This Ain’t Your Great-Granddaddy’s Ditty Bag

There are two things that you don’t need in the Navy: a wife and a car. If the Navy thought you needed them they would have put them in your Ditty Bag.” – Co. Commander Gunners Mate First Class DeLapp

ditty bag being carried

According to a 1912 issue of Field & Stream, the purpose of the ditty-bag can be summed up as follows:

In camp and when cruising about the woods, there are certain essentials, and many other small articles of constant use which one should always have handy. They aggregate about two pounds weight and if disposed about one’s clothing will not only make these garments heavy and uncomfortable but will fill them with knubly protuberances which make sitting down or lying down a matter of much struggle and remonstrance. Wherefore the ditty-bag…has the inestimable advantage of being the place for everything small and loseable– it’s there, nowhere else, and all you have to do is to go and ferret it out instead of having to do the same thing through eighteen or nineteen pockets.”

boston ship

 The original ditty bags were used by sailors in the early 18th century. They were issued canvas bags in which to store their spare clothes. A smaller pouch was sequestered in the sack which was for holding all the “implements of his housewifery”: a sewing kit (which also included supplies to repair hats and shoes), letters from home, trinkets and sundry relics from their journeys. These seafaring men were expected to make their own clothes, so the sewing kit meant more than just a way to restore a button.  The origin of the term, “ditty” has been obscured by time, though. It might have come from a cotton cloth known as ditti or a fabric called dutty which was used to make sails.

ditty bag

As for us 21st century landlubbers, we’ve got a slightly modified list of necessities for our travels. And Harbor Freight Tools carries a lot of items ideal for the ditty-minded dude in all of us.

sardines

Of course there are other things you’ll want to include in your Ditty Bag that Harbor Freight doesn’t carry, such as food (dry nut mix works), water, water purifying pills, change of clothes, small first aid kit, fishing sinker and repellant. And you might want to deviate a bit from our checklist depending on what journey you have in store, but not much. All these items listed are valuable when out in the nowhere. Also, please let someone know where you’re going when you set out for your trek. Like an uncle with dementia or something.

Finally, a word about the Ditty Bag itself. There are a few types out there, some in cloth, some nylon, some in leather and some in canvas. We prefer canvas, preferably waxed or otherwise weather-treated, the kind that slings over your shoulder like you’re in an Old Spice commercial. Your first stop should be your local Army Navy stores. Their gear is pretty rugged and ready to get dirty. Or, if you strike out and happen to have a chunk of change you can part with, the Best Made Co. in NY has formidable-looking a “Best Made Ditty Bag” available for a mere $124.