What’s in my bag? – Dean Putney

Dean Putney is a software developer, photographer and Internet superhero. He recently published a book of his great-grandfather’s photos from World War I


I recently completed an extensive search for a new bag. The goals were to provide space for my work items (laptop, etc), easy access to camera equipment with a quick shoulder sling, and a compact design for riding my motorcycle.

The solution was the Chrome Niko Pack. This bag has two spaces: one at the top for my work items and laptop, and one at the bottom with a side zipper for camera equipment. The velcro straps on the back make a great spot to attach a tripod.

Here’s what’s in my bag on a regular basis:

Bottom half:

Strapped on the outside:

In the top compartment:


[Cool Tools Readers! We will pay you $100 if we run your "What's in My Bag" story. 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. See all of our What's in my Bag? posts. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

What’s in My Bag? – Ryan Holiday

I travel a lot. For work mostly. But I love it because I get a lot of work done on the road. Whether it’s reading books, or writing or catching up on email, I tend to have bursts of productivity while I am traveling and then I get to enjoy myself on the trip. This is the bag I take as my under-the-seat carry on (never check bags! It’s a rookie mistake). It has everything I need to stay busy no matter how long the flight (most recently the 20 hours back from Sydney to Austin).

Most recently I was on the road for my third book, The Obstacle Is The Way, which came out with Penguin in May. I also run my marketing company, Brass Check, and am the Director of Marketing at American Apparel. As if I wasn’t busy enough I’m also an editor at large at the New York Observer/Betabeat.com and I write for my own site and Thought Catalog.

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Writing Materials: To research for my books, I always bring 4×6 ruled index cards with me wherever I go. It’s where I jot down notes or sayings that I might want to use down the line. I also carry this Sony digital voice recorder ($55) for interviews.


Travel Documents: For international travel, the right documents matter. I have my passport and of course, my Global Entry card (which is worth every penny). It lets me skip lines with pre-check domestically and breeze through customs when I’m entering the country. Customs in other countries are usually no sweat, but anyone entering the US through JFK knows how long the line can be. This is where Global Entry saves a lot of time. I also carry business cards for my gig at the New York Observer and my marketing company Brass Check.

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Books: Only physical books for me. On this trip, I read Emerson’s Representative Men, The Gods of Olympus (which my UK publisher gave me in London the week before) and I just got an early copy of Zack Greenberg’s bio of Michael Jackson’s music empire. I always try to keep a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (this copy is 8 years old and filled with notes). I also have a copy of my new book, The Obstacle Is The Way, in case I need to give one to someone. I usually keep a few other books in my suitcase as well. In the middle is my Moleskine in case I need to take notes in a meeting.



Electronics: I carry a MacBook Air ($950) with a black plastic case. My phone is an iPhone 5 with a Mophie battery case ($80). With my phone, I use the Phillips Sweat-proof headphones ($20) with a mic and with my iPod Shuffle ($69) I use the same headphone sans mic. This way I can go for a run with either. The respective chargers for all the devices are in the bag as well.


Eyewear: Some polarized Ray Ban glasses ($106) (which I found randomly a few months back believe it or not). And Speedo goggles ($16). I try to swim in every place I go. The rock pools in Australia are maybe the coolest pools in the world…though Barton Springs near my house in Austin is amazing too.


Medicine: If you travel a lot, especially for speaking, you get sick. I carry Dayquil, Pepto pills, Advil, and Emergen-C. I also carry Zzzquil in case I have trouble sleeping. 5 Hour Energy is my caffeine substitute (I don’t do coffee or soda anymore). Who doesn’t love dessert gum? It takes like ice cream! Also Arm & Hammer deodorant — has fewer chemicals than most but actually works unlike Toms.


Dog: I wish I could bring the dachshund, Ms. Hanno. Unfortunately most places I cannot. But I wish. She’s good in the backpack though.

-- Ryan Holiday  

[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. See all of our What's in my Bag? posts. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

What’s in my bag? – Laura Welcher

By training, I’m a linguist. I’m fascinated by systems, especially complex yet economical ones — like human language — that elegantly solve problems. To feed my inner geek, I look for tricky aspects of daily life that can be improved by the development of such systems, and then put the system together with just what is needed to make it all work just right. And then let it run, with minimal input, like clockwork.

Several years ago I was faced with such an problem by the introduction an extremely annoying 3-hour-a-day commute. Liking my job a lot, but hating being sedentary and stuck in traffic for hours at a time, I decided to ditch the car and become a bike commuter.

