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The Ultimate Festival Kit List
Let's Be Realistic
In our pampered modern society, we turn our noses up at the first sign of dirt or thriftiness. But when camping at a festival, we need to lower our standards a little. It may not be possible to shower every day, or even to have a basic wash. We'll have to keep hold of our stinky laundry for the full time that we're on site, and we'll need to be prepared for cold, rainy nights with creepy-crawlies for company.
We could choose to pack as much stuff from home as possible, to convince ourselves that everything is fine, and we're not actually living in a field. But having tried this tactic a few times, I know how futile it is. You won't end up using half of what you bring, but you will still need to lug it around with you. And don't forget that the whole point of going to a festival is to enjoy it - trying to recreate the home environment in a muddy field will take up too much time and effort, and you'll likely get annoyed with how it slows you down. Everyone else is tolerating this lapse in living standards, so why not follow the herd and try not to worry about things not being pristine. Everyone else stinks, so they won't notice if you do!
The Easy Option
If you're only attending for one day, then you won't need to worry about half of the items listed below. All you need to worry about is bringing a bag for that single day - probably not much different from what you'd use to go shopping or to college. Perhaps you'll need to ensure a little spare space for any merchandise you buy, but you're unlikely to need to carry any survival equipment beyond a waterproof jacket.
If, however, you're staying the weekend but the thought of sleeping in a grubby field is too much for your delicate sensibilities, just book a hotel room. Or sleep in your car. Seriously, though, I'd prefer the field.
What Am I Allowed To Bring On To Site?
Check the event website for any special rules about what is permitted on the site, and in the arena. For example, alcohol and barbecues might be allowed in the campsite, but not in front of the stage. Small camping knives might be fine, but over a certain length are forbidden. In these security-conscious times, you will have your bags searched on arrival, so make sure that you don't have anything suspect in there!
What Do I Need To Bring On Site?
The emphasis here is on need. You can theoretically bring anything on to the site that's not forbidden by the event rules, but you should only bring what is essential. Cut out as many unnecessary items as you can. The ability to travel light will far outweigh the hardship of not having all your home comforts with you.
The Bumper List of Festival Campsite Essentials
#1: Your Tent
Seems pretty obvious, right? But think about the type of tent you'll bring. As a Girl Scout, I learned how to pitch a 6-person heavy canvas tent with 2.5" diameter steel poles and wooden pegs that could double as murder weapons. Well, no-one has the time or energy to deal with that sort of thing when there's bands to see, drinks to be drunk, and fun to be had. You need a simple solution!
As a teenager, I wondered why we were using technology from the 1850s, when we could just nip down to the camping store and buy a pop-up tent for £15. I suppose it had something to do with authenticity, or character-building. Well, I've definitely grown out of that! There are tents that are marketed as being specifically for festivals available for under £25. They are quite flimsy, and not meant for harsh weather conditions, but even the swamps of Glastonbury are generally fine for a tent like that. Mine is a two-person tent with built-in groundsheet and two flexible poles, which allow it to be put together in about 2 minutes.
I would recommend that you buy a tent slightly larger than the number of people that you're buying it for. A standard two-person tent is a little cosy before you factor in luggage. And don't forget that anything touching the sides of the tent will get wet, even if there's no rain. A surprising volume of dew descends overnight, and you give off lots of condensation just through breathing.
This is the tent that I bought at the last minute - I needed something cheap and portable, that would do a reasonable job of keeping me safe and dry. Amazingly my hasty selection paid off, and I'm very pleased with this simple and practical tent. I'm planning to use it several times this summer!
#2: Sleep Stuff
If you're camping, a sleeping bag is also kinda necessary. I was happy to just use a sleeping bag with no mat or blankets, and my day sack stuffed with clothing as a pillow. That's the travelling light option, but if you want to make things harder for yourself you could add little luxuries like pillows, duvet, bed frame (from what I've seen people bring, nothing would surprise me), etc.
For nightwear, I just brought an oversized hoodie. It also served the purpose it was designed for if it got cold, so I didn't feel too frivolous packing this. One of the things I splashed a little cash on prior to travelling was a battery-powered lantern. It's great if you need to cross the field to locate the toilets in the dead of night, but most importantly it meant that I had a ceiling light in my tent! This felt super-swanky, and was actually very useful for getting ready to bed after stumbling haphazardly to the tent after a day's partying. An ordinary torch will do the trick if it has a loop for tying to the apex of the tent, but it's nowhere near as stylish.
