What’s in My Bag? – John Edgar Park

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Curious to know what’s in my daily work/travel bag? Please, have a look (click the images for an even closer look). I carry this bag and gear for my daily work routine, as well as when I take trips. Note: I do carry some worrisome, pointy things that I place in checked baggage or leave behind when flying. More on that below.

For context, I work in CG animation at DisneyToon Studios, am a maker of robot-y, Arduino-ish things, and write about it for Make: magazine, BoingBoing and other places in print and online. I travel between locations in Los Angeles and overseas for work, so my bag is a bit of a mobile office. (Thanks for the suggestion, Justin.)

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The bag: I carry a Filson bag, made in Seattle, WA ($335, Filson 72 Hour Briefcase). I’ve taken many other bags all over the world — from Papua New Guinea to Belarus, Pakistan to Singapore, Poughkeepsie to Mumbai — this one has quickly become my favorite. Just the right carry-on size with proper, minimal organizational features for my needs. It’s rugged, weather resistant, and made of waxed cotton, bridle leather, and heritage awesomeness. Plus, it makes me feel more outdoorsy than I currently am, so that’s a psychological bonus.

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Let’s have a look in the left outer pocket.

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Sunglasses, writing, fixing, lighting:  I have somehow managed to not yet lose these lovely polarized Ray-Ban sunglasses. I carry a Sharpie marker, a wonderful little $4 technician’s screwdriver (see my review), a solid pen that takes Fisher Space Pen refills ($55 and up), a small AAA flashlight, and a Wörther mechanical pencil ($35 from Hand-Eye Supply).

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Snacks and meds: I stash snacks and pill capsules in this old army ammo pouch from my dad. He gave it to me when I was a kid to play soldier. (You’ll have to get one at a surplus store, because my dad is fresh out.) I usually have one or two snack bars and some nuts or granola in there. Also, lip balm  and instant coffee packs. Lastly, I use these great little waterproof Delrin pill capsules ($6 and up depending on size) to carry antacid, Tylenol, Advil, pseudoephedrine, industrial strength Immodium (helpful for travel to places with unsafe water), and Tic-Tacs. Because I love them. (Also: fresh breath.)

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Sharp things: This is the grouping I put in my checked luggage (alongside my double-edged safety razor) when flying is involved. At the top, the best groomsman gift I’ve ever gotten, the Leatherman Micra multitool ($25, or free if you are in the right wedding party). Next, my beloved Victorinox Swiss Army knife, which I’ve carried into the woods, the city, and around the world on adventures since my parents gave it to me for my fourteenth birthday. Note: sometimes I swap out the knife for my full sized Leatherman SuperTool or Leatherman Juice CS4 so I’ve got good pliers on hand. Connected to my knife is a seriously effective pair of government issue tweezers ($7). At the bottom, is an innocuous-looking capsule.

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Grappling hook: Not so innocuous now, are we? The micro grappling hook ($27 from Maratac). This item is absurd. I really shouldn’t carry it. But I must, due to a pact I made with my teenaged self to always be super freaking awesome as an adult. I have used it legitimately three times – in all cases to retrieve things from rooftops and trees. (It is not intended to support the swinging bodyweight of the foolish/optimistic.) The three spikes are stored inside the capsule and then thread into place when needed. As seen below, I also carry a long length of paracord to be deployed with my ridiculous grappling hook.

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On to the right outer pocket.

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Tunes, tape, adapters, photos, cards: I’ve got photos of my kids, a business card case I made from scrap leather, a zipped ripstop nylon bag full of electronics adapters, an earbud wrap in the shape of an owl I made on the laser cutter, standard Apple earbuds, plus an iPod Nano with some workout tunes on it (nifty that it’ll function as a radio during the post-apocalypse rebuilding of Earth, unlike my iPhone), and a long strip of folded over duct tape (Gorilla brand, $6 a roll) for emergency repairs or live-action body-part censorship.

