*Disclaimer – this is loooong, but I don’t call it the ultimate festival packing list for nothing!*
I knew my obsession with festivals would come in handy one day and here it is, in the form of this ultimate festival guide!
Other than my main love of organising my other major passion is with festivals, mainly Glastonbury. Fallow years like this one, when it isn’t on, affects me in so many ways. Glastonbury marks the beginning of the summer and has done for me for the past 20 years, without it the summer seems to drift by with no major celebration to kick it off. Smaller festivals are also fab (and will have slightly different guidelines), but nothing quite measures up to the epic amazingness that is Glastonbury.
With all of these ‘pilgrimages’ (and it really is a pilgrimage) come decades of experience with knowing exactly what to pack. Remember, as easy as it may seem beforehand, you have to carry all of your belongings with you and it usually takes about 4 hours of solid walking/standing to get from your car to where you are going to pitch your tent for the duration, so endurance is the key here (Iron Man will seem positively easy in comparison, trust me!).
The first couple of years I made the mistake of carrying a lot of unnecessary items with me. Can you imagine how heavy 5 days’ worth of canned food is, plus all the equipment needed to cook it?? Each year you learn from last year’s mistakes until eventually you have the optimal amount of stuff, perfectly balancing what you actually need with what you can actually carry.
This guide highlights the absolute essentials of what you need to take, based on my own personal experience. You may have slightly different ideas, but I have generally tried them and realised that they take up unnecessary weight and space. It’s amazing how quickly the normal rules of society go out of the window, you become very creative with what you have and things you usually cannot do without don’t seem that important anymore (remember, it IS acceptable to drink cider with your breakfast at 7am).
As you’d expect from a professional organiser, minimalism and organisation is the key here, remember it’s an endurance test, you will have to carry EVERYTHING with you and most of it back out with you too (minus the booze of course!). Discuss up front with your group and share responsibility, there is no point all of you taking the same items, share them between yourselves (if you don’t mind sharing of course!). Be creative with how you carry things, attach as much as you can to your backpack and decant things into smaller containers where possible.
Ticket – don’t forget this!! I have a friend who had to get his wife to drive a 5 hour round trip to deliver his forgotten ticket, if you want to stay married do not forget it!
Money/ID/Bank cards –you will most likely run out of money. I generally spend £150 over 5 days and that covers all food, a few drinks and a few bits and pieces that I can’t help but buy (fairy wings and a tutu seem like a great idea when you are caught up in it all). Don’t take your full wallet, take one that just holds the bits you need for the festival. Label it if you can as well, just in case you do unfortunately lose it. If you run out of money go to the ATM in the middle of the night, the queues get huge during the day and eat into valuable band watching (drinking) time
Mobile phone– so you can find your friends at the stage or take pics (or if you must, to brag on Facebook).
Phone charger– don’t forget to charge your portable charger before you go! Solar panel chargers might work, but I haven’t got any great experience with them (they weren’t great when I tried years ago). Or there will be phone charging stations on site, but there will be long queues (take your cable with you).
Backpack – It is so much easier to carry things on your back as weight is more evenly distributed. Things can also get tied to it and your hands are free to carry everything else you need.
Trolley– for carrying all that booze, it gets heavy! Also useful for bulky things like tents and gazebos. Get a really good one with all-purpose wheels, they willbreak. This can also double up as an extra chair, or if you are friends with Hannibal Lecter, a really useful way to wheel him round.
Tent – for obvious reasons! Share with others as much as you can, then you only have to share the carrying, not your own tent. If one of your group has a large tent with a porch this is also great to sit in when it rains.
Mallet (or a very strong shoe!)– if we are lucky enough to have hot weather it will be near impossible to get your tent pegs in the ground without one.
Sleeping bag– take one that comes with a carry bag, these are great as they roll up small, can carry other things within the bag (hide your booze) and they are easy to tie to your backpack.
Pillow– I used to take a towel to use as a pillow, but as I am now getting on in years I like a little bit of comfort and an actual pillow makes for a much better night’s sleep. These can roll up pretty small and fit in the bottom of your backpack.
Airbed– Again, I used to take a roll mat, but as I am getting older my back can no longer take practically sleeping on the floor, so an air bed is a luxury I cannot do without (trust me you don’t want to be around me when I have had little sleep). Take a single one if you are not sharing a tent with a partner, or a double if you are. Just don’t forget the pump (or batteries)! I take a battery powered one which saves on the leg muscles after your epic journey in.
Blanket– strange as it may seem, the British weather is unpredictable, and it gets a tad cold in the middle of the night! You need to wrap up warm and a blanket packs up small. I take a little fleece one which does the trick (incidentally I bought this at a festival originally!).
Ear plugs and an eye mask– will help you get a better night’s sleep, especially if your neighbours are trying out for the next X-factor at 4am.
Chair– likewise with the airbed and pillow, my back suffers now, so a chair is a must for me. They come with straps, so they are easy to carry around your neck as well as your backpack on your walk in.