I used one of these, but you can also get ones that look like hurricane lanterns or light bulbs if you're after something a bit fancier.
#3: A day sack
You probably won't be carrying everything around with you all the time. But you will want to carry a few essentials. You need a bag that is easy to carry, and spacious enough to just throw in the things you need travelling around stalls and going to the stage areas. I purchased a Converse backpack designed for school children because it's mega lightweight, and has tons of room in it. Anything designed for hauling textbooks and folders around is good enough for water, sweets, and a supply of loo roll.
My backpack is just like this one, but I added some sew-on patches and badges to mine.
#4: Walking Shoes / Boots
Ideally, you'll already have these on your feet upon arrival, and won't need to carry them in your luggage. A decent pair of hiking shoes will serve you so much better than any pair of wellies will. Yes, it could get damp and muddy, but walking boots will offer protection from the elements, have a sturdy grip, and will support your feet on rough terrain. Also, wellies will make your feet sweat, and no-one wants to come home with trenchfoot.
These are the boots I own. They're light and flexible enough for hiking or running, and they're waterproof and breathable.
The same as for the shoes, I'm hoping that you will arrive with at least some clothing on your body (except for nudist festivals, perhaps). But make sure that you pack smart! The first rule is to travel light and get as much wear out of a few items rather than bringing your entire wardrobe. If you can live with wearing the same jumper and trousers for a few days, then do it (if you can't bear the thought, I have some bad news for you about life under canvas). Here's what you need:
Things you need only one of (turn up to site wearing these or you might look silly / get arrested)
Things you need extras of
Lightweight trousers, hopefully on your body when you get there. If you'd prefer a walking skirt, fine, But don't blame me if you get cold legs. And please don't wear jeans; at the slightest hint of rain they are going to cling to you and weigh a ton. Plus damp denim really smells.
Underpants and socks. A fresh pair for each day, plus at least one extra in case of any mishaps (I'm not going to go into details).
A decent bra, preferably a sports bra (assuming that you have breasts. If not, it's one less item to pack!). You're going to be doing a lot of walking, dancing, and leaping about, so some robust underwear is needed!
A loose, long-sleeved shirt or dress. You'll need this to cover up in the sun.
A sweater, but just the one. Change the shirts you wear underneath it, but one jumper will be fine, even if it's for a whole week.
At least one other clean shirt. Aim to make a t-shirt last for two days minimum.
A waterproof jacket. A pac-a-mac style one if possible. This means that you can roll it up and shove it in your bag so that you don't need to carry a huge coat around.
No-one likes to skimp on personal hygiene ordinarily - and no-one wants to be near a smelly person. But desperate times call for desperate measures - and unless you want to bring the entire contents of your bathroom cabinet with you, you'll need some shortcuts.
One thing never to forget, though, is toilet paper. At the start of the festival, the toilets are well stocked with loo roll, and they might even be emptied and replenished every day (what luxury!). But there will be times when there is no paper, and to avoid horrific scenes you really need to carry a backup bog roll with you at all times. But tell no-one of its existence, and hold it close to you like a precious jewel. Everyone secretly covets your hidden stash, and once you hand it over, you'll never see it again!
OK, that's the Number One (get it? haha) bathroom staple you need. Here are some others:
Wipes. Mainly to wash yourself in the absence of showering facilities. If you use them in the toilet, please don't flush them. The waste from the toilets gets processed in the same way as effluent that goes into the sewers, and those wipes will do the same environmental damage no matter which toilet they are flushed down.
Toothbrush - although if you're not squeamish about icky morning mouth, you could just chew lots of gum for the whole festival . But make sure you put it in a bin when you're done - there's no excuse for spitting your gum out anywhere.
Sunblock - no messing about, get a really high factor version that will leave you in no danger of burning or discomfort. This essential item is often forgotten, leaving two options: buy a bottle at the event with a 500% price markup, or get burnt and risk disfigurement & skin cancer. Carry it with you at all times so that you can top it up regularly.
#7: Other Essential Items
You'll be glad you remembered to bring these items with you:
Smartphone with adequate data - no matter what disaster befalls you, you can find the solution at the end of the line or on the internet. It's a life line.
