Dan Z. for TTAG
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Thanks to the internet and social media, EDC or everyday carry have become ultra-popular terms. Thousands upon thousands of Instagram users hashtag their EDC photos on a daily basis. Rather than consider the pros and cons of such activity, I would instead pose a couple of serious questions. 

What does it truly mean to carry every day? Or, what items are genuinely the most practical and valuable for the armed citizen when it comes to everyday carry? In the next several paragraphs we will address this in detail. 

The Fundamental Four

For thirty years or so, I have been involved in teaching people how to employ firearms. My students have been active duty military, law enforcement, and armed citizens. As you might imagine, I have fielded innumerable questions regarding guns and gear.

In order to address many of the frequently asked questions, several years ago I came up with a list that I dubbed “The Fundamental Four” of EDC. The Fundamental Four items that every armed citizen should have on their person before they walk out of the front door are; something Lethal, something Sharp, something Bright, and something Medical.

Let’s take a few moments to examine each category . . .

EDC fundamental four
Courtesy Paul Markel

Something Lethal

Fortunately, most American citizens will never be called upon to use lethal force to stop a lethal threat. However, just like the fire extinguisher in your kitchen, just because you have not used it yet, doesn’t mean you get rid of it. If you had a kitchen fire, you’d have been damned glad you kept that bright red extinguisher close at hand.

In the United States, the most common and practical tool to stop a lethal threat to yourself or your loved ones is the handgun. Yes, a rifle is a better fighting tool, but we don’t want to carry rifles to the grocery store or out to dinner. We carry handguns as emergency tools. I would venture to guess that most folks reading this have already come to that conclusion.

Get training, buy a quality handgun, put that gun into a quality holster and go about your business.

The Lethal part of the Fundamental Four is the easiest sell for armed citizens. They get it. Nonetheless, not every problem or emergency you encounter can be fixed with firepower. We need to have balance.

EDC fundamental four
Courtesy Paul Markel

Something Sharp

When I was coming up in America, men carried pocket knives. I remember as a kid seeing my grandfathers using their pocket knives for various tasks. My dad had what we used to call a pen knife that had two folding blades. My mother approved my first pocket knife (my parents bought it for me) when I was 12 years old. It was a small Swiss Army tool with a blade, a flat head screwdriver/bottle opener combo, and a sewing awl.

When I put the “something sharp” into the Fundamental Four, I wasn’t thinking about some kind of fighting knife or dagger. The Sharp tool is meant to be a useful utility tool for standard cutting chores or in an emergency.

Years ago I read a news story about a small child whose coat got caught in the moving mechanism of an escalator. Even after hitting the emergency stop button, the child was being choked to death by the coat. His mother clawed at it desperately to free him. Fortunately, a bystander with a pocket knife was able to cut the child free. 

EDC fundamental four
Courtesy Paul Markel

Something Bright

We live in a world of light and darkness and we cannot always rely upon external light sources to help us see. While this might seem to be a monotonously obvious statement, I am baffled by the number of people who never carry or have immediate access to a flashlight.

When I was a kid, flashlights were large, cumbersome affairs. The standard flash light in our house was powered by two D cell batteries and weighed nearly a pound. That’s not something you are going to carry in your pocket.

Today, thanks to nearly miraculous technological improvements, super-bright, light-weight flashlights are available at very affordable prices. 

For about three years I have been carrying a SureFire Stiletto flashlight on my person every day, all day. I probably pull it out of my pocket and use it three or four times a day. The Stiletto is rechargeable, has an LED output and has three settings; high, medium, and low for utility or reading. The Surefire Tactician is also an excellent tactical flashlight.

Many years ago I was in a hotel overseas and the power went out. Walking through the hallway with my flashlight in hand, people kept coming up to me and asking what was going on and what they should do.

I realized at that moment that, in the dark, the person with the light is perceived to be in charge. To the average person, the man with the bright light must be a policeman or security or someone in charge.

During another occasion, while walking to my hotel late one night, my friends and I were accosted by an overly aggressive street person. In seconds it became obvious that he wanted money and would not take no for an answer.

In my left hand was a very bright LED light. I shined it directly in his face and said “No!” Instantly his demeanor changed. He spun on his heels and disappeared down an alley. That light might have saved his life as he was seemingly prepared to commit a strong arm robbery.   

