It’s warming up, the days are getting longer and you have some time booked off from your boring 9-5 job, what to do? Well, why not join the hoards and haul ass to a music festival? There are plenty to choose from, if you’re off to one of the big ones (Glastonbury/Download/Reading/Leeds) no doubt you will have bought your ticket already. If you’re not, there are smaller, boutique style events happening in most towns and villages across our country on a daily basis between the end of May and mid September which, despite being much smaller than the industry leading, more corporate affairs, offer the festival goer a more relaxed, laid back experience. If, like me, you have young children, the thought of wandering about, knee deep in mud at Glastonbury with 2 little people who just want their faces painted whilst I stand at the bar buying expensive, gassy lager frightens the bejesus out of me ….I know where we’ll be this year and it won’t be an event organised by Michael Eavis!
So, lets assume that you have got yourself a ticket, you have organised everything, well, at least you THINK you have organised everything, below, you will find a guide to surviving at a Summer music festival. Granted, you could read any guide, what makes mine any different? Well, after attending Glastonbury and Reading Festival for many years in the 90’s and seeing how they have changed from ‘a few hundred people in a field’ to events that attract massive amounts of corporate sponsorship and financial backing, I feel that I have a level of experience that others may not possess.
Before we do anything, I guess you'd best see which festivals there are out there....Luckily for you, we have spent hours pulling together a list of the finest UK festivals that you can see by clicking HERE
So, back to surviving, where to start? well, let's think about the important things first
Tent – Unless you’re planning on sleeping under the stars with a load of stargazing space cadets, you’ll need some shelter and a safe place to cuddle up, ready for the obligatory hangover to kick in after far too many ciders the evening before. Make sure that the tent is big enough to fit you and your equipment inside, this maybe stating the obvious but I have been to festivals in the past where myself and a friend shared a 2 man tent, which did exactly that, we didn’t consider where the back packs and other paraphernalia was going to fit…. Make sure that you know how to assemble the tent, ensure that all relevant pegs, poles and groundsheets are included and always ensure that you do a dry run BEFORE arriving at the festival. Make sure you take a small mallet or hammer with you to drive the tent pegs into the ground and a tent peg puller tool will save you a lot of time (and fingernails) when you come to pack up at the end of the event.
Sleeping Bag – You can’t really go wrong with a sleeping bag, use it as a bag to snuggle into or unzip it and use it as a cover to keep you warm at night. You can pick up a decent, lightweight sleeping bag from most camping stores, check the weight as when you’re lugging a heavy pack from the drop off point to the camping field, every ounce makes a difference. Check the ‘rating’ of the sleeping bag, do you really need an expensive ‘Stormbuster 6’ which is ideal for use in Arctic expeditions? or would a £9.99 lightweight polyester one do you just as well? Make sure that the sleeping bag you purchase comes with it’s own carry bag, this makes it much easier to carry and may even allow you to hook it onto your pack, allowing more space inside your bag for an extra can or two of cider!
Pillow – I don’t know about you but if I sleep anywhere without a pillow, I’m NOT going to get a very good nights sleep, don’t bring the pillows from your bed at home, these will weigh far too much and if they get wet, will not be of much use. Instead, check out a lightweight model that will roll up into a small bag and allow you to carry them in your pack or attach them to the outside. Check on Amazon or eBay for a great selection for under £10 a pair.
Trolley - I forgot to take one of these one year at Glastonbury and ended up making 3 trips to and from the car to the camping area! Whilst it would seem that you are more than capable of carrying your backpack, tent, roll mat, sleeping bag and all of the cool extras that you bought from that cheap website in China prior to getting dropped off at the main gates by Mum and Dad, a trolley is a MUST. You should consider WHAT you're going to be using the trolley for and make sure that you have at least one dry run at home to ensure all of the gear will fit! There are loads of trolleys out there, ranging from the type that old grannies use in and around Iceland (normally tartan in colour) to a state of the art pull along device with off road style knobbly tyres to breeze over even the toughest terrain.
So, that’s the essential items to keep you warm and covered up at night, what else do you need to ensure that you pack?
