Everyday Carry On Kits for Air Travel

With a little planning, you can stay prepared, even when traveling by air

Since your normal EDC won’t work for air travel, you’ll need to make some adaptations to create an everyday carry-on kit that won’t get you tackled by the TSA.

When traveling by air within the US, you should consider following a tiered everyday carry for air travel strategy. The tiered approach uses a stepped strategy for determining what you carry as part of your EDC preparedness. We’ll go over this game plan first, and then we’ll adapt it for air travel.

First Tier EDC

The first, or base tier, includes everything you physically carry on yourself, in your pockets, etc.

The base tier is perhaps the most important. It is essential because it includes the supplies you’ll have regardless of what goes on around you. For example, you may be in a situation where you cannot access or carry your other supplies.

Second Tier EDC

Your second tier should include the items you can carry in a small EDC bag. This bag could be a fanny pack or other small pouch.

Because it’s small, it allows you to carry supplies and equipment that don’t easily allow for EDC on your person.

If appropriately sized, these bags can carry a good variety of supplies and equipment, but they do not seem out of place in most environments because they’re small. With that in mind, make sure you look low-key and stay away from the tactical ninja, Molle webbing look.

Third Tier EDC

The third tier and additional tiers consist of the bags, backpacks, etc., that are too big to carry everywhere.

Perhaps you have a backpack or duffle bag that you leave in your car, truck, office, or other strategic location. You can consider this tier to be in line with your actual bug-out bag (BOB) or get home bag.

This tier gives you the ability to store and carry plenty of supplies and equipment.

The Travel Twist: Your Everyday CARRY ON Kit

While you must always work on fine-tuning your EDC to your situation, traveling, primarily by air, can throw you a curveball. After all, you can’t carry weapons or other essential EDC items through security and onto a plane. Therefore, setting up your EDC and bug out/get home bag to be what you need when you arrive at your destination takes strategic thinking.

The critical point in all of this is whether you are traveling with weapons and other items prohibited everyday carry-on items. If you don’t have any prohibited things, then you can bring your entire loaded BOB if it’s not too big.

Woman at airport with backpack and carry on luggage

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

If you are flying with items prohibited from being carried on, you’re stuck checking bags. So, if you decide to check bags, you should consider the “in for a penny, in for a pound” philosophy. This philosophy dictates that since you’re already taking the time to check luggage, you might as well bring everything.

By doing this with thought, you’ll be able to separate your regular tiered supplies into your checked baggage and everyday carry-on luggage. Then, when you arrive at your location, you’ll be able to reassemble your gear into all of your usual tiers.  This means after arriving at your destination, you’ll have tiers one, two, and three all set to go.

When traveling, using three pieces of luggage can work. Three pieces of luggage should get all of your needed EDC and bug-out bag supplies to your destination.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Is being on vacation or away from home any reason to let your guard down? No, it’s not! In reality, when you’re away from home, you’re at higher risk.

Why is that? It’s simple – it’s because you’re possibly on your own and away from your support network. Therefore, what you have with you, is probably all you’ll have to help you get through any stressful situations. As well, when we’re vacationing, we’re there to have fun, not think about disasters and emergencies.

Confirm the Rules and Regulations

Do your due diligence if you plan on transporting firearms, knives, and other items. First, you need to confirm the airline and TSA policies. Doing this ensures you don’t do anything to cause yourself problems at the airport.

Next, check the laws and regulations for where you are going. For example, transporting certain firearms, etc., into some cities and states can cause significant problems with local law enforcement. Getting yourself into a jam with law enforcement over a gun is definitely not the way to start a fun-filled vacation or a business trip when you’re on a schedule.

So, know before you go. Ignorance is not an excuse in the Internet age.

If your destination is not a place that is friendly to your beliefs, your options are to reconsider going there or to adapt to the rules of your destination.

Your Luggage

When checking luggage for air travel, you will want to consider three to four pieces. In this case, these pieces will include:

  1. Carry on Bag #1 – a small bag that you can keep at your seat.
  2. Carry on Bag #2 – Backpack, etc., that goes into the overhead storage.
  3. Checked Bag #1 – Hard-sided firearms case.
  4. Checked Bag #2 – Rolling duffle, backpack, or another type of checked bag.

Everyday Carry On Bag #1 – Small Seat Bag

This is a small carry on bag that has enough room for just a few items. You’ll keep this bag with you at your seat. Since it’s with you at your seat, you’ll want to include things you may need on your flight.

Everyday Carry On Bag #2 – Bigger BOB Style Bag

Carry on bag #2 can be a backpack or other similar items that will store in the overhead bin. This should carry things that you may need in the event your checked bags are lost. You can also include items that will be part of your overall tiered everyday carry-on plan.

