ConShark

Basics: How to Pack

Figuring out what items to pack for a convention can be tricky, especially since attendees spend hours (if not days) waiting in line for panels and other activities. We’ve compiled a list of items to keep those long days at the con a little more comfortable!

Backpack

If you’re going to become a regular con attendee, do your back a favor and invest in a quality backpack. Some people prefer messenger bags or tote bags, but a backpack will distribute the weight more evenly between your shoulders – and a good one should help you feel a little less sore at the end of the day.

What to Look For

Day packs & messenger bags designed for hiking, cycling, or other outdoor sports are usually a good bet. Look for something that is ergonomically designed and has features you’ll actually use, like an electronics pocket, fully padded back panels, or side pouches for a water bottle. If you like to carry everything and the kitchen sink, hip or waist belts will help take a lot of weight off your shoulders (yeah, they look a little dorky, but they work well). A backpack with a 25 liter capacity should be plenty of space for medium to heavy daily loads.

Expect to spend $75 – $100, but also expect the pack to last many years. If you have a decent sporting good store in your area, go inside and try a few packs on. If not, buy online from somewhere that allows returns and give your new pack a test wear before committing.

While you might be interested in a hydration pack that carries a CamelBak or Platypus water reservoir, those bladders can be cumbersome, heavy, and difficult to refill on the go. For convention purposes, skip the CamelBak and go for a reusable water bottle.

What We’re Carrying

The now-discontinued 24 liter Novara Commuter Backpack, which features two bottle pouches, a zipper hip pouch, and a built-in rain fly (shockingly useful).

Water Bottles

Above, we advised you to forgo a hydration pack like a CamelBak. It’s heavy and a pain to refill. Plus, they hold a lot of water – there are plenty of spots around conventions to refill your water bottle, so there’s no need to load up your backpack with 2 liters of water you have to heft. (Most cons, including San Diego, offer water coolers inside panel rooms and elsewhere around the cons. This is in addition to any drinking fountains you’ll find around the venue.)

What to Look For

There are a myriad of water bottle choices out there these days. If you’re picky about taste, choose a bottle with a replaceable filter. Only like cold water? Grab something vacuum insulated or one with a freezable insert. Like to add your some flavor? Many bottles with mesh infuser inserts are on the market now.

We recommend a bottle with a filter, because it will enable you to drink normally unpalatable tap water if that’s all that’s available. (Southern California tap water is typically awful.)

Expect to spend around $25 for a good-quality water bottle with the features you want.

What We’re Carrying

Nobody is paying me for this, but I’m about to shill hard for the Camelbak Groove.

The Camelbak Groove is the best filter bottle I’ve tried. It’s far superior to the Bobble and the hard- and soft-sided Brita filter bottles – all of those require a lot of effort and pressure to get the water through the filter. (I also had a lot of problems with the Brita bottles leaking in airplanes, and wouldn’t trust them at higher altitudes.) The Groove has a straw with the classic Camelbak bite valve on top, but it’s quite easy to suck the water up through the filter. Replacement filters and bite valves are also available on the Camelbak site.

The Groove also comes in stainless steel now, if you’d like more insulation. I have the plastic model, so I don’t expect it to last forever – but so far it’s survived weeks at San Diego Comic-Con, partying at Gallifrey One, snowmobiling on a glacier in Iceland, and hiking in Washington.

Sans filter, I’m committed to Sigg aluminum bottles. They keep drinks cool, but aren’t vacuum insulated (if you don’t need drinks ice cold eight hours after you pack them, Sigg will do you just fine). They’re also virtually indestructible. Check their kids line for bottles printed with Disney, Star Wars, and Hello Kitty characters.

Another great metal option, particularly if you need something vacuum insulated or with a wide mouth, are the sturdy & popular HydroFlask bottles.

Power and More Power

Portable Power Strips

Laptops, tablets, gaming systems – all that stuff you brought to occupy yourself in line will most definitely need an extra boost throughout the day. Having a portable power strip not only gets you more bang for your buck, it also offers your neighbor a helpful hand as well!

International attendees, don’t forget to bring enough plug adapters and voltage converters. Americans are self-centered weirdos* and your hotel may or may not have an extra one on hand. (It’s okay, I can say this, I’m American.)

What to Look For

A combo of regular outlets and USB ports is best. If you plan to charge more than two or three items at once, check that the available amperage of the strip is enough to charge as many items as you have. Expect to spend $15 – $25. If you cheap out on this item, be sure your product is UL approved so it doesn’t short out and burn down your hotel room.

