What kind of shoulder bag do you need?

I’m in pre-game for SxSW at the moment. I’m printing things, packing things, and figuring out what I need to put in the suitcase for maximum efficiency and minimum weight. The idea for this particular post was from John Limon, who I was talking to about shoulder bags on the phone yesterday morning. I was mentioning that the LA Police Gearbailout bag” that I’d bought was good, but it didn’t have the right kind of pockets. “What kind of pockets would a technical writer need on a bag?” John wondered out loud, and I knew I had either the theme for a blog post or a bunch of tacky jokes.

The best way to start is to identify the things I normally have in my shoulder bag when I’m running around at a conference.

  • lots of pens (I can never have too many pens with me, it seems)
  • a couple of permanent markers
  • a highlighter
  • overhead transparency markers
  • a small LED flashlight
  • a small container of hand sanitizer
  • post-it notes
  • Altoids
  • business cards
  • a hairbrush
  • one of those little hotel sewing kits
  • nail clippers
  • a book of matches
  • ear plugs (usually for use on the plane)
  • address labels (several sheets of those address labels I’m constantly getting from the charities I give to; they’re great for quickly signing your name and address on request for more information or a vendor entry card)
  • extra phone charger
  • a Zone bar or the like
  • some hard candies
  • a digital camera, batteries, and cable
  • blood glucose meter
  • diabetes meds
  • a charger for the bluetooth headset

I also tend to carry a few additional things in the bag, such as one large and two small ziploc bags. They come in handy for ad hoc collections of kibble or other things.

Note: This doesn’t count the computer bag I usually carry as well, which contains the laptop, charger, a notebook, and misc computer supplies. This upcoming trip, I’m going to use one of those cute little Toshiba notebooks that weigh 3 pounds. It’ll fit neatly inside the bag, but I’ll probably want to carry the charger, a mouse, and anything else that goes with it, so it’ll be kinda bulky.

So this is the list of goodies in the bag at the start of a day at the conference. There may be other things, like a yellow pad in a folder and maybe a piece of fruit or bottle of water that I cabbaged from the breakfast buffet, but this is the minimum. By the end of the day at most conferences, you can add to this list a dozen or so pens, a few post-it note pads, stacks of flyers and one-sheets, brochures, giveaway items, and other chachkes from the vendor rooms. The bag can fill up quickly with assorted desk kibble, which is admittedly kinda fun to unload at the end of the day.

What I’ve found I like is for my shoulder bag to have a variety of small pockets, particularly ones designed to hold pens and little office supplies (like the post-it notes) and several pouches that are good for the flyers and one-sheets. As you can see from the picture, the bailout bag is an awfully good bag, but the pockets aren’t optimal because they don’t seal completely and there’s nothing quite right for pens. I’m going to be trying it at SxSW next week for the first time for a whole conference, so I’ll see how it works out, but I am wondering if it’s the best solution.

I think that what I carry around with me is similar to what a lot of tech writers are likely to carry. Admittedly, I do tend to carry a lot of oddments in the bag–I don’t often need the sewing kit, but it’s as much knowing where to find it as anything and it weighs nothing–but I do find that it’s very useful to have these things handy so I can grab them the instant I need them. (Your comments here are welcome: what kinds of things do you tend to carry that are different from my list?)

After going through a couple of nylon mesh messenger bags, I’ve discovered that I really like a wide, strong shoulder strap that attaches firmly. The metal snap-on clips have a tendency to splay out after a few years, resulting in the shoulder strap suddenly coming undone. I reinforce them with the little D-rings that are frequently given away by vendors. They’re a good backup system and they relieve the strain on the snaps, too, so I recommend you use this trick on shoulder bags and computer bags both.

So I’m going to give the bailout bag a try and see how it works. If you’re in the market for a good shoulder bag yourself, check out the LA Police Gearbailout bag” and see if it looks like what you’re after. If not, take a look at nylon or leather messenger bags, which have a lot of pockets and are slightly bigger.

Addendum: There’s a lovely article you might also enjoy along related lines. It’s Tantek’s SXSW Packing List.

2 Responses to “What kind of shoulder bag do you need?”

  1. John – This sounds like a survival bag. Which by the way is not a bad idea. When exhibiting at a conference in Austin TX a few years ago one quarter of the city was in a blackout without electricity. We were required to leave the exhibition center and could not get into our rooms as the elevators and electrical locks where not functioning. Thousands of people were forced to wander the sttreets nearby the convention center for several hours with few resources. Be prepared for anything and if you require medication be sure it is with you.

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