Nothing is more important to a technician in the field than their tool bag. It contains their livelihood. The ACHR NEWS recently spoke with three technicians — representing residential service, commercial service, and installation — about what they carry in their bags.
HVAC and plumbing lead installer and field supervisor at First Choice Heating and Cooling in Metuchen, New Jersey
ACHR NEWS: What do you carry in your bag?
FLYNN: On the one side, I have two small pliers, a couple of 11-in-1s, and three levels. As far as electrical tools – linesman, diagonal cutters, wire strippers. PVC cutter, electrical testers — contact/non-contact. On the other side, I have a chisel, a couple of ratchets, probably too many drill bits, Allen key set, precision screwdrivers, electrical crimping tool, and my small impact driver.
Honestly, every time I get something new, it goes in the bag. It’s always filling up, but I try to keep it as light as possible because it does add up. And you’re carrying it into a house every day. Luckily for me, it’s only usually twice. I carry it in, I do the install, and I carry it out at the end of the day.
I have a separate case for all the pliers and the big cutters like copper cutters. I originally kept that in the backpack, but then it got way too heavy and I separated it all.
ACHR NEWS: Do you recommend carrying a bag and a case?
FLYNN: 100% yes, especially if you’re doing service. That in and out will kill you if you’re carrying everything in one bag.
ACHR NEWS: Do new guys carry too much or not enough?
FLYNN: A lot of guys carry too much. I’ve seen that. And a lot of guys carry too little. It’s all about how you set it up on the job site that really counts. If you can make one trip for all your tools and have everything you need, that’s fantastic. If you have to go out to the truck for a bunch of stuff, that really takes away from your day.
I actually have everything set up in the bag the way I like it. If something’s missing, I know where to look for it. Organizing is absolutely key. It’s not, “Oh, we’re going to throw everything in and then the next time we’ll put it all in a different place.” No. That can’t happen.
ACHR NEWS: Do you let other guys go into your bag?
FLYNN: Yeah, and I can point them in the exact direction of what pocket it is, where it is, in the front or the back of the bag. As far as using my tools, that’s fine. That’s what I buy them for — to be used. I don’t mind as long as it goes back in the right slot.
ACHR NEWS: What about the bag itself?
FLYNN: I actually traded a Veto Pro Pac XXL for a Veto backpack with a guy on Instagram. I didn’t really use the XXL. That’s the only way I’d go, after that. It works so well. You have two free hands to bring in other stuff.
Field technician at Hays Heating, Cooling and Plumbing in Phoenix, Arizona
REUNITED: Dayton Yarbrough had to give up his Vito ProPack when he left one firm. He tried another bag but missed his old one enough to go out and buy his own.
ACHR NEWS: What kind of bag do you carry and what is in it?
YARBROUGH: Veto Pro Pac backpack. I climb to the top of a lot of commercial buildings. It makes it easier to climb up the ladder, rather than having a bag with a shoulder strap and the bag hanging down next to me. I have everything in my bag so I don’t have to make multiple trips to my truck.
My boss at my first job bought me a Pro Pac. Then when I left, he took it back, so I was kind of sad. So I went and bought a Husky bag from Home Depot. It just wasn’t the same. It was an actual tool bag that hung off your shoulder. I had to buy a Veto Pro Pac again. They’re not cheap, but they’re well worth it.
I have my wireless refrigerant charging kit stuffed in that bag somewhere. I have some Allen wrenches in case I need to change a fan motor. I carry a pair of dikes, a pair of wire crimpers, needle-nose pliers, two pairs of channel locks, a small crescent wrench, and a large crescent wrench. I carry PVC cutters, a drain gun, trichometers, fuses — 5-amp and 3-amp, wire nuts, jumpers. I carry multiple bits, all the way from a quarter-inch to 7/8. I carry step-up bits of three different sizes. Phillips bit. Multi-tool that has four different sizes of Philips and flat heads on it, as well as seven different sizes of heads. I carry a flat-tip screwdriver. I also have a 5-amp fuse popper. I’m sure there’s something I’m missing. My meter. I almost forgot that.
It probably weighs about 50 pounds. I carry more now than when I started. I don’t like many trips. The ladders are 30 feet tall. I don’t like climbing up and down ladders more than I have to.
ACHR NEWS: Is there is a tool you recommend to new techs?
YARBROUGH: I tell new techs to get a multitool that has different sizes of Philips and flatheads. You can change thermostats with it, you can use it for control boards, and you can take out screws on a unit if your drill battery dies for some reason. I also recommend a pair of needle nose pliers, a pair of channel locks, and a pair of wire strippers that have a crimper on them. I don’t like to use wire nuts unless I have to. It just makes it look a little more professional.
That’s really the basics of what needs to be carried. All the other stuff is just specialty tools that I tend to carry. I don’t use them half the time, but I’d rather have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
ACHR NEWS: Do you keep everything pretty well organized?
