Packing Suggestions for “Hacker Summer Camp”

(Updated 10:07 PM EDT on July 24, 2019)

Although I’ve only been to that summer extravaganza in the desert affectionately known as “Hacker Summer Camp” two times, I’m no stranger to attending conferences. I spent over a decade attending librarian conferences in June. I understand the struggle to keep it together in the heat.

For the uninitiated, “Hacker Summer Camp” refers to the “Holy Trinity” of BSides Las Vegas, Black Hat, and DEF CON — all held the same week in July or August in Nevada.

I wanted to take a moment to share with you my recommendations to optimize your experience.

Let me repeat that — these are merely my own suggestions and observations of what has worked for me. Your particular preferences and situations could be in contrast to mine. So, take this with a grain of salt and see which suggestions you’d like to try.

Special note regarding phones, computers, devices, etc. My suggestions are going to be mostly non-tech related. If you have questions about getting a burner phone or not getting a burner phone for Las Vegas, you’re better off seeking advice from someone else. (For what it’s worth, I did not use a burner phone for either of my two trips to the Las Vegas conferences.)

Clothing

  • Like the thread I Tweeted on July 10th, dress for your comfort. If that means jeans a black hoodie, great! If that means a pink floral sundress, great! I’ve had many newcomers to InfoSec ask me if they *have* to wear a black hoodie to conferences. It’s up to you! Don’t feel pressured to dress in a certain style. Wear what makes you comfortable and feel empowered!
  • Layers — not just or ogres or onions. Las Vegas is hot, hot, hot outside. The air conditioning inside the buildings is cold, cold, cold. Dress in layers so that you can go between all different kinds of temperatures. This could mean, yes — a hooded sweatshirt, or a cardigan, or a jean jacket. Whatever floats your boat.
  • As comfortable as an old shoe. Hacker Summer Camp is NOT the time to break in new shoes. You will be on your feet a lot. You will be walking a lot. Again, think comfort. Wear shoes that won’t give you blisters or other discomfort.
  • Extra clothes. Think about bringing extra undergarments and t-shirts. Why? You will sweat. Therefore, you may want to do a quick freshen up during the day or before you head out in the evening. Some of you may do a full outfit change. Others may want to pack as light as possible. You will feel (and smell!) so much better if you can change out your clothes. If you are particularly active, re-wearing clothing is probably not an option. You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m an adult. Why is this advice even necessary?” Basically, because sometimes even the best of us forget little things like this and reminders help.
  • Hats. It’s possible that an exhibit hall will have free hats, or hats will be on sale at conferences. A hat can be good if you take a dip in the pool during the day, or just walking outside. Remember, hot desert sun. You want to keep people guessing about your age? Wear a hat when outside and protect your skin.

