Festival season has arrived yet again, and with it comes the inevitable question debated by many party crews around the world: "Should we shell out funds for hotel rooms and AirBnB rentals... or rough it in the campgrounds?"
For most, operating on a budget is a priority, making camping the sometimes default, no brainer choice.
Besides budget woes aside, opting for the on-site experience can be one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in an event, while also connecting with friends and neighbors alike. Building a campsite is a uniquely collaborative experience, serving to set the tone of your weekend on a communal note. You’ll be on the festival grounds far earlier, seeing more of the music you came to experience... and mid-day disco naps are a cinch.
Should you decide to embrace the rugged side of festival life, here’s an abridged list of (most) everything you should bring with you to ensure considerable comfort in the campgrounds. With all of these items on hand, you’ll find the campsite life is actually a fairly cushy place to be.
Don't forget, no matter the policy of the event, if you're camping it's vital to leave no trace. If you packed it in, you're going to pack it out too. It's part of being a responsible earthling.
This section lists the most basic supplies needed to have a cozy, yet utilitarian campsite. There are many other items to consider bringing, but this modest list covers enough of the stuff to get you through most any camping event with ease.
You’re finally returned to camp at 4am with a serious case of the munchies after all the food vendors closed down. What do you do? Quesadillas, baby!
Having the option of making your own hot foot on a cold night, or simply brewing a cup of tea, is a luxury one never fully appreciates until they’re sleeping under the stars. A simple, single burner does just fine. The investment is considerably minor compared to the convenience.
Having multiple coolers is the call. If you’re combining your food and booze in one cooler, the ice melts much faster with so many opens and closes. You should have one dedicated cooler for food, and one or two others for booze. With that being said, always make sure you close the cooler fully, which should go without saying, but people always blow this when they’re in a hurry for a tall, cool one.
Pro tip: put a layer of dry ice on the bottom of your cooler, cover it with a grocery bag and then put your regular ice on top. This will make the ice in your cooler last exponentially longer.
Kitchen and cookware
Bring one foldable table, a big-ass cast iron, one medium size pot, one kettle, a couple wooden spoons, one sharp knife and one spatula. A cutting board is optional, oftentimes a plate or the table works just fine. Put your coolers underneath the table so everything is consolidated. Obviously, bring your favorite seasonings and sauces to compliment any cookery creation you may manifest.
Everyone in your camp should bring their own ware for eating: a cup, plate, bowl and spork. Avoid bringing a bulk box of plastic forks or paper plates, most of them won’t even be used and they’re terribly wasteful. Same goes for red solo cups.
Separate your trash from recycling and crush them cans! Having trash bags around and accessible will do quite a bit for campsite clutter. It seems like an obvious thing to bring, but somehow these are all-too-often forgotten in the aisles of your local grocer while you’re making your last-minute stops.
Shade structures are essential to any campsite, especially those in the desert. The “Easy-Up” has become the catch all phrase for expandable, out-of-box structures, but a plethora of options exist. Find what works best for your storage capability, crowd source among your friends, and boom, you have shelter. Bring some tapestries to set up walls for seclusion, LED-wire or Christmas lights for the nighttime, and maybe some dangly chachkies to fully round out the steeze.
At least one person needs to have a Leatherman-like tool on hand. You never know when a set of plyers will come in handy, or if you need to pop open the speaker box of your renegade sound camp.
Mallet or hammer
You need to bring something to pound stakes for tents, tarps, and shade. Borrowing from a neighbor generally works, but just think… you could be that neighbor!
Zip ties and duct tape
You’ll need them. Even if you don’t think you will, you will. For those who are even more ambitious, bring some baling wire, rope, and chordage as well. Pulling a McGuyver is one of the best parts of festival camping, and decking out your space requires all the tools of connectivity.
Get yourself a cozy two person tent, and treat it right. These mobile abodes will be your home base for the weekend, and having a secluded space all your own makes all the difference. Some folks prefer the four to six person monstrosities just for themselves, but this tends to take up far too much of your campsite footprint, and they’re a total bitch to set up and pack down. Don’t even get me started on Shift Pods. Less is more, and a minimal approach will do wonders for your mid-festival clutter, eventual strike down and inevitable departure.
Sleeping bag and mat
Don’t skimp on quality here. Having a cozy pad is the difference between a recuperative night of sleep and feeling dead halfway through the event. Same goes for a bag. Shivering all night because you didn’t anticipate alpine altitudes in Colorado being chilly is a sure way to have a bad time.
These are the must brings for any camping festival you may attend. Regardless of what your campsite infrastructure looks like, don’t arrive on-site without them.
A slim and simple backpack for frolicking is a must. This is something that is comfortable to wear, has a number of nifty pockets for various items and ranges around 20-liters in volume. Anytime you go out, make sure you have your pack. What could be a quick walk down the way could easily turn into a 48-hour hiatus, and having some basic supplies with you makes all the difference in the longevity of your impending excursions.