What We’re Carrying

The Belkin 3-Outlet SurgePlus Mini Travel Swivel Charger (that’s a mouthful) also includes two USB ports.

Unigear’s Portable Power Strip Surge Protector has a 28 inch cord, 3 outlets, and 2 USB ports.

For Americans heading overseas who also need plug adapters and voltage conversion, try the Bestek Travel Power Converter ($43), which has three outlets and four USB charging ports.

Portable Cell Phone Chargers

Keeping your cell phone charged is a must! From taking pics to updating your blog to making sure you and your party are keeping in touch all day, this item is a huge must.

Many convention centers (San Diego included) now have small chargers like this available for rent, but you’ll pay a premium and are dependent on chargers being available when you need them. Other locations have “charging lockers” you can rent by the hour, but you’ll have to go without your phone for that time.

What to Look For

Small pocket-sized models will get you 1-2 top up charges. These are often called “lipstick size” because they are, um, lipstick size. Larger models may be as large as or even bigger than your actual phone, but they can give you 3-6 full 0 to 100% charges before they need to be plugged in again. There are also supplemental battery cases, but those are bulky and sometimes difficult to recharge. (Plus, with an independent unit like those listed below, you can leave them at the hotel if you’re trying to travel extra light for a few hours.)

Choose based on how often you use your phone, and what you use it for. Are you making lots of data-heavy updates to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or other image-heavy apps? Go bigger. Do you just want to make sure you can text your friends to find out your meetup spot at the end of the day? Try the pocket sized option.

Expect to spend anywhere from $10 for smaller to $30 for larger models.

What We’re Carrying

Pretty much exclusively Anker. The Anker Astro E3 Ultra Compact 10000mAh Portable Charger is big but can take my Galaxy S5 from 0 to 100% at least four times before needing to recharge. (This charger is still available, but newer models exist.)

For something smaller, we’ve got the Anker $10 PowerCore+ mini ($10 if you’re not picky about color).

Apparel

Windbreaker/Light Jacket

A light jacket for cooler nights/ days are a handy item for cons. You never know with the weather will change, and temperatures inside and outside the convention are often very different.

What to Look For

Anything windproof, waterproof, and lightweight (preferably something that packs down or is “pocketable”. These are great to have in your backpack in case of rain or suddenly cooler weather. For early morning or late night lights, particularly in San Diego where the lines run next to the cold waterfront, you’ll be thankful to have a slightly heavier material like quilted down or fleece.

Expect to spend around $20 for a pocketable windbreaker; heavier jackets can range from $25 for cheap fleece to upwards of $100 for quilted down.

What We’re Carrying

Uniqlo’s great windproof, pocketable hoodies for men & women. It’s lightweight and folds into an included drawstring bag that makes it easy to leave in your backpack.  Of course, Uniqlo is fast fashion, so keep an eye on your local store to see if they have one available.

For something slightly heavier, lightweight quilted or fleece jackets are a nice option. I’m in an older Lands End “PrimaLoft” jacket that’s warm but weightless. Simple fleece zips are also a great option.

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes will make packing on both ends of your trip easier. They help you fit things in neatly on the way out, and on the way back it’s easy to cram all your dirty clothes into the packing cubes to fit better in your suitcase. They also help with organization and make it less miserable with the TSA rifles through your bag.

What to Look For

High quality zippers that won’t get stuck, and bag sizes that are appropriate for what you usually pack.

What We’re Carrying

An assortment of eBags Slim Packing Cubes (which are less cubed and more rectangular but who’s counting) and Shacke Pak’s set of four various size cubes; both are high quality.

Febreeze or Downy Wrinkle Releaser

Both of these products act as fabric refreshers and odor eliminators, which are especially great for cosplayers who wear the same costume for days in a row without laundering. Neither is really a substitue for laundry, but if you’re in a pinch and need to re-wear something, both of these products are handy. We’re carrying the Downy, which also reduces static and helps loosen wrinkles.

Broken-In Shoes

Do not go to a con in brand new shoes. Repeat: do not go to a con in brand new shoes. Don’t do it!

Preferably, wear comfortable shoes with good arch support that you have already broken in. Especially at large shows like San Diego or New York, you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Don’t punish your feet by wearing new, stiff, or otherwise uncomfortable shoes. You will hate yourself for it.

