We at The Beat are no strangers to conventions. Years of experience have taught us what is and is not necessary to take on our “nerd-orientated” excursions into extreme fandom. More importantly, trial and error have helped us to fine-tune our walkaround bags to suite our own convention needs, anticipating any hitch along the way. If any of you are still trying to hone your prep skills, here are some examples of our own personal setups to give you some ideas.
Nicholas Eskey: I need start with the bag. I’ve gone back and forth between regular backpacks and shoulder bags over the years and found that if I’m cosplaying, the shoulder bag is best, being not as hindering as a traditional backpack and is able to be swung off quickly for photo ops. What they do lack however is extra space to accommodate for purchases and mobility when I find myself running to a panel or signing, the bag repeatedly bouncing off my back as I go; Not a cute sight. Therefore, if I’m in casual clothing I prefer the backpack, as I can secure it to my body better and offers more room. As for my gear, it’s pretty standard for a writer on the go: Tablet with a keyboard; DSLR camera with a long-ranged zoom lens; Camera flash for fill lighting; Extra camera memory; Extra camera battery; Water canister (to be filled at any drinking fountains); Energy snacks to eat while in line or taking a break; And various devices chargers. What particularly sets my pack aside is the inclusion of a large-capacity battery, a monopod, mobile hard drive and mobile WIFI. Electronic devices are a part of everyone’s lives these days (save for perhaps the Amish). When they die and I’m nowhere near a wall outlet, my 20400mAh pack ensures I don’t need to play Hunger Games over an AC port. What’s particularly great is that my large-capacity battery has two USB ports and one AC port. For pictures in lowlight settings, the monopod helps to provide a bit more stability without having to sacrifice image quality with a very high ISO. The hard drive is just a necessity really as I find myself dumping about 20GB worth of images per day. This would surely bog down my tablet’s solid-state drive. Finally, WIFI has also become a great necessity in our lives today. In areas where WIFI is either iffy or non-existent, my “MIFI” device gives me piece of mind that I can meet article deadlines.
Victor Scoit: I’m an avid traveller and I’ve found that the same forethought that goes into packing for an around the world trip, is the same that preps me the best for San Diego Comic-Con. Were it possible I’d tailor a packing list for each of you, but here’s my Top 10 essentials that help me navigate Comic-Con like a global nomad.
- Backpack/Messenger Bag || A good bag is a required piece of support kit and is the foundation on which to thrive and succeed in your San Diego Comic-Con endeavors. Your tastes will vary as far as design, but make certain to pick a bag suited for the task at hand focusing on size, material, and organization.
- Size: You’re looking for a Goldilocks bag that’s not too big and not too small, but just right. The ideal size is something that can fit underneath an airline seat–about 20 liters or less. The convention floor get crowded quickly and this will keep you nimble, and bumping into people less often, while still giving ample room for graphic novels and some boxed collectibles. Bonus if you find one that converts from shoulder bag to backpack.
- Material: Try to go with a bag made of durable yet light material–like a ripstop nylon. This keeps the focus of the weight you’re carrying around all day on your personal gear and newfound treasures. Even better, most of these light materials provide a certain level of water-resistance, which can be important if you choose to participate in Bar Con after the convention floor closes. Spills happen.
- Organization: Zippers! Pockets! Compartments! Find a bag with multiple pockets, external zippers, and many internal compartments besides the main storage area. The quicker you can access something or put something away, the better. Internal compartments keep objects from clumping at the bottom of a bag, and keep you from playing grab bag roulette when reaching for that camera/silver sharpie/chapstick.
- Brands: Some of my favorite brands that might provide inspiration are Thomas Bihn with their focus on travel and utility, Booq with their focus on laptops and camera gear, and Mystery Ranch with their unique 3 zipper design that provides quick access to ample storage.
- Organizers || You want all your gear at the ready and not trapped in another bag that’s behind another zipper. Nothing beats the Cocoon Grid-It Organizer. Better than a tiny bag for cables and other items, because you can see what you’re looking for and get to it when you need it. Perfect for keeping those odds and ends from winding up at the bottom of your bag. Get one. Get three. Heck–I have four.
- External Batteries || You will check your phone more often than you believe, and have less access to outlets than you hoped. Rather than be anchored to a single spot waiting for you phone to charge, stay on the move with an external battery. I for one prefer a larger capacity battery that keeps me on the go throughout Comic-Con without needing a recharge till the end. Should pocket power be the need, to keep the lines on your outfit sleek as you head out into the night for parties without your backpack, then a credit card sized option is your best bet. My favorite brands for either solution are Anker and TravelCard.