Ticket – No ticket = no entry = very upset individual, praying that their parents are willing to drive down to the drop-off point with the ticket that you ‘swore’ you had packed but for some strange reason, remained in the envelope on the dining room table at home….
Money – Take enough to see you through the event, don’t turn up armed with rolls of 20's, if you are unfortunate enough to lose it, you're going to be a tad upset. Take smaller notes to ensure that you’re not going to be fumbling about in your ‘fanny pack’ (or bumbag) trying to pile in the change from a £50 note at the main bar. When you leave your tent, make sure you take all your money with you.
Bank Card – Most larger festivals will have cash machines onsite. If you are heading to a smaller event, then there may be cash machines available in the town or village, situated close to the event site. Do some research before you go and only draw as much cash as you think you’ll need, set yourself a budget and you won’t go far wrong.
Identification – If you’re fortunate enough to either be, or look under the age of 25, you will certainly require some form of identification to buy alcohol at festivals. If you’re unsure as to what ID the festival require, check their website to find out. Normally, the card part of your driving license or passport will suffice. Always keep your ID with you, never leave it in an unattended bag and if you DO lose it or have it stolen, inform a member of the onsite security team straight away.
Mobile Phone – We all know that modern day smartphone device batteries last no longer than a day, regardless of how you plan to only switch it on for 20 minutes a day to call home to tell your mummy that you’re still alive, that battery won't hold a charge for the whole festival. Larger events do provide ‘charging stations’, these are a great idea but can get very very busy, we once queued at the ‘Orange Chill n’ Charge tent’ for 2 hours in order to get a charging point and even then, it only pumped in about 50% of the juice required. Instead of taking your shiny new iPhone 6, why not look at a cheaper model that simply acts as a phone? The battery will last days and will allow you the luxury of leaving it switched on all the time in case any calls come through. You can pick up a relatively cheap model from most supermarkets for around £10, some even include a great ‘pay as you go’ deal which may provide you with enough credit to get you through the weekend without having to spend another dime on calls. You may also want to consider buying or taking a portable charger with you, these are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and some, once fully charged, claim to contain enough power to charge an iPhone 6 up to 6 times! (figures may be different in reality). Remember to take a couple of USB cables with you to connect to the charger
Warm clothing – I’ll tell you this once and once only, it’s no fun, wandering about a festival site in a sweat soaked t-shirt 30 minutes after the headline act has left the stage, soon after, you’ll start to get cold, without additional clean, dry layers, you’re going to start shivering and eventually not feeling very well at all. Consider that at 3pm when you’re drinking and lying in the sun that at 1am the next morning, it’s not going to be as warm and that extra fleecy sweater and lightweight waterproof jacket you packed into your day bag are a godsend!
Waterproof clothing – I’m not talking £500 goretex tech gear here, I just mean any way that you can attempt to stay dry in the event of a downpour, the better. I once took a very expensive ‘waterproof’ jacket with me to Glastonbury in 2007 and all it did all weekend was rain, by Saturday morning, the jacket was soaked through, I was soaked through and cold and very miserable. I would have been better off with a bin liner over my head, with arm holes poked through, which is exactly what I did, not the best but it did a great job of keeping me dry! I didn’t bother with waterproof trousers, I think the most important thing is to have at least a couple of sets of dry clothing to change into whilst anything else is drying out.
Umbrella - I must admit that I have never taken a brolly to a festival before, this is because the thought of jumping around in the dance tent with a 'Totes Compact' hanging off my waist is not the best way to meet friends and influence people! Instead, opt for a waterproof hat which is much easier to store on your person should/if the sun comes out and frightens off all those nasty rain clouds!
Clean underwear – I don’t know about you but the old saying about being able to wear the same underwear for 4 days doesn’t cut it with me, I like a clean pair every day, regardless of how ‘soiled’ they are. As an emergency, I guess I would wear a pair for two days if needs be but take extra and if you do have an accident during the day, you can change into some dry ‘duds’, making everything good again.
Small rucksack – This is essential for your everyday use, you won’t want to be lugging your huge backpack about with you when you’re moving from stage to stage, take a smaller rucksack, fill it with the things you’ll need for the day and you'll be fine. You can also attach drinks bottles to the outside of it leaving more space for dry clothing inside.
