What To Pack
PAX East is in April this year, which is a blessing for all attendees. A March PAX East can be much colder. Even if you don’t mind the cold having to deal with a winter coat all day is annoying.
You aren’t guaranteed nice weather. It could drop to below freezing over the weekend. Wind in the downtown area gets magnified.
- High: 52°F | °C
- Low: 38°F | °C
- Rain: 8 days out of the month
- Take one outfit per day, maybe a spare shirt and pair of socks. Jeans can go for 2-3 days.
- Have extra warm clothes for when you’re outside, especially for your walks to and from the con.
- Wear layers rather than a heavy coat. They can come off as needed and fit in your bag more easily.
Shoes are the single most important item you’ll take. You’ll be on your feet and walking, a lot.
- Comfortable shoes that stay that way all day. Avoid flip flops, crocs, and similar not real shoes.
- Do NOT wear brand new shoes. Break them in at least 3 months in advance.
Check out my con packing list to help you get started with your own packing list for PAX East. It includes a list of the essentials and nice to have items, as well as details and suggestions. Feel free to download the PDF for future reference and to share.
Your PAX Carry
What you carry with you into PAX each day can have a big impact on your experience and comfort. It is easy to overpack, weighing you down all day.
- Take only what you need, not what you might need.
- The tighter your budget, the more you may need to carry.
- Groups should not use a single “pack mule.” Everyone carries their own stuff.
- Pre-load your bag before you leave home.
- Empty it completely first.
- Does it all fit?
- Is it comfortable to wear loaded?
- Is everything easily accessible?
- Is there room for your coat/outdoor wear?
Essentials – No Bag
- PAX Badge
Just what you carry day-to-day, plus your PAX badge. You’ll get a lanyard inside, your phone is your camera, and you buy whatever food and water you need. Simple and light, and you can get through security faster without a bag check.
Recommended – Bag
- Nintendo 3DS, Switch, or other portable games
- Power bank and cables to recharge phone/game system on the go
- Notepad & pen
- Hand sanitizer
- Pain relievers, other medication
Nice to have items that can improve your PAX experience. Bag is mostly empty and not too heavy.
Optional – Bag
- Water bottle
- Sharpie for autographs
- Dice, pencil, and character for RPG game
- High fidelity earplugs for the concert
More quality of life items, but at an ever increasing weight cost.
- DSLR/big cameras. Unless you need high quality photos for a website or job just use your phone.
- Wall/solar chargers, get a power bank.
- Boxed games. If it won’t fit in your pocket leave it in your hotel room.
Backpack vs Shoulder Bag
I recommend backpacks over shoulder bags. They are more comfortable for all day carry, especially with a heavy load. Their big down side is no easy access. You’ll need to stop to get something out. If you need that easy access and are going to carry a light load then a shoulder bag can work. Alternate shoulders throughout the day.
You shouldn’t need to buy something for PAX, whatever you have already can work. If you need to buy a new bag look for something light, but with organization options and flexibility. Work bag with laptop during the week, airplane carry on and con bag during the weekend.
There is a security check point you must pass through before you enter PAX each day. It includes full body metal detectors, bag checks, and drug dogs.
- No Firearms or Knives
- No Dangerous Objects
- No Drugs
The BCEC prohibits some items in the Expo Hall. You can have them throughout the rest of the convention center.
- rolling bags
- RC toys
- skates, roller blades, hoverboards
Cosplayers should check out PAX’s cosplay weapons rules.
Airport To Hotel/BCEC
- Board the Silver Line SL1 bus. It stops at all airport terminals, then heads into downtown. This ride is free (coming from the airport only).
- If your hotel is near the BCEC then get off at the World Trade Center, Boston Convention and Exhibition Center stop.
- If your hotel is along the subway system then get off at South Station. You’ll need to purchase a CharlieCard with fare to continue. Check out MBTA’s trip planner.
- If your hotel is elsewhere it may be worth using a rideshare service or taxi. Both Uber and Lyft can do airport pickups.
Back To the Airport
- If near BCEC board the Silver Line SL1 bus from the World Trade Center, Boston Convention and Exhibition Center stop and get off at your airline’s terminal.
- If along the subway head to South Station on the Red Line, then board the Silver Line SL1 or SL2 bus and get off at your airline’s terminal.
- Either option requires $2.25 on a CharlieCard, which you can get at either station. Bus transfer are free if done within an hour.
Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) is the home of PAX East. By Boston Harbor, it is one of the largest and most advance convention centers in the northeast. It has 2.1 million square feet of space, free Wi-Fi, and good cellular coverage throughout the facility.
A $1 billion expansion of the BCEC been on again, off again for a few years.
- Free Wi-Fi throughout the facility.
- Cellular reception throughout the facility.
- Coat and bag check, ~$3-5 per item. Was sponsored and free for all attendees in 2017. This also generated long lines.
- Full service FedEx.
- Floor plans.
- Attendee guides for the facility and visiting Boston.
- Elevators throughout the facility. ADA friendly and equipped, with a limited number of wheelchairs available for free.
- Guest Services Ambassadors, found wearing red blazers.
- Lost & Found: Visit the Main Lobby Desk or call 617-954-2222
The BCEC provides free Wi-Fi throughout its facility, backed by a 10 Gigabit fiber network. But 60,000+ PAX attendees with one or more smart device each is going to stress out even the best system. Don’t count on it for your daily connectivity needs given the potential for congestion.
Likewise the cellular networks will under heavy load. You can improve your smartphone’s cellular service by dropping from LTE to 4G service. Most current smartphones connect to LTE by default, as it is the fastest option. By dropping to the slower 4G network you’ll be competing with fewer devices.
- Tap on Settings, then Cellular, then Cellular Data Options.
- Tap on Enable LTE.
- Tap on Off.
Android phones can do the same function. Search for instructions for your particular phone.
Don’t forget to turn LTE back on after the convention!
Boston’s subway, the T, is the best way to get to PAX East if you’re outside of walking distance. Locals should expect a bigger weekend crowd than normal.
- Red Line: Head to South Station.
- Orange Line: Head to Downtown Crossing, then transfer to the Red Line southbound to South Station.
- Green Line: Head to Park Street, then transfer to the Red Line southbound to South Station.
- Blue Line: Head to State Street, then transfer to the Orange Line southbound. Get off at Downtown Crossing, and then transfer to the Red Line southbound to South Station.
- Silver Line: Head to World Trade Center.
South Station to BCEC is a 15 minute walk down Summer Street (head SE).
World Trade Center Station to BCEC is much faster. Head to Level 2, then just follow the signs.
Self parking (for the day) is available for $18 ($36 for oversized vehicles).
- From Summer Street, turn onto East Side Drive and drive past the valet area.
- Continue straight along the side of the building. At the end of the building, make a right and go down the ramp.
- At the bottom of the ramp, turn left enter the South Parking lot.
- Shuttles run from the South Parking lot to the building’s entrance.
Valet Parking is available for $30.
- From Summer Street, turn onto East Side Drive and the valet area will be immediately on your right.
You can park overnight at nearby lots for $30-40/day. In most case you’re better off taking the T to the World Trade Center Station or South Station and walking. Consider parking if you have mobility issues or are dropping off a PC for BYOC. For cheaper parking look for a lot along the Silver or Red lines and take the subway to South Station.
Please note parking will be more scarce on Thursday due to Michelle Obama speaking at the Seaport World Trade Center that day.
Many of the official PAX hotels will have shuttle service to and from the convention center. They do a morning to BCEC runs, then afternoon/evening to and from runs, and return runs late at night.
Rules of PAX
- Drugs are bad.
- Don’t steal.
- Don’t punch or kick people.
- No cheating.
- Don’t harass anyone.
- Don’t mess with things that aren’t yours.
“Don’t be a dick!”
– Wil Wheaton, PAX Prime 2007 Keynote Address
Each day at PAX you should get at least:
- 5 hours of sleep
- 2 meals
- 1 shower
This is for your health and better enjoyment of the show. Con crud is real and can ruin your weekend, or your memory of the weekend. A 5 hour energy drink does not count as 5 hours of sleep. A meal can be a hamburger and fries, but not a power bar. Drink water with your meals, soda isn’t a great option during a long con weekend. A shower a day, either morning or evening, is usually enough to refresh and ward off con stink.
Hey! Listen! The Enforcers are the army which makes PAX run. They are gamers, like you, and their job is to maximize your fun while also watching out for everyone. The are easy to spot with their orange Enforcer shirts.
If they ask you to move or do something, please do. They are not mad with power, they are asking for a reason. Be sure to thank them when they help you out, or at random when passing by.
