- Buyer's Guide
Fly Prepared: Travel-Friendly EDC Gear
I travel quite a bit for work. Not as much as some but certainly more than most. My air travel can range from overnight trips with only three-hour flights to ten-day trips where each leg requires more than twenty hours in the air. In addition to gaining frequent flyer status and an advanced awareness of airplane lavatories, another ancillary benefit is an appreciation for high-quality gear. More specifically, an appreciation for solid kit that punches above its weight class and provides a significant return on investment.
Travel forces you to identify and analyze what items you find important and separate nice-to-have kit from necessities. It’s an exercise in critical decision-making about what you carry and for what reason you carry it.
When determining if I should invest in a piece of gear, I look at it through three primary filters: quality vs cost (can I depend on it and at the price point is it worth it?), functionality (does it execute well in its designated function(s)? And bonus points for items with multiple use cases), and usefulness (does it expand my capabilities in a meaningful way?).
Essentially, these filters become exponentially more important when you travel and are potentially far from home. Additionally, it’s prudent to choose items that have a relatively travel-friendly form factor. The inherent challenge here is ensuring what you choose to forgo in size and weight doesn’t commensurately reduce functionality and effectiveness.
The intention of this article is to highlight gear that checks these boxes. Every item referenced is something I have personally carried for literally thousands of miles and have used extensively. While there are some fantastic in-depth reviews on Carryology, including some of the items I’ll profile here, this will be more of a high level carry collective viewed through the lens of travel.
For this maiden voyage, I am profiling items from multiple companies. However, after taking inventory of my current go-to travel items, it became immediately apparent that one company had a larger presence than the rest. Ever since Patrick Ma and Chris Whitney launched Prometheus Design Werx (PDW) they have been creating and producing top-tier goods for the tactical and EDC community.
Beyond Ma’s legendary reputation, what initially drew me to PDW and has since made me a loyal patron was how perfectly their gear lived at the intersection of form and function. PDW claims to “Learn from the past, look to the future, and build for today.” I think they have done just that as they are consistently able to bring kit to market that pays homage to the vintage while taking advantage of modern materials and design techniques. Their high-quality multi-purpose performance apparel, equipment, and accessories are most certainly for the modern adventurer.
I strongly recommend taking a long hard look at all of their offerings as they lend themselves so well to preparedness and therefore travel. While PDW gear has become a backbone of my carry system as of late, many other companies are also killing it in the travel game. I have highlighted several of these offerings that regularly find their way into my pocket or on my back.
Now on to the gear. Anyone who travels with any frequency has likely already identified a carry system that works for them. The items listed below do not make up a comprehensive list of what I carry (although that will be covered in a future write-up) but do represent some major pillars of my carry system; a carry-on backpack that serves as my daily carry pack, my “Emergency AKA hope I will never need but still carry” kit, and a solid outerwear layer (which I pack regardless of destination). So without further ado, here are some items that I have used extensively and found to be exemplary.
For the last several months I have been almost exclusively carrying the Prometheus Design Werx S.H.A.D.O. v2.0 as my primary office EDC and my extra carry-on bag that I put under the seat in front of me. The S.H.A.D.O. is an updated and dramatically improved iteration of the original pack by the same name. I have the Universal Field Grey that I utilize for day hikes but it’s the Syth Black version I use as my daily carry. The S.H.A.D.O. is 20″ high, 11″ wide at the base, 9″ wide at the top and 7″ deep so it fits perfectly under a plane seat. The majority of its volume is divided into two larger compartments and a smaller admin pocket. The pack is lined in high-visibility orange 70D ripstop nylon which not only could be crucial in an emergency situation but is also fantastic when attempting to find items in your pack in low-light situations (i.e. on planes).
This has proven itself extremely useful during travel when I normally would have had to spend time rummaging through a pack in the restrictive quarters of airline seating. The main storage compartment is a full clamshell design and includes two zippered mesh pockets. The clamshell feature is fantastic for travel as it allows you to pack surgically versus the grab-and-stuff method.
