What's in your backpack?

From cyclists to photographers to preppers, the web is awash with photos that answer the simple question: what’s in your backpack? Why do people want to share the contents of their pockets, their bags or their desk set ups? Jon Hickman writes.

After a while the photos of what people had in their pockets blur into one: money, note book, gun. Yeah, I’ve got pretty blasé about the idea of guns in people’s pockets today because I’ve been looking through the Instagram hashtag #everydaycarry. The Every Day Carry is the set of things that you take with you wherever you go, the bare necessities of life, and #everydaycarry is an Internet meme: it’s the act of curating and sharing photos of your carry with your friends and with the world, online.

I’ve seen a number of similar memes over the years. Due to my work my network, in particular my loose network of online acquaintances, I know a lot of journalists, researchers, commentators and just Internet people who have an interest in thinking through new ways of working with digital tools. As a result of this I’ve seen a lot of blog posts that describe various tech set ups: the perfect work bag for a mobile journalist, the best desk set up, how to build a workflow around an iPad. The list goes on. If you hang around with similar people, you probably know the sort of thing.

The kit bag is a meme amongst photographers, that spawns Flickr groups that ask “What’s in your camera bag?” and “What’s in your bag [but NOT CAMERA bags]””. Cyclists too like to share photos of their equipment in this way; when I first started talking to people about my interest in this stuff a guy I know said “oh cyclists have done that for years: here’s my saddlebag vomit”. There’s even a recurring feature in cricket coverage that asks players to go through their kit bags whilst a bored pundit looks on. Sadly Matthew Hoggard talking Mark Nicholas through his bag during a rain stoppage in the 2005 Ashes hasn’t make it onto YouTube, but Mike Hussey’s 2013 bag did.

So when I first came across #everydaycarry on Instagram, I instantly got it: it was another take on a long standing meme of showing people your stuff. What I couldn’t understand though was why people were doing it. The motivations in the other examples I’ve mentioned seem a little clearer: “I’m a cyclist, talking to cyclists” or a journalist talking to journalists, a photographer talking to photographers. In those examples there is a clear social object that brings people together. In each case the group of people have something they want to share with a community that want to talk about it. What is the community behind #everydaycarry, what brings them together, and what, just what are they even doing?

I must be honest, the guns really did get to me: they’re what pulled me in. Not just the guns, the knives too. When you spend time looking through a carry group, weapons are very prominent. Something else too: money. And when there’s not money, high worth objects that could easily be traded or sold (or so I reasoned). There’s an air of the survivalist, the prepper, in these photos and that’s what I began to see #everydaycarry as being about.

I’m keen on apocalyptic fiction (my favourite recent books being The Last Policeman books by Ben Winters) so when I see some of these carries their utility for the End Days is instantly apparent to me. You could use a random pull from Instagram’s #everydaycarry feed to help you roll up an inventory for a character sheet in a zombie role play scenario. Sure you might get unlucky, but in a lot of cases you’d have all you need to last out until you can find a sporting goods store.

Weapons and #everydaycarry are so interconnected that the EDC boards on Reddit feature dozens of FAQ threads that ask “what’s with all the weapons guys?” and which are all collated into one big meta answer. This is an interesting resource if you want to engage in some of the debate around gun control (yes in the USA, but elsewhere too, this is an international community, a global meme). One of the lines many favour is: ‘I carry not for the odds, but for the stakes’. Preparedness. Is that the social object of #everydaycarry?

Looking beyond the weapons another thing I noticed about a lot of #everydaycarry material was that the photos really are quite beautiful. Sure, the carries are often photographed on phones (and many are filtered through Instagram, though the activity is not exclusive to that social network) but real care goes into a lot of the images. These are not haphazard social media posts, these are carefully curated pieces. And as for the objects within the carries themselves, they are often aspirational – they are markers of taste, of distinction: it’s not uncommon for carries to contain notebooks, and these are invariably by Field Notes or Moleskine while high end watches mix with up to date smart phones. Complete the look with a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses. Because the everyday carry is about objects, and because those objects are markers of taste, it’s perhaps not surprising that there are specialist every day carry shops and well curated blogs which go through carries in some detail and provide links to relevant online stores.

So, the everyday carry meme, it seemed to me might be linked to a survivalist culture (the so called ‘preppers’) but very much an affluent, middle class sub-set of it: preppers with cash, survivalists with taste. I don’t know much about guns but I imagine that if an everyday carrier were to use their weapon it would be done in the best possible taste and with very arriviste flair from a gun that was so on trend.

I was fortunate enough to track down Bernard Capulong, the Co-founder & Editor-in-chief of for a quick chat about EDC.

What makes a good carry, to your mind, and what makes a good blog entry for a carry?

“To me, a good everyday carry is practical, reliable, and arguably most importantly, personal. It shows the foresight to include everything you might personally need for your unique day to day life, and the restraint to leave behind what you don’t.

“A good submission goes beyond the visual — while having a beautiful photo has its own appeal, insightful commentary often takes it to the next level. Talking about who you are, where you’re from, what you use your EDC for, and what opinions you have about your items provides context to what otherwise might be lost upon the reader as merely things in your pockets, and nothing more. It should be something the submitter can be proud to share, and the reader can find interesting, informative, and maybe even inspirational to help them improve what or how they carry.”