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The adaptors: Within this ripstop nylon bag I stash a standard VGA adapter for my MacBook (helps when hooking up to strange projectors), MacBook ethernet adapter (not pictured), a Lighting-to-USB cable and wall wart for my iPhone and iPad (please note the Rainbow Loom wrap my daughter made for holding the coiled wire), a USB thumb drive with presentations and documents (useful when I need to give a talk without hooking up my laptop), and a rechargeable Li-Po battery pack for my iPhone and iPad (or any USB powered device).

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Shall we have a look in the main compartment?

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Laptop, notebooks, art: I’ve got my laptop and power adapter, the latest bit of artwork my daughter gives me before a long trip, a small Moleskine pocket journal ($8 for three), and a square-ruled Maker’s Notebook (~$20) for project notes and sketches.

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My laptop is a 13” MacBook Pro Retina (starts at $1300), which I find to be a snappy computer with a great-looking screen and relatively small size and low weight. The sleeve I sewed from an old pants leg and some felt.

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Toiletries, sleep mask, water bottle: I keep all my grooming supplies in this little canvas dopp bag ($60 from Archival Clothing). Thankfully, I sleep pretty well on long flights, particularly with the aid of a good sleep mask. My favorite is this pair of Eye Shades with earplug pocket ($20 from Bucky). I like to have a refillable, insulated water bottle on hand to slake my thirst, this one is $35 from S’well.

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Staying so fresh and so clean: After a long flight, I like to freshen up before landing, so I carry all of this stuff on board. I basically take a standing bath in that tiny little lavatory, hence the need for the excellent MSR PackTowel medium personal towel with which to dry myself, $13 from REI. The rest is standard stuff – deodorant, hair cream, eye drops (important on airplanes), a solitary band-aid, Q-tips, cough drops, ear plugs (how’d I end up with three?), a tiny vial of North Atlantic from CB I Hate Perfume so that I can smell beguiling, and hand lotion. Plus, a small bottle of aromatic bitters for soothing the stomach and crafting in-flight toddies from hot water, honey, lemon, whiskey and bitters.

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iPad and travel documents: I carry an iPad mini ($269) for reading books, watching movies, and playing games on flights, as well as for ready access to documents at work. I built this little adjustable stand from an old webcam monitor mount, some lead sinkers (to give it weight), and some Sugru for grip. The document case is a repurposed car sun visor organizer.

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Papers please: In order to make travel, particularly international travel, as simple as possible, I keep everything for passage, customs, boarding, and the like in one place. In the document case I carry my passport, tickets, itinerary, immunization records, airline and hotel membership cards, spare arrival card forms, and any local currency I’ve accumulated or exchanged. Plus, an extra pen.

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Strap, rope, keys: Tucked in the rear patch pocket is the bag’s shoulder strap (when not in use), a length of 550 parachute cord, and my keys, which I attach to the bag’s key clip/lanyard so I can find them when I return home. The paracord ($7 for 100’)  is good to have in many of situations, but mostly because without it, my sweet grappling hook is of greatly reduced utility.

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That’s pretty much my whole kit + kaboodle. Not pictured here: for longer trips I tear off and pack a few pages of the NYT Crossword Puzzle page-a-day calendar (~$10 for 365 puzzles), a pack of Sugru for repairs, as well as a good, dense magazine, such as Monocle. Hope you enjoyed peering inside. What would you offload or swap out? Please add your comments and suggestions below.

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

What’s in My Bag? Steve Hoefer



(Click on images to embiggen) I work pretty much anywhere I can find a table, but I hate lugging a big heavy bag around. On a good day I’ll walk a few miles with it on my shoulder so I want something light and slim that makes the best use of space.

The bag:whats_in_my_bag-the_bagVictorinox Wainwright 15 Slim Laptop Brief: $168. It’s well made, slim, and has the right number and size of pockets. The back pocket can zip open at the bottom to slide over upright luggage handles.

