It’s the happiest time of the year, festival season is here! You’ve bought a ticket to your very first camping music festival – but now what?
From combating sleep exhaustion to campsite etiquette, we’ve put together 14 essential tips and tricks to survive your first camping music festival that we wish someone had told us as festival newbies. Armed with the knowledge below and The Essential Music Festival Packing List, you’ll be in beast mode for your next festival adventure.
1. CHOOSE YOUR FESTIVAL WISELY
Pick your festival based on your music style preference
Take note on the overall genre of the festival. If EDM doesn’t tickle your fancy, avoid all-electronic festivals like Ultra or TomorrowWorld. Other festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Governors Ball, and Coachella (just to name a few) boast a more rounded lineup of diverse musical acts. Do some research before selecting which festival to attend, especially if it’s your first.
Location is key
With music touching all cultures, festivals are sprinkled all across the globe. If the festival requires flying, be prepared to map out the logistics of shipping your camping gear. If you’re driving, make the most of your travel by spending a night or two before the festival to explore a new city along the way.
2. SQUAD GOALS vs. SOLO DOLO
The importance of having a solid squad
This will potentially make or break your entire experience. Music festivals, especially camping ones, are unlike anything else. And as such, everyone enjoys them differently. Some festival goers like to attend the tranquil morning yoga class. Others prefer to shotgun y-bombs till dawn (vodka + Red Bull, shout out to FSU’s official school drink). To bypass any drama that might arise from conflicting priorities, go with like-minded friends.
Wander around on your own
At my first camping festival (Bonnaroo ’13), my friend and I went our separate ways for a couple hours to see our own favorite bands. Splitting up resulted in some of our top highlights of the entire weekend. She ended up getting front row to The National, while on the opposite side of the festival I was sharing one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed alongside Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (click here and skip to 7:24 to see Alex Ebert swoon the crowd and bring a very deserving fan onstage).
3. NAVIGATING THE FESTIVAL GROUNDS
There’s no hiding it, I’m one of the most directionally challenged people out there, much to my dismay.
Navigating new festival grounds is not an easy feat for me. Knowing this, I usually tend to stick with a friend who has some semblance of directional sense. After exploring the grounds on the first day, it becomes much easier finding your way around. Except when you are Bonnaroo and you name stages “What”, “Which” , “This” , “That” and “The Other”. Dick move ‘Roo.
Feeling creative? Make a totem pole for your group
If you’re part of large group at venue with terrible cell reception, totem poles come in handy for your group to stay together in the thick of the crowds.
Bonus: If your totem lights up at night.
Double Bonus: If your group has walkie talkies. Except I would probably feel like I was in a Spy Kids movie the entire time.
4. PICK YOUR PACK: Backpack, Fannypack, or CamelBak?
What you use to carry your belongings into the main stages, sometimes a 45 minute trek from your campsite, will play a serious role in determining how the rest of your day is going to plan out.
Backpacks are the best option for when you don’t plan on making it back to your campsite for awhile and therefore, need to carry more stuff. On the flip side, if its scorching hot out, backpacks are only going to make you that much hotter and dig into any unexpected sunburn.
Bonus: The straps are great for when you’re dancing in the thick of the crowd but don’t know what to do your hands if your hand-awkward
always awkward like me.
Tip: The security at the main stage entrances will almost always go through the contents of your backpack. Plan accordingly.
Great for those who are hand-confident and like the freedom that a fanny pack has to offer. These are most ideal for hotter festivals, just make sure you lather up in sunscreen before heading out since you probably won’t have space to bring it.
Tip: When turned around, you can sometimes avoid the bag-check line and get into the main stage area quicker.
I know some that hate ‘em and others that swear by ‘em. If you already have one it’s definitely worth trying out. Personally, I’m a water bottle and backpack type of gal.
Tip: Be prepared for various strangers throughout the day asking for “just a sip of water”.
5. MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS
No matter how many festivals I attend, I never know how much cash to bring. As a rule of thumb, I always bring at least $60 in cash but typically by day 2 or 3, I’ll admit defeat to obnoxiously high ATM withdrawal fees.
As far as food purchases go, it’s really up to you. When I first attended music festivals I always brought sandwich and bagel ingredients. But after too many failed instances of lunch meat and cream cheese being conquered by cooler water, I started purchasing most of my food from vendors, ranging anywhere from $3 to $12 for a meal. Note: You won’t eat as much as you think you will.
Tip: I always bring an assortment of snacks including a combination of chips, crackers, Fig Newtons, Chex Mix, breakfast bars, and fruit.
Be sure to budget for ice
Fill the cooler to the brim with ice before heading into the festival grounds. It’s going to melt quickly so be prepared to buy a bag or two (roughly $5- $11 a pop) at the festival.
6. CAMPSITE ETIQUETTE
Your camping neighbor may be your new best friend or…they may be the naked girl tripping her balls off, running back and forth between campsites, stealing peoples stuff and then trying to sell it back to them until the police finally get involved escort her to the psychiatric ward at the nearby hospital (true story). The point is, you never know where you’ll end up camping. Also, don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad.
Be sure to bring basic camping goods such as garbage bags, lanterns, canopy or shade tent, towels, portable speakers, folding chairs, solo cups, etc.
Aerially mark your campsite
This is where you’ll need to get crafty. One year we duct taped extra tent poles together, hung our college flag onto it and fastened the contraption to a pole of on the shade tent. Another tactic I’ve seen is purchasing helium balloons and tying them together above your campsite.
Tip: It’s not the end of the world though if you don’t have a campsite marker. Chances are, another campsite in close proximity will have some sort of flag or marker that you can use to locate your campsite.
7. TREAT YOUR BODY LIKE A TEMPLE
Don’t be like me and get pneumonia and strep throat at the same time because I failed
didn’t even try to make healthy choices during a college spring break spent at BUKU in New Orleans and then onto Panama City Beach. Make smart choices people.
Water is life
Bring a lightweight reusable water bottle that you can continually refill. Be prepared to taste an influx of sulfur and chlorine in your water.
Tip: Avoid smelling the water.
Make vitamins and Emergen-C your right hand man
Your food intake will most likely be slashed in half, then substituted by fried food and concert goodies. Keep your body happy, take vitamins and drink Emergen-C before, during, and after the festival so your immune system doesn’t wind up kicking you in the a$$ later.
Tip: Sunscreen will be your frenemy, apply frequently.
8. BATTLING SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Music festivals deploy you to front lines of sleep deprivation. Trying to sleep in tents during the dead of summer can become unbearably hot and humid. Be prepared to not fall asleep before 3 -4 A.M. and then have to evacuate the tent around 7:45 A.M once the sweltering sun rises. For festivals in temperate areas or in cooler months, sleep will be much easier to come by.
Take refugee from the sun
If you don’t have trees around your camping spot, it’s vital to have a shade awning that you can rest under during the heat of the day.
Tip: If you don’t have access to a shade tent, fasten a blanket or sheet between two parallel car doors for a quick snooze spot.
Don’t put too many people in one tent
Even though your tent may say it fits 6, cramming bodies at full capacity inside an enclosed space in hot weather gets uncomfortable real fast. Pitch the tent before the festival to ensure there are no missing pieces and to see how many people could realistically fit.
Tip: Take melatonin before heading off for a snooze.
9. DON’T BE THAT GUY
I always end up bringing a surplus of beer because nothing brings new friends together better than handing out beer. Consider packing a flask but be careful, many main stage areas prohibit flasks inside. If you can get one inside though, it will be extremely rewarding when your go-to rum and coke costs $12 from a vendor. Also drink responsibly, don’t be that guy.