Gazebo – these are massively heavy to carry so really think about this one. They are hugely helpful whether it is raining or sunny, they provide much needed shelter. I know a lot of festivals don’t like you taking them so check beforehand. There is generally very little shade, so if the sun is beating down this will be worth its weight in gold (your tent is waaaay too hot during the day to seek shelter in).
Torch– Trust me you will need this to see your way back to your tent and to the toilet in the middle of the night, you don’t want any nasty accidents! Get one that has a handle, so you can also hang it from the inside of the tent as a makeshift lantern.
Pocket knife– I take a swiss army knife, it is an absolute essential, it’s amazing how often you need one (AND it comes with a corkscrew in case you take the fancy wine!).
Towel – unless you’re using it to double up as a pillow take a small travel towel. You do not need your luxurious 600 count Egyptian cotton one, a travel towel is designed to fold up small and still be super absorbent.
Bin Bags– you will go through a surprisingly large amount of rubbish (mostly food and booze from the camp), sorry to all you zero wasters! Can also be used to keep dirty clothes away from clean clothes, or even used inside your shoes to keep your feet dry if your shoes leak.
Lighter/matches– you will need these for so many more things than you think outside the obvious (even to burning the annoying end bits off your wrist straps). Take a few of each, matches get wet and lighters go missing!
Pen – so you can mark off in your guide which bands you want to see.
Duct tape– massively useful for things you would never even think about (e.g. if your tent somehow gets broken), liaise with the group, you don’t all need to carry one.
Food and drink
Large plastic bottle– keep one in the tent for your morning hangover, you will 100% need this (just don’t mix it up with the plastic bottle full of vodka – you will not do well drinking this by accident in the morning). Try and get one that folds down small, so it takes up less space. If you can get one with a handle even better as it can attach to the outside of your backpack.
Snacks– I generally take pringles, cereal bars and nuts, they are small, light and easy to carry and really fill the gap between meals (or when I can’t be bothered to go and get actual food).
Drinks– if you can’t do without your morning tea/coffee (or walk to the nearest stall) then take something small and compact like this https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strider-Solid-Fuel-Stove-Black/dp/B00DJ6GB78?tag=welly-camping-21, super cheap to buy and really easy to carry (with no gas!). If you are going down this route then don’t forget a little saucepan, a mug and your actual beverage!
Booze – maybe the most important item on this list! You will want to take as much as you can as it can get very expensive if you have to buy all your drinks for the duration (although the occasional cold cider from the bar will be a massive treat). Think about drinks that you don’t mind drinking warm (although, it is amazing how quickly you will adapt to drinking warm drinks!). I take as much cider as I can carry, a box of wine (you can drink out of the bag – it has a handy tap, so you don’t need to use a cup. Can double up a pillow. You look super classy) and a bottle of spirits. Don’t take soft drinks with you, buy them there they weigh a lot. Remember to decant into plastic bottles as glass won’t be allowed on site (and you don’t want to have to down it on the spot, or *gasp* throw it away).
Cup– to drink water or alcohol from. They do some really great collapsible ones these days that take up minimal space.
Cutlery – it is not pleasant to eat food with the wooden cutlery that they give you, you will be super thankful for some metal ones. Baby wipes and water clean these up a treat after each use (just do it straight away so it doesn’t get caked on).
Toilet Paper– do I really need to explain this one? ALWAYS take more than you think you’re going to need, it always goes missing…
Hand sanitiser– an absolute must to carry with you everywhere you go. Everything you touch will be grotty!
Baby wipes– useful for EVERYTHING. Take a few packets with you, you are guaranteed to use more than you think.
Toothpaste and Toothbrush – take travel sized and share toothpaste with your friends so you don’t all carry it unnecessarily.
Plasters, paracetamol and any medication you take regularly– I wouldn’t bother with any other medical stuff, there are always medical tents on site in case you need anything more serious than this. In true minimalistic style don’t take things ‘just in case’, you will generally be carrying it for nothing. I know that people recommend taking insect repellent, this is up to you, but I get bitten A LOT usually and have (touch wood) never been bitten at a festival. I wonder if they don’t like the taste of copious amounts of booze in the blood?
Handheld mirror– if you can bear to look at yourself this will come in handy!
Lip balm– you will be dehydrated and sun exposed, so this will be key and they’re only really tiny to carry.
Makeup/glitter– not something I usually bother with, but I know this can be super important. Besides, who doesn’t love a bit of glitter? Your group, neighbours, randoms walking around are usually more than happy to share their glitter with you.
Sunscreen – even if it is raining most of the time, remember you are outside for around 18 hours a day – you will be exposed to any sun that shows its face. If you tend to burn, then take a small bottle of after sun too. Discuss with your group, you don’t need to take a bottle each.
Soap– take liquid soap to use on your face and body, not a bar (it will probably end up dirtier than your face). Decant this into a travel bottle or share with the group.
Dry shampoo– or real shampoo if you’d like to have a shower or a wash in the sink.