But it isn’t quite perfect, so I made a few modifications:

  • Replaced the shoulder strap with the one from my previous favorite bag. The natural fiber is a bit more comfortable than the original nylon webbing, and it has swivels on each end so it never gets twisted.
  • It’s not a padded bag, which keeps the size and weight down, but I’ve knocked the corners off a few laptops when the bag hits the ground harder than intended. So I cut a double-thick strip of Neoprene to pad the inside bottom of the bag.
  • The zippers for the main compartment go all the way to the bottom. I found out that it can accidentally unzip completely, dumping my laptop on the ground. To prevent that I sewed a few loops of thread through the zipper halfway down the sides to limit its travel.



Kindle: $69 It’s the plain Kindle e-reader. It’s had a hard life but still works well. I do the majority of my reading on it. I keep it in the back slip pocket so I can pull it out whenever I want to fill unexpected downtime in a relaxing way.

Macbook Air 13″: $1140 It’s starting to show its age, but it still does everything I need, and the screen is the smallest that can handle tasks like video and image editing.

Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX: $47. I like the trackpad on my Mac but there are some things that are much faster with a mouse. This one is small but fits well in my hand. Rarely needs batteries and I can leave the Bluetooth off on my laptop, conserving its battery too.

Electronics support:


Assorted removable memory. I lose memory cards and thumb drives like nothing else, so I keep an assortment of cheap ones that won’t make me cringe when I lose them. Whatever I find on clearance or collect as swag.

Headphones. They work as a headset for my phone but 99% of the time I use them to block out shared workspace distractions, like that person at the next table talking loudly about their colonoscopy.

Tiny USB to iPhone adapter. In case my phone runs low of power. I bought this one in something of an emergency from an airport vending machine a few years ago. I don’t love it, it picks up dirt like crazy. But it works, so I haven’t replaced it.

Duckbill plug adapter. Most laptop power supplies come with a short cord with an 8-ball connector on one end and a wall plug on the other. This takes the place of that, so I can plug my power adapter right into the wall. I only use it when traveling so it stays in my bag.

Large microfiber cloth. Almost as useful as Douglas Adam’s towel. Good for keeping laptops, tablets, phones, glasses, and other things clean but comes in handy in many other situations too.



My favorite, affordable writing utensils are the Pilot G-2 0.5mm black pen ($13/doz.), the Industrial Fine Point Sharpie ($7/doz.), and the Paper Mate Clearpoint 0.5mm pencil ($34/doz.). They all work well and are cheap enough to buy by the dozen. The best feature of the pencil is the huge extendable eraser. I also cary replacement 3B pencil lead to make nice dark lines.

I also carry a small spiral notebook with perforated pages for writing down things I want to give to someone else. But for most of my writing and sketching I use Muji B5 30 page notebook ($25/5-pack). It also works as an emergency mousepad when my mouse has problems with my work surface.

Personal care:


Rohto Hydra eye drops ($34/2-pack). I have allergies and I live in the desert, so I use these quite a bit. I like Rohto drops because they work well, take up very little room in my bag, and the little dispenser is a joy to use.

Wet wipe ($28/gross). I don’t need it often, but when I do I’m glad to have it. It takes up almost no space so there’s no reason not to carry one.

Tissues. Mostly for unexpected allergies, but generally useful for all kinds of things.

Listerine Breath Strips ($16/doz.). Unlike most mints, breath strips don’t rattle in the bag.

Assorted Bandages. Something else I rarely need, but takes up so little space I might as well carry a few.

Burt’s Bees Ultra Conditioning Lip Balm ($3). It works well and doesn’t smell like much of anything. And it works as emergency mustache wax.

Travel size broad spectrum sunscreen. With the highest SPF number I can find.



Passport. I got used to carrying it everywhere when living overseas, and it’s occasionally useful to have an extra form of ID. Also another thing I lose if I don’t keep it in my bag.

Tiny box of robots. A dental floss case turned to miniature robot garage. It contains a trio of tiny vibrobots I built. Because one should always have fun traveling companions.

Stamps. Rarely used, but glad to have them when I need them.