Cosplayers & Guests
You’ll see plenty of cosplay and, if you’re lucky, even a few special guests outside of their events. If you want a picture or signature that’s cool, but please be courteous.
Ask a cosplay for a picture and they will usually agree. In the hallways please step aside to not block traffic. Stopping for pictures isn’t allowed in the Expo Hall due to the traffic. If someone declines to have a picture taken it isn’t personal, they’re trying to enjoy the show, too. Be respectful of all attendees as fellow gamers and human beings. Compliment their work, not their looks. Cosplay is not consent.
Follow the same basic courtesy with special guests as cosplayers. Many of them will have designed autograph sessions. It is your responsibility to have a Sharpie if you want a random encounter autograph. The silver ones usually work best.
Thursday Only – Seaport Hotel & the Secret Service
Michelle Obama will be speaking at the Seaport World Trade Center on Thursday. This will cause extra traffic and security in the area. It will impact anyone staying at the Seaport Hotel or driving/parking near the BCEC.
If you are in the Seaport Hotel the Secret Service will be in the building. Your interaction with them in the hotel should be minimal. Access to the World Trade Center will be limited to paid attendees of the Simmons Leadership Conference.
Please obey any reasonable request the Secret Service may make of you. These may include showing ID, being asked to leave an area, or inspection of cosplay weapons. You don’t need to tip toe around them, be aware of how you may appear and be courteous to them. They will in turn be courteous to you. If you have a cosplay weapon mark it with bright orange tape or similar effect. This only applies if you will be carrying a cosplay weapon in the Seaport hotel, no where else.
What To Do At PAX
- Talk to the booth operators, they are there to see you.
- Want to shop or collect free swag? Do all that on the same day so you don’t need to carry loot every day. Make time to drop off your goodies at the hotel if possible.
- Beware long lines for AAA game demos. Those lines are 2-4 hours long. The game will be released soon enough, so decide if waiting for hours is worth your time at PAX. Smaller games will be more accessible, and you might find something you like but didn’t know about.
- There are more exhibitors and vendors in the Tabletop area.
The Expo Hall is a big part of PAX, but it isn’t all there is. Plan to spend a few hours wondering the booths, but don’t miss out on all the others things going on elsewhere.
Watch competitive video game play throughout the day. Also available to watch on Twitch.
PAX Merch Lite
This is the small vendor booth for PAX and Penny Arcade located outside of the Expo Hall. You’ll find the PAX exclusive items here. There is a larger Penny Arcade shop inside the Expo Hall, but it sells more common merch.
Panels cover a variety of topics and range from entertaining to educational. Long after PAX is over my best memories are of panels where I had a good laugh and learned something. When planning your weekend at PAX go through the schedule and panels early to see what times you need to block off. Don’t ignore evening panels, often you’ll find fun gameshows and video viewing line ups.
Panel lines are setup outside or next to the theatre. Lines start from 30 to 90 minutes before hand, depending on the popularity of the topic or presenters.
A free play area for tabletop gaming. Visit the game library and check out one of over 1,000 games, find a table, and invite others to play. Or find a table looking for players.
Organized role playing games will be available. Sign up early at their tables.
Sit down at a pre-loaded gaming PC and play games, single or multiplayer.
Check out a game from the library and play on one of many consoles, ranging from Atari 2600 to the PS4 and Xbox One.
Pull up a beanbag and get out your Nintendo 3DS, Switch, or your favorite smartphone game.
- Relax and play Super Mario Odyssey, or find a few others to challenge to a round of Mario Kart.
- Find the PAX Pokémon League and challenge gym leaders for a badge.
- Forgot your USB power bank? The Enforcers can plug in your device.
No “plopping” down on the beanbags, please.
There are casual tournaments in all gaming areas. You can sign up to take part the morning of the tournament. Watching a tournament may not work out given each room’s setup.
A scavenger hunt throughout PAX. In recent years you scan the QR code on the back of your badge and various stations you have to find. Early winners get a special prize.
The Omegathon is a PAX favorite. Twenty attendees take part in a series of games, each one eliminating players. The first few rounds get announced in advanced, the rest are secret until time to play. The final round is the closing event on Sunday.
Autographs & Bandland
Streamers, special guests, and other VIPs at PAX will have scheduled autograph sessions. Bring your collectables and Sharpies.