EDC fundamental four
Courtesy Paul Markel

Something Medical

In my mind, the greatest benefit to come from the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has been the reexamination of traumatic medical care. Where we once left caring for injured people to the professionals, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that the pros could not be everywhere at once and that we needed to teach our troops to provide immediate care for their buddies while they waited for the pros to arrive. For several years I taught the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) program to young military troops.  

It seemed obvious to me that if we could teach 18 and 19 year old kids to keep their buddies alive on the battlefield, the average American citizen or police officer could be taught the same thing. We, my company, developed the Beyond the Band Aid program to do just that. 

As an armed citizen, you understand that you cannot just dial 911 and wait helplessly for the pros to arrive. A lethal attack will be over long before the police have time to arrive.

The same mentality goes for dealing with life-threatening medical emergencies. Sure, we should call 911 and get the pros moving in our direction, but we can also take positive steps to stop the bleeding while we wait for the ambulance.

A major bleeding injury, such as a compromised artery in an arm or leg, will result in the patient going into irreversible shock in minutes…four or five, not twenty. If the ambulance is ten minutes away and you don’t stop the arterial bleed, that person is not going to make it. That’s the simple truth. 

During GWOT, thousands of troops had their lives saved by commercial/ready-made tourniquets being applied to their arms or legs. An open femoral artery in Iraq and an open artery in Indiana result in the same outcome — a dead patient.

In the United States, high speed car crashes often result in partially or completely amputated limbs. If an imbecile crashes into your car and your child’s right arm is partially amputated with bright red blood pumping out, how are you going to stop the bleeding while you wait for an ambulance to arrive?  

Something Medical includes a basic pocket trauma kit and a ready-made tourniquet. Tourniquet efficacy in the modern age is factually indisputable. Just like your handgun, you need to get training to use medical gear correctly.

Thanks to GWOT experience, the training and gear are available to citizens nationwide. The more training and experience you have, the better decisions you will make and you just might save the life of someone you love.  


About the Author

Paul G. Markel has been a United States Marine, Small Arms & Tactics Instructor, Police Officer and Medical Trainer for some thirty years. Mr. Markel has trained thousands of military, law enforcement, and citizens nationwide in the use of arms. He is the founder and host of the Student of the Gun radio and television show and the author of dozens of books. 

You can listen to Paul every week on Student of the Gun Radio. The show can be heard on demand on iTunes, iHeartRadio, or your favorite media player. Tune in right now.


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    • Light…check
      Tourniquet…don’t carry one, but I have a large FAK in the vehicle at all times, so I guess that helps.

      • Recon Medical makes CAT clone tourniquets for a mere $15, and are not a dangerous knockoff like the $5 Made-in-China ones. Surely you can afford a few of those if you are buying 9mm ammo for $1/round. ITS offers the RATS tourniquet for as low as $15, too.

  1. Show me you don’t take teaching TCCC seriously without telling me….

    Have a RATS in your EDC kit, a tourniquet the CoTCCC refused to approve for failing metrics on speed to stop the bleed, staying tight, and limiting tissue damage.

    Can’t take anyone serious who uses that as an example of what someone ‘should’ be carrying.

    • Literally everyone I have met that knows anything about field medicine despises RATS with a passion and wishes the entire company would go out of business.

      • You mean the company that started a company called TCCC so that they could claim the RATS was TCCC approved? I’m sure it’s an upright and ethical company with a quality product. Or not.

    • “failing metrics on speed to stop the bleed, staying tight, and limiting tissue damage”

      So it failed to get tight enough and loosened up too much but also somehow stayed too tight for too long and caused tissue damage? Riiiight…

      It’s true that they found it wasn’t *better* than a CAT but CATs are awkward to EDC for city people and RATS are more than good enough.

      • Its too thin, so yes it is too loose to stop the bleeding while being tight enough to cause tissue damage. Do some research.

      • They did not find it just wasn’t better. It literally failed their evaluations. And yes, it can fail at speed to apply and actually stop bleeding while ALSO fail at loosening up and STILL be too narrow to limit tissue damage. EVERY major tourniquet manufacturer has gone larger/wider at some point. Then there is this piece of trash still trying to pass itself off as legitimate.

        Put please, continue to argue with the guy whose life has been tactical/SOF medicine for nearly 17 years.

      • The RATS is narrow enough to create a ligature, which can damage tissue. You can do that with a boot lace or 550 cord, but nobody claims they”re good tourniquets. It doesn’t have a tensioning method to crank it down enough to stop blood flow deep in a limb, and being narrow also makes it more difficult. If you have one, wrap it around your thigh and try tightening it enough so that you can’t detect your pulse at your ankle. The only reasonable use I’ve heard is for a child or animal that is too small for a SOFTT-W or CAT.

