The Black Hat Attendee Guide Part 7: Your Survival Kit

Blog Post created by treyford Employee on Jul 29, 2015

Joining us for the first time? This post is part seven of a series that starts right here.


Hacker Summer Camp is no joke, and you’ve got to have a game plan when you head for Vegas. If you don't travel frequently, this is for you.

Ignoring sartorial conundrums and basic hygiene, this post is focused on keeping your body operating at peak… or at least somewhat operational.


Vegas: It’s nothing like home for most of us. Desert allergens, low humidity turning you into human jerky, scented and conditioned casino air probably provide more smoke particle density than you’re normally exposed to.


Conference super marathons bring you back-to-back if not double-booked days running from very-early to very-late, atypical stress loads, and more talking in 24 hours than your vocal chords probably offer in a month back home.


Then there is food, hydration, and rest. You’ll have less of all three, unless you plan and execute carefully.


What I’m about to break down is not medical advice, it’s my personal approach on staying at peak for the Week To End All Weeks that is Black Hat.


Fuel the Machine


When my body gets hungry, Trey gets hangry -- and that’s entirely my fault. I carry snacks, and try to keep them protein-based.

Two of my favorites:

  • I like almonds, @RSNAKE turned me Blue Diamond almonds. I prefer them raw, the wife likes sea salt. They aren’t heavy and they’re easy to share.
  • Justin’s Nut Butters are one of my favorite things in the world, the chocolate hazelnut is wonderful when you’re hurting.  One packet will bring me from hangry to genteel for an hour.


If you do a daily vitamin of some type, bring it and take it. You’ll be missing meals, distractions happen, and when you’re engaged you lose track of time SQUIRREL!


You know your body. Personally, I fear the carb crash, so I avoid energy bars and candy where possible… (@415 can tell you stories about feeding me until I fall asleep, foods like this do it fast).  In my case, I need to stay sharp and laser-focused at the event, but as always YMMV.


Hydrate or Die.

You’re in the desert, you’re going to be talking a lot, and you’ll be drinking coffee--a diuretic--as well as energy drinks, sweet carbonated drinks, and probably alcohol.

I need help ignoring that the water doesn’t taste like home, and bottled water costs a fortune.

  • Bring a water bottle of some type, keep it in your pack.
  • I like to use electrolyte tabs of some type to flavor the water. Bonus: Some of them have caffeine. I carry the stuff from Nuun, others love those vitamin C Emergen-C packets.


Moisture is the Essence of Beauty

essence.gifI figured if I referenced Zoolander, you’d remember this, but I’m serious about this point: Allergens are a serious consideration, not just due to the desert, but the hotel/casino air.


  • If you use antihistamines or decongestants, bring them, consult a medical professional if you have any questions.
  • Single-Use eye drops. Dry air, air conditioning, long nights, smoke… you’ll be glad you have them, and since they are single use, you can share with your friend sporting those questionable blood-shot eyes.
  • Chapstick. Ask Napoleon Dynamite if you have any questions, same thoughts as above.
  • Cough Drops, I like the one with honey. You’ll be talking, the air is dry, and your throat is going to hurt. Take some in your pocket at night, you’ll be glad have them after an hour of a shout-powered conversation at the parties.
  • *Ed.Note: If you have an inhaler you only use occasionally, especially for allergy-induced breathing troubles, do yourself a huge favor and bring it! - Maria*


Don’t do drugs

You’re an adult, and probably a hacker--punk rock and hard core, et cetera. I’m not telling you what to do. I am saying to be careful about what you put in your system, whether it is food or something else, and be prepared to deal with it.

  • Again, if you normally take vitamins, do that.
  • Montezuma’s revenge--you’re eating strange things, probably different than home… be ready for your gut to tell you about it.
  • If you foresee a need for pain/headache/hangover management, bring what you need to deal with that, whatever makes it stop. ’Nuff said.
  • Coffee in the morning. Starbucks will have an epic line. Meet people, or make some in your room. (Some of us aren’t human or humane until consuming the java.)
    • Pro grade: Some folks love the Aero-Press, it’s lovely coffee.
    • In a pinch, keep Starbucks VIA instant packets handy.


Fuel the Machines

Electronics need power, and we seem to be tied to them, so prepare for that.

  • Bring your USB battery pack, if you have one. Cell phones will die faster than normal, towers and bandwidth are a commodity.
  • Small power strips. Power outlets are at a premium, Murphy’s law dictates the only ones you’ll find will have campers using them. I carry one of these, and I make friends.


It’s the way you carry it.

The adage rings true here, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” I know Jack Bauer looked swag carrying his man-purse, but you’ll probably carry a laptop and more ALL DAY, despite my best warnings, so bring a backpack and use both straps!

  • Reconsider carrying your laptop, unless you really will be using it.
  • Wear comfortable and supportive shoes. You probably aren’t used to standing all day. No, they might not match, and that’s probably okay…  at least you can still mock people wearing their Vibram 5 Finger / hobbit shoes!
    • Of note- you'll walk a mile from your hotel room to the briefing rooms. Those of you counting steps may score closer to a long day at Disney Land...
  • Bring a layer to put on. It will be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Vegas, which means giant machines will be pumping cold air—and some rooms will be colder than others.
  • Bring a carabiner. I know this sounds silly, but that little gap in the curtains lets lights from the strip dance in your room. Carabiners are tiny, and you'll need anything to help you sleep.


Expert Mode

Managing your energy is a balancing act, and frankly you want to be at peak this week. Championship athletic teams peak for the playoffs and finals, top researchers have brought their best work to this event, you need to be on point.

  • Sleep. Prioritize it. There is a time to rage (pulling the all nighter), and there is a time not to. Careers are made and destroyed crossing this line.
  • Diet. Take care in getting real food. Whole Foods isn't far away.
  • Fitness. If you train regularly, and find it keeps you sharp, do some of that. There are gyms on property (I think they call them spas?), some people go run the strip early (find them on Twitter), while others of us will sneak off to CrossFit Max Effort about a mile away.


Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Bring your best, and bring it hard.


If you’ve got additions to the list, I’m all ears, tack it in here or on Twitter.



Want more? You can read all parts of the Black Hat Attendee's Guide series by clicking here.