What the hell is EDC, and what does it have to do with pens?

My gateway to the world of stationery was perhaps a little unconventional: a little three-letter acronym called EDC. Allow me to draw back the veil…

If you’ve never heard of it, it stands for Every Day Carry, and it’s basically a mix of a hobby, a fashion, and a philosophy of preparedness (although most EDCers would absolutely not call themselves “preppers” — important distinction!). It’s about carefully choosing what you carry to help you get through life’s little conundrums efficiently and effectively. If you’ve ever shouted out in your office “has anyone got a screwdriver?” and had someone respond, that person was an EDCer.

EDC practitioners spend a lot of time thinking about, talking about and refining what they carry, in much the same way as we obsess about the pens and inks and papers we use.

So what do EDCers carry? It varies. Some carry a military-style backpack loaded with multitools, first aid kits and survival equipment. Me, I’m at the more minimal end of the spectrum: watch, wallet, keys, phone, torch, pocketknife, handkerchief, fitness band — and a pocket notebook and pen, of course. In my bag I have another torch, multitool, small first aid kit and a few other bits and bobs.

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A typical EDC pocketdump featuring far too much titanium. I accidentally left my Olight titanium torch out. Guess I wasn’t PREPARED enough. Geddit?!

With the exception of a knife and torch, you probably carry many of the same things about your person. So what’s different about EDC?

EDCers stand out in that they often coordinate their carry — perhaps picking copper, brass or titanium as a base (as I did in the picture above). They decorate their equipment, perhaps with badges or lanyard beads. They think hard about what they’re carrying, applying principles such as “two is one, one is none” (basically, redundancy), and selecting gear that’s highly functional and tough — such as waterproof diving watches.

They spend a lot of money on gear, too. Some of the knives and pocket tools change hands for hundreds of dollars, inconceivable to the guy buying a Maglite from WalMart. That’s why it’s a hobby or fashion rather than just “here’s what I happen to be carrying”. The people who really use and abuse their gear often buy cheap and functional, because they don’t want to chip the edge on a $500 knife when they’re doing yard work. A lot of EDC stuff is jewellery.

For me, two things leap out at me as comparisons with the pen community.

First, the emphasis on equipment over skills. This may be controversial, so hold on to your hat.

A lot of pen geeks work hard on their handwriting, but most of us are here because we love the pens and the inks. We scribble meeting notes and to-do lists, not epic poems, and our writing is no better with a £200 pen than a £20 one. We certainly have no practical need for the huge range of expensive stationery we own, and most “normal” people would think we were crazy if we told them how much our pens cost.

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If I’m completely honest with myself, I have no practical justification for owning this much ink.

Same for EDC nuts like me. I open boxes with my £100 knives and look in dark cupboards with my 1,000-lumen search and rescue torches. I have no need of the quality or quantity of gear I own. I have spent thousands on equipment, but precisely zero on survival, self-defence or first aid training to use it effectively.

If I’m honest, both stationery and EDC are hobbies largely driven by gear novelty and aesthetics rather than genuine utility. In the EDC world, it’s jokingly called “GAS”: Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Ask which of two options you should buy on any EDC or pen forum, and some smartarse will reply “buy both”. That’s what we’re dealing with.

Second, what keeps us here is the community. We gather and share knowledge. We celebrate beauty, whether that’s a nice pen and ink pairing or a particularly well-coordinated EDC pocket dump. We discuss novelties and exchange tips. We even attend meetups dedicated to our hobbies. We find excuses to use our gear, whether that’s InCoWriMo in the pen community, or hashtags like #writelightslice on the EDC Instagram world.

But I digress. What EDC and stationery really have in common is me. I started getting interested in pens because I carried one as part of my EDC setup, shoved in my back pocket with a Field Notes. My first “proper” EDC pen was a solid block of aluminium called the Embassy Pen, which is designed to be tough enough to use as a weapon: a kubotan. Like many EDC pens, it takes ballpoint refills like the write-underwater Fisher Space Pen. I eventually ended up with several heavy, indestructible ballpoints like the Hinderer Investigator pen, Maxmadco, Ti Arto and Tactile Turn Shaker.

From there, I dabbled in the intersection of the Venn diagram between EDC and pen geekery, buying some tactical metal fountain pens (yes, they exist). Then I realised that I preferred lighter, more elegant pens and that there was no way I’d risk putting one of those in my back pocket.

So here I am, with a foot in both camps. I still carry a torch and knife everyday, and think about preparedness and waterproof watches. But I also sit at home with my tweed-covered Hobonichi journalling about my day, using a delicate Japanese gold nib.

EDC and stationery then, to me, are like two sides of the same coin: so alike, and yet so very different.

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2 thoughts on “What the hell is EDC, and what does it have to do with pens?

  1. Pingback: Of titanium nibs and the expectation of perfection | UK fountain pens

  2. Pingback: Moving on from old friends | UK fountain pens

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