However, my particular commute (in the San Francisco Bay Area) presents several challenges. Part of my ride involves either riding BART or taking a bus across the Bay Bridge. This means quickly donning and doffing a bike bag in order to be able to carry the bike up and down BART stairs, through fare gates, being able to maneuver on trains without rolling over packages, paws, or feet, and being able to load the bike on and off the rack on the outside front of the Transbay Bus. Fellow public transit takers are not appreciative of cyclists who are slow or clumsy at doing any of this.

After trying out many commuter bags, some too big and some too small, I think I have found one that is just right. The Ballard Market Pannier ($80) by Detours converts in a flash from a pannier to a backpack, so that you can quickly secure it on your back and carry your bike. It also converts to a long-handled tote bag so you can travel as an incognito bike commuter as needed. The pack is rugged, the base is waterproof, there are internal straps and clips to secure a laptop and keys, and there is a cover you can whip out in wet weather to keep everything inside clean and dry. It fits on both my standard hybrid commute bike, as well as my folding Dahon Vitesse bike ($530-$750) shown here.

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And now for what is inside. One basic challenge that most bike commuters have is the need to be able to transition from casual bike commuter wear (which San Francisco workplaces are generally tolerant of), to “event-wear” for special activities or meetings at work, where one attempts to banish the sweat and bike helmet-hair for a look that is a bit more polished and put-together. I am no exception to this.

Besides carrying a change of clothing, my secret weapon is this small mesh bag with all of the essential elements to produce the transformation. They allow it to be accomplished anywhere from a seat in the back of the bus, to a work desktop, to the least equipped of public bathrooms. Also stashed in this bag are a variety of necessities including basic tools, toiletries, and first aid to handle most minor commute and workday emergencies.

This bag also includes a small Altoids tin that neatly packs in the smallest (and somewhat sensitive) health and beauty items. I keep it closed with a hair elastic.

Another challenge that I have to deal with is the need to take a shot. I’m supposed to take it every day, ideally at the same time each day. The only time I can manage to be consistent about it is around 10 am, so I usually carry the shot bag with me. Afterwards the shot site can hurt like heck so it is really better to do after the bike ride when it can be iced for a bit. I wanted to show this picture because I figure a lot of people have to deal with something like it, and to show that it can be dealt with. (My shot is for M.S. but it is more common challenge for diabetics.) Not fun and not fair, but having to take a shot doesn’t need to keep you off your bike if that’s what you want to do. And, managing it well within my larger bike commute system adds a touch of elegance to my solution, imho.

  • BD Safe-Clip ($3) needle-nipper. A fantastic and inexpensive device — it safely removes and stores hundreds of needles as biohazard waste; the rest of the syringe materials can go into regular recycling. Disposing of used syringes was a huge pain until I figured this out.
  • Copaxone — a treatment for M.S. and quite possibly the reason I can still bike (and work and walk and run) today. I usually keep several syringes in the bag so I don’t have to restock every day.
  • Autoject ($34) — mechanical injection tool that hides the needle (a big help for the needle-phobic) and for those hard-to-reach injection sites.
  • Prescription and doctor contact info, 1-800 number for advice.
  • Individual alcohol prep pads ($5/200) — turns out these are also incredibly useful for cleaning all kinds of things, but especially grungy mobile phones and computer keyboards.

The next system of gear I carry in my bag is part fun, part communications experiment (nerdy linguist fun), and part civic service in a location where a major earthquake could happen at any moment. This set of stuff is my portable amateur radio gear. Using this radio, I can talk point-to-point with other radio users, hop on one of the several local volunteer-maintained repeaters, and in an emergency (when cell networks often go down), join or run an alternate communications network and pass emergency messages using established and well-known protocols. I often practice on Tuesdays with a radio net that convenes on a local repeater after the San Francisco emergency sirens are tested.

  • Yaesu VX-8DR HT Radio ($492)
  • AC charger, earphone mic, charged extra LI-ON battery. Another good practice is to carry an alkaline battery case and spare batteries and / or a cigarette lighter plug ($28). These aren’t in my current kit but probably should be, because they extend use of the radio in an emergency. Without recharging, I can currently get about 8 continuous hours of use in receive mode, but considerably less if I need to a lot of transmitting.
  • Nifty Mini-Manual — laminated quick guide to the VX-8DR for reading on the BART / bus or looking up a function (this particular radio has lots of functions, and many involve multiple key-push combinations).
  • Diamond SRH519 ($23) flexible antenna which so far has held up to a lot of abuse in my bag and allows the radio to be comfortably carried, either clipped on the bag or on the belt / waistline. I’ve also used the Diamond SRHF40 flexible antenna with good results.