What to Look For

Athletic shoes are always a plus, but supportive tennis shoes or boots can also work well. Avoid heels, platforms, flip flops, or flat sandals – unless you’ve already worn them and know they’re comfortable for long stretches.

Another option is to bring a couple pairs of supportive insoles and switch them out each night – a bit of a refresher for your feet.

What We’re Wearing

Whatever my current pair of running shoes is. Or, a pair of sneakers like Converse Jack Purcells with Superfeet insoles inside.

Blister Prevention

Broken-in shoes are the best blister prevention. But some of us are more prone than others, and some shoes just always have that one spot that rubs.

What to Look For

You can try Engo Blister Prevention Patches over known hotspots in your shoe . You can also use BodyGlide on your feet, the anti-chafe balm that endurance athletes swear by .

If you’ve already got a blister, hydrocolloid bandages may help, as well as some simple moleskin.

What We’re Carrying

I’ve tested both the Engo patches and BodyGlide through several half marathons to great success. For blister care, I have the best luck with moleskin.

Toiletries & Personal Care

Deodorant Wipes/Baby Wipes

Most con survival lists beg you to pack deodorant for the sake of your fellow attendees – and that’s true. But a refreshing, cooling wipe can also help you feel better – so do it for your own comfort, if nothing else.  Sleeping outside, waiting in crowded rooms, and standing outside in the sun can get rough.

What to Look For

Any refreshing wipe that comes in a travel-friendly size with a scent that’s not too strong – you’re trying to smell pleasant, not set off everyone’s allergies. Baby wipes are also a good option, particularly if you’re going to be spending the night in a line. Expect to spend anywhere from $2 for a basic travel baby wipe back to $10 for some fancy deodorant wipes.

What We’re Carrying

Pacifica’s Underarm Deodorant Wipes are made by a skincare brand, have a fresh scent, and run about $10.

For an equally good budget option, Ban Total Refresh Cooling Body Cloths have a powder-smooth finish, are $3, and come in a variety of light scents.

Both Huggies and Pampers make small travel size baby wipe packages, usually available in either the baby section or the travel section of your local Target or Walmart.

Dry Shampoo

I’m sure there are lots of women reading this who make daily use of dry shampoo for a myriad of reasons, but for those of you who’ve never heard of it before, welcome to the club. This is another must-have for line overnighters, but also a great choice for a mid-afternoon refresher.

What to Look For

Dry shampoo is more common than ever, so it should be easy to find at any big-box store, drugstore, or beauty/cosmetics shop. Everyone from budget brands like Herbal Essences to high-end salon brands make a dry shampoo.

Some might tell you to use baby powder as a dirt-cheap alternative, but that’s harder to shake out and doesn’t come in an easy to use can. Newbies, save yourself the trouble and drop a couple bucks on actual dry shampoo. If you’re never used it before, just spray a light amount at your roots from a 8-10 inch distance, let dry for a minute, and then use your fingers to shake off the excess.

Expect to spend less than $5 for a travel size spray can, unless you’re high maintenance and require a pricey salon brand.

What We’re Carrying

Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak Dry Shampoo comes in a travel size from ULTA for $3.

Bigger cans of drugstore brand Batiste come in various scents and tints (for dark or light hair) and are available in some stores in travel sizes as well.

Toothbrushes/Breath Fresheners

Another one for the overnight crowd, but great for everyone else as well. Gum and mints are the usual suspects, but you can try newer selections like mouthwash strips or Colgate Wisp waterless disposable toothbrushes.

What to Look For

Just pick your poison. We prefer the Wisp brushes, because they work so damn well. Expect to spend a few bucks for the consumables, or $10-$15 for a large pack of the disposable Wisp toothbrushes.

If you go with consumables like gum, mints, or even the mouthwash tongue strips, just don’t eat too many. Most of those products use sugar alcohols to provide sweetness without calories, and too many sugar alcohols can upset your stomach.

What We’re Carrying

Colgate Wisp toothbrushes. They’re minty, waterless, disposable, and tiny. Highly recommended.

Sunscreen

Everyone knows how important sunscreen is, but few bother to wear it. That usually because it’s awfully sticky or greasy, and it’s uncomfortable. Spend a little time and money finding a sunscreen that’s comfortable for you and you’ll be glad you did!

What to Look For

UVA and UVB broad spectrum protection. You’ll want something that’s at least SPF 30. Many Asian sunscreens have lighter, more comfortable formulations and can easily be ordered online. Within the US, Neutrogena is probably the most comfortable drugstore brand and shops like Sephora carry higher-end sunblocks that are very comfortable.