Luck in the Sky with Diamonds
As with any event that attracts a large congregation of young people, alcohol and drugs will always be present. This goes right along with taking care of yourself. Make smart choices – encourage the use of test kits amongst your festival entourage, stay hydrated and always keep in mind the risks of never knowing what for sure is going inside your body.
10. BE A HIPPIE, JUST NOT A DIRTY ONE
The 60’s were great and all but don’t pretend that your body odor is just hippie musk. After bathing even just a little at a festival, you’ll begin to feel like a brand new person washing off yesterdays shenanigans. Wet wipes or baby wipes are perfect assets for porta-potty trips and mid-day refreshers.
Do take a hippie shower
Make sure to bring at least one gallon of water per person. Not only is staying hydrated essential, many times the showers will cost money to use them.
Tip: One way around the shower fee is to pour a gallon of water over your body with soap in leu of a real shower. If the water is cold, prepare yourself for the most frigidly refreshing “hippie shower” you’ll ever take.
11. SAFE AND SOUND
Even though festivals attract some of the most genuinely inspiring humans imaginable, sketchy people will always exist no matter where you go. Lock important or expensive things in your car while you’re away from camp.
While I almost always feel extremely safe within the festival grounds, I once had a pair of Ray Bands, cash, and camera stolen out of my backpack that was lying on the trunk of my car at the campsite WHILE I WAS NAPPING IN THE DRIVERS SEAT. Yeah, talk about sleep deprivation.
Being aware of your surroundings is always the key to success. If you feel like something is up with a situation, go to a staff member or security team member. They’ll be able to help you without casting judgement.
12. FESTIVAL FASHION
If water is life, then shoes are destiny
Bring shoes that will be comfortable enough to walk in all day and night. However, pack shoes you don’t mind getting dirty and potentially ruined at those particularly muddy festivals. RIP TOMS of Okeechobee ’15 that came to an end in the face of a hidden, knee-high mud puddle.
Key word comfortable
Festivals lay the groundwork to a weekend teeming of people who think they’re boho kings and queens flaunting their flash tats, feather headpieces, and white high top converses. Truth is, my first festival I wanted to be that boho festival queen so badly that I hand selected every single outfit and matching accessory (one outfit for the day, another for night). Reality: I only wore maybe 5 pieces of the same clothing the entire weekend. Since then I’ve only brought a handful of clothes I know I’ll be comfortable in.
Personally my go-to’s are sun dresses or skater skirts with bathing suit tops. No matter what it is, just make sure it’s going to be comfy all day and night.
Tip: If you plan on staying out until nightfall, tie a sweater or flannel around your waist for when the temperatures begin to drop.
13. ENTER THE FESTIVAL WITH A FULL TANK OF GAS!
The lines to get into the festival venue can range anywhere between 2 to 6 hours depending on what time you arrive.
While you should always bring a portable charger for your phone and such, you’ll most likely be turning on your car occasionally to charge various devices. Make sure you turn the car on all the way so you don’t kill your battery. Try and leave at least a half tank of gas for the trek out of the festival on the last day.
Tip: Bring jumper cables.
14. POSITIVE VIBES MAN
“The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude.”
The mud may ruin your shoes. The sun may come up at 7:45 every morning forcing you out of what little sleep you got. Don’t fixate on the small negatives that may pop up but instead soak in the new experiences that a music festival has to offer.
Standing for hours on end, feet covered in blisters, dumping gallons of timidly cold water over sun speckled skin to wash off the yesterday, creates an intense moment of surreal bliss. A bliss I hardly would have thought would occur among an absence of air conditioning, real toilets, real showers, nor real beds.
As you become fully absorbed in the festival each day, the outside world will slowly begin to recede from memory for a brief period of time. Take this opportunity to unplug from reality and immerse yourself in the music and people also enjoying the festival alongside you.
Before you know it, you’ve survived your first camping music festival.
Did we miss anything? Share your own music festival tips below!