Tips for Festival Camping
Music festival season kicks off each spring, bringing tent cities, massive crowds and the sounds of your favorite bands to beautiful outdoor settings. Camping at a festival is part of the fun, but you’ll want the right gear and some basic know-how to make the most of the experience. Here’s a look at how to get started so you’ll be prepared and won’t miss a moment of fun.
Print out our Festival Camping Checklist so you don’t leave anything important behind.
Before You Go
Buy your tickets early. Festivals can sell out many months in advance, so get on it early or you might miss out.
Do your research. Festival websites will answer many of your questions about parking, camping and other logistics. Find out whether or not you can park your car at your campsite. Some festivals have you park in a separate lot, which means you’ll have to carry loaded coolers, camp furniture and all your other gear to your camp spot. A large backpack, wheeled cart and rolling cooler can make transporting your gear and food to the campsite a lot easier.
Practice setting up your tent. Get familiar with how to set up your tent and be sure you have everything you need, including the rainfly, footprint, stakes and repair pieces. Some people prefer to bring a giant 6- or 8-person tent, while others like their own space and will bring a 1- or 2-person tent.
Learn more about choosing a tent for camping.
Setting Up Camp
Choose your location wisely. Many festivals, especially the larger ones, don’t give you much choice about where to camp. However, if you’re able to get to the festival early and have options, consider the proximity to the bathrooms and music stages. Being close can be nice, but not so close that the sounds and smells spoil the fun. Also, you might find a spot with shade, and possibly even a little privacy. And if you bring along a shade shelter to set up in your camp, you’ll be the envy of your neighbors when the sun is high in the sky.
Do your chores first. Once you arrive at your site, you might be tempted to kick back and relax or head right to a music stage to check out the show, but it’s worth taking the time to set up during the daylight hours so you won’t have to worry about it later.
Secure your tent. Stake down your tent well, even if the forecast is for pleasant weather. If a surprise windstorm kicks up, you don’t want your tent flying through the air like Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz. Check out our helpful tips on setting up your campsite.
Mark your spot. Locating your home in a city of thousands of tents can be challenging, especially when you’re tired and it’s 1 a.m. Marking your tent with a flag, balloons or battery-powered lights will help distinguish it from all the others. If you don’t have a way of marking your tent, find a landmark near your tent that you can spot from afar.
Get comfortable. Bring along comfort items like thick sleeping pads, blankets and pillows so you can sleep well after a long day on your feet. Earplugs are an absolute essential for sleeping soundly at a music festival. Without them, you’ll be up all night while your neighbors strum guitars and get rowdy. Bring a temperature-appropriate sleeping bag. You could swelter in a bag designed for alpine terrain, so on summer evenings consider a roomy bag rated +35°F. Lightweight sleeping bag liners and travel sheets might be all you need for hot summer nights. For more advice, read our article about how to choose sleeping bags for camping.
Campsite fun: Live music is only part of the fun of festival camping. You’ll discover you have time around camp to kick back and relax with friends before and after performances. Ladder ball, hula-hoops, travel games and bikes bring hours of fun. Lighted bocce is a great choice for late-night entertainment.
Food and Drink
To buy or bring? Some festivalgoers choose to bring food for every meal, but many end up buying lunches and dinners from food vendors. Buying meals keeps things simple, but will cost a bit more. Bringing food for breakfasts and snacks and then buying lunch and dinner is a good way to save some money and eliminate the hassle of having to plan and pack every meal.
Setting up your kitchen: If you do plan to make most of your meals, you’ll want to bring a 2-burner camp stove so you can boil noodles while warming up the pasta sauce. If you won’t be preparing many meals and all you need is a little hot water, a compact backpacking stove will do the job and take up minimal space.
Camp kitchens, tables and chairs are great for organization and comfort at the campsite. The kitchens and tables give you a place for your stove, pots, pans, spices, utensils and more.
Keeping your food fresh: Since you’ll be car camping, you can bring your favorite fresh foods packed on ice in coolers. There are lots of choices when it comes to purchasing a cooler. Pricier coolers offer lots of insulation to get you through the weekend without having to keep buying ice. Wheeled coolers are helpful when you have to transport food from your car to the campsite. If you’re bringing lots of food and drinks, you might want to bring two coolers and separate the food into one and drinks into the other to help you stay organized. If you want to bring some food from camp into the concert, a small soft-sided cooler that you can sling over a shoulder will come in handy. Check the festival website to see if there are restrictions on what you can bring into the concert area. Many festivals won’t let you enter with bottles, cans or large food items.
