From the moment the lineups for the likes of Coachella and Sasquatch, amongst others, start getting announced in early January right through until bracelets go on sale I have a one track mind… Who is doing the festival circuit? Which fests are they playing? What are the dates? What’s the cheapest way to get there so I can get to as many as possible? When the logistics are all arranged and the long cold days of winter are finally giving way to spring; as the days count down and it’s almost time to go, there is one question I never have to ask these days. What to bring? When you’ve done as many festivals as I have you very quickly learn what the real necessities are so here are my must haves for festival season.
An absolute must have when you are spending hours and hours in the summer sun. The key to enjoying any festival is being comfortable. The last thing you want to happen is to have your favourite band take to the stage and you’re feeling worn out, with a headache and just generally miserable. So hydrate, hydrate, HYDRATE. A lot of people swear by camelbacks but once you sling one of those on your back you lose the ability to carry the drawstring bag I will mention a bit later. Most festivals also prohibit you from bringing unsealed liquids on site as well and a water bottle is far easier to empty/fill as needed than a camelback.
Bottle Caps (for those who forget to bring a water bottle)
Much like in the Fallout video game franchise these things are like currency at some festivals because a lot of vendors who sell water will hand you your newly purchased bevvy pre-opened sans cap forcing you to purchase another and another and another. Toss a handful of bottle caps in your bag and you can easily carry around and reuse your bottle and you get to feel good about helping to save the environment (and your wallet).
Cash is still king and you’re going to want your fest swag and band merch. You will find very few vendors who take debit or credit on site and though most festival grounds have ATMs strewn about these days, the usage fees are through the roof. (I’ve seen as high as $5 per transaction!) A lot of people will tell you to bring snacks and save money but I am not one of those. There is more to a good festival than just the music, the food trucks at most of these events are foodie heaven! So forego the granola bars and splurge a bit on some fantastic eats you normally wouldn’t have a chance to try.
As much as I love festivals (and I do LOVE my festivals!) there is one dark, nightmarish aspect to them that one must not only confront head on but, strategically prepare for as well… PORTAPOTTY HELL! Whether you find yourself at a single day ribfest type event or a 3 – 4 day camping festival you will at some point have to deal with the portapotty situation and you will, without fail, find that there is no toilet paper more often than there is. You will also find there is no quicker way to make a friend for life than when you see a head peek through a crack in the door and hear a mournful “HELP!” than pulling out a roll of two ply. You can never have too much TP!
There is a bit of a debate between some hardcore festival goers over which you should bring, hand sanitizers or baby wipes. I personally am in the baby wipes camp because hand sanitizers dry my skin out and I find wipes more effective at camping festivals, where the shower scene tends to be less than reliable at best. After a long day in the sun nothing feels (or smells) better than giving the pits a wipe down, something than sanitizers just don’t offer. No matter which you choose between the two… bring something to clean your grubby little paws.
Picture the above mentioned portapotty hell, now picture that same scenario in the dark. That’s all that really needs to be said on this one, however I will elaborate in saying I prefer a headlamp to a flashlight for the hands free factor. Aside from the bathroom situation they are also extremely handy for camping festivals to find your way back to your tent.
Sun Screen / Rain Poncho
Like it or not you will have to deal with the weather and given that festivals typically occur in Spring/Summer that means one of two things… sun or rain. As previously mentioned, you want to be comfortable and that is just not happening when you have a sunburn or when you’re drenched.
You need something to put this stuff in! Drawstring bags are the perfect solution in my opinion. Not only do they offer a good amount of storage space without being as hot to strap on as a backpack, the single pocket makes it easier to get through security check. Given their design it is also far less likely that someone will be able to open it to get to your valuables without you noticing unlike a standard zipper closure backpack.
I know, I know. It’s summer and you want to wear those totally cute sandals or flip flops that you just HAD to have but this is a festival, not the beach. You are going to be in a somewhat confined space with tens of thousands of other festival goers. You will be spending a lot of time on your feet. Your feet WILL be stepped on. My personal go tos are Vans classic slipons. They’re easy to get on and off without having to constantly tie/untie laces, they offer an incredible amount out cushioning (do you really want to be walking on gravel paths in those sandals with the thin leather sole?) and they are fairly well structured so when your toes do get trampled they won’t get broken.
Air Mattress / Blanket / Warm Clothes
These of course are specific to camping festivals. Many people would argue that an air mattress isn’t REALLY a must have but I would beg to differ. You’re going to be spending 12+ hours a day for several days in a row standing, walking and most probably drinking to excess. Trust me you will want something comfortable to sleep on and the ground just doesn’t cut it. It’s often hard to remember in the heat of summer that quite rural locales, where most camping festivals take place, can get pretty cool at night. It only takes one experience of lying awake all night shivering to make you realize just how important it is to have a blanket to keep warm. In the same vein you will quickly figure out once the sun goes down that even though the days can be sweltering you need to pack more than just shorts and t-shirts. Jeans and a hoodie are a must for those after dark sets.
Taker of pictures, writer of words, worker of magicks! Based in Toronto!