Food & Miscellaneous Items

  • If you’re like me, you are pretty useless before your first cup of coffee or tea in the morning. If you are lucky enough to be staying in a place with an in-room coffee maker, this may not apply to you. For everyone else, think about bringing a small electric kettle. I did it and it was a lifesaver! I brought supplies with me and was able to drink coffee before heading out for the day. This not only saved money, but time. I was able to bypass the long Starbucks lines because I had my coffee with me. Things like powdered cream, coffee crystals, etc. are all easy to transport. Or, purchase in Las Vegas from a supermarket.
  • Speaking of that electric kettle, I also brought instant oatmeal with me. Again, I wanted to save money and also buy myself some time in the mornings. I didn’t want to lose sleep because I had to get up extra early to fight the crowds at restaurants. That little kettle can whip up a nice little coffee and oatmeal breakfast that is healthy and inexpensive. You can easily go to a dollar store and get a bowl and spoon, for example. If you don’t want to pack them for your trip home, then just leave them behind.
  • Keep it cool — if you stay in a room with a refrigerator, some hotels will rent one to you for your stay, you can brew your coffee or tea, and make your oatmeal the night before and then keep it cold overnight so that you’re not waking up to hot drinks and food when it’s 110F degrees!
  • Snacks. Again, this is more of a money-saving tip than anything else. If you aren’t 100% certain when you’ll be eating that day, bring a box or two of your favorite protein bars with you. I really like the Nature Valley Protein Bars. I had a nutritionist tell me that two of those bars makes for a complete breakfast. They are small and come in handy if you are starving and either can’t find food, or your only option is an $80 buffet. Expect most of the food in Las Vegas to be expensive and/or have long lines during the conferences. Candy is fun and yummy, but think protein and nuts to keep your energy up during the day.
  • Hydration! I cannot emphasize this enough. STAY HYDRATED! Sports drinks like Gatorade usually have a powder version that you can sprinkle into some water. Bring a bottle to refill and carry it around with you. Put in one of those Gatorade powders at least once a day. Try eating whole fruit, to help with your hydration. Alcoholic drinks can be fun and fancy, if you choose to drink them. But, they will dry you out fast and you want to stay on your feet and active during the conference. If you do want to drink, try drinking water in between each alcoholic drink. That’s just smart sense no matter where you are.
  • Speaking of alcohol — you do not have to drink if you don’t want to. Conversely, do not force anyone to drink if they don’t want to. People have lots of reasons why they don’t drink alcohol. Respect their wishes. It’s also been known to be mindful of your beverage. Keep eyes on it, get drinks yourself. Yes, I’m talking about roofies and other unwanted additives. Be safe and a drink from the bartender directly and keep eyes on it. Again, just smart sense no matter where you are.
  • Hydration — Part 2! In order to avoid things like nosebleeds, dry skin, and just general feelings of yuck, consider having a humidifier in your hotel room. This is more of a commitment, but if you are prone to issues of dry heat then think about it. You’ll sleep better as well! You can probably get a humidifier for $25-$30, if you don’t have one already. Be sure that you can pack it in all your stuff. I used one in my last long hotel stay and it was great. Again, use your best judgement if you really think you’d benefit from this before deciding to pack it and schlep it to Las Vegas. InfoSystir recommends this hotel room humidifier.
  • Minty freshness. Maybe pack some gum or mints. Fresh breath makes more friends!
  • Sunscreen. In general, you’ll want some sort of lotion because again, desert dryness. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money and don’t already have your own favorite lotion, CVS and Walgreens have store brand versions of Oil of Olay face cream. There’s one for sensitive skin that has sunscreen in it. It’s very versatile and inexpensive.
  • Lip balm. I don’t know about you, but I feel better if I have a nice lip balm on. All that talking and the dry air of the casinos will dry your lips out. Get some Chapstick, Burt’s Bees, or even store brand of basic lip balm and your lip will thank you.

Miscellaneous Items

  • I’ve got the power! It can be a good idea to bring a power strip with you to a con. Other than the obvious reason of you having multiple outlets for all your devices in your hotel room, it can also be a fun way to meet new people at the conference itself. How, you ask? If you are prepared to set up shop on the floor or at a table, you can plug in your power strip and let people use it. You have a captive audience! Seriously, though, it can be an easy ice breaker to network and meet people in addition the practical use.
  • Batteries. Not the throwin’ kind, but the kind you can use to charge your phone or other devices. You may not find an outlet, but you don’t want your phone to drain. Make sure you have some sort of battery with you, and remember to charge that battery overnight!
  • First-Aid Kit. Whenever you travel, it’s always a good idea to have some sort of First-Aid Kit. Whether it be hangover cures or upset stomach remedies, it’s easier to get relief from your own First-Aid Kit than it is to make a 2:00 AM run to the nearest Walgreens/CVS.
  • Con Crud is real. You will probably come home from Las Vegas with a cold. If you’re like me, that cold quickly becomes something worse like bronchitis and it’s the worst souvenir ever. Try to prep yourself with whatever preventative medicine you think will help. I don’t know if that Emergen-C really works or not, but think about precautions like hand sanitzier, hand washing, and sinus medication to keep yourself healthy.
  • Ear plugs. Can you hear me now? _pronto_ on Twitter wisely suggested that if you plan to hit up loud parties in Las Vegas (which, from my experience, means every single one) then get some ear plus. He recommends the reusable Eargasm ones.

Some of this may be new to you. Some of this may not be new to you. These are just things that I always make sure to pack when I attend a conference. Your preferences will vary.

If you are not able to bring all of these items with you from home, consider taking an Uber or Lyft to a supermarket or drug store away from the Las Vegas Strip to purchase these items. There are Trader Joe’s in the Las Vegas area. If you look at this as a whole, even one Uber or Lyft trip to a store to buy up these items could wind up being better for your budget. Some of your hotels may already supply some of these products, which is even a better savings!

That’s all I can think of for now. I will notate if I post any updates. Have a great time!

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#Librarian turned #InformationSecurity professional. Your guide up a mountain of information!

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