However, in my opinion the most useful feature in terms of travel is the removable and reversible gear trap/beaver tail. On one side is a stretch panel with a zippered compartment and the other side is MCA (MOLLE Compatible Array). I can’t possibly convey to you how useful this gear trap is. Running through the airport and don’t have room in your pack for the book and snacks you just purchased? The beaver tail makes it a non-issue. I wish every pack had this or something similar. The S.H.A.D.O. also has dual side stretch water bottle pockets. I actually use these to throw my pocket items in when I go through security. This allows me to stow them securely through X-ray and then quickly retrieve them on the other side without having to open my pack at all. They work great and the stretch nylon has a phenomenal memory to it. Other really cool travel-friendly features are the “self-policing webbing straps”.
As I have said in several previous reviews, a high-end pack needs to include strap keepers. PDW’s answer for this is innovative, works great and ensures your straps don’t get caught on anything as you walk down the airplane aisle or you’re running through a crowded airport because you landed in a terminal that is three light years away from your connecting fight (I’m talking to you, Newark Airport).
Another fantastic carry-on pack selection is the Arc’teryx Granville 16 Zip. It is completely slick, sleek and exudes quality. Arc’teryx currently offers it in Black and Pilot (grey) but I have their Bushwhack colorway. It is essentially a really amazing version of the old OD green. Not generally in my wheelhouse but the color is pretty awesome in person. Not a stitch out of place and it hugs the back perfectly. It carries great and travels even better.
I used the 16 Zip on several trips from Boston to SF and a couple international trips and it was a fantastic companion. The only thing I found myself wishing it had was a small bit of organization and the extra 1.5″ depth previously mentioned. It rode under the seat like a champ and felt amazing on my back during the countless miles I put on it. The black low-profile straps offer just the right amount of padding while in no way being bulky. There are three main compartments which are all externally accessible, a trait which I really appreciate. There is a suspended and well padded laptop pocket that can hold up to a 15″ computer – it swallows my 15″ MBP perfectly and with room to spare. That is a non-negotiable for me with any pack I carry for travel.
They also utilize a WaterTight™ zipper and from experience, I can say the watertight title appears to be well earned and accurate. The material, zippers and frame sheet add up to an extremely svelte 26 oz (1.625 lbs). This is pretty phenomenal when you consider anything under 2.5-3 lbs to be relatively lightweight for a crossover pack. While it is listed at 16L, it feels and carries like a 22L pack.
So, please do not let the published capacity prevent you from carrying it on a trip if your primary concern is that it may be too small. I assure you, this pack is more in line with what other popular companies call 20-24L.
Inside the pack I carry PDW’s Carry All Tote Bag (CaB-2). This item rolls up small and is worth its weight in gold if you are the kind of traveler who brings home more than what you left with. It is 18″ high, 13″ long, 8″ wide and made of the rugged and ubiquitous 1000D Cordura® nylon. It has both long and short carry handles and a surprising amount of features for a light “extra” bag. There is an internal magazine pocket, an internal tablet pocket and a side pocket for a water bottle. It also has a 4″ x 4″ loop panel for your favorite morale patches.
You can use this tote for virtually anything. I keep it at the bottom of my S.H.A.D.O. in case I pick up gifts or something at the Duty Free shops. It is insanely strong and I also use one in my hiking pack to carry firewood. While I don’t consider myself an environmentalist, I try to do my part to minimize what I use that’s disposable and this fits the bill.
Another awesome option is the Matador DL16 Packable Backpack constructed of a waterproof 30D Cordura. It is 18″ x 12″, an anaemic 4.5 oz and packs down to the size of an orange. While it doesn’t necessarily serve the same purpose as the CaB-2, it’s still a great secondary carry option. I often keep this in my carry-on luggage because, well, why not. It expands your capabilities and you give up VERY minimal luggage real estate.