A more recent gear / bag challenge I had involved maintaining a training schedule this past spring to complete my first marathon. On an event day at work, this could mean biking to work in the morning, working a regular day, heading out from work to complete a 5 – 8 mile run, returning to work to get ready for an event (and cleaning up sans shower), working the event, getting back into commute gear, and then biking home. Now that the marathon is done, I want to keep up my endurance and training level to run more of them. So, the stuff I carry with me needs to support days like this.

The workday essentials (ok, I admit the wallet and key ring need a bit of editing)…

And last, but not least — the gear to support the commute itself. I keep the SF Bike map because of its paper charm, also because I like to look at it while riding BART or the bus (such a pretty system!). It folds down to wallet size. I show the various cards here (some are normally in my wallet) because they demonstrate whole other systems of infrastructure that operate in the background to efficiently maintain my ability to bike commute — Clipper Card to quickly pay transit fares, Commuter Check card to quickly restock the Clipper Card with pre-tax dollars, BikeLink card to lock my bike in safe locker storage at most transit stations, and a ZipCar membership to rent a ride share during the workday if need be (for example, to pick someone up or haul stuff). And of course, my card to show I’m a proud member of the San Francisco Bike Coalition!

Btw, this is my summer bike kit; the winter kit is much more involved because of the rain gear. I consider one of the greatest and most delightful challenges to my system to be the ability to maintain comfort, safety and visibility as well as dryness for self and gear during a San Francisco downpour!


What’s in My Bag? – James Altucher

James Altucher is an entrepreneur, chess master, investor, and writer. His writing has appeared in major national media outlets and his blog has attracted more than 10 million readers since its launch in 2010. His latest book is called The Choose Yourself Stories.

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I don’t like to carry bags just in case I need my hands quickly for hand-to-hand combat or very quick mountain climbing.

When lives are at stake I don’t like to take chances.

Which is why I have found a 600% increase in my productivity by wearing a doctor’s lab coat including the items I put in the pockets of the lab coat.

Doctor’s coat. I wear a doctor’s lab coat whenever I’m outside the house and often when I’m inside. Like in airports, restaurants, walking around town.

The reason?

  1. It’s comfortable. Good for all weather. You can get one cheap on the “World Wide Web.” (“Triple dub” for those in the biz.)
  2. The big pockets let me put any electronic devices I might need (an iPad mini, for example, plus waiter’s pads <see below>)
  3. People actually do treat me like a doctor. If someone said, “I need a doctor” I would not be able to help unless it’s easy stuff in which case I can say, “I’m not a doctor” and then perform CPR or mouth-to-mouth or Heimlich, which are all easy to learn. But 99.9% requests for a doctor are usually things where you can just give placebic information and say “You’ll be OK” (I picture myself as Mathew Fox from the TV show Lost while I say it since it often worked for him on the show). But the reality is, people move out of the way if you are an airport and walking around in a doctor’s coat. Is this unfair? Well, I never claim to be a doctor. I’m just wearing a doctor’s coat because I like how it feels, looks, and the functionality of it. But if it has other benefits, which it does, I’ll take it.

What I carry in my doctor’s coat

As mentioned, a doctor’s coat has huge pockets. If I wanted to, the largest thing I can probably carry in a doctor’s coat is a baseball glove for a really huge hand. But I don’t need that. I don’t even play baseball.

Here’s what I need and what I think has helped me and even saved my life on numerous occasion. I have a new phrase to describe these types of items that are in my coat. I call them “Life” “Hacks”. Feel free to use that phrase since I don’t think I will trademark it.


$2 bills. I have thousands of $2 bills. I always tip with $2 bills. How come? Because then people remember me. They always say, “Whoah! I’ve never had one.” Sometimes they don’t know where to put the $2 bill in the cash register. There’s no slot for one. They might call over the manager. Everyone might say “What’s happening over there?” This is a side effect of the $2 bill. But the next time I come into an establishment, I’m remembered. This is good for restaurants, dates, poker night with friends, even for paying at the local deli.