-- Steve Hoefer  

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

What’s in My Bag? Kent Barnes

(Click on images to embiggen) I have a bag of bags approach. Small bags pre-loaded with stuff ready to go, and a big bag to carry the small ones. My big bag is a Mini Messenger bag from San Francisco’sRickshaw Bagworks. I customized it with a stealth reflective 8-bit skull. Here are my sub-bags: Apple Bag: This $1.50 bag from the Daiso ¥100 (100 yen) store in San Francisco is a great resource for all sorts on neat stuff. Almost every small bag I own is from Daiso. It contains:

Chow Bag: Yep, I carry my own utensils in a flashlight sheath. No flimsy little plastic toys for me. And yes, I love Chopsticks and think they are very elegant and will whip them out every meal instead of the landfill choice. (Cutting your food to size helps.) It contains:

Power Bag: This all fits in a small bag I forgot to show in the big photo.It is made from one 8 foot long zipper that zips together into a bag.

  • The Goal Zero will charge my iPhone to 100%, bonus it uses rechargeable AA batteries that are removable for other uses: $40
  • The very useful Power Practical Meter and Fast Charge Cable will even monitor your charging levels: $20
  • Brookstone Super Lite: $13
  • A tiny 3 mode selectable red LED flashlight, on, flashing, and flashing fast. Found at local flea market.
  • Spare 2032 coin cells for these both.


  • Credit-card sized USB Flash Drive swag that I dressed up with a Boing Boing Jackhammer Jill sticker. She is so cute!
  • The one and only “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” Blackwing 602: $23/12-pack
  • Soft cover spiral notebook – 5mm Square Ruled that I tastefully recovered to look like a Make Magazine mini Makers Notebook.
  • Facial tissues (can be used on both ends)
  • Cleaning tissues, for the iPhone and iPad screens: $9
  • Well, I do carry 4 Dice. Never know when a West Coast Ce-Lo game may come up. Yeah, I know, only 3 dice are needed, but it is nice to have choice’s in life. [Review here
  • Real Artistic License on C.I.A Retractable Badge Reel ( found at Flea Market)
  • Small business cards printed on 3’x5′ recipe card stock and cut to size.
  • Fingernail clippers and that thick alcohol stuff to wipe and your hands and sanitize to surgery room cleanliness.
  • First aid kit and pill safe.
  • Starbucks VIA instant coffee. That you can mix into any liquid hot or cold, really! $31/50-pack
  • iPad mini with its magnetic cover that magically turns it off.
  • iPhone 5s (is the v6 here yet?)
  • A ripstop nylon shopping bag.

You really should see my mini tool bag, photo bag, camping kitchen bag, bag of shopping bags, bag o….I need a new bag.

-- Kent Barnes  

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Outlets To Go Power Strip

Monster’s Outlets To Go power strip is the most useful many-purpose accessory I’ve ever thrown into a bag and plugged into a wall. Or a floor. It’s a light and compact four-outlet power strip with a short cord that wraps around it and plugs into one of the four outlets. It’s smaller than most remote controls and weighs remarkably little. And, while I believe it’s rated only for 110-volt outlets, I’ve used it with 220-volt ones in Europe and elsewhere.

I’m writing about it now because my last one, after many years of heavy use, finally failed. Monster still makes the things. The list price is about $20, but I’ve seen it for half of that. I also see that Fry’s has a 3-outlet version for about $20 on its website. But get the four-outlet one.


-- Doc Searls  

[The orange adapter above is my cheapskate alternative to the power-strip. It's $3 on Amazon as an add-on item - Mark ]

Monster To Go 4 Outlet Travel Power Strip

Available from Amazon

What’s in My Bag? – Christopher Michel

Full kit
Flight ETE 5 hours, 45 minutes.  You’ve been there – the BOS to SF flight that never ends.

In the past 10 years, I’ve been on a really long flight about once a week.

Probably like you, I’ve had my fair share of air travel nightmares — usually involving an assault on one of my senses that goes on and on… and on.

From screaming children to lost passports to Montezuma’s revenge, I’ve experienced it all. I’ve also had incredibly productive, serene and, even fun, flights.

With all this time at 30,000 feet, it can’t be a surprise that I’m on the constant lookout for any tool to help me make the most of my time at altitude. I’ve tried, rejected, and optimized a huge number of gadgets and systems over the years.