I also use a variety of organizer pouches to compartmentalize my contents. I love PDW’s such offerings that work so well with the S.H.A.D.O. (and other packs). The Admin Organizer (AO2) to wrangle my cables and chargers and the Accessory Pod (AP) for extra pens, receipts and other miscellaneous items but it’s the Stash Pouch (SP1) that holds my “emergency most likely will never need but still carry” kit.
With that said, my go-to travel pouch is the Nite Ize RunOff Waterproof 3-1-1 Pouch. It is perfect for travel-sized toiletries, electronics, or any smaller items that you want to keep protected. I love the gusseted bottom – it allows for great volume but also creates a nice base that allows it to stand up. It’s completely waterproof and features their TRU® Zip technology. Some of the coolest and most functional zippers ever.
There are several “EDC-type” items that I almost always carry when traveling. They seem to fall into three categories; Pocket Tools, Safety/Survival, and Convenience. Here are some awesome recommendations under each of those umbrellas.
PDW’s PB&J: I find a bladeless multi-tool to be an absolute travel necessity and have been loving the PDW PB&J pocket tool. It is precision milled from 6AL-4V titanium and is light and easy to carry while still feeling substantial in hand. At 4.5″ long and 1″ wide it is relatively large and I feel it is much better suited for pack carry rather than pocket duty. I carry it in the front admin section of my S.H.A.D.O. pack or clip it to the external webbing which is exceptionally easy with the integrated wire spring gate. It packs nine functions into its refined form factor; closed end wrench (for both metric and SAE hardware), pry bar, small nail puller, bit driver, battery bay driver, oxygen tank wrench and bottle cap lifter to name a few.
While I love all the features, the inclusion of metric and SAE sizing is fantastic when traveling. The overall utilitarian design is efficient and maximizes its space in a way that feels both comprehensive and uncluttered. The fact that it’s almost completely rustproof means it’s also very low-maintenance. The low-maintenance piece is also something I place a huge premium on when traveling. The PB&J has a million uses and has proven its worth more times than I can count.
Peter Atwood P15 Prybaby: I also sometimes carry the Titanium Peter Atwood P15 Prybaby. It is smaller that the PB&J and doesn’t have quite the functionality but it’s still a great option. To be clear, I carry an Atwood Tool as much for nostalgia and sentimentality as utility and functionality. Don’t get me wrong, they are machined flawlessly and contain a whole lot of function in a fairly small form, but my affinity for them has as much if not more to do with the fact they are made in New England and were one of my most coveted items when first dipping my toe in the EDC pool. They contain no frills, have nothing you don’t need and are made to use. The Prybaby specifically just falls away in the coin pocket and provides easy access to a cap lifter, pry bar and several small wrench sizes.
Survival/Stash Tube: The PDW Ti-SST is a compact, weatherproof, survival tube milled from a 6AL-4V titanium billet. It has a built-in, oil filled button compass with a 100M depth rating and a milled inset striking channel with a waterproof 3M abrasive strip for matches. I utilize the neck/tube to wrap 3mm survival cordage and a bit of duct tape. The machining on this is amazing and at 4″ long, and just under 1″ wide it’s the perfect size for travel. The dimensions were specifically chosen to store standard strike anywhere matches, standard ferro rods, US Military issue sparking units, tinder and much more. The silicone O-ring ensures anything stored in this area stays dry. I like to store several strike anywhere matches, some tinder, and a couple fishing hooks. I’ve always kept a compact survival kit and the Ti-SST is the perfect storage container.
Triple Aught Design’s Life Capsule Omega also works really well. This doesn’t have the same level of functionality as the Ti-SST, but it’s a high-quality great option if you are looking for a stash tube. It is constructed from lightweight and durable aircraft grade T6 aluminum and was specifically designed dimensionally to hold the ubiquitous NATO SAS Compass.
