I've been hunting around lately for a new backpack. I don't want to. I love the backpack I have. I'm kind of surprised I haven't actually ever named it. Sure, I call it my field bag, but it's my year-round companion. It's My Bag. Rehearsals, meetings, contest days, wins and losses and teachable moments— this old Swiss Gear bag pretty much keeps the same batch of necessities in it always and, for twelve years, it's been with me everywhere. Band and guard people can get pretty attached to their bags. After all, we live out of them most of the year. I'm no exception. And, to be honest here, if I could just magic this old trusty bag back to its original, not-falling-apart condition, well, I'd do it.
But things are what they are and this bag won't make it through another summer, so I've been shopping for a replacement (this Swiss Gear is a similar option; Or this one.). It's rough. I like my old faithful bag. It's served as a footrest, yard marker, pillow, and as a gathering point for countless bands, drum corps, and winter guards. It's traveled with me to 49 of the 50 states, including multiple trips across the Pacific to Hawaii. We've even been to Paris together (not to mention the UK, Belgium, non-Paris France, and Holland). That should be forever, right?
At any rate, the whole “need a new bag” thing got me thinking about how necessary these things are to the lives of band and guard geeks (I use the term lovingly, obviously) everywhere. I know this one feels to me more like an extension of my body than an accessory or tool. Like I said earlier, my so-called field bag is overstuffed year round with the same things. Like all pageantry peeps, I've got writing utensils, charging equipment, headphones, a notebook, and at least two kinds of tape (for me, that's electrical and blue painter's tape; I don't know anyone in the activity who doesn't carry electrical tape and a lot of them carry duct tape, too). Because I never switch out the contents of my bag (who's got time for that????), all my outdoor stuff is there, too: sunscreen, DCT, bug spray. And to round things off, I've got the things that I just need even if I don't technically “need” them all that often: the stray granola bar, my expired passport (hey, note to self, renew your passport), batteries, random medical things (aspirin, stomach stuff, prescriptions), the ever-present tin of Altoids (don't leave home without it!), Jolly Ranchers. A roll of toilet paper (trust me on this. Hello, Paris). Change (Hello, vending machines). A flashlight, for reasons even I don't quite understand. A gock block and carabiner clips. I suppose, since I'm disclosing my backpack contents, I'll cop to it fully. I've usually got a super ball in there (toys are good! These bounce.); at least one hat; and, when flying, a book. Every one of these things has been man-handled, disheveled, poured out, and questioned by TSA agents all over the country. How do you really explain a gock block at the airport? At least I no longer carry drafting tools (a super-pointy compass and such) for writing drill. I don't have to warn TSA they'll get poked or that the contents of my most beloved field bag will draw blood. (Drill, sadly now, is all computers. I long for a simpler time when designers had to see it in their head and get it on the paper. But that's another conversation.)
No wonder this excellent backpack is finally wearing out. It's gone above and beyond, over and under, and there and back again. It's been asked to hold a lot of things. It's also been the solution to a lot of every issue: it's in my bag, put it in my bag, I think it's in my bag, it should be in my bag, damn it- it's not in my bag. I originally got it for twenty bucks at Marshall's. I'm guessing the twelve years of faithful service have been worth has been well worth the original investment twenty times over. To be honest, that original twenty dollar price tag has made it that much harder to replace: why pay $39 or $59 or $84 when a fat Andy Jackson at the strip mall Marshall's has served me so well? I'm not cheap, mind you, but there just has to be a synergy to these things. I can barely fathom ordering something so personal over the interwebs. You have to be able to see it, feel it, and touch it. After all, it's going to become another part of my (or your, if you also need a backpack) body. It's kind of like having that perfect pet that, out of the entire litter, chooses you. (Like my beloved Waldo kitty. But, again, that's yet another conversation.)
I talked to some of my fellow instructors and designers and a lot of them actually switch out the contents based on whether it's for rehearsals mainly, or winter or marching seasons, or contest days. The earphones, charging equipment, medications, and notebook seem to be universally carried. Some of them insist on bringing toothbrush/paste and floss everywhere. Other experts insist on tools: a Swiss Army knife, a Gerber utility knife, wrenches and pliers. If it's a contest day, we're all pretty keyed up to make sure we have our show packet with us. And no matter what, we've all got our things unique to our sections: extra reeds, drum keys, spare show flags, hairpins, gloves, bolts. I asked one guy, who shall remain nameless, what he insisted on putting in his bag for contest days. He answered “tequila, heh heh.” He was kidding but I'm debating blackmailing him to his band booster organization or trolling him on Indiana Marching. (Okay, totally not, I'm kidding, too. But here's the truth: instructors do NOT carry alcohol in their backpacks. I promise.)
Just for fun, I googled what kids carry in their contest and rehearsal bags. (It got me out of shopping for my replacement backpack, after all.) The kids carry a lot of the same things the adults do; the girls tend to have WAY more makeup; the boys could remember extra socks, if you ask me. And it's kind of weird (and creative and wonderful) that these kids are taking the time to make YouTube videos regarding what they should and should not put in their backpacks for show and rehearsal days. You gotta love the kids.
So, I told you what's in my bag. And once I make the impossible decision on the next bag, I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, what are your pageantry essentials?
Please note: All links in this article go to products listed on Amazon. Amos is an Amazon Affiliate. However, this has not influenced the content or editorial choices in this article.