- Cables || Whether charging while rushing to the next panel, or anchored to a wall outlet you’ll need extra cables. You’ll need a long cable especially when that electrical outlet in your room is too far away from your bed. A short cable is perfect for holding your phone and external battery in one hand without creating a spaghetti ball of wires. Anker’s 4 inch and 6 foot lightning/micro USB charging cables are my faves but Amazon Basics aren’t bad for the price either.
- Camera Lenses || I may desire to snap pics of the San Diego Comic-Con wildlife like an embedded National Geographic photographer, but I’ve long accepted that I value getting the shot–rather than the perfect shot. As such sometimes there’s no better camera than the one that’s in your pocket. My picks are the lenses and cases from Olloclip and Moment which can help you take a picture that will have some wondering what f-stop you used on your DSLR–rather than your cell phone.
- Microphone || Another way to amp up your Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube game, but carry less is to pickup an external mic for your cell phone. It’s another way to make sure that same video or audio clip everyone else is getting, records crystal clear for you. The Zoom IQ7 Stereo Mic for the iPhone (sorry Android) is your choice. It’s powered by the lightning port which lets you control the audio gain to ensure your audio is never too low or blown out by the roaring crowd in Hall H. (Don’t record those sneak peeks though. Be cool.)
- Water Bottle || Per usual having a water vessel is a requirement to stay hydrated. Most prefer a stainless steel container because they can keep water cool for 24 hours, but if you’re waiting that long you’re doing something wrong. Since cool water is readily available my preference is to lean towards the minimal space saving option. The Vapor Eclipse .7L Collapsible Water Bottle is perfect for travel and airport security, fits in a bottle holder or clips to your bag, holds plenty of water, and when empty it rolls up to no bigger than a bar of soap!
- Cleansing Wipes & Purell Sanitizer || Never underestimate the utility of these as they’ll save you from several sticky situations in a pinch–public bathroom saviors, afternoon facial refreshers, and all-purpose cleaners in a pinch.
- Miscellaneous || Headphones for tuning out, Joby flexible tripod, a hat to get some personal shade, light jacket/sweater for those chilly panel rooms, USB memory stick, Sharpie, pens, notebooks, and sunglasses to protect your eyes as they scan for celebrities. (Yeah I’m probably cheating the Top 10 concept with this one)
- SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACKS! || I like to pick up quick eats like jerky, trail mix, Marcona almonds, crisps, charcuterie and antipasto, cold brew and tea cans. Pick up your faves at the nearby Cost Plus World Market, Krisp, Ralph’s, or Jimbo’s… Naturally!
Alex Lu: I’m coming at this purely from a reporter’s perspective. When I’m at a comic-con, I try to go against my worst instincts and pack as lightly as possible. Most of my day will consist of running around to various panels and interviews, so the less I have to carry around, the easier it is to maneuver through the crowds and get to where I need to be more expediently. If there’s too much stuff in my bag, it is. if nothing else, a huge pain to sling a heavy weight around your shoulder/on your back for about 10-12 hours straight. That said, there are certain things that I simply wouldn’t advise leaving home without:
- A good backpack/messenger bag, as Victor said. I’m partial to a messenger bag, as I think they tend to look more flawlessly professional, but obviously YMMV.
- A recorder: a lot of people will record interviews via their phone’s microphone, which is totally fine– I’ve done it plenty. However, for a variety of reasons including but not limited to giving off a professional look, getting better audio quality, and preserving valuable storage space on your phone, I’d advise picking up a portable audio recorder if cost isn’t a huge concern. I’m partial to the Zoom H1, which I’ve found to be great at keeping the cacophony of background noise at the show to a minimum.
- Your laptop or a tablet w/ keyboard extension: If you have a relatively thin and lightweight laptop like the Macbook Air or Dell XPS/Precision, then I’d recommend bringing it to the show each day. SDCC has a great press room for you to work on your articles in. Having a laptop is more advantageous than having a tablet simply because it’s easier to pull graphic assets and set articles up via a full-powered computer than by using the app version of whatever software your site runs on. In pinch though, especially if your laptop is a brick, then I’d definitely see if you can get your hands on a bluetooth keyboard for your tablet and bring that instead!
- A water bottle: you really need to stay hydrated when you’re running around this much. I like Victor’s suggestion of a collapsible water bottle for maximum space/weight efficiency.
- Snacks: con food is expensive and not particularly good, either. Stock up on some snack bars at a local pharmacy once you arrive in San Diego and ration ’em out over the days.
- Business cards: It’s easy to forget these, but if you have them, they’re invaluable for making and keeping new connections.
- Portable phone battery: There is a solid 95% chance your phone will run out of battery before you’re off the show floor. Get one of these bad boys and make sure your friends don’t lose your to the abyss.
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.