As a gear reviewer, you get used to certain statements: ‘Quality gear isn’t cheap,’ or, ‘Spend your cash on the things you’ll use every day.’ And while these mottos generally ring true, they’re not exactly the letter of the law.
Yes, a higher price tag usually translates into a finer product. But what if you’re less into “fine” and more after “just fine”? Then, folks, this is the guide for you.
Over these last few years, I’ve gravitated heavily toward the budget end of the gear spectrum. In my time at the shallow end of the pool, I’ve encountered a wealth of useful, quality-built, and (best of all) affordable pieces of kit that are more than up to the rigors of daily use.
They’re so affordable, in fact, that you can get four EDC staples for less than $80 — a watch, a knife/multitool, a flashlight, and a pen. And while choosing the most expensive option in each category will put you over the line, there’s a configuration here that should work for just about everyone.
Check out our favorite options below.
Best EDCs Under $80
Wristwatches — I can hear the question now: “Why not just use my cellphone to tell the time?” Because sometimes, whether in the middle of work or adventure, it’s easier to glance down at your wrist. Especially if your hands are occupied, say with climbing or setting up camp. Analog or digital, that’s up to you, but wearing a watch is a pretty handy habit to get into.
And at such affordable prices, why not add a bit of wrist candy to your kit? Here are three great options from Casio, the king of budget watches.
For less than $20, there’s no better watch than Casio’s F-108WH ($19). While the legendary (and excellent) F91W gets most of the press, this updated version does everything its cousin does, and better.
While it may lack some of the style, the numerals and face are larger, the backlight is brighter, and the 50m water resistance is more than adequate. Plus, it comes in a nice array of colors. I torture-tested a red one several years back, and guess what? It’s on my wrist as I’m typing this out.
When I was looking for an analog-style beater, the MRW200H ($20) was at the top of my list. This dive-style watch features 100 m of water resistance, a bidirectional timing bezel, and a day/date window.
It’s not what I’d call a true “diver” for a few reasons, including its partial lume (the glow-in-the-dark compound is applied only to the hands). Still, this is an eminently readable, thoroughly capable timepiece. I’ve put mine through things that would kill watches more than five times the price, and it’s still ticking away.
There are two pieces of gear with James Bond connections on this list, and the Casio AE-1200WH “Royale” ($22) is the first. So named because of its similar design to the Seiko G757 Sports 100 worn by the iconic spy, this is a multifunctional powerhouse of a watch.
World-time features, five alarms, a stopwatch and timer, and 10 years of battery life? Sounds like a perfect companion for any adventure.
There’s also a steel bracelet model out there, which includes the same backlight and 100m water resistance found here. But the bracelet is a bit rattly, and I’d recommend the rubber version for the more budget-conscious.
Knives & Multitools
This one should be obvious. I mean, this is GearJunkie, where we specialize in knives and multitools. But in all seriousness, having a blade, pliers, or driver set in your pocket is incredibly handy. Whether opening packaging, carving up sticks, or tightening down a few screws, these are some of the best options you can get for the money.
While it may be the cheapest option in the category, the Tinker ($22) may be the most versatile. This aptly named riff on the Victorinox formula includes two blades, bottle and can openers, and multiple screwdrivers.
Speaking of which, don’t discount the usefulness of a full Phillips driver, which is far better than stripping threads with cheaper alternatives. Add in the classic toothpick and tweezers, and you’ve got a genuine toolbox in the palm of your hand.
When it comes to maximum quality at minimum cost, it’s hard to ignore the Luna ($32). This slipjoint knife features a solid grip, excellent pocket clip, and wonderfully slicey D2 steel blade.
And don’t let its nonlocking nature fool you — the Luna’s backspring is stiff enough to handle most medium-duty tasks, while also providing an easy open and close. Still, if you need something with a locking blade, check out the next option.
A longtime champion in the world of budget knives, the “Pi-Large” ($35) is a workhorse on a budget. While the 8Cr14MoV steel on its utility-style blade is a step down from the Luna’s D2, the linerlock mechanism allows it to tackle some jobs that the Real Steel can’t. We reviewed the upgraded model a few years back, but the basic version is still more than enough to get the job done.
I’ve been singing the praises of this particular multitool for years. The Style PS ($35) has a great toolset, including spring-loaded pliers, a flathead driver/file, and an excellent pair of scissors.
The downside? Well, there’s no blade to be found. But that also means that it’s flight-safe, so you can take it on your next travels. Add in Leatherman’s legendary 25-year warranty, and this is a compelling everyday option.
Who needs their own pen? Everyone. If you don’t have one, you don’t know what you’re missing. Besides being helpful in the current germ-conscious climate, keeping a pen in your pocket is a convenience you’ll find yourself reaching for again and again. And the refillable options below each will offer years of service.
Remember Boris from GoldenEye? The Russian computer tech who spins and clicks his pen until it explodes? Yeah, that was a Parker Jotter ($12). And I don’t blame him — the mechanism on these things is somewhat addictive.
While they’re available in full steel, I actually prefer the half-plastic version for frequent use. I’d recommend upgrading to a Parker Gel cartridge, but the stock ballpoint is definitely serviceable.
Like the Real Steel Luna above, the Pilot Metropolitan ($18) isn’t for everyone. On the plus side, these beginner’s fountain pens offer a significant upgrade to the writing experience. They’re well-made and comfortable in the hand — and the flow and color of the ink are game-changing.
However, fountain pens aren’t the best for side pocket carry, and the nib can dry out if you don’t use them regularly. But for frequent writers and compulsive note-takers, the Metropolitan is an intriguing option.
While the Jotter with a gel cartridge or an inked-up Pilot may be more luxurious, no writing implement offers greater versatility than the Space Pen ($21). This legendary Fisher product was designed for use by astronauts, giving it perhaps the ultimate adventure heritage.
The pressurized cartridge writes at all angles, and will even function underwater. It’s available in a wide range of colors, so you’re sure to find a model that suits your needs.
One of our editors has had one for years, and stresses how cool its functionality really is.
Why carry a flashlight? Well for one, you will avoid running down your phone’s battery, or risk banging or dropping it. Flashlights tend to be more weatherproof and durable than a phone, and definitely more bright. Having a dedicated flashlight that can shine bright and that you can easily carry day to day is a much better option.
Each of these offers a wonderful blend of function and disposability, allowing you to light up your life without fear.
Drawing 120 lumens from a single AAA battery, the EDC01 ($11) is an excellent budget option. The twist interface offers three intensity modes and IPX8 waterproofing, with a maximum runtime of 36 hours.
The included keyring and clasp allows for easy integration into your everyday loadout, and the anodized aluminum chassis weighs less than half an ounce without the battery.
In many ways, the ThruNite Ti3 ($16) is similar to the Lumintop above — same 120 lumens, IPX8 rating, AAA battery, and a similar user interface. But while it may seem like a simple thing, the pocket clip is a truly welcome addition. I carried a Ti3 for years before stepping up to an UltraTac K18, with its max output of 370 lumens and a rechargeable battery kit.
That’s a bit out of this guide’s price range, but if you’re still interested in a rechargeable option, check out the last option below.
Despite being the most compact light here, this tiny Olight bests the others with 150 lumens and micro-USB charging. Yes, there are only two modes (5 lumens and full blast), but the keychain nature of this i1R 2 ($18) is certainly the most portable.
String it from a lanyard, clip it to your pack, or let it ride loose in your pocket. Whatever you choose, this torch offers IPX8 waterproofing, along with 6 hours of runtime and a 40m max throw.
All three of these flashlight choices weigh under half an ounce.