YARBROUGH: My bag is organized. If something is not in the right spot, I kind of freak out. On the front side are all my diagnostic tools, and on the back side are my charging tools for refrigerants, as well as the vacuum gauge and specialty tools. All the additional tools are on the back side. That’s where I keep all the stuff that’s not used for normal applications.
ACHR NEWS: Do you let others take tools out of your bag?
YARBROUGH: Yes, but I always ask if they put it back. I pay for my tools, and I don’t want them to get lost. When I was coming up, I worked with someone who was very strict about where things went in his tool bag. If I asked for something, he would reach in his bag and hand it to me. I try to be pretty laid back.
ACHR NEWS: What is a tool you use that you don’t see other people carrying?
A wireless charging set. When I first started, I was carrying around an actual manifold and hoses. The wireless set-up is lightweight and easy to pack. You don’t have to worry about breaking a gauge. You just hook it up to the unit, turn on your phone, and you have your readings right there.
It’s like the more money you make, the more bills you have. The lighter the bag, the more stuff you’re going to put in it.
Lead service manager at Baxter Comfort Solution in Baxter, Iowa
EVER-GROWING: Tools get lighter, but Orval Stier’s bag just keeps getting heavier as he puts more in there.
ACHR NEWS: What do you carry in your bag?
STIER: I have a whole slew of things. I try to carry a small bag so it doesn’t weigh too much. I carry a Fluke multimeter. I also a carry a Fluke clamp meter. I carry a 20-V drill, a 20-V flashlight, a quick bit that goes into my impact. A nutdriver bit, a screwdriver bit, several extensions. One of them is a depth bit for sheet metal. I carry a manometer, a tape measure, a level. I have a tackle box carrier that has miscellaneous screws. I have a magnetic tool that tells me if a motor is running. We do a lot of geothermal, so I carry around four different thermometers, two for checking water temperatures, and two for checking air temperatures. I carry around a pressure gauge for ground-source heat pumps. I do have miscellaneous thermostat wire and 14-gauge wire at the bottom of my bag, as well as fade connectors of different assortments.
I carry around a magnet tray to hold all the bolts and screws from when I’m disassembling things. Those little things are the most important things in my bag. I have a stubby 5/16- and ¼-inch nut driver that comes in very handy.
I have a small and large crescent wrench, two pairs of adjustable pliers, a pair of needle nose pliers, and two sets of crimpers and strippers.
I have so many tools in this bag and it’s not even that big.
ACHR NEWS: What kind of bag do you carry?
STIER: They call it an electrician’s bag, actually. It has an open top and there’s a handle that divides the bag into three sections. My big section in the middle has my drill and my flashlight to keep the weight balanced. One side has my meters and my manometer. The other side has that tackle box. It’s a DeWalt bag. It came built in to the bag. I have pockets on the outside where I keep the pliers and such.
It took me eight years to get to this point. When I first started, I had this big bag. It probably weighed 50 pounds. I could carry everything. I would never have to go to my van, but it was heavy. It was hard to carry up a ladder, and then you had to dig through the thing because you had so much stuff in there. Then I went to almost a tool box. It looked like a giant lunch box with a handle on the top. It was the same deal. I couldn’t find things in an orderly fashion. There were times when I thought I lost tools and they were just at the bottom. It got annoying.
Then I went to a backpack. For me, the backpack didn’t work because when I’m digging into a furnace, I like to be able to just reach over and grab what I need. I don’t like to have to reach into a bunch of different compartments.
One day, I went to the local supply house and said, “I need a bag that I can get to from the top, but that holds a good amount of stuff.” They showed me the smallest electrical bag that had that extra compartment.
It’s easier on my back; I can lift it up ladders no problem. And I can get in and out of the back. Just by looking, I know if my pliers are there, if my drill is there. It’s a nice, easy checklist to not leave tools behind.
I’ve decided it’s smarter to carry fewer tools, but your most used tools. Just know when you’re going to a job if you need something extra and take it with you. This covers 90% of my jobs without a second trip to the van.
ACHR NEWS: Do you have any particular tool that you recommend?
STIER: There are three underrated tools that I carry that I tell my technicians they’ll want to buy. One is a 3-inch long, two-side wrench. One side is a ¼-inch, and one side is 5/16. That gets you out of a pinch when you’re in a really tight spot. The other thing is a meter that has a really strong magnet on it and a light. You get in the spot when you need an extra hand; magnets are just amazing.
And the one thing that I use almost all the time, that I don’t see enough of, is on my meter there are a bunch of lead connectors. You can put needle leads on the end of regular leads and alligator clips. So when I’m testing, I can actually clamp it on inside of trying to get a connector and a lead to touch sufficiently. That cuts down on chasing your tail around more that you should.