STOP BRINGING SINGLE USE WATER BOTTLES TO EVENTS! It’s wasteful, tacky and takes up far too much space in your car ride out. Bring your water in bulk, refill your canteen in camp or find a hydration station if the event provides such courteous amenities. Slap some stickers on that puppy, adorn it with crystals or use it to pound in tent stakes. This will become one of your most prized possessions.
Yes, they’re dorky as heck, but so useful that you'll just need to get over yourself. Having both hands readily available while you illuminate your walk to the portos at 4am is a serious boon. Also, any other nighttime activities in an unlit area drastically improve with a headlamp.
Having a pair of thermal leggings and a top will make the surprisingly chilly evenings a non-issue. They’re lightweight and will fit under most any funky attire you may have brought along. Compliment the look with a couple pairs of wool socks. Your cold-ass feet will thank you. Bringing along several layers also does the trick, but investing in a nice set of thermals won’t hurt.
By this point, we should all have these for the dance floor anyway. But having some basic earplugs at least for sleeping is essential in any campground. People like to go late, oftentimes you’re camped right next to a stage and having the option to tune out most of the decibels will do wonders for your battle to get some rest.
Just bring an extra five gallons. If you don’t need it, someone else surely will. Especially if you’re running your car to play music or charge devices, it’s inevitable someone is going to run out of gas. Life is all about creating options for yourself, and having a gas can certainly does that.
Bring a spare key to your car! You do not want to lose your keys and be stuck in the campgrounds after everyone’s well on their way to In ‘n’ Out. It’ll also allow communal access to your car, if you’re using it to store supplies, without the risk of someone losing your only key.
We’re not stronger than the sun. It’s coming for us, and it’s only getting hotter. For those of us who rarely get out in the sun, camping at a festival is a constant dance with the rays, and you will burn, more likely than not. Bring some sunscreen and save your skin from future wrinkles, or a nasty peel.
While these items aren’t necessarily “essential,” they are pretty darn close. You’d likely be fairly bummed without them in most camping festival settings.
Keep them cold and keep them safe. Any electrolytes will do, but having a quick way to hydrate first thing in the morning after a rowdy night or during a scorching afternoon is essential.
Events can be quite dusty, and all kinds of things go up people’s noses during a festival. Bring a neti pot, or some form of saline nasal spray. Your sinuses will thank you later.
There’s only so much sitting room on the coolers, and having some compact chairs for people to lounge does wonders for your pre-game vibe or after-party shenanigans.
String these puppies off your shade structure (if it’s sturdy enough) or between your cars. Perfect for an afternoon nap, or a comatose doze in the wee morning hours.
For those not so concerned with nifty attire, a durable and preferably waterproof pair of hiking boots will be your best friend over a weekend. This is especially the case on larger, more forested festival grounds where the floor is a variable proposition at best. Nothing spells the end of a wild weekend like a stubbed toe or a rolled ankle.
There’s nothing like striking camp in the middle of torrential rainfall. Given the highly variable notion of climate patterns as of late, summer rains have become a universal trend across US festival venues. If you don’t own a nice rain shell or jacket, make sure you at least have a simple rain poncho tucked in your bag.
Having the option to immediately become barefoot is fantastic. Especially when festival-ing in hotter climates. Want to know the No. 1 preventing your connection with the Earth? It’s your shoes, so be as free, young grasshopper, and score yourself some cozy flops.
Your eyes aren’t any stronger than your skin when it comes to the sun. In fact, your eyes are the second most photosynthetic part of the body, second only to the butthole. Bring some polarized lenses, it’ll make the daytime dance affairs far more comfortable, while also giving you a slick look. Again, make sure they are polarized, otherwise they do next to nothing.
Your phone will die. It’s going to happen. So having the option to plug in to a rechargeable solar battery will do wonders for your on-site connection with friends across the festival. Sitting in a hot, idling car is like a sweat-lodged misery. Don’t do it. Invest in a solar charger.
Despite being mindful of the rest, I’ve forgotten a pillow 95 percent of the times I’ve camped at a festival. While this standard in a backpacking setting, there are few things worse than setting up your festival campsite just right, only to realize you left your pillow at home.
The best part? All of following items will be leaving the event with you! Now you have a fully functioning set of supplies to not only camp at future festivals, but to camp anywhere you'd like!
Admittedly, if you’re completely new to camping, purchasing all of these things is about the equivalent of a weekend rental or hotel stay. However, the next time you attend a camping event your overhead costs will already be covered due to your fortuitous foresight. Good on ya!
I’ll say it again - LEAVE NO TRACE! Leave your campsite in better shape than you found it. This means everything that you packed in, you then pack out of the event - including all of your trash. Do not dump your trash at the exit gate unless advised to do so by the event. Take it home with you and dispose of it properly. This is the best way to show your respect to not only the event, but more importantly the beautiful natural setting in which it was held.
Be friendly and respectful to your neighbors, share what you can with those around you, and bask in the glory that is your campsite creation.
Ryan Baesemann is an Editorial Contributor to Mixmag. Follow him on Twitter.