Wellington Boots – These are a MUST at any music festival, I don’t want to ‘rain on your parade’ but 100% guaranteed sunshine is not always on the menu…..sorry, I speak the truth! To be sure you don’t get caught out, take a cheap pair of wellies with you, try and wear them in at home prior to packing them, hopefully you won’t need them but it’s best to be safe than sorry! I would also invest in a couple of decent pairs of wellington boot socks, these are thicker and longer and will make you more comfortable should you have to break them out. There are hundreds of varieties available from £10/$15 upwards, no doubt you’ll see the usual array of ‘Hunter’ wearers out there, ignore these pretentious people and stand proud in your ‘Dunlop’ green gum boots!
Torch – Getting back to your tent after a day of festivities is a challenge, multiply that by 100 by having a few pints of ale on board, it being pitch black and all the tents looking the same and you’ll be glad you packed a good battery powered torch. I would say consider a wind up model but to be honest, they’re not very good and sometimes take a good few minutes to get charged up. I have an 8” Maglite which I have been using at festivals for the past 12 years and it has NEVER let me down. Remember to pack extra batteries just in case and maybe a back up torch in case it gets lost!
Flag/Flag Pole - Depending on what you're planning on using a flag for, you'd be best to check whether flags are allowed into the festival you're attending. If you want to be one of the annoying people at Glastonbury who stands right at the front, waving their flag about for all its worth all bloody day long, make sure you invest in a decent flag pole. These are available reasonably cheaply on eBay and Amazon, they range from 2-3m right upto 5-6m in length, just bear in mind the weight and how bulky it might be prior to splashing out! If you're going to use it so that you can identify your tent at the end of a hard days 'festivalling', the same rules apply but you need not worry too much about lugging it about all day! One tip, try and choose something a little 'off the wall' so that your flag stands out from the rest, I used to live on the Isle of Man so the good old 'Three legs of Mann' were taken to many festivals to provide a meeting point and to identify where we had to get back to at the end of the night!
First Aid Kit – I’m not talking about bringing a member of the St Johns Ambulance Brigade with you just in case you get a blister, just a small selection of sticking plasters, cotton wool, antiseptic cream, painkillers, vitamin C tablets and anything extra such as your inhalers if you are asthmatic or any prescribed medication that you may be taking at the time. If you run out, there will be plenty of First Aid stations available at larger festivals and even smaller events will have a medical facility onsite, just shout if you’re in trouble and I’m sure that people will rally together to get you assistance.
Wet Wipes – The holy grail of staying clean and sane at a music festival….I couldn’t recall the number of mornings I have woken up and had a ‘wet wipe wash’, without the luxury of a hot shower, this comes in as the next best thing, believe me! Take a couple of packs with you just in case.
Carrier Bags - These can be used for LOADS of purposes, storing dirty laundry, to keep clothes dry and carrying stuff about. Now that the government have imposed a 5p charge on each bag, take a handful with you as you'll never know when you'll need one!
Bin Liners - Yes folks, bin liners, maybe not an entire roll but a few will do you proud. Ideal for using to clean up your pitch at the end of the festival and more importantly, acting as a great makeshift waterproof poncho! All you need to do is make a couple of small holes for your arms and your head and away you go. Whilst you won't win any awards for 'fashion accessory of the festival' you will remain dryer and warmer than all the 'couture' chicks dressed in their goatskin waistcoats and designer bloody tech gear!
Toilet Roll/ small packs of tissues – A godsend if you attend the port-a-loo and you discover that the loo roll has done a runner….nothing worse than having to go commando or do a handstand under the warm air dryer!
Foldable/Portable chair - This again may sound like a daft idea, there's LOADS of places to sit and crash....right? WRONG! I went to Glastonbury in 2007 and I swear that it rained so much, there was NOWHERE to sit outside that was dry, the floor was like a mud wrestling pit, even the banks up high were a no go area, I was fine as I had my lightweight portable camping chair which allowed me to take my weight off my feet every now and again, a godsend when you're on your toes pretty much 18 hours a day! These are freely available on most online stores, eBay normally has a great selection, just check where the item is being shipped from as there's not much point in ordering a bunch 3 days before you go if they're being dispatched from China!
