What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring TV star, cosplayer, and maker Adam Savage.
Adam Savage doesn’t really sit still. When I met him in his hotel suite at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this summer, he was bouncing around his room, reminiscing about past conventions that he’s attended, checking his phone, and playing with the bag that he was eager to show off to me. That’s not surprising if you’re familiar with him from his 14-year stint as co-host of MythBusters, the Discovery Channel show that launched him into the forefront of the nerd public. He’s animated and energetic, the polar opposite of his reserved co-host Jamie Hyneman. Since his run on MythBusters ended in 2016 — it’s since been rebooted with a new pair of hosts — he’s kept busy, co-hosting a live stage show called Brain Candy Live! and regularly appearing on Tested.com where he builds props, visits film studios, and more.
One of his recent ventures has been Savage Industries, a company that he founded along with Mafia Bags, to produce his own epitome of a work bag, which he designed and carries around himself. When he brought out the bag he’s been carrying around, which contains four smaller pouches made of the same material, he jumped at the chance to lay out the contents for me, lining them up with a high level of precision.
So, tell me a bit about this bag.
So, I have a bag problem. I have a bag collection. I’ve been buying and using different bags and toolboxes since I was 15 years old. I love the idea of a discrete case that holds all the things necessary for a certain use case. And this is sort of the pinnacle of it. It’s the EDC One, Every Day Carry-One. It’s a bag that I designed with Marcos Mafia of Mafia Bags in San Francisco. It’s made of upcycled sailcloth, and its form is informed by a NASA bag that Neil Armstrong used to bring his personal effects back from the Moon, known as the McDivitt Purse. It was recently found by his wife, and the contents [were] auctioned off. I love white as a color for a tool bag because I hate black bags. I lose things in black bags. I can’t find anything in them. I find them an anathema to the idea of storage.
So even though I’ve released a black bag, it was under duress. Not under duress. It’s just, I appreciate that people want one, and I’m happy to provide one, but for me, making a bag in white was like a culmination of a long time of thinking about what’s the perfect bag. Like I said, in storage, I have probably over a hundred different bags and boxes that I’ve collected over the years.
So what various pieces of those hundreds of bags have you incorporated into this one that you’ve had complete control over designing?
Well, one of them is that there are almost no pockets in this bag. That’s by design. I found that when there are a ton of pockets in a tool bag, you grab it, and you put all your stuff in it, because you think, “Oh, all these pockets can hold my stuff!” And then you look at the bag, and you don’t know where stuff goes. You have no idea that you have a tape measure because you put it in a thing, and you forgot about it. So, to me, pockets are like drawers. They are places that you go to lose stuff.
If you’re doing a really, really job-specific execution of something, then initial special compartments for everything you need are totally reasonable. But for general-purpose bags, I don’t think pockets are that useful, so I removed almost all of the pockets from this. I did include Velcro strips at the bottom so that one could potentially add in sorters for different use case inserts into this bag. And I have one big pocket, big enough for a good sketchbook and a couple of other things, which holds three pencils and two Sharpies.
Specifically pencils and Sharpies?
That is what I sized for: I size for my favorite kind of pencil — a Paper Mate SharpWriter — and a Sharpie marker. That’s basically it. I love being involved in my bag without even looking and grabbing exactly the thing I need to make the note that I want.
So tell me a little bit about what you have in the... I guess what we’ll call the Tech Bag.
There are four white smaller bags inside the EDC One. The largest of them is the tech bag, and this is where I keep all my chargers, my charging cables, memory cards, memory sticks, and adapters. To own a computer today is to interface with all manner of different types of devices, and I try to leave the house with everything that I need in order to do that. I do a lot of talks. I went to SXSW a few years ago, and when I got there, they couldn’t power my talk off of my own memory stick because I was using too new of a version of that presentation software. Luckily, I had the video adapter for my laptop with me, and we were able to plug it right into their system. That, to me, is a complete win in terms of preplanning.
I also keep extra batteries in here. Phone batteries, phone chargers. My axiom for packing is: what happens if I didn’t have access to anything for two days? Can I still power most of my devices this way?
Have you ever had a time when you had to test that?
I don’t know that I’ve been stranded somewhere for that long. Here at Comic-Con, I use my phone so constantly, walking around with a battery is going to be completely critical. Walking around with an extra powerpack is totally critical.
What’s the lens here?
This is a 360-degree camera that I purchased because I had been experimenting with 360 videos for the Oculus Rift. That’s just part of R&D for me and for future content for Tested.
You have a lot of USB sticks.
A lot of USB sticks. I don’t know why I have so many. I don’t need that many. It seems to be a hard thing for me to remove from my bag. I also have a ton of USB charging ports because I hate to run out, but I also love having extra chargers so that when someone says, “Oh, do you have a charger for your phone?” I can go, “Yes! Here you go!” I like being the provider. Redundancy is a key part of my planning process.
Tell me a little about the notebook. You’ve labeled it “2017.”