Who submits carries to you?

“We get submissions from people all over the world, of many different professions. It’s so varied, but I would say the majority are males.

“Are there any subcultures that you think are very prominent within the submissions or is EDC itself the subculture?

“I try not to think of people who EDC in terms of subcultures, and I definitely think EDC as a concept can be much more accessible than it’s currently portrayed. The beauty of everyday carry is that at a more general level, everyone has one — but they might not realize it yet! Of those who consider EDC a “thing,” there are certain products that appeal to target markets with specialized preferences. Products can have different flavors or styles to them, like minimalist, tactical, survivalist, urban, heritage, or even sartorial. But I don’t think it’s fair to pigeonhole a person or a community into a subculture based on what items they prefer. At least, I’m in no position to do that. As far as EDC being the subculture, I wouldn’t say that’s completely true either — but there is much left to be done to unlock a widespread appeal. I think only recently it’s gotten more attention, and over time, with more representation from different people from different cultures with different preferences, it won’t seem as novel.”

Why do folk want to document their carries? What’s this all about, then?

“I think the reasons for documenting a carry can differ, but many look to their peers in the community for advice or recommendations on how they can improve their EDC. There are plenty of products out there and it’s difficult to see which one would be best for an individual, so reviews and comments from like-minded EDCers are very helpful. Others have gone through the trial-and-error process of trying out products and keeping what works best for them, and for them, they share because they’re proud of what their carry has become, and want to share with others their findings in hopes they help someone out too. Folks who document their carries for each of these reasons help each other in some way, and that keeps the conversation going — I have been trying to engage in that conversation myself, and to provide a platform for people to get some visibility on their carry with my website.”

The photos are often beautiful. Why do people pay so much attention to making these things beautiful?

“I think this also comes from the fact that people document their carries with the intent to share. Beautiful photos get more engagement if they’re looking for constructive feedback, and they also reflect the pride you take in your individualized system of essentials. People who EDC value and respect their everyday items, so it doesn’t surprise me they want to portray them as positively as they view them.”

Is EDC educational? If not, what’s it for?

“I definitely think it’s educational. These items can to some degree improve your everyday life. There are products that solve real problems for people, that offer functions that those people need but otherwise wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for the practice of documenting an EDC and sharing it with others. The community overall shares this ambition to help their peers with these problems by making informed and nuanced recommendations from their own experiences. And if they help someone realize that EDC is a ‘thing’, that’s one more friend in the community.”

Let’s discuss the weapons. Why are weapons so important to a lot of people who contribute to EDC?

“This is a sensitive and polarizing topic in the EDC community. As someone who doesn’t carry a firearm (it isn’t legal where I lived) I can’t speak from experience, but it stems mainly from the idea of self-reliance. Many people who EDC keep their own individualized, useful items so they don’t have to depend on others should a problem arise. Some take this concept further and apply it to life-or-death and emergency situations. A self-defense tool gives them an option to protect themselves or loved ones under these circumstances. I imagine many of them would never wish to ever need to use such items, but feel safer knowing they’d be prepared in some way.”

Oh and the money (or things that could be liquidated for money). A lot of people seem to carry a lot of valuables. I’m terrified if I’m carrying more than £40! What do you make of all that?

“I think people who EDC are willing to pay more to get better performing, higher quality, and more reliable items. My reasoning is if it’s something that I use every day, or would want to come through for me if my life depended on it even after years of daily wear, I would be willing to spend as much as I can to buy it once and trust that it would serve its purpose for life. When you respect your belongings this way, you’re less likely to lose them.”

This is my backpack. There are many like it but this one is mine.

So in the end, it seems that #everydaycarry may not in itself be a subculture, perhaps it’s just the ur-meme of sharing objects that tell a story about yourself. All carries are about preparedness, in one way or another: having the right gear for photography, for field based digital journalism, or for a long cycle ride, and each of those specialist carries are still “everyday”. But preparedness does have a link to survivalism too, and so it’s not surprising that some aspects of that permeate this sharing practice. I’d say from my own observations that specialist carries tend to find their home in their own niches, too, and that allows the mainstream conversation about everyday carry to skew more towards our neutral selves, our everyday self. Many of us find our own daily belongings rather mundane, and so the community of people who share this material self select towards people who invest time, money and thinking into these objects. They want to share because they want to perform a version of themselves and because they want to have a discussion about their choices: part education, part validation, and a little bit of showing off too, perhaps.

Trawling through carries is a peak into people’s lives, and it has the same sort of satisfaction as nosing through houses on an estate agent website. As carrier Patrick Ng says on his Flickr:

“Looking inside to see what’s (in) your bag gives you a lot of insights, of what you are recently up to, of what you’ve already known but never verbalized… It is just like reviewing a dream, you discover patterns, signs”

It’s ourselves curated and captured through our objects. It’s a performance, of course, but to me that’s what’s most interesting about it: the things unsaid, the stories behind the objects and behind the choices.

What’s in your backpack?

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