Deodorant - Consider a small roll on type, don't bother with your usual large canister as this will take up way too much room and may explode if left in a tent which has the sun beaming down on it all day long (as we all know, the sun is going to shine all day!)
Suntan lotion/Aftersun – Okay, we are talking about UK festivals here so the need to load up on factor 50 is probably not that high up your agenda, regardless, you’re going to be out in the open all day for maybe 12 hours plus…..best take some precautions and at least apply some cream to your face, neck, arms and exposed parts to ensure you don’t burn. Sunstroke at a festival is no fun, I speak from experience!
Anti-bacterial Handwash - You know the stuff I mean, Mum's normally rock up at a restaurant and proceed to squirt their loved ones every 2 minutes so that they don't catch any nasty germs. Not a necessity but anything to give bugs and germs the old heave ho is always welcome in my tent. Don't go for the 500ml family sized container, as this will be both heavy and bulky, opt instead for a couple of portable containers with a squirty top on them for easy access.
Comfortable shoes – We all know that Glastonbury Festival has turned into a bit of a fashion parade over the years with stick insect thin size zero models pretending to have a good time yomping about in ‘boho chic floral prints’ and ridiculous footwear, screw that, you need to ensure that you don’t get any blisters and to do that you need to be wearing some comfy footwear. If you plan to do a lot of walking at the event, take some decent walking boots/shoes with you, make sure they are broken in before you go.
Ear plugs – I have been attending live gigs and music events on a regular basis since I was 15 years old, the 3 day ringing in your ears is no fun after a Motorhead show…..Wear some earplugs, they don’t kill all sound but they will certainly help to keep the harmful soundwaves from destroying your hearing at a young age. You can pickup a decent pair for around £10 or if you prefer cheaper still, just go for a few packs of the foam style plugs that you squeeze and insert into your ears and they then expand, ready to pop out and throw away at the end of the evening.
Condoms/Lady Things – If you’re young, free and single, you may be fortunate enough to find someone who wants to do 'stuff' with you after the main event has packed up and gone home, to be on the safe side, invest in a few 'rubber johnnies' prior to leaving for the festival. If you don’t get lucky, you can always blow them up and use it as a makeshift beach ball whilst waiting for the next act to arrive on stage! If you get caught short and run out of said weekend accessories or you are a lady who forgets her ‘fanny bungs’, head down to the customer information tent where I am sure they’ll be able to assist you.
Food & Drink
Food - If I can give you one tip to take away today, don’t bother taking too much food with you to festivals. There are loads of vendors there to provide you with a great selection of foodstuffs from all over the world including your staple dietary requirements (kebabs/burgers/falafels) etc. Loading your bag up with bananas may seem like the best thing to do prior to setting off, these will soon turn into mush and if they split, could cause issues to dry clothing inside your bag. Heavy tins of tuna fish or baked beans will only add considerably to the weight of your pack. If you do take any food with you, try and choose things such as cereal bars, energy bars and items that will not leak/split/turn into mush. Remove any packaging and slot them into the corners of your bag to maximize space.
Drinks – Again, don’t worry too much about loading up on water and beer prior to getting to the event, granted, it will be a lot cheaper but the weight of a 5 litre water container is HEAVY and 24 cans of Stella is not easy to carry around…..Instead, take a couple of camping style water bottles that you can fill with water and clip to the outside of your backpack, this way, when they are empty, you can easily refill them at the various water stations available throughout the site. As for alcohol, you’re just going to have to accept that you’ll be paying £5+ a pint for gassy lager/cider along with the other revelers! Bear in mind that after a couple of pints of this, you’ll be needing to relieve your bladder every 20 minutes or so, make sure you know where the nearest toilets are and that you allow plenty of time to take into account mile long queues, practice your pelvic floor exercises, you’ll thank me later! If you are planning on taking booze with you check on the festival's website as some will allow a small amount in for 'personal consumption' whereas others are very strict and you'll end up drinking it or losing it at the entry gate!