During the day many of the concert performers can be found in Bandland. Stop by to pick up an album or get a photo/autograph.
This is a designed quiet space for anyone getting stressed or needing a break from the crowd. Free water is available. If you wander in please be respectful of those using the space.
A safe meeting place for gamers from all walks of life. No judgements allowed. You’ll find some vendors, organizations, and a place to hangout.
Expect to see more dedicated rooms at PAX. In the past they’ve had:
- Classic Arcade – Arcade machines all rigged for free play.
- Jamspace – A room full of musical instruments.
- Dance Stage – DDR and similar dance games.
- Jackbox Stage – Party games.
PAX doesn’t end when the Expo Hall closes at 6:00 PM. You’ll find a number of evening activities available to you through midnight.
Panels keep running until 9:00 – 10:00 PM. You’ll regularly find game show and video panels, both with a focus on humor.
Play A Game
The Console, PC, and Tabletop areas stay open until midnight. The vendors around the Tabletop area also stay open late.
The Acquisitions Inc crew will be in the Main Theater Thursday night. It is a live D&D session with the founders of Penny Arcade and their friends. It is always a fun show, even if you don’t know anything about D&D. You can catch up on past years of their adventures on YouTube.
On Friday and Saturday night PAX puts on a concert.
- Friday night will be Video Game Orchestra performing music from Final Fantasy XIV.
- Saturday night will be Paul & Storm, Powerglove, and Super Soul Bros.
- The concerts are free to all PAX attendees. If you aren’t worried about getting the best seat you can arrive late.
- If you’re sensitive to loud noise or want to keep your ears safe then consider earplugs. Get a pair of high fidelity earplugs to enjoy all the music at a fraction of the volume. You can also get foam earplugs from the Main Theater Enforcers.
Plan Your Schedule
Before you arrive plan out your schedule. You will NOT be able to do and see everything. Instead focus on seeing the things you are most interested in, and use the rest as backup options.
- Pick out the panels you want to see and tournaments you want to take part in.
- Use the PAX East app’s scheduling tool. You’ll better see overlaps and free time.
- Give yourself time to get from one room to another.
- Enforcers will clear the rooms between panels. Don’t count on getting into the second of back-to-back panels.
- Plan to line up 30 minutes in advance on average, 60-90 minutes for the more popular events.
- Have a Plan B for the more popular events.
- Give yourself a few hours to wonder through the Expo Hall and Tabletop area.
Lanyards & Swag Bags
Free lanyards will be available at many locations, with plenty to go around.
Swag bags will be available in the Queue Hall after it is empty. There is no shortage and no need to rush. To be honest the swag bags rarely have much of value these days. They will be available every day.
If you’re picking up your badge (must have selected Will Call when purchased) you can do that at 8:00 AM. If you’re in town early you can also swing by Wednesday afternoon.
BYOC (Thursday Only)
BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) participants can arrive early and setup in the PC Room. You won’t be able to access other closed spaces.
Morning Queue Options
The convention center doors will open up around 8:00 AM, but PAX won’t start until 10:00 AM. If you arrive early you can queue for one of several options. Often queueing up early is the best way to get as much out of PAX as possible. If you have any questions about the lines be sure to ask the Enforcers.
If you want to walk right into PAX then arrive ~10:45 AM. Security will be quick and the Queue Hall empty. You can head right into the Expo Hall, but thousands of people will be there already.
Keynote – To see either the keynote or the Penny Arcade Q&A line up for the Main Theater. The theater is not cleared between the two events. The theater will likely fill up, but you don’t need to be there quite as early compared to other options.
Expo Hall – If you arrive before 10:00 AM and want to visit the Expo Hall first you’ll hang out in the Queue Hall. Check out my guide on convention lines to make the most of your wait. Being very early will allow you to get in ONE AAA game demo with less than an hour wait. Once done with your first demo the hall will be full. Thursday and Sunday mornings are the best.
Panels – Panels starting between 10:00 – 11:00 AM will have queue space outside their rooms. You don’t need to rush to the convention center.
Tournaments – You’ll need to sign up for tournaments. It is best to do this in the morning on the day of the tournament. Go to the room where the tournament will be (Console Room, PC Room, etc). They’ll open at 10:00 AM.
PAX Merch Booth Lite – The PAX Merch Booth Lite is a big time suck, and the good stuff may be gone by Sunday. Line up as early as possible. The store may or may not open early. Once it does the line doesn’t move very fast, so expect to get out well after the rest of PAX has opened.