Tip: For the best cooler performance, prepare your cooler before you pack it by cooling it down with a bag of ice and make sure that food and beverages are cold when you put them into the cooler.
Clothing and Footwear
Look good and feel good. Looking good at a music fest can be important, but so is your comfort. You’ll see many people strolling around in cotton shorts and T-shirts, which can get you by on a beautiful sunny day. But, just like on a hike, you’re going to be moving around and walking long distances, and you can’t always count on the weather to be perfect. Wearing moisture-wicking base layers and being prepared with a quality rain jacket will make your experience much more enjoyable. Sun-protective shirts, shorts and pants will help keep you from getting sunburned throughout the weekend. There are plenty of options for good-looking shirts, pants and shorts made with performance fabrics and style to keep you from looking like a hiker who stumbled upon a music fest.
Choose the right shoes: You’ll be on your feet for much of the weekend, so choose something comfortable and sturdy. Lightweight, waterproof hiking shoes will keep your feet dry if the festival grounds turn into a mud pit. Flip-flops are great for kicking back at camp or short walks around the festival.
Learn more about how to choose travel clothing to keep you comfortable.
Staying charged up: In order to Instagram your favorite photos and stay in touch with friends at the festival, you need to keep your smartphone powered up. One option is to charge your phone and other electronics using a car charger, but if you go this route, be sure you have a set of jumper cables with you in case you drain your car battery.
Another great option is to bring along a solar charger and a battery pack that you pre-charged at home. You can use the battery pack to charge your smartphone and then use the solar panel to recharge the battery pack while you’re off having fun. Solar panels and battery packs can also recharge lanterns, headlamps, GPS devices, wireless speakers, AA batteries, AAA batteries and many other electronics.
See our article on solar chargers and portable power to learn all about how these devices work and ways to use them while you’re on the go.
Lighting your camp: Bring along lanterns, battery-powered string lights, headlamps and flashlights to light up your camp after the sun goes down. Keep your headlamp or flashlight nearby at all times so you can find your way to a friend’s camp or the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Enjoy music at camp: When you’re relaxing at camp before the night’s big show, you’re going to want some background music. Bring along a wireless speaker and load your smartphone up with lots of music to last through the weekend.
Tips for Enjoying the Experience
Be patient: Festivals can draw tens of thousands of people, so be prepared for traffic jams and long waits as you near the festival grounds and try to find a parking spot. Remember that everyone is after the same thing: a fun weekend with good friends and great music. Keep your gas tank above half full, take a deep breath and tell yourself your journey is your destination.
Pace yourself: Think of a music festival as a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t want to party too hard on the first night and miss seeing your favorite band. Even though a music festival doesn’t seem as strenuous as a long hike, you can easily be on your feet for 12 hours or more and you will cover a lot of ground walking between the music stages and your campsite.
Get comfortable: Blankets and low-back camp chairs are great for getting comfortable inside the concert grounds. Many festivals have restrictions on the height of chairs allowed into the concert, so be sure to check the festival website for information. Shop our selection of camp chairs.
Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages throughout the day. A backpack with a water reservoir is a great way to stay hydrated while you cruise around the festival and get down to the music. Most festivals will allow you to bring an empty water bottle or reservoir into the music venue so you can fill it up. Check the festival website to be sure. Shop our selection of water bottles and hydration reservoirs.
Protect yourself from the sun: Summer is the season for music festivals and shade can be really hard to find when you’re camping in a big field. Bring along plenty of sunscreen and invest in sun-protective clothing, including a hat with a wide brim.
There are many choices among sunscreens. See our article on how to choose sunscreen.
Hygiene: We all know using a portable bathroom is rarely pleasant, but that’s likely what you’ll be using at a music fest. Bring along extra toilet paper, hand sanitizer and toilet seat covers to make the best of the situation. Hand-washing stations are typically located near the portable bathrooms. Have a small bottle of biodegradable soap and/or hand sanitizer with you in case the station runs out.
Some festivals provide portable showers so you can wash off the dust and grime after a full day of dancing. Bring a towel and have some cash on hand in case there is a small fee. If you know the festival won’t have showers, consider bringing a portable solar shower that you can use at your camp.
Safety: Music festivals generally have a happy vibe and people will go out of their way to help you, but unfortunately crime can occur. Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and keep track of your friends. It’s wise to establish a meeting spot in case you become separated from the group. Also, be sure to lock your valuables in your car when you’re not at camp. Putting a small luggage lock on your tent door zipper pulls can help deter theft.
Festivals have first-aid stations if you need one, but you’ll find you can treat many minor issues if you keep a kit in your car or at camp. Learn more about how to choose first-aid kits.