Things are heating up out there and with a full schedule of fun outdoor events ahead, you might be a little rusty on what to take festival camping, and what to leave behind. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you plan and pack for your next festival so you can enjoy the easiest entry and set up, and the most comfort possible regardless of what the weather throws at you.
The first rule of festival camping is that you want to pack light. While this doesn't necessarily mean ultralight like you’re going on a thru-hike, you are going to have to transport everything from where you park (or where the bus drops you off) into the festival campground. This can often involve a long trek with thousands of other festival goers along a muddy path. And at the end of the weekend, when you’re tired, sun baked and partied out, you’ll need to do it all over again! Plus, your bag will be searched at security, so the less gear you have the better. Our checklist for what to take festival camping covers everything you need for comfort and next-level fun.
You will probably see people carting their gear into festivals in suitcases and on trolleys, but with grassy fields and muddy roads, the best option is definitely to bring a good sized hiking backpack or even a hauler like the Peak Design Travel Bag. You can clip gear onto it using carabiners, attach your sleeping bag and sleeping pad to it using loops which means you have plenty of room inside for all your outfit changes, and it means you’ll have your hands free for carrying your camping chair and welly boots (or a beverage).
In addition to your larger backpack to haul your gear, make sure you bring a smaller day bag like the Craghoppers Classic Rolltop for carrying your extra layers, waterproofs, sunscreen and water bottle around the festival.
It’s tempting to bring a massive tent to a festival so you can have a de facto home base for the weekend, but remember that you may need to carry it for quite a long distance on foot, plus you might be pitching your tent in a very crowded campground.
Your home away from home needs to be sturdy, weather resistant, compact, and easy to set up so you can get to the main stage faster. Check out our guide to the best pop up tents and look for something big enough to fit everyone plus your gear without being too sprawling. Consider one with an awning or large vestibule included where you can chill out and get some protection from sun and rain.
You might not have a lot of room at your campsite, but a camping tarp can still be a good idea. It can provide extra shelter for your tent if it’s pouring, additional ground cover if the campground is waterlogged, or you can rig a shaded vestibule without taking up too much space.
Heed this advice: you should never head to a festival without your best camping blanket. A camping blanket is a key piece of gear for a festival and serves multiple purposes. If you’re somewhere warm, it can replace your sleeping bag, which means less gear in your backpack. You’ll also want it to spread out and sit on when you’re watching bands, hanging out and enjoying a picnic. And if it gets chilly once the sun goes down, you can just wrap it around your shoulders to keep warm.
If you don’t fancy using your blanket for sleeping, or if it’s going to be cold overnight, bring a sleeping bag. You might not bring your best sleeping bag, however, as it might get muddy, but bring something not too heavy and reasonably packable.
Foam sleeping pad
At the end of a long day of dancing, you definitely want a comfortable spot to lie down. Even though there are lots of great inflatable sleeping pads which pack down small, for a muddy festival we actually recommend going old school and bringing a foam sleeping pad, since these are pretty sturdy and you won’t mind getting them dirty – plus, they can double as a yoga mat if there’s a morning stretch session at the festival. Rather than packing it inside, attach your sleeping pad your backpack to save internal space. If you’re looking for a good compromise between the inflatable and foam pads, check out the Mountain Equipment Helium 3.8 Warm Zone Mat.
You definitely want a pillow for night time, and you could be one of those festival-goers clutching your pillow from home to your chest as you stand in line to get in, but if it’s raining that’s a recipe for a soggy mess inside your tent. Get a small camping pillow that fits inside your tent or use the stuff sack for your sleeping bag and fill it with clothes.
The one exception that we’ll make to the rule of packing light is a camping chair, which really makes all the difference when you’re hanging out back at the campsite. You can definitely sit on the aforementioned camping blanket, but a proper chair does add a nice element of comfort after being on your feet all day and gets you up off wet grass. Fortunately, the best camping chairs include lots of lightweight, foldable options these days. Make sure yours has a cup holder for your beverages!
Reusable water bottle
All festivals these days are great at providing lots of hydration stations, but help them cut down on unnecessary waste by bringing your own reusable water bottle. Avoid glass bottles, which may not be allowed for safety, and look for a vacuum insulated bottle which keeps your drinks cold on hot days.
You can use your water bottle for all of your beverages, but if you prefer your water to just taste like water, remember to bring a camping mug as well. Most coffee vendors will give you a discount for bringing your own mug, while some festivals might require you to bring yours. If you’re worried about room in your pack, bring one with a handle that you can clip to your bag with a carabiner.
When it comes to clothing, perhaps no piece of gear is more important to a festival experience than a good pair of welly boots. Many festivals have turned into nightmare mud baths when it rains, and squelching around in your hiking sandals might not be all that fun, or even possible. Check out our guide to the best wellington boots and look for a lightweight and non-insulated pair. These aren’t the easiest to fit inside your backpack, unfortunately, so you might want to wear them in to the festival then change into your flip flops.
Speaking of rain, make sure you pack a waterproof jacket in case of a deluge. Since you’re more likely to be dressing for fashion over function, it’s best not to get your clothes wet if possible as they won’t dry out as quickly if they’re made using cotton, and they’ll be coming into your tent with you. Bring a waterproof jacket that is lightweight and perhaps not your most expensive one, since it has a good chance of getting beer-soaked as well as rain-soaked when the band comes back onstage for the encore.
Even in the middle of summer, overnights can be cold and when you’re out late, you want to stay safe and comfortable. Pack a fleece jacket for evenings – these are pretty sturdy compared to down jackets and will hold up better against crowds, mud, beer and ketchup, plus you can roll it up and use it as a pillow.
Let’s hope the weather doesn’t take a turn for the worst and it’s sunny all weekend. In addition to sunscreen you’ll want to bring a proper sunhat with a brim, as the sun beating down on you all day can be quite depleting and even leave you at risk of heatstroke.
What to leave behind when you’re festival camping
It’s a good idea to check the festival website to make sure that you can bring everything you want to, but generally speaking these are the camping items that you may need to leave behind:
- Camping stove: usually any kind of open flame is not permitted.
- Gazebo: these may take up too much space at the campsite.
- Camping knife: these will almost definitely be confiscated at security.
- Cooler: many festivals don’t allow outside food or drinks to be brought in, but if you're allowed on, get one on wheels!
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.