Special Events – If PAX offers any special events, such as True Dungeon, expect long lines. These may be good options for your morning queue, if available. Check with the Enforcers and have a Plan B in mind. Thursday and Sunday mornings are the best.
The PAX East app is a must have for your phone. It includes the schedule, maps, lines status, and more. Many of the features work even if your network connection is out.
Nintendo 3DS & Switch
Handheld games are very popular at PAX. So much so that there is a dedicated space full of beanbags for them at every PAX. You can play while taking a break, challenge a PAX Pokémon League gym leader, or sign up for a tournament.
The Nintendo 3DS has been a staple at PAX for years. If you struggle with StreetPass & Mii Plaza games you’ll get more hits than you’ll know what to do. If you want to focus on those mini games it may be worth upgrading Mii Plaza through the Nintendo eShop for $5. The upgrade allows you to line up to 100 Miis at your Plaza Gate, compared to the normal 10.
- Animal Crossing: New Leaf
- Final Fantasy Explorers
- Fire Emblem: Awakening
- Fire Emblem: Birthright/Fates
- Legend of Zelda: TriForce Heroes
- Mario Kart 7
- Mario Party Star Rush
- Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
- Monster Hunter Generations
- Pokémon X/Y
- Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
- Pokémon Moon/Sun
- Super Smash Bros. 3DS
The Nintendo Switch is still new, but it is one of the best selling consoles in history. They were present, but rare, at PAX East 2017. After this past Christmas and the Switch’s 1 year anniversary expect to see a lot more of them this year.
Popular Switch Multiplayer Games
- Kirby Star Allies
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
- Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
- Pokkén Tournament DX
- Puyo Puyo Tetris
- Rocket League
- Splatoon 2
- Super Mario Odyssey– Second Player Controls Cappy
An all day con can tax a power hungry handheld console. Here are a few tips for maximizing your play time.
- Dim the brightness of your screen.
- Turn off wireless communication if not doing multiplayer games or StreetPass.
- The Enforcers in the Handheld Lounge can charge up your device.
You can also bring a power bank to recharge your console on the go.
- Anker PowerCore 10000 is a good, all round power bank. I use it as an ‘all my devices’ charger. It isn’t the fastest charger for the Switch, for that you’d want a larger USB-C power bank. But, it will get the job done and it offers a smaller, lighter package to carry around all day.
- Get a Nintendo 3DS USB cable to connect your 3DS to a power bank.
- Get a USB-C to USB-A cable or USB-C to USB-C cable (depending on whether you get a USB or USB-C power bank) to connect your Switch.
- For faster charging power banks check out my Switch charger site and recommendations.
Where To Eat
The convention center has concession stands with a variety of options.
Plan on ~$8-12 for a combo meal. You won’t have to go far to eat, and there are some tables available. Most of the hallways also have plenty of window seats.
Expect them to be crowded, meaning more lines. Try to eat early or late to reduce your line time.
The Samuel Adams Pub probably won’t serve beer during PAX East.
Around the Convention Center
Food trucks setup on The Lawn On D, outside the BCEC. Go to the ground floor and out the southeast exit (ask an Enforcer or BCEC employee).
Within walking distance are a Shake Shack, Jimmy John’s, Chipotle, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s also a 7-11 and Metro Convenience on Summer St.
South Station has fast food and a CVS. Those are handy to stock up on the way in or eat on the way back to the hotel.
Expect crowds, but not as bad as inside the BCEC. Food trucks are good quality, but you may be waiting in the cold. To maximize your time go during non-prime hours. Keep in mind you’ll need to go through security again (with your food is okay).
BCEC runs a food trolly out of the east entrance from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. It heads out every hour, on the hour with stops to many Boston restaurants. You also get a bit of a Boston tour while you ride.
Check out the Restaurant Recommendation thread on the PAX East forums.
Build in plenty of time to eat out. Dinner is great for taking a break from a day of PAX but when you have evening activities you are coming back for.
You can bring in your own food. It is cheaper and wastes less time, but you have to prep it before hand and carry it with you.
- Favor items that are individually wrapped, easy to eat, and easy to share.
- Dry food means you need to drink more water, possibly carry a water bottle.
- Avoid a lot of sugar, the crash isn’t worth the high. Favor protein and fat.