I find whenever I move to a new town this is a quick way to make friends. I’m very shy and this gets people talking. This has been also very good on dates. Nobody ever forgets the guy with a roll of $2 bills.

How do you get 1000 $2 bills? Simple. Go to the bank, they order it from the Federal Reserve, it takes about 5 days and then they call you up and give you your money. By the way, then the bank never forgets you either.

Everytime I’ve ever moved since 1986 I’ve used this trick and it works. Quickly everyone remembers who I am.

I’ve even tried writing notes to waitresses on the $2 bills, complete with my phone number. This trick HAS NOT worked for me.

However, one trick for dates. Have a roll of $2 bills. Then have a single $100 bill on the outside. Pay the bill with the $100 bill, then from the back, tip with the $2 bills.

I hate to say it, but that trick works.


Waiter’s pads. I have about 300 waiter’s pads. I order them for about 10 cents a pad in bulk on restaurant supplies websites.

How come?

  1. I like to write ideas on pads. I write down at least 10 ideas a day. The idea muscle is a muscle like any other. If it’s not exercised, it atrophies. If it’s exercised then within six months you’re an idea machine. Try it. It’s amazing what happens. Don’t keep track of the ideas. Just become an idea machine.
  2. Why a pad? A screen messes with your dopamine levels. I like the visceral experience of putting pen to pad.
  3. Why 10 ideas? Four or five ideas on any theme is easy. It’s the final five or six that makes the brain sweat. This is how you exercise the idea muscle.
  4. Why specifically a waiter’s pad?
  • It forces you to be concise. A waiter’s pad is small lines. You can’t write a novel there.
  • It’s a great conversation piece in meetings. Once I pull out the waiter’s pad someone always says, “I’ll take fries with my burger” and everyone laughs. Again, I’m shy so it’s a good way for me to break the ice.
  • In restaurants, when you pull out a waiter’s pad, guess what? Waiters treat you better.
  • Many waiter’s pads have the shapes of tables at the top of each page. I’m bad with names so if I’m at a meeting I pick the table that matches the one I am at and I write the names of the people around the table.
  • Most people at meetings have their expensive leather pads. I paid 10 cents for my pad. I come across as frugal when I use a waiter’s pad.
  • The other day in a cafe I was working and someone potentially violent came up and asked me for money. I held up my waiter’s pad and said, “I’m a waiter, do you want to order something?” and they sort of looked at me and grunted and then walked away.


iPad MiniThe iPad mini covers my entire computing needs except in mornings when I’m writing.

I don’t really use the iPad Mini to do anything serious. When I’m outside there’s almost no reason for me to check email or social media. And I NEVER read news.

You are what you eat. And when you ingest media, it usually can’t be digested properly by the brain. (Although I read Boing Boing and jamesaltucher.com or a good book.)

BUT… the most important thing I do with my iPad Mini and the one thing which has helped me in a million situations is….

I watch standup comedy before every meeting, date, dinner, media appearance, conversation, public talk.

I watch Louis CK, Daniel Tosh, Anthony Jeselnik, Jim Norton, Andy Samberg, Seth Rogen, Marina Franklin, Ellen, Bo Burnham, and maybe a dozen others.

How come?

I have a lot of inhibitions when I meet people. I’m scared and somewhat introverted. Standup comedians are the best public speakers in the world and I think they are the most astute social commentators on the human condition.

So the reasons I watch them before most social encounters (personal, professional, media)

  1. It gives me a boost of energy. My “mirror neurons” are going to feed off of their boost of energy for at least 1-3 hours after I watch them.
  2. It gives me material. I won’t steal from a comedian. But the reality is: good artists plagiarize, great artists steal. And at the very least, I often improvise based on material I heard a comedian said. I’m not competing with them. I’m just on a date. Or a business meeeting.
  3. Studying the subtleties of how comedians get laughs: their timing, their voices, their silences, the way they look at the audience, the way they move across the stage, the way they benefits from the comedians who came before them, AND their actual commentary about life, helps me in my many interactions with people.

What I don’t carry in my doctor’s coat? A phone. I never talk on the phone. I have a hard time hearing people on the phone and then I don’t know what to say to them and feel very awkward. Plus, not carrying a phone helps me avoid email, etc.

All of the above may make it seem like I’m a loser in many respects. I don’t deny this. These are like crutches to me to help me survive in a world that’s increasingly hard to process.

But they work.

[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? – 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.)

John Park bag01

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