So I sketch all the time in hard copy. It’s kind of how I think. I write on my computer, but I ideate in the sketchbook. This includes everything from early, early designs for these bags, for advertising campaigns for the EDC One, layouts of my shop, and then other types of bags, things I want to build, like a dinosaur costume, things I’m currently building, like space suit drawings and layouts and blueprints, and then stuff that I was ideating a couple of weeks ago in Colorado for making an automaton bird. Sketching has become more and more a really important part of my life. I’ve never thought of myself as a very good draftsman, but over the years, through brute force and tons and tons of practice, I now have a line that I like. So it feeds itself. I do it more and more. It’s now the only thing I do on a plane. I almost never pull out my laptop anymore.
Let’s move on to the next bag.
This is the second biggest white bag. Each of these bags are sort of works in progress between me and Marcos Mafia, just sort of like what sizes work for me when I travel. This right now has tended to be a secondary tech bag. It’s housing some drawing stuff like a compass, some hearing aid batteries and an extra hearing aid, a little camera tripod for my phone, and extra flashlights. I always have a flashlight in my pocket. It’s part of my personal, everyday carry, and I need redundancy for that. Again, I don’t know why I need three extra flashlights in my bag, but if they’re needed they’re there.
And then I also have an extra set of headphones here because I brought my OneWheel to San Diego to ride around between here and the Gaslamp District. On my OneWheel, I don’t like to wear headphones because I can’t hear the street traffic, so I have a bone conduction set of headphones, which are totally amazing because you can hear the world. It’s like touching your ear, and it’s like a symphony sound into your head, while someone sitting next to you can barely hear it.
What do you look for in a good flashlight?
I am very particular. I want a button on the end that turns it on; I don’t want one on the side. I want it to be powered by a single AA or AAA. I’d prefer — and I’m having trouble finding one of these — a flashlight that goes on. So many flashlights come with extra settings. This one has a bright, a dim, and then a strobe. My ideal flashlight just has a button that turns it on and off.
These are makers?
Both of those are challenge coins that were printed and laser-etched in maker spaces and given to me at the Nation of Makers Convention that we did in Santa Fe back in early June.
Do you rotate stuff like that out a lot?
Yeah, eventually, when I remember. I’ll pull those out and put that in my challenge coin display case back in the cave. But until then, they’re going to stay there because if I put them in a drawer, they’ll live in that for a few years before they make it back to the shop.
Alright, next bag.
The pencil case. Pretty straightforward. A bunch of the Paper Mate SharpWriters, my favorite mechanical pencil, a bunch of Sharpies, those are Fisher Space pens, a couple of random pens from hotels. I really love stealing pens from hotels. There’s an Apple Pencil there because sometimes I travel. I have tried to start sketching on an iPad, and I continue to think that is a great use case. So every couple of trips, I’ll bring an iPad Pro, and sketch on it. But for the most part, not so much. I carry a ruler, just like there’s a tape measure in the tech bag. I often have cases to measure stuff that I’m interested in, especially here at Comic-Con. I run into a prop that I want to know about. This little blue marker with a clear top, that is a whiteout pen, and it’s just one of my favorite bands in the world, and I love labeling my stuff. You can see several things here are labeled with it, including my hearing aid case. It dries instantly, and you can write on anything. It’s an absolutely amazing pen.
You’ve got two spoons.
Two spoons. I actually used one of those spoons just today. The other one was carved out of walnut. Tom Sachs gave it to me, and so it’s more like a little sentimental talismanic item than a utility item. But still, I’ve always traveled with the spoon, and I’m happy every time I need it.
Four more Sharpies and Paperwrites. Anything particular about Sharpie that you like?
It’s Sharpie! Just like the Ur-marker as far as I’m concerned. I actually carry another kind as well. This is a Pica Pen, and it’s actually got a long shaft meant for transferring patterns between one thing and about. I just I really appreciate this pen. It made it into my bag recently, and I just haven’t taken it out yet.
And this last bag is...
This is my Dopp kit. It’s pretty straightforward: some hair gel, a comb, and I had a tooth problem recently so I have some Anbesol in there. Bandages, even some butterflies for serious cuts. I travel with a sewing kit. I always travel with a sewing kit and pain relievers because I currently have tennis elbow, and sugar because, frankly, my coffee is never sweet enough. And tea.
So again, to me, I can survive for a couple of days in the wilderness with what I’ve got here.
This all feels almost Easter egg-like.
The challenge coin, it doesn’t have a functional purpose, but it’s referential to something. The bag itself, you mentioned that it’s an explicit reference to the NASA-era stuff.
There’s a comfort in that to me. I’m all about making objects and the power that objects have, and I like carrying them around with me. That walnut spoon pleases me to no end. The way in which these things weather in, it’s like... I’ll tell you that, actually, the EDC One, it’s not perfect for my laptop, but when I put all my tech bags in it, it helps sandwich my laptop and notebook and keeps them upright. So it’s actually the whole system that sort of works together.
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