Expect to spend $5-$10 for a drugstore tube, $10 for a foreign product online, or $30-$40 an ounce for a fancy brand from someplace like Sephora.

What We’re Carrying

Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence, a Japanese sunscreen that’s $8 on Amazon. It contains alcohol, which makes it dry smoothly and quickly to be more comfortable and not at all greasy. (If you have very dry skin, the alcohol may be too much for you.) It’s intended for your face.

For body, the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch sunscreen is best. It’s readily available at drugstores and comes in lotion, liquid, spray, and stick forms. Their Beach Defense, Wet Skin, Kids, Clear Face, and Sensitive Skin lines are all pretty good too.

Chafing Prevention

All that walking takes a toll on your skin, no matter what size you are. A few anti-chafing products might sound ridiculous, but they really work!

What to Look For

Most are a balm or a gel-to-powder product that prevent the friction that causes chafing. Make sure your product of choice is clothing safe – wouldn’t want any awkward stains!

What We’re Carrying

As mentioned above, BodyGlide is a good option. It’s favored by endurance athletes and works well on feet for preventing blisters. It’s gotten me through several half marathons – but it can be slightly difficult to wash off because it’s so sweat-resistant.

Monistat Complete Care Chafing Relief Powder Gel is perfect if you need something a little less intense than BodyGlide. It works for both men and women – don’t let the Monistat name scare you – and is a gel that quickly dries to a power finish. This is an easy to apply alternative to trying to cover yourself in baby powder, and it works pretty much everywhere.

Staying Healthy

Con crud is real! Sometimes dubbed “con flu” instead, con crud is that nasty bug you catch after you get home. It’s easy to see why – all those people, packed in together for a few days, most of whom are operating on little sleep and not eating very well. Basically, you go five days without taking care of yourself and your body strikes back. Here are a few things to pack (and use regularly!) that should help keep you healthy:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Emergen-C
  • Airborne
  • Face masks

Some are more intense than others – don’t expect to see many people walk the con with a surgical mask on. But if you get sick easily, or if you can’t afford to be sick in the week after the con (why do summer con season and summer wedding season always overlap?), a face mask is warranted. (If nothing else, they’re great to wear on airplanes.)

The effectiveness of preventative products like Emergen-C and Airborne is debatable. But if one of those supplements is what it takes to remind you to also wash your hands, get enough sleep, and drink enough water, it’s worth it.

Comfort Items

Folding Chair/Stool

A portable chair is going to literally make your day! Standing in long hall ways with no chair in sight is exhausting. A folding chair or stool will give you a break and make long lines a little more bearable.

What to Look For

There are both folding stools and small folding chairs, so decide if you prefer ultra light & small (folding stool) or if you want some back support  (folding chair).

To be clear, the folding chairs we’re talking about here are about the height of the folding tripod stools – not the big camping chairs you might be thinking of. These are often labeled “backpacking chairs” because of their small size and light weight.

Whatever you get, make sure it’s rated to hold your weight – some cheap stools aren’t designed for larger adults.

Expect to spend $20 on a cheap chair or stool, or $80 on a high quality chair. (Most of the expensive options have stronger stitching on the seat to prevent rips, and many include a warranty.) The lighter weight, the more expensive – but sometimes that higher build quality is worth it.

Considering that the price and weight differences between folding stools and chairs are pretty small these days, we only recommend chairs at this point – that extra back support is great in a long line.

What We’re Carrying

It’s expensive, but I absolutely swear by the Alite Mayfly Chair. At $100, it’s top-of-the-line as far as price goes; but the quality is incomparable and it folds up smaller than anything else. The legs fold apart like tent poles and the whole thing only weighs about a pound and a half. (It occasionally goes on sale on REI.)

I’ve also got the model down from the Mayfly, Alite’s Monarch Butterfly Chair. At $70, it only has two legs – you keep your two feet on the ground for balance. (It sounds harder than it is – it’s actually quite comfortable.)  The Monarch Butterfly clocks in at barely over a pound, so it’s unobtrusive in your backpack.

For cheaper options, REI makes the Camp Stowaway Low Chair for $45  and Travel Chair makes the Slacker Chair for $18.

Mini Air Conditioner/Fan

Some spots just get plain hot at conventions. There are three basic options for cooling yourself down, from lowest tech to batteries required.

