Ever been to a festival and seen a camping disaster unfold before your eyes? I’ve witnessed over the years and I thought even though it’s going to be quite a few months before the festival season comes round again, it might be helpful to prepare a handy guide to help festival-goers navigate some common camping challenges, prevent the preventable and generally help folk maximize their enjoyment of tent camping.
Planning, Planning, Planning
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. So it is with camping! Because if you don’t prepare properly camping can be a much bigger effort than it needs to be, sapping your enjoyment.
To keep things as simple as possible, my planning falls into 3 main areas:
- Food & Drink
How To Pack For Festival Camping
As a general rule, I never take anything that I’m not okay with losing or leaving behind. Although most music festivals are relatively safe and secure, there is a high likelihood of losing or damage something while attending.
I also have a special “burner” phone for these events. OK, it’s not a true burner so much as an old smartphone. But I usually leave my most current phone behind. A true burner relies on less battery than a standard iPhone and is much cheaper in case you happen to lose them. But I do like to have emergency access to the internet so I keep the device in airplane mode and make sure I have a fully charged power bank with me.
Aside from that, here’s a complete (but lean) list of gear I never leave behind (if you want a bigger list, check out this excellent advice from Rei.com)
Pack The Right Tent!
The first festival I went to I took my ultralight two man backpacking tent. I thought I was being smart. Big mistake! It was OK for sleeping in but I had nowhere to kick back during the day. I highly recommend taking a big tent (for the budget conscious I’ve published a list of tents under $100 which includes several large tents).
Mallet For Tent Stakes
You want to pitch quickly and easily. Hunting around for rocks to bash your tent stakes into the hard ground isn’t fun at the best of times. A mallet is generally too heavy for thru-hiking, but it’s perfect for festival camping.
A Sun Shade & A Folding Chair
If you ignore my advice about tent size, make sure you pack a decent sunshade. You will want to relax away from it all. A bug-proof porch is ideal but an awning is a bare minimum. Folding camp chairs will mean you can take the weight off, allowing you to fully recharge.
Sleeping Bag, Camping Cot (or Air Mattress) & Pillow
I know nobody goes to festivals to sleep. But trust me, while you want to keep sleeping hours to a minimum, the better quality sleep you get, the more fun you will have to party. That first festival where I took my backpacking gear? I slept on the bare ground. The boy was I crochet every morning! Never again! For extra comfort, try out a puffy camping blanket.
Headlamps (or Flashlights) With Extra Batteries
There’s no sense in bumping around aimlessly in the dark. A flashlight is fine, but the benefit to a headlamp is that it’s hands-free. Anyone ever dropped their flashlight or phone in a toilet while drunk in the dark? Anyone?
Bring plenty of comfortable clothes. You can always leave extra clothing in your vehicle in case of rain or unplanned catastrophes. Even if the weather is forecast to be hot, make sure you have extra layers for nighttime or in case the forecast is unreliable. A fold-away rain jacket is a great purchase for those days where the weather is unpredictable. You don’t, however, need to get overexcited with packing toiletries. In most cases, travel sized, airport-variety toiletries will work just fine. Stash everything in a good drybag!
Plan Your Meals and Hydration
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the festival. However, partying all day and night takes up a lot of energy—especially if there’s alcohol involved. Make sure you plan for at least one large meal a day, but preferably three. Make a clear decision before you depart about whether you want to bring food or buy it on site.
Regardless of how you plan to handle meals I definitely recommend packing some snacks. Energy bars are perfect. Bananas are another wise choice as they’re easy to carry and provide a lot of energy. Obviously, there are plenty of excellent food vendors on site but packing some of your own food can really help keep your blood sugar up and your costs down.
Again, especially if you plan on imbibing, water is a must-pack item. The summer heat and the constant dancing, singing, yelling, and all of the other shenanigans of the festival will certainly take their toll on you. Make sure you stow several bottles in your tent as you’ll want to have them to hand rather than hunt for them when you need ‘em, especially at night.
Timing and Location Are Everything
Make sure you also do your research about the festival; even if you are an experienced festival camper, each individual event is different. It’s important to know the details of parking and camping ahead of time so you can focus on what’s important.
Arrive Early & Leave Early
The earlier you are to the festival, the better spot you can secure. If you can’t get there until the last minute, don’t worry—just be prepared to have to walk farther.
When you’re ready to leave, try to do so as early as possible. This will save you time trying to escape the crowds and traffic. Generally, if you leave before 7 am, you’ll escape the rush hour. This is actually a bit easier for tent campers than it is for glampers and RVers because, generally speaking, early morning temperatures (be they too cold or too hot) are conducive to early rising.
Where To Pitch
Try to avoid camping at the bottom of a hill (remember, everything moves downhill if it starts to rain). And have a good strategy for proximity to toilets; too close and you’ll have to put up with smells and queues…too far and it’s inconvenient.
The same goes for your stage strategy; you don’t want to be totally removed from all of the action, but remember that at some point you’ll want to get some shut-eye. Earplugs and an eye mask can help here.
And don’t forget to mark where your tent is. You can use a distinctive banner (try to make it unique; the Stars & Stripes ain’t gonna stand out) or you can try a GPS app to mark your spot. Want to know if you’re friends are at the tent or the big stage, check out the popular Find My Friends app.
So there we have it. If you do your prep, pack properly and consider your pitch chances are you’ll have an ace time! If you want more in-depth information I highly recommend this article from OutsideOnline.com and this one from TicketMaster.com. Otherwise, enjoy the next season of touring and camping!
What have I missed? What crazy disasters have you seen or experienced when camping at a festival? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments below!
Bertie Cowen is a writer and avid outdoorsman. He’s on a mission to make it easier for folk to spend more time outside. You can check out his blog (EffortlessOutdoors.com) or find him on Twitter @BertieOutdoors.