Although a work in progress, I’m happy to share those things that work for me — so here’s the “What’s In My Bag — Inflight Edition.” Let me first say what this isn’t.  This isn’t my full carry-on bag, which might have clothing, a dopp kit, camera gear, etc. This is the small bag that joins me as I squeeze into seat 23F. It’s also not the same every time (e.g. the journal is often the item most left behind on short business trips or a MacBook Air is brought along).

My constraints are that the bag has to be small enough to fit in the seat pocket or next to the armrest. It’s also limited to what the TSA allows, so, unfortunately, no pocketknives or clever multi-tools. So a small bag.

I found the optimal bag accidentally. The bag was waiting for me on my seat on an upgraded American Airlines flight to Europe. It’s their amenity kit. It’s a neoprene iPad classic case repurposed it to hold all those small items that I previously carried-on individually. Before the bag, my pockets were often stuffed with stuff — and I was always fearful that I’d forget something on the plane, which I often did.

The most important tool in my bag are headphones. Getting rest on a plane is absolutely essential. I used to watch with dread and guilt as families with babies squeezed down the aisle toward my row. Babies cry on planes — and some don’t just cry, they wail! I can’t blame them — flying is hard. But, it doesn’t make it any easier for the rest of us. The only defense in these situations is good headphones. You might as well leave your Apple earbuds at home — they don’t even come close to helping.

Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones: $279

So, like most frequent travelers, I upgraded to noise canceling headphones. The Bose Quiet Comfort were my first foray into noise canceling. They did a good job, but were bulky and only somewhat effective. A nearby unhappy child or talkative passenger would frequently overwhelm the technology.

After some time, I discovered the benefits of in-ear headphones, like those made by Shure technologies. Small, expensive and effective at blocking sound — they don’t use active noise canceling; instead, they simply seal the ear canal. I used them for years, but they would irritate my ears after 5+ hours. After some research, I upgraded the Shure’s to the slim-fit Klipsch X11i Earbuds. They work, and I still recommend them.

About a year ago, a friend suggested I try Bose’s newish in-ear noise canceling earbuds.  Not being able to resist a new piece of tech, I bought a pair and became an immediate convert. They are the quietest, most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn.

The only downside is that you’re likely to miss service (or “brace for impact” order) as you float unaware in your bubble of bliss. Unlike Shure or Klipsch, these headphones require that you charge the battery pack (with the MicroUSB cable). A charge lasts about 16 hours. They also have some neat in-chord features like noise canceling pause and volume controls.

eye mask
Dream Essentials Escape Luxury Sleep Mask: $20

Yes, I look like an idiot wearing an eye mask during the day, but I don’t care! They feel great and cut out all light. The crucial thing to look for in a sleep mask are eye pockets — standard eye masks press uncomfortably against the eyes. My two favorites are both by Dream Essentials — the Escape Luxury mask or their Contoured Sleep Mask.

Han Kjøbenhavn Sunglasses: $145

Rolex GMT Master Date: $5,000 and up

Fisher Space Bullet Space Pen (Matte Black): $16

Uni-Ball Jetstream Pen: 3 for $8.49
 (Reviewed on Cool Tools here)
Bellroy’s Very Small Wallet: $60

Before boarding, I empty out my pockets and put everything away. Wallet, keys, sunglasses, pens, etc all get safety stowed in “the bag.” I really like small wallets and am partial to the Bellroy Very Small Wallet. It holds a stack of credit cards, business cards (Moo photo cards), and cash — and zips up into a tiny package. The Han Kjøbenhavn Sunglasses sunglasses also get stashed. They are stylish and functional, sporting Zeiss glass.

Although almost everything goes in the bag, one thing comes out, my watch — which I set for the time zone of my destination. This 1970’s Rolex GMT simply works — and the second time zone hand helps me easily keep track of the time back home. A less expensive but really great timepiece alternative is the $318 Casio ProTrek PRW-3000B.

Being without a pen on a flight is a problem. There is always something to write, fill-out, etc. I actually pack 3. Two are everyday pens, the uni-ball Jetstream and the bullet space pen. The uni-ball is inexpensive and works as well as pens costing much more.

