)
posted by jander03 at 10:24 PM on September 9, 2013

The things in my bag that have saved the day most often are:
  • Leatherman micra (knife, scissors, bottle opener, screwdrivers)
  • small jar of ibuprofen
  • fruit leather (won't crumble up in the bottom of your bag or melt like granola or candy bars)

    An item that doesn't get quite as much use, but always seems to surprise people when they wish for one and I can produce it:
  • 10 foot tape measure

  • posted by superna at 5:17 AM on September 11, 2013

    I carry one of those little plastic bags that are required for taking liquids through airport security in your handluggage (this is from back in the day when I used to commute from London to Europe on a weekly basis).

    In it, you can find all sorts of useful clutter such as tweezers, a nailfile, plasters, hai-rribbon and -pins, lipstick/gloss, lipbalm (can also be used instead of vaseline/moisturizer), some paracetamol, a breath mint or two, a tiny hairbrush, and a tester-sized vial of perfume. I also carry my keys (d'uh!), a compact mirror, one or two pens, and (usually) headphones wherever I go.

    All of these items have come in handy on numerous occasions in the past. I do feel a bit naked on the days I downsize the contents of my handbags in order to take a smaller purse on, say, a night out.
    Okay, I was lying. I have about 6 lipbalms and two lipsticks, most of which I never use. But everything else is totally worth carrying! :)

    The fact that I keep most of the stuff in that (clear and resealable) plastic bag just means it's all neatly kept in one place - plus I won't ever be caught out having to buy one at the airport (many airports here charge for them!).
    posted by mrsh at 3:18 AM on September 27, 2013

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