When deciding what bag to use for traveling, make sure you consider the logistics of your travel. Are you walking long distances? Will the bag be cumbersome, etc.?

Checked Bag #1 – Firearms Case

If you’re checking luggage because you want to bring your EDC gear with you, it may be because you’re bringing firearms. If so, the first piece of luggage you should pack should be your hard-sided firearms case.

When transporting firearms, the case needs to be hard-sided and lockable. Many are compact enough to hold two pistols, several magazines each, and a couple of boxes of ammo. Checking more than one firearm may be overkill. However, as mentioned earlier, if you’re already checking bags, you might as well go all in.

Again – remember to check TSA, airlines, and local regulations at your destination before transporting firearms and other items.

Checked Bag #2 – Bigger Bag for the Rest of Your Kit

Your second checked bag can be your suitcase, rolling duffle, or whatever piece of luggage you choose. The second piece of checked luggage can be used to carry the items that you either don’t want to wear or that are prohibited in carry-on luggage.

The TSA does random searches of checked baggage. If you are putting knives in your checked bags, they should be in sheaths – the last thing you need is a TSA agent pawing through your luggage and getting cut. Keep in mind that knife laws, like gun laws, vary by destination. This is particularly true if you are flying outside the United States. For foreign travel, the Spyderco UK Penknife adheres to the laws in almost every country.

Don’t forget to consider the logistics of where you’re going. Not all bags are well suited for traveling, despite them being ideal for a bug out or other situation. It’s up to you to do the risk versus reward analysis to determine what’s right for your situation.

Putting it All Together

Once you arrive at your destination, you can take your gear and consolidate it into whatever setup works for you—for instance, stock up your small first-tier EDC bag for when you’re out and about. Then set up your carry-on backpack to work as your BOB should a significant event occur.

Doing all of this takes time, effort, and in the days of airport fees, possibly money. But, once you get to where you’re going, you’ll be as ready as possible to deal with it. In the end, that’s what it’s all about, right?

Keep in mind to check the laws at your destination for any weapons you may wish to carry on your person. This CCW reciprocity map is a great resource and is regularly updated. Knife laws differ, too. They cannot be carried concealed in some places, but a clip on the outside of your pocket is enough to keep you on the right side of the law.

Sample Travel EDC Kit Plan

Here’s my personal Everyday Carry On

Carryon Bag #1 – Small Seat Bag

Carryon Bag #2 – Tier Three EDC Bag and BOB

My main carry-on bag is my primary everyday carry-on for air travel focus when getting on planes. This is because I sometimes travel with only a carry-on. Therefore, this will be the heart of my BOB should my situation go south.

For my primary carry-on bag, I use a Professional Slim Junior Laptop Backpack.  This is hands down, the best backpack I’ve found to use as a carry-on for traveling. It’s a little pricey but is well worth it if you fly regularly. It is TSA checkpoint-friendly and has a ton of storage spaces. Those storage spaces are well thought out and are great for being organized. It’s comfortable to carry and works well as a hasty bug-out bag. With that said, should it be considered a primary BOB? No, probably not, but for traveling purposes, you may find it, or something similar, to be suitable alternatives.


  • Lightweight coat
  • Socks – both daily wear and backpacking/hiking.
  • Long and short sleeve shirts
  • Extra pair of pants
  • Baseball type of hat


  • Computer with charger
  • iPad with charging cord
  • Backup battery

Food and Drink

  • A couple of meal replacement bars
  • A few coffee packs, electrolyte replacement drink mixes

Other Items

  • AR500 Level IIIA backpack soft armor This goes into the clothes section of the backpack. The Level IIIA will stop most pistol rounds. If needed, you can flip your back and wear it on your chest to provide you with frontal protection.
  • Personal hygiene kit – Toothbrush, shower stuff, over-the-counter medications, etc.
  • Photocopy of drivers licensed, concealed carry permit, etc.
  • Rubber door stop
    • Rubber door stops work great for an added layer of security when staying in a hotel or a room with questionable security.
  • Rite in the Rain Waterproof Notebook
  • #2 Pencil
  • Stainless Steel Sharpie

Checked Bag #1 – Hard-sided and Lockable Firearms Case

  • Two pistols
  • Three magazines for each gun (magazines should be unloaded)
  • Two boxes of ammunition

Checked Bag #2 – Rolling Duffle Contents


  • Solomon Quest 4D 2 GTX boots
    • Awesome boots if you’re walking.
  • Packable Cold Weather Vest
    • It compacts down into a tiny ball,  is lightweight, and provides excellent warmth for its size.
  • Smartwool Cap
    • You have to keep your dome warm!
  • Mountain Made Outdoor Gloves
  • Military Poncho Liner Ask any infantryman. They’ll tell you one of the best pieces of equipment if the military poncho liner. It keeps you warm and cozy. Never leave home without it!
  • Military Rain Poncho
    • A military rain poncho works great to keep for a variety of reasons. It can keep you and your kit dry. It also works with your poncho liner to make a decent sleep system. Lastly, it can be used as an expedient field shelter should you need it.