Journal & Pen
Pilot Capless Fermo Fountain Pen: $184
Cavallini Roma Lussa Journals: $87

The plane is a fabulous place to get caught up on journaling. I really like the Cavallini Roma Lussa leather journal. It pairs perfectly with the Pilot Fermo retractable fountain pen. The Fermo writes with breathtaking beauty and is such a joy to use.

Global Entry Program: $100

Well, you might be saying, “Why a passport?” Well, it’s not an ordinary passport.  It’s been enrolled in the U.S. Customs Global Entry program. Global Entry not only allows fast access through U.S. custom lines, it also works to supercharge enrollment in the TSA Pre-Check program. Pre-Check enables fast lane access (and no shoe or computer removal) in domestic security lines. The combination of these two benefits has saved me countless hours of waiting in line.

Emergency Meds

Once on a flight back from Peru, I awoke to either 1) stomach flu or 2) food poisoning.  Let’s just say it was an explosive situation, and I couldn’t have felt worse. It was absolutely horrible. I wasn’t prepared with in-flight meds to deal with it and vowed never be caught again with my pants down, so to speak. Don’t give me that look — it’s happened to almost everyone! Be prepared or don’t risk the fish entrée.

So, that little container of “Airborne” actually contains no Airborne. It holds packets of Immodium, Advil, and Cipro. I also carry Melatonin, Purell, Visine, and lip balm.  Depending on the length of the flight, I might also include a toothbrush, toothpaste, and hand lotion.

anker power
Anker Astro E5 15000mAh Dual USB Portable Charger: $50

Kensington International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter: $13

I carry an Ipad Mini. Although I prefer to read on the Kindle, the iPad is more versatile — movies, books, work, etc. Power for my iPhone & iPad can be an issue, so I bring along the Anker Astro E5 USB charging device and cables (Apple charging cable, USB plug, and MicroUSB for camera & headphone charging). For international  travel, I’ll also pack the Kensington travel plug adapter.

Sony DSC-RX100M II Cyber-shot: $698
MegaGear “Ever Ready” Protective Case:$30

As a photographer, I feel naked without a camera. So, I generally keep the Sony’s RX100 II in my bag. I’ve captured some pretty incredible aerial pictures with it. The RX100 III was recently announced and includes a retractable electronic viewfinder  The leather case by MegaGear is really beautiful and shockingly inexpensive.

Petzl Tikka 2 Plus Headlamp: $40

Finally, I travel with a Petzl headlamp. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it in-flight. I remember landing in Myanmar and not being able to find my passport – that’s a special kind of stress. I looked everywhere and embarrassingly asked the flight attendant for help (it was obviously with me when I boarded). No luck. In desperation, I pulled out the headlamp and looked into the seat mechanism. Sure enough, it was stuck deep inside the seat. I would never have found it without the light. I’ve also thought it might not be a bad thing to have in the event of a more serious emergency.

The American Airlines iPad Amenity Kit (full): Similar Cases

You can almost get all of this in that little bag — it’s probably the journal or the camera. If it’s real travel, the camera goes in the overhead with the other stuff. Everything else fits.

Bag in hand, I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the flight. As the Buddha said, “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.” Good thing, as we’ve only got another 5 hours to go…

Christopher Michel is a photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. He’s photographed some of the world’s most unusual places and people, from the South Pole to the edge of space aboard a U-2 Spy Plane. His photographs can be found online at www.ChristopherMichel.com or at @chrismichel.

-- Christopher Michel  

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

What’s in My Bag? – Mark Frauenfelder


What do you bring along when you leave your house? What do you bring when you fly? What do you take with you on hikes?

I’m always curious about the things people bring with them when they travel, whether they are going out for an afternoon or leaving the country for months. I suspect Cool Tools readers have more interesting things than other people do. We’d like you to share your photos and stories about the things in your bag. To get the ball rolling, I’ll start with the stuff I take with me when I fly. (Click any image to zoom in.)


