How I pack for a tech conference

If you follow tech news at all, you might be aware of a teensy little event coming up in Las Vegas, requiring the talents of most of the iMore and Mobile Nations staff.

CES is a strange and unique snowflake in the land of tech conferences, to be sure — but when it comes to prepping for it, I actually pack many of the same things I'd pack for any other tech conference or work trip. Having done the whole tech reporter gig for a few years now, I've got a pretty good system going for packing efficiently. So here, dear iMore readers, is generally what I take when I travel for work. I wrote this in part so that I remembered to pack everything — but hopefully it'll also prove entertaining reading for you folks.

How to mentally pack for a tech conference

Step one: Remember that you are but one human, and emergency bags don't have to contain everything in the world. Pack for what you're going to do. Are you really going to need that laptop, or can you get everything done on your tablet and phone? Are you expected to take a lot of fancy macro and zoom photography, or can you get away with covering things with a smartphone camera?

Step two: Lay out everything you want to take on a flat surface of some kind, and evaluate. Do you really need that third lightning charger cable? Really?

Step three: If you've gone on more than one trip in the past year and said, "shoot, I wish I had [X gadget]," that thing should always go in your bag, no matter what. My personal "gotta have it" item is the Scosche BoomBottle mini — inevitably during any trip I find myself with a need to boost sound from a laptop, iPad, iPhone, you name it, and the BoomBottle is compact, wireless, water-resistant, and holds a charge for ages.

Step four: Don't forget about the non-tech items that you really should have in your tech bag. Money, identification, and a water bottle are the big three, but also think about your situation: Are you going to be walking around a lot and need energy boosts of some kind? Do you need a nice pair of flats to change into for evening meetings after a day of running around in big hulking sneakers? Are you bad about spilling things on your clothes and need a change of shirts (or a really good Tide Pen?

What's in my small bag: For quick reporting and general activities

Backpacks are useful when you want to carry everything you own around a show floor, conference, or work event, but I have a particular fondness for smallish cross-body bags with lots of pockets. They force you to pare down your gadget choices, for one, and end up being a whole lot lighter on the shoulders throughout the day.

My cross-body bag of choice for CES is Kate Spade's Cobble Hill Mini Carson — it may look tiny, but has a few hidden compartments that make it easy to pack in all that I need for a light day's roaming.

For CES, the Cobble Hill bag is my go-to for any event where I don't immediately require a computer on-site. I can write, shoot, and edit most things on my iPhone these days, so for events that don't absolutely require a computer, I end up just taking a little satchel like this. It does the job of a regular old bag by holding money and identification, of course, but it also packs away a bunch more.

First and most important, I've got my iPhone 6 and my new favorite external battery pack, the Anker Astro E4 13000mAh (thanks to The Wirecutter's Twitter feed for the recommendation). It holds enough juice to give my phone 4 or 5 full recharges, and it's sleek enough to fit nicely inside the main compartment of my bag. (Also: It has a built-in flashlight! Best unnecessary feature on a battery pack ever.)

I've also got a 5GB thumb drive (in the form of one Red Robot) for any quick file transfer needs, a pair of Sennheiser OCX685i emergency headphones, and my Rayban Wayfarer Folding sunglasses — which are not only cool because they're essentially Transformers, but they take up very little space in the bag.

I didn't bring my iPad mini on this journey, but the Cobble Hill's outer pocket can actually comfortably fit a mini when standing upright; if I'm carrying around a DSLR on my other shoulder, I'll usually tote the mini along so that I can transfer images to it with a Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, which then syncs the images to iCloud Photo Library.

I've also got a little tiny bottle of hand sanitizer in my bag — because the annual CES plague is not a plague I'd like to catch — along with a couple dozen iMore business cards.

What's in my big bag: For full-day conference fun and traveling

My backpack of choice, the Osprey Pixel Daypack, was originally purchased on a recommendation from a friend, and I am so glad I did: The lightweight bag uses zippers and clasps to shrink or grow as you need the space, and has a surplus of useful pockets to hide things away. It's also made by a company that specializes in hiking gear, so it's ridiculously comfortable on the shoulders even with a full load of gear within it.

Here's what I've got in the big bag:

  • Gear: My iPad Air 2 and 11-inch MacBook Air, both hidden away in one of the Pixel's side pouches. I rarely travel with both the iPad and the MacBook Air, but CES is a special case. Also, it lets me choose which device I want to use while live-covering the show floor.

  • Camera: My Canon Rebel DSLR and my 40mm pancake lens, along with a 64GB memory card and an EyeFi 16GB X2 card. The EyeFi can be finicky sometimes, but it beats having to carry around SD card readers. For this show, I'm also carrying around an external portable LED light and a secondary lens — the Canon L-Series 24-105mm — for larger shots.

  • Cords: A Magsafe 2 charger, two Lightning cables, a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter in the event of terrible Wi-Fi, a Belkin Headphone Splitter (you never know when you might need one), a USB to mini-USB cord and a USB to micro-USB cord, a Thunderbolt to HDMI adapter, and one power brick.
  • Audio: The aforementioned Scosche boomBottle mini, along with my trusty pair of cheap-o Sony Stereo Headphones for editing audio on the go. (Traveler's tip: Don't bring the fancy headphones to a tech conference. They always break or go missing.) I usually also travel with a small USB mic, but not this time.
  • Munchies: Energy chews, Shot Bloks, and a bunch of single bags of English Breakfast tea. (I don't drink coffee, and that usually means suffering through Lipton if I want a hot caffeine fix from the CES food vendors. No more!)
  • Clothes: An extra sweater and flats. Las Vegas gets cold at night, and it pays (in warmth) to be prepared.
  • Healthcare: More hand sanitizer. Tissues. Zicam — zinc-based remedies may well be placebos for fighting the common cold, but they work for me. A Bobble filtered water bottle. And a small bottle of Motrin.
  • A tiny little Artoo plush: Because sometimes you need a silly prop when covering a silly tech show.

What do you bring on your work trips?

Now that you've gotten a tour of my CES bags, it's your turn, iMore readers: anything you consider essential to take on a business trip?

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.