        • Having taken several courses and used a tourniquets such as Tk4, CATS, SOFT-T RATS etc, etc. For those who have actually trained with all these tourniquets vs just reading and regurgitating internet information. The majority all find the RATs to be the simplest and quickest to apply, even under self application. The SOFT-T is always the slowest for me. The CAT is nice
          especially if the color is not black as it is easy to see the components, Especially when you have to thread the end through the buckle. However If you understand how to properly apply the RATS you’d understand a few things. The fulcrum is the same mechanics as a truckers knot which has be used for well over a century to secure loads and works. This is a deliberate design point to the RATS, it is stupid easy to thread the end through the preset loop, making that first cinch happen quick. The elasticity of the RATS allows you to bind it tighter, you know the same elasticity that the SWAT tourniquet has that surgeons use to push out blood feom an appendage and keep it out for hours at a time for surgery. Come on think about how hard are bungee knots to get untied when cinched down? Finally on application the RATS is wound in such a way that the final application is as wide as a CATS, minimizing the ligature damage. So having had quite a bit of hands on experience with several tourniquets, I’m personal rather confident in the RATS as an EDC tourniquet that I also include along side my CATS in my bigger emergency kits in my vehicles and house. I also have to point out how sick and tired I am of hearing the same stupid internet talking points degrading RATS as a viable tourniquets option. Probably because the comments are continuously parroted forbattem of these same points, with no one every stating their own original personal analysis or even given useable references to their sources. As I said I.T.P is all it is.

    • Even assuming that the RATS is not up to par. How much better is it to have such a device than to be yelling “Has anyone got a belt or a bandana or a pair of pantyhose” at the scene of a bloody collision.

      Your choice: Bleed to death because someone had a RATS but wasn’t allowed to use it because it was not up to standard and you bled to death. OR, they used a RATS and instead of bleeding to death before the ambulance with EMTs rolled up in 18 minutes and you had a problem with vein damage that resulted in an extra week in the hospital and some PT after release from the hospital.

      Sometimes in an emergency situation we have to use what is at hand regardless of whether it is optimal or not. For example, all the first aid manuals say not to use a belt or necktie as a tourniquet UNLESS THERE IS NOTHING ELSE THAT WILL WORK. The primary focus is to concentrate on stopping blood loss which can occur far more rapidly than most of us who are not EMTs realize.

  2. I carry 2 knives. One auto opener, sharp enough to shave with for one handed operation if needed and and cheap older folder for those jobs to nasty for a quality knife.

    • I carry a quick opener as you say. And a basic swiss army knife. The red knife I carry mostly for the small blade for common chores and the can opener.

      If shtf having a can opener in your pocket may just come in handy. I know that during my military days I carried an old Boy Scout knife that had the opener. I used that opener more than the blade.

        • I found that it was easier and faster opening the cans with the tool on the knife. Just my experience.

        • Who’s opening any ration containerized in a metal can these days? NONE of the Army rations even require a knife. You carry the knife for other purposes, not food or “opening cans.” The whole point of the MRE was to eliminate soft tissue damage on the thighs or lower back because of falling on cans of food.

          Im 68 and been out 18 years, sumz of you are way out of date.

    • I’ve an automatic knife, comes out the front. A dime in my pocket got in the come out hole and jammed the knife. If I’d have had to use it quick I’d have been in trouble.

    • @Darkman,

      Yup. Technically, I carry three. A micro blade which is part of my pocket multi-tool. A small folding knife clipped to my front pocket. And a full-size folding blade IWB at my 4 o’clock.

      The middle knife sees the most use, but I find myself needing the large blade at least once per week to cut something bigger.

    • I carry a Protech Godson, and I also use it to open boxes etc. because I am an uncultured savage like that 😁

    • I found one on a walk. Good shape. Still had oil on it. I keep multi tools in my range and tackle boxes. Never liked one on me. I gave that one to my grandson. He’s 10. He likes to carry it when we go gold panning.

  3. Lethal and sharp I have, the other 2 I don’t.
    Did have a light I’d carry but it sits on the nightstand now. Never carried and med kits tho and probably won’t.
    I do see the advantages but will probably never need it.

  4. Who’s going to revive me after I pass out so I can apply the tourniquet. Squirting blood from an artery would probably lay me out. Maybe I’ll throw one in my IFAK for someone else to use. Maybe one of you keyboard ninjas.