Personal items: an Altoids mint gum tin filled with Zyrtec, Sudafed, Motrin, and a cough drop (blue tape is to keep it closed). Chapstick (my lips get dry when I travel, every time). Nailclipper (hangnails drive me berserk). Styptic pencil (because for some reason I cut myself shaving much more frequently when I’m away from home).


Amazon Basics Electronics Travel Case: $14. Reviewed on Cool Tools here. This small case holds everything in the photo except my laptop, umbrella, and ChicoBag.


Super Talent 16 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive: $14. I got a 4GB version a few years ago and since then the price has dropped to the point where the 16GB is less than what I paid for mine. This holds my Keynote presentations in every file format imaginable. It’s tiny, and I keep in it one of the little zipper compartments of the Amazon case.


Compact umbrella and ChicoBag: I was in Paris last year and it started raining while we were waiting in line for a museum to open. A man with a cardboard box filled with small umbrella materialized, and sold them all for five euros each. I still have the one I bought. (I actually  keep it in my carry on luggage, but I wanted to include it in this list because I bring it with me on every trip I take.) I can almost hide the nylon ChicoBag ($17.50 for a four pack) in my fist, but it opens to 18×14.5 inches. Great for groceries, carrying my computer, or the beach.


USB Charger and USB cables: The PowerGen White Dual USB Wall Charger ($11) has a 2.4 Amp outlet that charges phones and tablets fast. The BlueLounge Kii ($20) is a keychain USB charger for iPhones and iPads.


Playing cards and card manipulation book: It’s ridiculous that this miniature edition of S.W. Erdnase’s classic book on card manipulation is selling for $200 on Amazon. You can buy the (admittedly uglier) Dover edition for $9. This book, along with a deck of cards, will keep me busy for hours on a flight as I practice different kinds of cuts, shuffles, and double lifts.


Snacks: I don’t like airplane food. I’ll either fast or bring along a bag of macadamia nuts (lots of omega-3 oil) and a few Epic Gluten Free Grass Fed Bison Bacon and Cranberry Bars ($40 for 12).


11.6-inch MacBook Air: Some people manage to get by with a tablet when they are on the road, but I need a real computer. The 11.6-inch MacBook Air ($860) has everything I need. I keep it in a STM neoprene Glove ($30). I also bring a USB Ethernet adapter (for hotel Internet because WiFi in hotel rooms is usually slow) and a VGA adapter (I put my email address on it so I can get it back if I forget it). The charger cable is shielded with split loom tubing ($12 for 100 feet) so my cats won’t bite it. See the Cool Tools review here.


Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation: This 6000mAh USB charging unit  ($88) keeps my devices running for days without having access to an AC outlet. In the comments of my Cool Tools review, many readers suggested less expensive and more capacious chargers. Try them and report back!


iPhone 5s and Mophie Space Pack: This case ($160) is a combination battery pack, protective case, and 32GB storage device. You can load it with movies and leave plenty of room to take photos and shoot video.reading

Reading material: A small paperback book, a Kindle Paperwhite ($119 for the version that displays offers from Amazon when you are not using it — and the offers are often good). I picked up the reading glasses in Little Tokyo (Los Angeles) for a few bucks.

OK, now it’s your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

[This is out of stock on Amazon. I can’t find another source for this particular battery. If you know where to get them, please post in the comments. — Mark]

I’ve been a road warrior for years now, and have gone through over a dozen different Portable USB batteries – they have all either broken (Looking at you, fancy LiPoly chargers!), I’ve lost them, or I outgrew their capacity.

Capacity is the name of the game with this little device! While it is heavy, weighing in at 247 grams (Slightly over a half pound), it packs in every feature that a road warrior would need:

* 8800mAH capacity
* 2 standard USB ports, one outputting at 5V-2A
* Charges via a standard micro-USB cable
* Simple On/Off
* A ring of LEDs around the power button show capacity remaining (Both charging and discharging)
* Comes with a handful of different adapters, though they aren’t needed

I picked it up at a local Microcenter for less than $20, thinking it would be trash — but it’s survived dozens of drops, hundreds of charge/discharge cycles, water, mud and more than enough to have me come to depend on this little guy!