Food, Water, and Cooking 

Firearms and Related Items

  • Concealed carry holsters.
  • Knives or other sharp instruments.
  • Anything else that you don’t carry on or put in your hard-sided gun case.

Tier Two EDC – Small EDC Bag Carried in Checked Bag #2

I also put my second-tier small EDC bag (the Patagonia Atom Sling) in checked bag #2. This little bag can carry essential items that I want when out and about at my destination.

However, in an emergency, this bag can be used for someone who may not be prepared. You may be traveling with others or meet someone along the way. If they are unprepared, this will help them, which could help you. After all, going through a major event on your own may not be the best option. If not, then this bag could help increase your overall flexibility and resiliency.

Fire Starting Kit

Over the Counter Medications

First Aid and Trauma Kit

Other Gear

The Bottom Line on Everyday Carry On Kits for Air Travel

The strict rules surrounding air travel can really put a cramp in your prepper style, but with these everyday carry-on kits and tiered packing lists, you can take your trip with the most safety and security possible.


Stay safe,


Everyday Carry On Kits for Air Travel

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Brian Duff

Brian's preparedness career began at sixteen and included professional roles as a lifeguard, firefighter, paramedic, Special Operations team leader with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, Diplomatic Protection Specialist, and international security director. He's managed medical clinics in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, provided high-threat diplomatic protection in Iraq and Pakistan, advised a rebel army in Africa, oversaw U.S. embassy security in Baghdad, and directed a premiere tactical medicine training facility. Brian is an expert in Security, Crisis Management, and Preparedness Mindset and hosts the Mind4Survival podcast. He holds a bachelor's degree in Security Management and an MBA in Information Technology Management.

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  1. Ron Durham on October 19, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Dang EDC never crossed my mind…Let alone going remote via public transportation. I don’t travel much anymore but that’s a good consideration if I have to.

    I’ve begun plans to move from my work to my daughter’s school to my house. A 20 mile movement. The physical demands for us may require a bike and trailer. That will be easier with no vehicle traffic…and we can swap out driving. Grab another bike…scavenge a trailer full. I guess that’s a bug in bag. She will be my 1st priority. EDC is a great plan I may adapt the trailer pack to.

    Great article and coding. I caught myself bouncing to Amazon and back… adding lots to my SHTF List. Do you have a coupon or code to credit your references?

    • Brian Duff on October 23, 2017 at 9:47 pm

      Ron, Thanks again. If you follow any of my links to Amazon, it should register when you get to the site. Brian

  2. Kenny Baboolal on October 7, 2018 at 8:14 am

    Very informative, I already utilize a few of your recommendations but will differnately consider the rest

    • Brian Duff on October 16, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      Thanks, Kenny! I appreciate your feedback.

  3. Trent Loucks on May 25, 2022 at 8:31 am


    Great post and timely. Getting ready for a flight in the next month and was thinking about this topic. I carry a backpack on every flight and I have an empty water bladder (CamelBak) in the pouch closest to my back. I also travel with a water purification kit so essentially it is “Just add water”. I’ve never had an issue getting through the airport with this rig.

    • Brian Duff on May 29, 2022 at 1:05 pm

      Thanks for your feedback and the great suggestion about carrying an empty water bladder! It’s a great point!

  4. Amy F on January 18, 2023 at 8:42 pm

    I used this article to fine tune my carry-on bag & checked suitcase when I flew home to visit family last Summer. I basically took my Get Home Bag as my carry on, but I have canvas zipper bags inside that I can swap out if I have to fly. The red bag contains my knives & multitool, the green one contains TSA approved multitool as well as a couple of other TSA approved tools. When preparing for a flight, the red bag goes in my checked luggage, along with my locked & declared pistol case, the green bag goes in the carry on. When I reach my destination, all I have to do is swap those bags & I’m ready for any travel once at my destination. Another part of my “carry-on” is a travel vest containing the bare essentials, just in case I get separated from my carry-on for some reason. Layers of preparedness! I appreciate this article & your videos (along with Dale of course as well!) they have often triggered a thought of something I may have otherwise overlooked.

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