Emergency Blanket: I carry the CountyComm Emergency blanket. Unopened it is about 3.5″ x 5″ but opens to 84″ x 52″. I hope to never need it but it’s just too important and too small to not carry on trips. If called into action, it should retain around 90% of your body heat and if it’s good enough for SAR crews all over the world, it’s good enough for me.
Fire Source: Due to my lack of proficiency in starting fires without tools, having a reliable lighter is a must and arguably my most crucial survival item. The Thyrm PyroVault Lighter Armor is also a great piece of kit and something I use regularly. It is compatible with classic Zippo inserts, the O-ring is huge while preventing fuel evaporation and the polymer is virtually indestructible. The PDW Ti-FS MK2 is a compact capsule lighter that uses lighter fluid, wheel, flint and wick. With an overall size of 1.875″ x 0.625″ it has a tiny footprint that can easily fit in any survival kit. The milled “grenade type” surface looks amazing and provides increased purchase in cold or wet conditions. PDW also provides a flint dispenser with extra flints, wick and O-rings should you need to replace anything (I have not yet). There are many lighters on the market, but this is by far and away the highest quality of any I’ve handled.
Hydration: Ultimately, this could have been included under the safety/survival section and I could list at least five quality bottle options. I have carried many but ultimately landed on the YETI Rambler 18oz. First, it functions flawlessly for its intended purpose. It keeps my drink cold most of the day and keeps my coffee hot longer than anything else I’ve tried. As I am sure you know, TSA prohibits liquid through security so I carry it empty until I get to the terminal (or my destination). If you go with the YETI, I STRONGLY recommend also getting the Rambler Chug Cap. It really helps to prevent spills on the go and makes the overall drinking experience much easier.
Travel Utensils: Who has two thumbs, has found themselves really hungry and with food but not the requisite utensils? This guy! I also have kids and you have not seen scary until you have incurred the wrath of a 2-year-old girl who just wants her yogurt but you forgot to pack a spoon. Essentially, these PDW Ti Takedown Chopsticks and PDW Folding Spork are not a necessity, but they are too small, cool and useful to not carry. And believe it or not, I have used them as much, if not more, than any other EDC item I carry. As an added bonus, you can’t possibly calculate the cool points garnered when sitting in your first class seat and ignoring the provided utensils in favor of pulling out a pair of custom chopsticks made of Titanium, Brass and Mahogany.
Kidding aside, they come apart and take up virtually no space in my pack. I keep mine in the aforementioned Nite Ize pouch and take them out frequently during my trips to APAC. The folding titanium spork, at just under 4″ closed and under an oz is equally convenient. As with their entire hard goods line, awesome quality. I keep it in the SP1 but I also carry one in my day hiking pack. The market is flooded with travel sporks but I love the wire handle and locking slider folding feature and the company pedigree gives me confidence in the longevity. And with its amazing strength to weight ratio, Titanium will always be any traveler’s friend. There are a ton of options in this category but I have by far the most experience with these.
Storage: The PDW EDTC is a storage and travel case made of 600D Nylon and utilizing a reverse coil zipper. It was really designed to hold two EDC items like folders to watches but I also use mine for eyewear protection. As an EDC guy, I have utilized many different methods for carrying and protecting EDC items during travel. Who doesn’t love a good Pelican case? But who wants to take up crucial pack or luggage real estate with even a small version? Not the discerning traveler.
I often wear a watch and pack a second. I also sometimes carry a nice torch or two. If I am on overnight travel where flying is not needed, I often carry a couple nice folders. The EDTC is literally the perfect solution to protect these EDC treasures. It is just over 6″ long and 2.4″ wide, utilizes a clamshell opening and has a no-scratch lining. The die cut EVA foam bumpers work great and the divider easily allows you to separate multiple items. A $15 cost to protect some of the items that have a value far beyond what you paid? It looks amazing, is unbeatable quality, easy to carry and fits in almost any pack admin section. Yeah, sign me up.