The best part is the 5V – 2Amp output – this allows most devices to enter a fast charge state, which is noticeably quicker than with a standard socket.

On a recent 6-hour flight, I kept both my Android phone and my power hungry Nexus 7 plugged into it. I played games, listened to music, or watched movies the entire time on the Nexus and when we landed both devices were at 100% AND the little USB battery was still at 75%.

In fact, I have yet to drain it beyond 50%, and that includes a 12-hour day of Geocaching with my phone’s GPS on and the screen fully awake.

It also holds a charge for a long long time — I’ve left it alone for 6 months, only to come back and see it’s still at almost a full charge.

If I had an gripe with it at all, it’s that it lacks an attachment point, which is corrected with some epoxy and a trip to the hardware store.

-- Jeremy D Pavleck  

Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

Available from Amazon

Calslock Portable Door Lock

I have owned this tool for approximately two years. It manually locks an inward opening door. Ideal for travelling, students or anywhere that you would want privacy and security and there is likely to be multiple copies of the door key in circulation. I am on the road most weeks and have been walked in on in several hotel rooms by people with duplicate keys. I did some research and came across portable door locks.
It will not stop a determined attacker, but that is not what it is made for. It stops someone sneaking into your room using a duplicate key or bypassing the lock. A lot of hotel rooms have security chains, but there are videos on the web showing how these can easily be defeated. It also works on doors with no locks, aslong as there is a recess in the door jam where the door catch fits you can use it.

I originally had a similar one to this that I lost. When I went to replace it they had stopped production. I tried having tried several other designs but was never happy, then came across the Calslock one. At the time I purchased they only appeared to be sold on eBay, which worried me, but having purchased one there was very good service and it is an excellent product. (Still on eBay and cheaper than their home page!)

What makes this a cool tool compared to other portable door locks is a combination of things:

– It is a very good design, slim enough to fit doors that have a very tight fit.
– Easy to operate quickly if you need to get out in an emergency.
– Very adjustable from the thinnest cheapest door to thick heavy fire doors, I have yet to come across a door that is outside it’s adjustment range.
– It is very simple, only two large parts so no small fiddly bits to lose or to go wrong.
– Finally it is cheap, only $9.95, including free postage in USA on eBay or $12.95 direct.
I have no affiliation with Calslock, but whole heartedly recommend their product.

-- Graham Simpson  

Calslock Portable Door Lock

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Calslock

Totes Compact Umbrella

When I got back from a trip to Europe, the one thing I felt I needed more than anything, was a good sturdy umbrella. After much research I found this small Totes umbrella. In my past experience, most small collapsible umbrellas were utter garbage. This is simply not the case here. I have had this thing for about 2 years now. I bring it with me any time there is rain in the forecast.

It’s slightly larger than most collapsible umbrellas (about 14 inches long when collapsed). The handle feels strong and sturdy in hand. It’s comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The auto open and close button works brilliantly and opens with strong force. When open, it is a full “golf size” umbrella, able to easily fit two people underneath. In the wind, there is a magical springiness to it that keeps it from being unwieldy. I’ve had absolutely no issues in heavy wind.

-- Sam Rosenblum  

Totes Golf-Size Auto Open Auto Close Compact Umbrella

Available from Amazon

Vapur Collapsible Water Bottle

One of the problems with water bottles is their bulkiness, especially when empty. The Vapur water bottle collapses and rolls up into a tiny package about the size of a change purse. It’s BPA free and dishwasher-safe. It weighs about 1 oz, you can fill it with water and freeze it. There’s a carabiner on it so you can attach it to stuff to carry it. Capacities range from 0.4 liter to 1 liter-sized bottles. The manufacturer sells replacement caps and carabiners, and a new kind of bottle with whose flip-top cap has a built-in carabiner (I do not have personal experience with, but looks like an improvement on the older style). There’s even a variety with a built-in filter for outdoor use. I’ve had a couple of these for about a year and it’s become my gym bottle of choice.

-- Amy Thomson  

Vapur half-liter water bottle

Available from Amazon