Smartphone charger and backup batteries - there aren't usually power points in fields, but some festivals will have charging stations (but bear in mind that they will charge you dear for their use - the last one I went to wanted £8 for an hour's electricity). If you have portable power banks, you can maximise your phone's life without too much inconvenience.
Plastic carrier bags - you will find a multitude of uses for these simple, disposable, everyday items. You can put muddy boots in them to protect the inside of your tent, you can separate clean from dirty laundry, you can use them as garbage bags.
Small water bottles - great for refilling from the tap, or for decanting larger bottles into smaller portions. Also useful for concealing alcohol from the arena search staff (I'm not condoning it, I'm just saying), as vodka and lemonade are indistinguishable on sight alone. They also go well together if mixed.
Plasters / Blister Plasters - these are small and portable, but often left at home. If you're wearing unfamiliar footwear, you can fall prey to sneaky blisters and abrasions. If this happens, you'll be glad you brought a few plasters along.
Condoms - whether you set out to get lucky or find some accidental good fortune, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Medication & Sanitary Products - It might seem obvious, but sometimes important things are easy to forget without a prompt. As with the baby wipes, don't flush tampons and towels - find a bin to dispose of them.
#8: Optional Extras
Miniature versions of toiletries - deodorant shower gel, shampoo. This is if you've decided that the wipes just won't cut it. The original purchase price of little bottles of soap is poor value, but once you've got them, you can refill them for next-to-nothing. Also, try using dry versions of things like shampoo - it's way more convenient and far less messy. As with everything on this list, don't go overboard. Think twice about whether you really need that extra bottle of organic avocado nail souffle, or whatever it is you kids use these days.
A microfibre towel - these are a little pricey, but worth the investment. They are available from camping shops for around £10 - £15. They are great because they're thin and compact, but also absorbent and they dry quickly - thus avoiding damp and smelly towels hanging around in your tent.
After-sun lotion - This stuff's not just for when you've fried your skin to a crisp, it's good to moisturise your skin after prolonged sun exposure. And prevention is always better than cure, so slather on the sunblock in the first place. It's not strictly essential, but its soothing powers may be just what you need at the end of a long day.
Ready-to-eat snacks - festival food is expensive, and while it's tempting to just say "what the hell" and spend with abandon, your rational self will thank you when the rent's due. Bring nuts, biscuits, chocolate, cereal bars, anything that doesn't need refrigeration or airtight storage.
Cheap(er) booze - you're going to be charged prices for a beer that are higher than those in Central London, so if you can bring your own tipple, it'll save you a pretty penny. Some events allow your own booze & snacks, and some don't. It's up to you to check beforehand and prepare appropriately.
A blanket / mat / cushion - for sitting about in fields in slightly more comfort than the bare earth. If you have space to carry this, you're doing well.
Money - These days they have cashpoints at festivals; it's proper high-tech! They will probably charge a fee, but it's better than having all your cash nicked. It's up to you, carry cash at your own risk, or get ripped off at the cashpoint. Let's face it, you're going to be paying through the nose for food, drink and merch anyway, so it'll probably be a minor inconvenience.
Your car - not everyone drives, or wants to. But having my vehicle on site meant that I could lock my valuables in the boot and also go off site to pick up supplies.
And now it's time for...
The Bumper List Of What Not To Bring To A Festival
#1: Too Much Stuff
I've already said this above, but over-packing is the Number One thing that will cause you hassle and inconvenience. Boil down the amount of stuff you bring to the absolute minimum.
99.99% of people who attend festivals are honest and would never dream of pinching other people's stuff. But that other 0.01% can cause havoc and distress - so don't give them the opportunity. Of course they are the ones in the wrong, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Don't forget that being in an unfamiliar place with lots of distractions can also lead to items being misplaced, rather than stolen. Anyone can make a mistake.
Keep essential valuables (phone, wallet, jewellery) on you at all times, and don't leave anything in your tent that you would miss even slightly. Check beforehand if there is secure storage on site (there usually is), and/or lock things in the boot of your car - you can then grab these items when you need them and return them to a safe place when you're done.
I've stated above why I think wellies are a bad idea. They're little more than a festival fashion accessory, and they're not as practical as you'd think!
#4: Anything fancy, fussy, or messy
No matter how preened and polished you are in your everyday life, you're just not going to be able to recreate a beauty salon in your tent. If you need that level of pampering, try glamping or stay in a nearby hotel (good luck - they'll be booked up weeks or months in advance).