Protection – if you really can’t help yourself and don’t mind dirty festival sex!
Hair brush, bobbles, clips etc – Anything to tame the beast! Take spares as you’ll probably lose some! Think about a bandana too, they come in useful for many things, not just covering a multitude of sins (namely your out of control mane).
Deodorant – it’s a little breath of fresh air in an otherwise stinky world.
Sheewee – not something I take as I do not have pleasant memories of using one (!) but they will save you valuable time while legging it to the toilet in between bands.
Clothes and shoes
Wellies– If the usual British weather is anything to go by then wellies are a must! Either that or really good walking boots. Flip flops are also a must for those night time trips to the toilets as wellies are very hard to take on and off. Take some trainers as well in case the weather is nice, wellies tend to get very hot and sweaty.
Socks– take more pairs than you think are necessary, especially if it is muddy, or hot, or wet, or any type of weather at all really. Include wellie/walking socks.
Bottoms – I tend to wear shorts in the day and then put leggings underneath them when it gets colder in the evening. Skirts seem like a good idea but if you want to protect your modesty then I wouldn’t recommend them, you lose all gracefulness when you are sitting on the floor and had a few drinks. Take a few pairs, you don’t need to take one for each day. Don’t take jeans – these are hot, stiff and take forever to dry in the rain.
Tops– strappy tops or t-shirts for the day, add long sleeved tops underneath for the colder evenings. Take a couple of hoodies, you will be grateful for these during the night too. Don’t forget that and t-shirt
Sleepwear– you can take specific pyjamas or wear your leggings and a hoody. It willget cold during the night,
Bathing suit– if you are planning on using the communal showers, if not then don’t bother, unless of course you’d like to wear a bikini top during the day (but watch out for that pesky sun!).
Sun Hat and sun glasses– sunglasses are an absolute essential for me, I cannot live without them. Even when it is not that sunny I still manage to come home with panda eyes. They cover a multitude of sins (mostly my hungover face).
Underwear – like socks, it’s worth taking more than you think you need. Clean underwear makes all the difference when putting grotty clothes back on.
Raincoat/umbrella– take ones that pack up small (like a mac in a sac). Ponchos are great because they can double up as something to sit on (if you don’t take a chair) and you can’t help but look awesome.
Small day bag– essential to carry around toilet roll, hand sanitiser and booze so you don’t have to go back to your tent all the time.
Fancy dress– if you’re that way inclined (and most people are!). Make it easy on yourself though, it’s hard enough to go to the toilet so make sure it has easy access, not too hot, not too cumbersome to wear or carry. It’s a fine art getting this right in itself!
Don’t bother with…
Food – back in the old days (like 15 years ago) festival food was ropy at best. These days however there is SO much on offer and it is always delicious. It’s pretty good value as well, at Glastonbury they do food for a fiver, and it is more than enough to eat. You will always eat less than you do at home as well, for some reason you are always too busy (drunk) to bother with eating…(it is cheating after all).
Flags– yes, they are super helpful to find your friends/tent but try being the one lumbered with carrying it or holding it during one of the acts – it gets old quickly! Use someone else’s flag as a landmark.
Water – take a small amount for your journey in, but no more. It is super heavy to carry and there will be an abundance of drinking water to access (and fill up your large collapsible water carrier).
Ice or coolers– no good after the first day, and really annoying and heavy to carry (especially when it melts…)
Showers– some people take solar powered showers or the ones that come in little tents – I don’t ever bother. There are showers on site if you really need one, or just embrace the wet wipes! Or get your friends to throw water over you by the sinks.
Keep your keys somewhere safe, you do not want to lose these when all you want to do is get home. I generally keep valuables underneath my tent in a plastic bag – would be thieves don’t tend to look under there.
Your tent will be on par with a sauna in the morning and a freezer during the night. Keep water in it or your morning dehydration.
Position your tents in a way that someone can’t come and pitch in the middle of your camp. Don’t be one of those people who take tape to cordon off your giant, unnecessary, antisocial area. You are a dick.
Keep some clean clothes in your car – if you have any mud or dirt at all (try Glastonbury nearly every year!) you will be super grateful to have these to change into before your journey home.
Make friends with your neighbours, they can keep an eye on your stuff if you’re not there. Also, if you’re buddies you are more likely to be singing loudly with them at 4 am than getting annoyed with them doing it without you!
Take a picture of where you park your car (they generally have numbers/letters to remind you) – the landscape will look a lot different from when you parked it.
Take everything home with you, it is not cool to abandon your belongings. Leave no trace.
Be friendly to everyone, you are all participating in something epically great together. Have the most amazing time, whether you are a seasoned festival goer or a complete virgin. Talk to everyone, people will know about the secret gigs/events that you haven’t even heard of.
There’s nothing else quite like a music festival. Above all else, enjoy yourself and be safe. Kids – DON’T DO DRUGS!
And, if you forget something it doesn’t really matter, you can buy anything you need on site.
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