Here comes the boring 'sensible' things to think about....
Alcohol – As I said above, there will be fully licensed bars available at all music festivals, unless you are heading to a Tee-Total festival in which case there will be somewhere offering various soft drinks…..If you are heading to a regular event, know your limits, if it’s a blisteringly hot day, don’t drink lager all day, break it up with a soft drink in-between, take plenty of water onboard and if you do start to feel unwell, seek medical advice. If someone you are with is feeling unwell, do not leave them unattended, ask others to locate medical staff and be honest in respect of how much or what the person has been consuming, it may save their life. Eat plenty of food whilst drinking, this will help to soak it up.
Drugs – If you intend to take drugs with you to any festival, be aware that you may be searched upon entering and anything confiscated may well be passed on to the police, meaning that rather than standing watching your favourite band, you could be explaining yourself at the local nick. Do your homework before you attend the festival, the more you know about drugs the better, familiarize yourself with what various drugs look like, what they smell like etc.. If you are in a group, do not feel pressured into taking drugs if you don’t want to, it’s not worth it. If you’re with anyone who has taken drugs and is having a bad time, DO NOT leave them alone or able to wander off on their own, if you’re concerned for their safety, alert a member of the festival team who will ensure that they receive medical attention.
Legal Highs – Be aware that the market is currently flooded with a range of these ‘legal’ stimulants, they may be legal but unless you know what the effects are, stay well away, they may cause you to panic or have an adverse reaction.
Mixing drink and drugs – Probably the worst thing you could do at a festival. Imagine being surrounded by 150,000 people when you start to feel very strange, all of a sudden you start to panic, not knowing where you are or who you’re with…. not a very nice place to be, do yourself a favour and don’t mix the two, it’s a cocktail that could lead to a very bad experience.
Other helpful tips
Don’t be tempted to take your jewelry box with you when you attend a festival, leave ALL valuables at home.
Try and pitch your tent near a landmark, maybe consider taking a small flagpole and an obscure flag with you so you can navigate a little easier in the dark (as mentioned earlier). Attach some bunting or something else so your tent stands out a little. Most camping areas will have floodlighting so you can see where you’re going at night. Watch out for any guy ropes around tents, there’s nothing worse than falling on a big hairy biker at 4am (believe me, I’ve been there!) Be mindful of where the loos and generators are placed and avoid pitching near them, nothing worse than being woken at 8:30 in the morning with the sound of the septic tank clearing machine and then there's the smell that accompanies it.....Yuk!
Don’t padlock your tent when you leave it, this is like telling a burglar that you have valuables inside….
Plan ahead – If you know which bands are playing at which stage and when, make sure you allow enough time to get there and consider that moving about between main stages will take longer than you thought, be prepared to miss some events due to this.
If for any reason you get detached from your group of friends (assuming you’re going as a group), have a pre-arranged meeting point, if this doesn’t work, locate the nearest customer service point where the staff will do all they can to re-acquaint you with your friends as soon as possible.
At the end of the festival, pack up, clean up and take as much with you as possible. There are usually tent recycling centres if you cannot be bothered to take it home with you, just find out what you need to do and drop it off at the designated area. Why not spend 10 minutes just cleaning up around you, this is where the bin bags that you bought with you will come in super handy!
Plan your exit strategy, I don't mean use a project manager, just be mindful of what time you're planning on leaving, bear in mind that the other 225,000 people might have the same idea at the same time as you do. If you're camping, you'll have to wait until dawn has broken so that you can see what you're doing, don't bother trying to pack down after dark, whilst it's immense fun, you won't get a lot done and risk losing items in the process.
The most important thing
HAVE FUN…… You’re not going to be attending too many festivals this year, let your hair down, live a little, fly by the seat of your pants for a change, by following the above tips, you won’t go far wrong but sometimes, wallowing in a pool of mud with other drunken fools may feel like the best thing to do, get involved, meet some new friends and just enjoy the experience, you can tell your kids and your grandkids about it in years to come!
Written by Steve Muscutt