Any creams, powders or pastes need secure, sealed packaging, and you need to store them where they won't get damaged or overflow. The heat will cause liquids to expand, so you could end up with some gloopy surprises if you're not careful!
Whatever you do bring, use a miniature version, and make sure the packaging is resealable. Things like bar soap aren't great, so use a mini bottle of shower gel for handwash, say. Products that don't need water will help you out - while there will be clean water available on site, if it's a single tap in a field of 5000 tents, you might have to queue...
#5: Perishable Food
For the last festival I attended, I set out with such good intentions, and emptied the contents of my fruit bowl into the cool bag. I ended up eating precisely none of it, partly due to it getting bruised and mashed in transit, and partly due to me filling my face with Jaffa Cakes instead (I checked, and these do not count towards your 5-a-day). You need to be honest with yourself: are you really going to eat healthy snacks that require ripening, preparation and protection from the elements? Or will you go for comfort food, chocolate and biscuits?
Also avoid taking meat products unless you intend to eat them on the day of purchase. They do not keep well in a warm tent.
Barbecues are great, though! Why shouldn't you bring one? They are also a pain in the ass, that's why. Whenever me and my mates have a barbecue, it's a standalone event. They do require a lot of prep, organisation and clearing away, even if it's one of those tiny portable ones. No matter how thorough and responsible you are, it's going to be a drain on your time (that you could be using for better things), and you run the risk of setting your tent (or yourself!) on fire. Due to the limited amount of perishable BBQ products you can feasibly bring and eat, it will likely work out cheaper to buy overpriced festival grub, anyway. And where are you going to do the washing-up? Save the BBQ for next weekend.
#7: Contact Lenses
Unless you're wearing 30 day lenses, just don't even go there. OK, sometimes glasses are inconvenient, and it might seem that we look our best with contacts in (not necessarily true, but it's what society tells us). And when you're dancing the night away, you might not want to worry about losing your glasses in the mosh pit. However, contact lenses bring their own dangers, and these are multiplied in the festival environment.
Aside from the obvious problem of dropping a contact lens in a muddy puddle (even if you do find it, do you really want to put that back in your eye?), there are some healthcare concerns that you should prioritise over everything else. You don't want to return from a gig and discover that you are going blind.
You need clean hands to handle contact lenses. You might not be able to wash your hands and/or find a clean space to put lenses in. So you might end up getting all kinds of crap in your eye. And hand sanitiser is not a substitute. You really want to risk getting alcohol on your eyeball? You might as well rub a Scotch Bonnet pepper on your face.
Carrying lens solution around isn't exactly convenient. And if you're using daily disposable ones and you get dry eyes, you'll need to find a clean and sheltered place to put eye drops in. That just ain't compatible with life in the field!
Pro Tip: don't stick your fingers in your eyes when at a festival! It will lead to pain or much worse.
#8: New Year's Resolutions, Good Intentions & Diet Plans
You might as well just sign the next few days off to excess. It's party time, and you're going to experience things that are a whole lot of fun, and maybe a little outside of your comfort zone. If you put restrictions on that, you won't enjoy yourself as much as you could. Trust me, the regret you'll feel for having had a watered-down experience will be greater than the regret that you put on a couple of pounds. Weight can be lost, but the magic is gone forever.
The Ultimate Festival Song
A Great Article On Concerts & Daytime Festival Attendance
I found this Hub while searching to see what had already been written on What To Take To A Festival. It's pretty darn good, and as informative as anything I'd write on the subject. No need to re-invent the wheel, check it out:
It's All About Having A Good Time!
Here's a brief summary of what you're trying to achieve with this pared-down kit list:
- Saving yourself time and effort
- Allowing yourself to be a bit lazy - this is your time off!
- Giving yourself space to forget real life and have a great time
- Adopting a no-nonsense approach
- Finding multifunctional products
- Not wrecking the environment
- Embracing the dirt
- Staying safe
And just to finish off, here's a checklist of what you should bring:
To Bring Or Not To Bring
Drinks & Snacks
Stuff you'll end up not using
The entire contents of your bathroom cabinet
Torch or Battery Lantern
Hangups about overdoing it
a blanket or mat to sit on
Worries from your everyday life
Smartphone, Charger & Batteries