What’s in my (Hacking Con) bag?

A number of people have asked about what I carry at a typical hacking con. In the blog below, I provide a brief overview. This article isn’t meant to be an endorsement and was in no way sponsored. Use what works for you, but I have included links for things when I can remember where I got them.

First, let me show you my bag, itself:

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My bag is a Grunt Style tactical messenger bag. I like it because of the small form factor, it has lots of interior and external pockets, and has a variety of attachment points – carabiners, molle, ties, and velcro. It also happens to be configured for CCW, if that’s your cup of tea.

I’ve used various styles of backpacks, but I found myself with a tired back by the end of the day and I prefer the security of a cross body I can keep an eye on. This one fits my 13″ MBP in a clamshell. I believe that’ s the biggest notebook one could fit in it (but I highly advise against carrying a 15 pound desktop replacement to a con, if you must carry a laptop at all).

There are lots of vendors that carry similar bags, and each manufacturer has dogmatic followers who will regale you with the merits of their choice. Try them out and see what works for your computer and body.

Now to the important part – the contents of my bag:

The “Must Haves”

Item Purpose
Printed Ticket Because your phone will die or not scan at a really inopportune time.
Phone & Fob-Sized Faraday Bag An alternative option is carrying a burner phone, but for the most part I see people with their personal or work phones at cons. Sometimes you’re in a situation where you want to stop transmitting everything, that minute. Usually it’s because an antenna is pointed at you and somebody is grinning. It’s a cheap and important thing to have.
Wallet with ID, and Adequate Cash
The RFID wallet fad is pretty irrelevant. Just avoid bringing credit cards if possible, and don’t bring a debit card within several miles of the con. Cash whenever possible, and don’t use an ATM once you’re there!
Phone and Charger Self-explanatory.
Earplugs Because con parties, shared lodging, and airplanes can be too loud for the most die-hard rocker.
Wet Wipes or Hand Sanitizer Con plague is real.
Insulated Water Bottle It’s really important to stay hydrated at *any* big event. Alcohol, coffee, and energy drinks don’t count – bring a refillable bottle to drink lots of water, and have some juice with vitamin C daily. There are two types of bottles I like for cons – insulated bottles that keep water cool or coffee warm, and filtered bottles when the water there is less palatable.
Pens, Pencils, Sharpie Self-explanatory.
SyncStop A must-have if you would even consider charging a device off any USB port that does not belong to you.
Power Bank Outlets are in high demand.
Mini First Aid Kit & Prescriptions I have rarely gotten through a con without myself or a friend needing an OTC painkiller or a band-aid. I would recommend having those, at a minimum.
Mini Toiletry Bag On your person, for long days – not the one in your hotel room. I “militantly encourage” deodorant, and recommend a disposable toothbrush, as well as contact lens stuff and hair ties (as applicable).

The “Nice To Haves”

Item Purpose
Business Card Case Not only will you want to give out cards, but you will likely be handed cards you do not want to lose.
Bag of Holding‘ (with cables, adapters, dongles, USB drives, assorted antennae) Lots of vendors make cable organizers for travel that have spots for cables and USB devices. In mine, I carry video adapters for my laptop, presentation remote, charging cables, wifi and bluetooth antennas, hacktools, and USB drives. It really beats them tangled about in the bottom of the bag.
Properly-Imaged Laptop If you decide to bring a laptop, do not bring one with personal or work data on it. Swap the drive, or reimage. It is very possible you do not need a laptop.
Multi-Tool Don’t leave home without one. (Except through airport security.)
Pelican 1010 With Essential Lockpicks I have bigger Pelican cases with my practice locks and full set of physical intrusion tools that I can pack in my suitcase. On my person, I carry a few favorites to use in Lockpick Village, lobby con, or at vendor challenges. Mine are pretty assorted (see the image above), but Toool sells a good beginner set. Check out Deviant’s blog and Red Team Tools regarding other useful locksport tools (which he can properly name much better than I).
Warcollar DopeScope  For CTFs, challenges, and just finding weird stuff wireless stuff around the con to impress drunk people.
Hak5 Rubber Ducky  Too small not to, and can come in handy in  assorted challenge land. (No, I don’t have a Bash Bunny, yet.)
Small Screwdriver  I almost put this in the “must have” list. You should never travel with electronics without an appropriate screwdriver. Most multitools don’t have a tiny one, either.
Snacks Always a good idea to throw a few granola or protein bars in your bag. Schedules can get packed, and lines at local eateries and coffee shops can get very long.
Sweatshirt Conference rooms get miserably cold.
RTFM The pen testing book you are most likely to loudly scoff at now and sing praises of when Google isn’t available and man isn’t relevant.

I hope you found this list and explanation helpful.