Last weekend I went to my first festival of the season, and it was fabulous. I had a great time catching up with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, drinking some rather strong Thistly Cross Cider *hic*, and enjoying the whole 30 minutes of Scottish sun.
Kelburn Garden Party is one of my favourites for being not only a music festival, but also very strong for the arts. I had friends who worked for weeks leading up to the event, painting and building on the site, setting up stalls and stages and art installations in the grounds at Kelburn Castle. There is always something new to look at and it’s one of the many things that sets this festival apart.
First of all, it’s independently run. That’s a big plus for me, as though the big commercial giants like T in the Park, Glastonbury and Reading attract the big names in music, I’m just a huge sucker for the volunteer-run festivals like Kelburn, Audiosoup and Linkylea. Every detail was painstakingly created by people who love the festival and enjoy it as much as those who’ve bought tickets.
I used to be the kind of person who would rock up with just a toothbrush and spare pants, hoping for the best; I’ve always had a great time, but the past few years I’ve discovered that it’s just so much nicer to come prepared. So aside from the usual must-haves like a tent, sleeping bag and sunscreen, here’s my list of Festival Essentials.
These are essential. Every list of festival must-haves will include these, and if they don’t they’re lying to you. If you wear makeup, you’ll need face wipes to take it off at the end of the day and even if you don’t, you’ll need them to clean all the general dirt and gunk off yourself. Know what happens when thousands of people dance their little hearts out in a muddy field? Yeah that’s right. Dust and droplets of dirt, sweat, rain, sunscreen. Don’t be that person. You’ll feel less icky in the morning, even without a shower. Baby wipes are also very handy for doing a quick “wash” of your hands before and after touching food, and if someone spills a drink on you? You can get rid of that grotty stickiness with a swipe of your wipe.
Note: One of my friends suggested that you can remove a fake tattoo with a handy baby wipe soaked in petrol. Please don’t do this.
A sippy cup
Or really, just a cup with a lid. I got these from New Look but if the festival you’re going to won’t allow glass bottles or jars on site, then there are loads of plastic options. Just go for something that’s BPA free, but anything from a sports bottle to an actual sippy cup for babies would do. Do you want to be able to walk through a crowd at the main stage without gin spilling down your cleavage? Or really go for it in the dance tent without the fear of sticky, sticky rum and coke flying everywhere as you wave your arms around like a banshee? If you’re into ska, skanking is much improved knowing you have in your hands a way to hold a drink without losing half of it in the dreads of the dude dancing in front of you. In fact, festivals would be much improved if they just served all drinks in a reusable cup with a lid. If you don’t drink alcohol, a sippy cup is still a good idea. Juice makes hair sticky as well, and though I’ve been known to dump a bottle of water over my head when it’s gotten too hot from dancing in the sun, tbh I live in Scotland ad these incidents are few and far between. I’d rather do it on purpose rather than just because I was holding a shit cup.
The festival I went to last weekend enforced an “environmental deposit” of £5 when you collected your wristband, which was returned if you left the site with a bag of rubbish for the bin. I’m pretty sure this isn’t standard though, and it’s just good manners not to leave the campsite in a total state around where your tent stood. Besides, it’s just as easy to chuck your empties into a bin bag as it is to send them flying into space. Don’t litter. It’s just rude.
If there are showers, and you can be bothered with the trek to and from them in a muddy field, a towel is imperative. Even if you plan to go without bathing for a few days, it’s still useful to have one on hand to wipe yourself down with. Oh, and here’s a handy tip – I used mine to give my tent a bit of a clean before packing it away on the Monday morning.
Cold, hard cash
I feel this goes without saying, but most vendors and bars won’t accept cards. Some festivals have ATM machines on site, but if you think about how often those get refilled and how many people are likely to use them over the weekend, chances are that by the time you run out of money because you thought £40 would do you for the weekend, the damned thing will be empty. Then you’ll have to decide whether you can have food or another cider, and that never goes well.
Portable phone charger
Smartphones might have a camera and a clock and internet access, but all these things are useless if your battery dies one day into a 3-day festival and you’ve lost your mates in the crowd somewhere or don’t remember where your tent is. I remember taking my trusty Nokia 3210 to Reading years ago and the battery lasting the full weekend. My iPhone probably wouldn’t even last the night. I got this wee beauty just before I left, which is pretty expensive but it holds 8 charges. You can definitely get smaller, more inexpensive ones. Invest in one of these, because they are invaluable.
Festival port-a-loos are manky. There’s no two ways about it, when you have thousands of people drinking booze (and let’s not kid ourselves, half of them have had an eccy or two) their bowel movements won’t exactly be the healthiest. Never depend on the availability of loo roll in festival bogs. Also hold your nose and do NOT look down, trust me.
Something to sit on
Festivals for me are just as much about spending time with friends and meeting new people as they are about the music. Our group actually spent more time in the campsite at Kelburn this year as we did in the arena. If you’ll be spending time by your tent, I would definitely recommend bringing some sort of camping chair to sit on. The ground is likely to be wet (either from the rain or from spilled drink), and no one wants to walk about all weekend with a wet bum do they?
We got these inflatable chairs from Tesco for £10. Not only were the useful for parking yourself in relative comfort, but it was also pretty hilarious watching folk try to blow them up. Bring a foot pump. Blowing inflatable up with your mouth is only good for the comedy factor.
If you don’t have camping chairs, or are travelling on public transport and don’t have the space for them, a towel or a wee rug will do. Something to sit on that won’t leave you with a soggy rear is always a plus.
It will rain. If you live in the UK and plan to go to a festival, it WILL RAIN. Bring a waterproof jacket that’s small and light enough to throw in your bag or tie around your waist. Chances are you’ll have to put it on and take it off at least a couple of times throughout the weekend.
I actually bought wellies and didn’t wear them, but my trainers were absolutely destroyed by the time I got home. In fact, this happened on the last night so I think they’re beyond redemption now!
If you don’t have the space, then I’d say a good compromise is a pair of decent walking boots that can take a bashing. An added bonus is that your feet won’t be as sore as in a pair of wellies. Walking boots are usually more expensive though, so either would be a good call. Remember a dry foot is a happy foot. Which brings us to my next must-have.
They’re small, they can be tucked into a corner of your bag, and they can really make or break your festival experience. There are few things as uncomfortable as walking around with soggy socks for several days on the trot, not to mention it’s really really bad for you. It’s also pretty gross for anyone who might need to share your tent, as your paws will REEK. Even if you can’t change your clothes, a fresh pair of socks can make you feel a hundred times better.
Spare pants are also awesome. Never underestimate the power of changing your pants.
If you drink alcohol, remember to bring a mixer. I’ve been to so many festivals where all my friends turned up with a bottle of gin, rum or vodka, but everyone assumed someone else would bring the mixer. Last year at Audiosoup we had to improvise by cutting oranges in half with a credit card, and squeezing them into a bottle of gin. Not my proudest moment.
If you don’t drink alcohol, then you can just drink the juice straight. After 3 straight days on the sauce, it might even be a welcome change.
I’m a pretty low-maintenance camper, so I’d say my list is more on the bare minimum end of the packing spectrum. I also brought spare shoes, clothes, a bum-bag, a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, hair ties, chewing gum, and battery powered lights for inside the tent.
My tent buddy brought Twister ;-).