Simple as it sounds, a basic folding hand fan works wonders. Battery operated fans are also popular. If you want a step up, a portable AC unit is right up your alley; these utilize a wet sponge and a fan to keep you cool.

What to Look For

Folding hand fans with cloth or fabric will be more durable than the cheapest paper fans. (Folding sandalwood fans look nice but I’ve never found them to be as effective.) Cheap camping fans usually only need a couple of batteries. Look for the same things in the portable AC units: replaceable or rechargeable batteries, common battery size (who has tiny cell batteries lying around?),  a quiet motor, and blades that aren’t sharp enough to cut you.

Expect to spend less than $5 for a folding fan and less than $10 on a battery-operated fan. Portable AC units are a touch more expensive but usually clock in around $15. Don’t expect either electronic option here to last long; they’re usually pretty cheap and flimsy.

We still recommend the folding hand fans first – don’t be decieved by their simplicity. There’s no batteries to run out, no wires to break, and you expend very little energy for (usually) more cool air than a battery-operated fan will provide. Plus, it will never be so noisy that you can’t use it during a panel.

What We’re Carrying

A basic fabric hand fan, picked up ages ago on a trip to Japan. You can grab one of these cheap on Amazon. If you are lucky enough to live near Asian discount stores like Daiso or Muji, you can find a cheap cloth one easily. Your local dollar store or other discount spot probably has them in stock for the summer as well.

If you want a battery operated fan, Amazon offers the Kloud City Personal Hand-Held Mini Air Fan (bonus points for the name).

O-Best makes a mini air-conditioner/ fan that comes in funky colors and has a built in lithium battery. Wet the sponge, place it in the fan, and voilà… air conditioning!

Umbrella

An umbrella is great for a sudden rain shower, but UV coated umbrellas also double as fantastic sun protection in hot outdoor lines. Hats are always an option but for the ladies, gentlemen with styled hair, or cosplayers with wigs or complex hair styles, umbrellas are a great option.

What to Look For

A compact umbrella with UV coating (occasionally someone sells it as  a “sunbrella”). Expect to spend around $20 for a decent one.

What We’re Carrying

If you happen to be swinging by an Asian Disney park anytime soon, they have awesome UV-coated compact umbrellas. (I loved the one I got in Hong Kong so much I picked up a backup in Shanghai.) Otherwise, Amazon has a few options for you.

Around the Con

Exhibit Hall Supplies

If you’re planning on doing any collectible shopping, or if you’re hunting for prints, sketches, or autographs, you’ll want to be prepared with the protective materials for those items.

  • Poster tube
  • Bags & boards
  • Collectible cases
  • Mylar sleeves for art prints & photos
  • Sharpies (black and metallic gold or silver)

Most cons have a booth selling these items, but they’re much cheaper in advance on Amazon – and you can plan ahead on suitcase space if you bring them with you.

Camera

Obviously. But you don’t need $5,000 worth of photo gear to get your shot. Spend some time learning your equipment and you’ll be surprised what it can do.

If you’ve got a late model iPhone, the camera quality is shockingly good; seriously, this Time cover photo was shot on an iPhone 4S and the newer cameras are even better.

What to Look For

It depends on what your primary purpose is. Snapshots of celebs at signings and cosplayers you run into? Your point and shoot will be fine. Low-light close-ups of celebrities on panels in a hotel ballroom? You might consider upgrading to a long lens with a wider aperture.

If you use a DSLR and can’t decide on a lens to get, consider renting. Sites like LensGiant and BorrowLenses will ship you the lens and the pricing, even with shipping costs, is comparable to a local shop (and the online guys have a bigger selection). It’s not cheap, but it’s way cheaper than buying a new lens. It’s also a great way to test out a lens you’ve got your eye on.

What We’re Carrying

A Canon 7D Mark II with a variety of lenses, but photography is my hobby – don’t buy gear you don’t need.

Don’t forget extra batteries and memory cards! We also recommend registering your gear’s serial numbers with LensTag.

Cash

It’s more and more common to see even small artists accepting credit cards these days thanks to things like Square, but don’t be surprised if that tiny booth you like only accepts cash. Bring cash – and in small bills, too – to be the teacher’s pet of all the vendors.

There are ATMs on site at convention centers and hotels, but it’s a typical story for lines to be long and for the ATMs to run out of cash at some point during the weekend. Come prepared and don’t waste your time in that line.

 

 

Have fun preparing for your next convention and vacation! We’ll see you all in line!