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Helpful Tips for Music Festival Camping

What items are must-haves when camping at music festivals? Here are my Ten+ Essentials for Bonnaroo, which opens Thursday. My question for festival veterans: What would you add to this list?


• Checklist: Print out the 2-page, no-doodad-left-behind REI family camping checklist. We like to call it "comprehensive;" you might call it excessive. Fair enough. We intentionally made it detailed, figuring no one would ever bring every item on the list. Our goal: Nudge you to remember that one thing you might have overlooked during a hasty packing session.

• Store: If you're headed to Bonnaroo (held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn., about an hour south of Nashville), keep in mind the REI Brentwood store lies about 10 miles south of downtown Nashville. From I-65, take exit 74B Old Hickory Blvd. westbound, then turn left on Franklin Rd. (U.S. 31). REI is on your right in less than half a mile at the third traffic light.

Camp Gear Suited for Festivals

• Water bottles and/or a hydration system: Keeping hydrated is the first essential of any large summer gathering. Temps at Bonnaroo are forecast to be in the low 90s. Keep at least one bottle with you at all times and refill it whenever the opportunity arises. Drink often. 

• Water boosters: A little taste embellishment sometimes gives you added incentive to maintain your hydration goal. Have you tried Nuun tablets?

 Cooler: Soft-sided coolers have become a big hit at REI. Some hard-sided coolers with large capacities now come with wheels. Smart.

• Containers holding frozen water: Rather than put packaged ice inside a cooler, freeze water in advance inside water totes. After it melts, you have bonus drinking water. The 1-gallon Platypus Water Tank (with carry handle) folds away into a tiny shape when it's empty. 

• Headlamp: Hands-free light when you are moving around in camp is a blessed thing. I'm taking 2 for this trip: the Black Diamond Spot and the Petzl Tikka XP 2

• Lantern: Every camp needs a beacon. A coworker of mine is a fan of the Black Diamond Titan.

• Backpacking stove: Any camping stove will do, but if all you need is a little hot water, a compact backpacking model will do that  job and take up minimal space. A good candidate for a festival: the new Jetboil Sol.

• As for the core items (tent, bag and sleeping pad), try to bring a temperature-appropriate sleeping bag for your site. You could swelter in a bag designed for the high country. On summer evenings with a hint of cool air, a good bag is a roomy bag rated +35°F such as the REI Siesta, or for couples,  the REI Siesta Double. For your tent, the REI Hobitat 4 gets good reviews among family tents. If you prefer a small-scale setup, take a look at the new Big Agnes Jack Rabbit SL2 or the classic REI Half Dome 2 (though my lumpy, 6-foot self is drawn to the REI Half Dome 2 Plus). Got a tight budget? The REI Camp Dome 2 (under $100) is the ticket. Don't forget a footprint to help keep your tent clean. 

• Backpack (daypack, most likely) and/or a carry-all duffel: Loading everything into a single large duffel is a nice organizational tool. The daypack comes in handy when it's time to be mobile.

• Camp chair: A nice option for hanging out.

• Solar charger or car charger: Useful if you'll be relying on electronics during your stay.

• Earplugs: To block out the commotion that inevitably surrounds you. Eyeshades and other travel sleep accessories (such as a travel sheet) can be handy to festival campers, too.

For the Body

• Sunscreen: Choose a broad-spectrum formula that offers protection from UVA and UVB rays. Apply it generously. Reapply it every 2 hours. Cover the tops of ears, backs of knees and hands, the tops of feet if you're wearing sandals. Choose 30 SPF or higher. Sunlight's UVA rays age skin and work on you from sunup to sundown. UVB rays can burn skin and are most intense between 10am and 4pm. 

• Clothing designed for sun protection: Some clothing is designed with special weaves, colors or treatments that make the fabric more effective at blocking ultraviolet light, as explained in an REI Expert Advice article. It's especially useful to sun-sensitive campers, but anyone can benefit from it. It's smart to have something lightweight to wear over your arms and legs after hours of exposure.  

• Insect repellent: A buddy tells me bugs aren't too bad at Bonnaroo. I'm still bringing repellent. If flies are expected to be a bigger problem than skeeters at your site, consider a picaridin-based repellent.

• Clothing designed for repelling insects: You can treat your own clothing or buy clothing with a bug-repelling treatment (called permethrin) already embedded in the fabric. Go to the Search Box at the top of this page and enter "permethrin" to see a list of items that use this treatment.

• Moisture-wicking clothing: Concert tees are nice for nostalgia, but nearly all of them are made of cotton, which just drips with perspiration when it's hot. Technical fabrics men and women will still get wet but they dry faster. Synthetics vs. wool? Synthetics dry faster; wool (the superlight base layer variety) excels at minimizing odors.

• Sun-shielding hat: I personally recommend that both men and women seek out chapeaus with brims that extend on the sides to shield the tops of their ears. I may not win many style points for wearing one, but I appreciate the protection. Add a pre-applied insect-repelling treatment and you have the ExOfficio Insect Shield Adventure Hat.

• Lightweight rain shell: Something packable and breathable, for both men or women. In summer, it beats a garbage bag with a head hole 100 times out of 100.

• Insulation layer: In case the nights turn chilly, it's nice to pull on a fleece vest or insulated jacket for men or women. At night, wad it up and use it for a pillow.

• Sandals: Everybody in the crew, mom, dad and the kids, enjoys the chance to air out the toes when hoofing from stage to stage.

Personal Stuff

• Hand sanitizer: So handy in a world of festival porta-potties. 

• A personal stash of toilet paper: Can you really ever have too much TP? 

• Bath wipes: If shower lines are long, backpackers have learned these packaged towels offer a slick and quick way to clean up. Wipes intended for babies are also handy take-alongs for quick cleanups.

• Quick-drying camp towels: Their lightweight, fast-drying construction makes them a hit with campers who sometimes wonder where to hang a heavy, wet towel.

• Assorted camp bathroom items such as toilet seat covers: Many options, all a matter of personal preference.

Random Ideas

• Tent locator: People attach many things to help them spot their tent from a distance: balloons, flags, flowers, you name it. A festive addition to boost visibility at night is to adorn your  tent with a few strands of ENO Twilights (LED light strings). They glow 300 hours on just a pair of AA batteries. Quite fun and eye-catching. Dream up something that will stand out to you, or make note what your neighbors are using.

• Seek out less-traveled areas: It might be worth some extra steps to find out-of-the-way vendors, showers or porta-potties on the periphery of your venue.

• Carry some cash: Sometimes it's the only way to purchase something from independent vendors.

• Bring something to share: Offer your neighbor a healthy (in most cases) snack or an energy bar. I'm a fan of Honey Stinger protein bars and organic energy chews (like movie-theater gumdrops). You may suddenly have a new best bud and a good neighbor during your festival stay.

• Bring some patience, and be nice: Often this means niceness will round-trip its way back to you. It's worth a try.

Thanks to music-festival camping veterans Jonathan Cardona (6 Bonnaroos!), Pardis Ghorbani (several Bonnaroos), Shannon Porter (3 Bonnaroos) and Sara Lingafelter (attended Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest over Memorial Day weekend) for the tips they kindly shared.

Photo by C. Taylor Crothers provided courtesy of Bonnaroo.

Posted on at 1:25 PM

Tagged: Bonnaroo, camping, checklist and music festival

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I would definitely consider adding a wrist watch to the list of festival necessities. There is nothing worse than not knowing what time it is when your favorite band is coming up.

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