Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2012 Aug 23 | Load Out

In 2004 a physical therapist told me that my shoulders were askew and that I should use a traditional backpack. Hence, I would have to surrender my supply of single-strap conference schwag (free promotional merchandise) and return to the double straps of my boyhood. Fortunately, I found a backpack that has served me well in the subsequent years. Like a few other cherished items, this one was purchased at a thrift store. It’s cast-off swag, a promotional item for “Brio Technology” (a software company acquired into non-existence). However, much like my “Cambridge NanoTech” fleece, this product is as good as the brand names, if not better. The bag is comfortable, lightweight, has pouches on either side for a water bottle and umbrella, and the appropriate number of pockets for my gadgets. Most importantly, it has loops for elastic webbing and to which I can attach key rings and carabiners. Unfortunately, such novel finds at a thrift store are not repeatable. Despite my forensic efforts, I’ve never been able to identify the original manufacturer. And as the bag has slowly deteriorated, I’ve been ever more frustrated with not finding a successor. However, sometimes one’s scholarly interests also have private benefits.

As noted, product reviews are numerous and popular on YouTube. Indeed, high-tech unboxings and reviews are only the tip of the iceberg. One can find product reviews for silly putty, the egg genie, pancake pen, and the double bullet (a sex toy). Via a blog post I was introduced to the reviews of the survivalist “Doomsday Prepping” community [KWillets2012sap]. (There are an estimated three million “preppers” in America, some spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, have their own dating sites, and are now portrayed in a National Geographic series [Brady2012mpu; Ellis2012cpd]). The reviewers are, typically, white Christian American men concerned with big government, gun rights, and the collapse of civil society; their slogan: “pray for the best, prepare for the worst.” As hipstomp’s original posting noted, these folk are “completely obsessed with both gear and the idea of self-sufficiency. They prize durability and functionality in a product because their fervency makes them believe their lives will depend on it.” [hipstomp2012wsm]

Many of the reviews are for Maxpedition products, a reputable but expensive brand that caters to emergency responders and the military. However, their market expanded when their FR-1 medical pouch was adopted by survivalists. A rural survivalist’s bag will likely include maps, cash, flashlights, a handgun, hand sanitizer, a compass, GPS, knives, toothpaste, bandages, food bars, water filters, Neosporin, and parachord – among many other things. (And flashlights and knives are also fetishized objects with many reviews.) A more urban survivalist will also include a battery charger for their varied gadgets. Like any subculture, they have their own lingo. For instance, a “bug out bag” is a pre-packed bag that you can immediately grab out of the closet or car trunk, and serve you for the next 72 hours. (Discussion about what exactly is necessary is extensive.) An “EDC” is an “everyday carry bag.” A “load out” is much like an unboxing, except that the reviewer exhaustively unpacks the bag while discussing his loading strategy and the merits of each item. Many of the reviewers have a military affinity, or experience, and speak freely of PALS webbing and MOLLE compatible attachments.

The bag I purchased, the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon-II , has dozens of YouTube reviews, some of which are 15 minutes long. My favorite review and “load out” is by a charming young man who begins the review by testing its stability while attacking a martial arts dummy and jumping rope. (He sheepishly admits the rope jumping was not a good idea as the pack is coming down when he is going up.)

During his unpacking he pointedly encounters the Bible, Declaration of Independence and an anti-Obama tract within its pockets [mokyan72011mpf]. These type of reading materials are common across the reviews and is reminiscent of the Crystal champagne rappers often have chilling in their refrigerators on MTV’s Cribs. Reviewers take their task seriously, though sometimes I cannot help but laugh at the bravado. In one odd juxtaposition, an Amazon reviewer reports “this product is well made, I bought this for my 5th grader [and it] works very well.” It even can fit anM4 assault rifle though “It does not get a five star because the drag handle is small if you needed to drag a wounded team mate while wearing gloves and under fire” [Kodiakbear2011rmp]. And while I thought it was only a carrying handle, a fifth grader shouldn’t weigh that much! One can even find the rare humorous review, where rugged survivalism is replaced with domesticity.

I originally bought this for a go-bag. How often do you need a go-bag? Well, so far, never. But it did become my favorite diaper bag…. The adjustable straps make for a comfortable fit, and quick to adjust between my wife (Small) and myself (XL)…. The rear compartment can fit plenty of diapers, a full size package of wipes, and bottle of anti-bacterial gel…. There are 2 water bottle holders, which is perfect for carrying a water bottle for you, and a sippy cup for your kid. [B2011rmp]

My quandary, shared by many survivalists, was what color? There’s black, khaki, green, and foliage green. Like the survivalists, I didn’t want anything too military or “tactical.” For “sheeples” like myself, I want something that fits in at the office. For the smart survivalist, he knows that during a crisis the government targets and seizes the weapons of those who look the part.

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle