Festival essentials: things to pack, things to leave at home

The summer has finally arrived, meaning it’s that time of year when the music festival fanfare rolls into town for an explosion of sounds, sights, and spectacle. All over the globe, thousands of music festivals will sprinkle excitement into the travel plans of avid globetrotters, meandering vagabonds, die hard music fans – really, anyone seeking adventure. But, before you pitch that tent, you’re going to need to know what to fill it with! We spoke to Maddie Rish at the festival discovery site Everfest to get the lowdown on the do’s and don’ts of festival packing. So, whether you are pitching a tent at Floydfest or getting your rowdy country twang on at WE Fest at Detroit Lakes, you’ll know that your camping site will be the best around!

What to pack for a festival … a sleeping bag

Ok, it may seem so obvious, but you’d be surprised just how many people forget this essential bit of kit, if heading out to a camping-only festival, as it is often outshone by its showboating, sizable cousin: the tent. While the necessity of a pitched wigwam is hard to ignore, it’s the humble insulating cylinder of polyester and cotton, within which you are cocooned every night, that is your best bet for a good night’s sleep.

What NOT to pack for a festival … perishable snacks / junk food

It’s tempting to go all out on the grub for a camping festival, but keep in mind that your food will be hanging out in the heat all weekend long. Ditch the perishable snacks. You’ll be sad when you end up wasting them. Ditch the junk food, too. It’s not what you need before or after a rough night sleeping in a tent. Do bring things like nuts, fruit, brown bread and the ever nutritious cereal bars.

What to pack … sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!

Soundwave Croatia Festival 2013

Impromptu jazz rave by the sea? You’re going to be glad you slathered on that sunscreen © Soundwave Croatia Festival 2013

We’ve all been there. Enjoying the concert of your life, surrounded by your best friends, good vibes and maybe a drink or two, completely oblivious to the sun hammering down on the back of your neck, until it’s too late. Yes, you’ve heard it once, twice, a thousand times, but it bears repeating: apply sunscreen! Beyond the given health benefits, no one wants to be that *that guy* at the festival who is walking around lobster-faced.

What NOT to pack … glass

If you’re bringing in alcohol, buy it in plastic bottles. If you’re bringing in beer, buy cans. Aside from the non-glass option being cheaper most of the time, the majority of festivals have a no-glass policy in place for good reason. Festivals are a safe space for people to let loose and roam free; broken glass on the ground is an easy way to ruin that experience for someone. Be cognizant of your barefooted fest friends!

What to pack … a tapestry or blanket

Aside from adding some distinguishable character (and shade) to your epic campsite, a tapestry – or colorful blanket – is an essential, multi-purpose item to bring in your daypack. Want to nap under a tree? Your tapestry is a bed. Getting a little chilly at night? Your tapestry is a sweater. Want to rest your legs in a non-grassy area? Your tapestry is a chair. It’s lightweight and takes up minimal space.

What NOT to pack … clothing of regret

This includes anything uncomfortable, inconvenient or offensive. My basic rule of thumb for festival clothing: If you can’t drop it low, it’s a no. Leave your skin-tight jeans and head to toe banana costume behind. Bring lightweight clothes you can move freely in – you’ll thank yourself when you are tearing up the dance floor, or in a sweaty mosh pit.

Keeping the clothing light and the moshing heavy at Woodstock Festival Poland

Keeping the clothing light and the moshing heavy at Woodstock Festival Poland © Jacek-Karczmarczyk

Now, there’s pros and cons to the bulky sweatshirt. Yes, you might like to snuggle up to it in the evenings, but it’s not an item you want to carry around with you all day while dancing in a crowd of people. Layers, layers, layers! Shuck a thin layer when it’s hot, add a thin layer when it’s chilly.

What to pack … body wipes and toilet paper

While showers typically aren’t an option, body or baby wipes are the next best thing (well, kind of). It’s pretty revitalizing to rub off the sweat and dirt before getting into your sleeping bag each night – even more so in the morning before you begin your day. Porto-potties will have toilet paper … until the sun goes down, if you’re lucky. Regardless, it’s not a risk you want to take, so carry around a roll in your rucksack. Nothing is quite as disappointing as getting settled into the oval office and realizing there’s no toilet paper. Talk about crappy luck.

What NOT to pack … a fancy camera

A man poses for the camera at Outlook Festival

Strike a pose – you’re on camera! © Outlook Festival

Festivals are a dream for beautiful photos, but they’re a nightmare for beautiful cameras. If you’re into photography, it can be tempting to pack your nice camera to capture quality shots of your favorite musicians and beloved friends. Unless you received press accreditation from the festival through your job or through freelancing, the vast majority of festivals will not let you in with a DSLR or any other professional photo equipment. Mind you, be prepared for all those with the photo passes aiming the camera at you going shutter button-happy while you’re mid-rave.

What NOT to pack … valuables

Those gold earrings you love so much? The family heirloom your granny gave you? Your new iPad? Leave them all at home. Earrings fall out, rings fall off, screens get smashed – it simply isn’t worth it, and nanna would be livid.

What to pack … tarp for your tent

Don’t cut corners with this one! Your tent is your best chance at some much needed sleep, and it’s hard to doze off when you’re soaking wet. Even a light drizzle can dampen your belongings, if you don’t use a rain tarp. Make sure your tent isn’t missing any other parts (stakes, etc.) before you leave.

What to pack … slip-on shoes

If you’re dancing in sneakers all day long, or even wellies, you’ll be pleased to have a pair of comfy sandals to slip on when you’re back at the campsite. Let those babies breathe! Sandals are convenient for when you’re popping in and out of your tent because they’re easiest to take off.

What NOT to pack … an umbrella

Follow the festival pros - say no to an umbrella, and embrace the rain coat

Follow these Glastonbury Festival pros: say no to an umbrella, and embrace the rain coat © brizzle born and bred

Let’s face it, you’re going to an outdoor music festival. If it rains, you’re going to get wet. An umbrella will do three things at show: it will inhibit you from dancing, it’ll block the people behind you, and it will inevitably poke someone’s eye out. Where the umbrella fails, the rain mackintosh rocks …

What to pack … earplugs

Those speakers you’re leaning against? They’re designed to reach ears in the back of that 50,000-person crowd. Bring earplugs! Your future self with the solid hearing will thank you. They will be available from the festival camping site shop, and perhaps given away for free by security in-between concerts. They also a trust blockade from the festival carnage outside your tent when you need some shut-eye.

What NOT to leave behind … plastic bottles

Most festivals nowadays have a “Leave No Trace” philosophy. In other words, the festival grounds should look the same when you pack up as they did when you arrived. Plastic is bad for the environment, and only a fraction of those bottles actually get recycled so, if you bring them, make sure you recycle them! Festivals also have water fill-up stations in place to a) keep you hydrated and b) reduce waste. Snag a reusable water bottle and leave the plastic at home.

What to pack … trash bags and resealable plastic bags

More festival essentials? Trash bags! Bring your own and clean up after you leave the campsite

More festival essentials? Trash bags! Bring your own and clean up after you leave the campsite

Keep a couple of big, black trash bags around your campsite throughout the festival to minimize the cleanup efforts required on that final morning (when you’ll be in complete zombie mode). Pack two or three smaller resealable plastic zipper bags in your rucksack so that, if it rains, you have something to protect your phone and any other small items.

What to pack … a portable charger

While you shouldn’t be glued to them at every waking minute, it’s always nice knowing you have the ability to snap a couple festival photos or meet back up with your group if need be. That being said, you’ll have few opportunities to charge your phone while inside the festival grounds (aside from charging stations at some festivals, which are a bit of a nuisance and overcrowded). A portable charger is always smart to have on hand, but make sure it’s fully charged when you head in!

What NOT to pack … an itinerary

A performer wows the crowd at Oya Music Festival

Don’t plan too much ahead. Go with the festival flow and you just might stumble into your favorite concert of all time © Oya Music Festival

It’s understandable. You’ve paid good money to see your favorite artists play. But the biggest mistake I made at my first festival was walking in with fixed expectations about where I had to be and when. The reality is that plans change – oftentimes for the better – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you stumble upon when you’re looking for nothing in particular. Now, you should definitely outline your top 5 must see shows but, beyond that, a strict schedule only sets you up for disappointment. An open mind leaves more room for those serendipitous moments that make festivals so magical.

Ready to get inspired? Read about the 9 Croatian music festivals you need to visit this summer, or the 10 best music cities around the world. Then visit Everfest to find your own favorite music festival