It just wouldn’t be a comprehensive travel write-up if it didn’t include travel-friendly clothing. Arguably the star of this first travel-friendly write-up is the Tycho Down Hoodie. This. Jacket. Is. Amazing. It is amazing if you never travel and only utilize it for fall and winter hikes. But it is also the perfect, and I mean perfect, travel-friendly outerwear layer. Let me explain.
The Tycho Down Hoodie uses DownTek™ Water Resistant Certified 850 Fill Power Goose Down and baffle construction to distribute it. The Down vs. Synthetic debate is as old as time and something I don’t necessarily want to go too in-depth on here. But essentially, synthetic insulation is supposed to replicate the qualities of down but retain them when wet. But synthetic insulation tends to have a higher weight-to-warmth ratio and can be heavier. With Tycho, PDW utilized state-of-the-art DownTek™ brand goose down which is hydrophobic, and stays drier 27 times longer than normal, run-of-the-mill goose down. The DWR treated 20D ripstop shell only adds to the weatherproofing of this jacket.
While I definitely wouldn’t want to use it as a standalone outer layer in a rainstorm for an extended period of time, the Tycho will perform admirably in adverse weather conditions. I have been caught in more than one downpour and it kept me warm and dry. Also their baffles are not welded which can increase the jacket’s weight and can create cold spots. The brushed poly tricot hood liner is super comfortable and keeps your dome toasty. It utilizes YKK two-way reverse coil zippers which are industry standard in a garment of this quality.
While looks are subjective, I think the jacket is gorgeous. It’s athletically cut but not restrictive at all (as I too often find jackets like this to be). The Universal Field Gray is a great color that can really take on the color of whatever you are wearing with it.
The materials and chosen construction methods make the Tycho an outdoor, backcountry champion and one I know I will keep in my arsenal for many years. But what really takes it to the next level and makes it a fantastic travel jacket is its compressibility and travel-friendly features. We have already established that maximizing ROI by carrying items with multiple use cases is an important part of selecting travel gear. Well, this thing packs down to almost nothing and serves multiple functions in its packed form. You can stuff it into its own built-in stuff-sack pocket which basically makes it an extremely comfortable and hydrophobic down pillow.
On one international trip I arrived in-country early before my hotel room was ready. With almost 15 hours of travel under my belt and no sleep on the plane, I found a bench in the lobby, packed down my Tycho and had a pillow that worked far better than just a rolled-up jacket. The Tycho also includes a detachable stuff-sack that converts into a travel neck pillow. I generally don’t utilize a travel neck pillow and would never pack one. But to have one if needed that takes up zero space doesn’t hurt. On a trip with my wife, she just couldn’t get comfortable. I converted my Tycho to a neck pillow and she was sleeping inside of 10 minutes. Husband level – Expert. It has a total of six nicely placed pockets as well as a wire media passthrough port in the chest pocket. I tend to use AirPods but sometimes do use wired EarPods as a backup and the wire passthrough is a nice bonus. I should also add that the Tycho is RDS Certified which means it utilizes ethically harvested down and best practices used in animal welfare.
Travel is inherently stressful. You are away from home and without the comforts that go with it. There is plenty to worry about when you travel and gear that doesn’t function as intended shouldn’t be one of them. Prometheus Design Werx continues to impress me with the thoughtfully designed and flawlessly executed items they release. It wasn’t until I took personal inventory of the items I have been carrying that I truly realized how many PDW items are not just fantastic, but fantastic for travel. There is nothing worse than spending your hard-earned money on poor kit and it’s my sincere goal to recommend items that I can confidently say will provide you with amazing value. I am a subscriber to “pay more to never have to pay again” and I feel that way about my PDW goods.
As I said before, I look forward to future articles bringing you travel-friendly gear. As a bit of a teaser, I am currently testing a great piece of carry-on luggage and will provide a full write-up soon. I am also excited to share some additional clothing recommendations. As always, if there are any items you would love to have fully tested or you have any company recommendations, let us know. Until next time, safe travels.