  5. I have tried to carry multiple small LED lights with decent (not super-bright) light output and the on-off switches always seem to become unreliable or outright fail.

    All I want is something simple, very small, light-weight, and just bright enough to light up a walking path if my eyes are not accustomed to the dark. Any suggestions of such a light that will not set me back a week’s pay?

  6. Took a Rats to training and asked my instructor what he thought, and his answer was that it was no better or worse than any other field expedient tourniquet. It may be conveniently small, but I would rather rely on a proper tourniquet, so the Rats went in the trash on the way out.

  7. I relearned the practice of carrying a flashlight one night at our church. Department of Corrections rolled into our parking lot on a Wednesday night to inform us someone had taken his ankle monitor off at our location. Then, they left.

    We called the police but it took 45 minutes for them to arrive. At that point, we had already secured the congregation and begun methodically clearing every space. You NEED a flashlight.

  8. Surefire Sidekick keychain light, everyday.
    Pro-tech auto knife, everyday.
    Sig P238 in a OWB belt slide snug holster. Every warm Texas day.
    Glock G26 otherwise.
    Tourniquet? I’ll just use by cinch belt, maybe I ought to rethink that.

    All that stuff is light weight and hardly noticeable when wearing.

  9. “For about three years I have been carrying a SureFire Stiletto flashlight on my person every day, all day.”

    OCD much?

  10. I’ve carry the fundamental four for 6 years now. And I can attest, I use my flashlight and knife almost daily and I used my medical kit a couple of times. I will say that given my environment and experience I have actually added a lighter. And used it as a general tool. E.G. securing rope ends/shoe laces, applying heat to shrink tubing, heating glasses to reshape to fit kids faces.

  11. Thank you Andrew great advice. Does anyone recommend a book on the subject that’s easy to comprehend?

  12. “Something medical” …OK, how about a complete IFAK with all the trauma goodies?

    As for something sharp, I’ll take a Leatherman 300. Sharp comes in both serrated and straight varieties, plus a mini-saw. 3 sharp in 1 plus pliers. And screwdrivers… and prybar… and wire cutter.

    Finally, this should be the “Fundamental FIVE” – the author says “…not every problem or emergency you encounter can be fixed with firepower. We need to have balance.” Yet he fails to mention that in most states, a knife is considered deadly force when used as a weapon. If you are going to carry a firearm, carry a good quality OC dispenser in the form of foam or gel. Why? because you need a non-lethal option, PERIOD. Why gel or foam? Because liquid can splash back on you (ask how I know).

    As for lights, pick something with a tail cap switch, and pick something at least capable of 800 lumens or better with a low power setting too. If it has a strobe as a third function, even better! My preferred light has been a Bushnell Pro 1000 lumen 7″ pocket light.

    As for handguns, well, I’ll leave that up to you. As long as it always goes bang, fits a holster that’s better than a Crossbreed (I roll with Ultimate Holsters’ Cloud Tuck Hybrid) and you have a good defensive ammo (Hornady Critical Duty, Federal HST, Underwood Extreme Defender), and you can comfortably shoot it inside the 7-ring all day long, then the choice is all yours.

  13. The clear progression over the years is for LEO/MIL to continue to include another item as it becomes clearly needed, and that always increases the burden of gear on the carrier. That was reported in a book from before WWII called the Soldiers Load and Mobility of a Nation by SLA Marshal. The point of the book is that we weigh down our troops with too much unecessary and trivial crap.

    Any cop wearing suspenders under his uniform blouse understands this. The medical board trying to get him off the force does, too, but for the wrong reasons.

    Of recent note is the carry of a tourniquet, and arguing over which one isn’t productice. Much the same as “which gun is best?” Which knife is best?” “Which light is best?” and you get a dozen answers for each. Trying to parse which tourniquet should be simple – ANYTHING THAT WORKS WHEN YOU NEED IT. You can argue finesse after the wounded are wheelchairing around in recovery – alive.

    Nobody has ever said just one gun or one knife or one light is the only one, the one to rule them all. Same for a tourniquet. If it’s stopping blood loss and removed a few hours later after surgical repair its better than none. It’s always better than none. None is not an option, ever, when you need one. Boot lace and a bic pen work? GOOD.

    We are now here – carry something IF YOU ARE PAID TO MOVE TO GUNFIRE. Now, a CCW exiting the scene of a Mall shooting, or bailing a gas station shootup? Same priority? Maybe more an item nice to have. The responding LEO? Have it.


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