If you’re going to your first festival, you’ll probably be imagining what the experience will be like. All festivals are different and have completely different vibes, but many share certain elements in common: camping, drinking, long walks, changeable weather, and dancing.
For many first-time festival goers, camping in itself is also brand new. This article is for those of you who haven’t been to a medium-large music festival, not used to camping and not quite sure what to expect.
Greetings! We’re your new festival friend and we’re here to guide you and help you make the most of your festival experience. Don’t be afraid, as daunting as it may sound, music festivals are some of the best experiences you’ll ever have.
But, there are a few things you should know. Being prepared is a good route to having a good time.
Preparing for your First Festival
So your first festival is approaching. You probably bought the tickets 10 months ago and felt like it was ages away. Well, time flies and here you are! The excitement and build-up to a festival can be very exciting!
Don’t think about things too much, just try to enjoy yourself!
A good thing to do is to visit the festival’s website (search for it on Google). The website will tell you what facilities are available and will likely have a list of Frequently Asked Questions too. This will tell you a lot about what you need to know for that specific festival as they all have slightly different facilities and services available.
For example, you may want to check if there’s a kids field or disability access, viewing platforms, etc. This information can be found out directly from the festival themselves.
What to Bring?
You’ll most likely need a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, warm clothes to wear in layers, suitable footwear, food, drink, money, your ticket, medication, and any personal hygiene items you require.
Large UK Music Festivals are very well-organised. They have extensive infrastructure and years’ worth of experience in planning large events. That means that most public needs are catered for.
- Forgotten your tent? No problem, there will be tents (and other camping gear) for sale.
- Need welfare or first aid? There will be 24-hour emergency medical care and welfare on-site.
- Have dietary requirements? There will be a huge variety of food available.
- Run out of booze? There are bars selling booze.
- Need water? All festivals have taps.
What we’re trying to say is, in reality, you can show up to most festivals with a pocket full of cash and clothes on your back and you’ll be just fine. The problem there is that pocket-full of cash, most people under the age of 40 don’t have lots of disposable income so it’s just not realistic.
It’s usually more practical to buy 24 beers from Home Bargains for £18 than it is to pay £6 a pint at a Festival Bar, or bring Pot Noodles for £1 a pot rather than buy £7.50 Noodles from the food stalls!
Once you’re all packed and ready to go, you’ll have to physically get to the festival, which probably isn’t within walking distance of your house!
It’s a good idea to arrange your transport in advance. You usually have options, such as:
|Petrol and car parking costs
Not environmentally friendly
Shared petrol and car parking costs
|Still not environmentally friendly
Space in the car limited by luggage
|Distance from Festival site
Awkward carrying large luggage
Takes you directly to the gate (less walking!)
|Can’t bring a trolley
Large luggage may not be allowed
Just make sure you know how you’re getting to/from the festival beforehand – don’t get stuck without a lift!
The Carrying of the Things
You’ll have your backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, booze, water, food, bedding… everything you bring will need carrying from the car to the gate and from the gate to the campsite. These distances can often be quite far. If you’re getting a coach or bus, you’re usually dropped very close to the gate, which means less carrying!
This is the stage of the festival where you’ll be hot, flustered and frustrated. At large festivals, it’s bloody hard work as there’s often so far to ago through soggy fields, up and down hills. Try to stay calm, don’t snap at your friends or your partner. Seriously – this is where arguments happen so just take it easy and remember, everyone else is in the same boat! The struggle will be worth it.
Popular ways of Carrying at Festivals
Trolleys and wheelbarrows can be useful, but pulling or pushing them in itself is very hard work. Also, trolleys and luggage with small wheels often die pretty soon. Glastonbury has a famous pile of broken trolleys in all of their car parks. RIP.
If you’re doing the trolley/wheelbarrow thing, go for one with big chunky wheels that can handle rough terrain and mud. Fishing trolleys work well, you also need bungee cords to secure your stuff whilst dragging it!
Read more: The Best Folding Festival Trolleys
There is always the option of doing multiple trips from the car, but if you do this then bring the most important items on your first trip. That means your tent and your booze – everything else can wait!
Getting a Spot and Pitching Up
Finding a camping spot is your next mission. Ideally, you’ve had a look at the site map and have a rough idea of its layout and where you want to park your tent. Usually, the fields fill up very quickly, so you need to find a spot large enough for your tent and your friends. This can be more difficult than it sounds, as many people will cordon off large areas for themselves, with a bloody great gazebo in the middle.
Try not to camp on obvious pathways, too close to the toilets or at the bottom of a hill. Make friends with your tent neighbours for security reasons and for the love of god, remember where your tent is! You may become disorientated when it’s dark and you’re no longer sober!
The Sheer Amount of Walking you’ll do
At large festivals, for example, Glastonbury Festival (the biggest in the UK), you’re going to be doing mostly walking. Even at smaller-medium sized festivals, such as Boomtown Fair or Download Festival, there are often long walks and rugged, hilly terrain to deal with.
You need to be prepared for the amount of walking you’ll do. I generally average 30-40,000 steps per day at a festival, according to my FitBit, which does include dancing and stomping around, but that’s a lot of steps! That means, comfortable footwear, not wellies unless it’s actually really muddy, sturdy waterproof walking boots that are well broken-in are the best. You only need wellies if the mud is above your ankles, which only really happens after weeks of torrential rain, and is made worse by the constant flow of footsteps!
In all seriousness, if you’re not used to walking this much, then the level of physical activity over 4-5 days is going to take its toll on your body. Make sure you rest up and stay as fit and energized as possible before, during and after the festival.
Festival toilets are nothing to be afraid of (anymore). Thankfully, they’ve improved a lot since the old-fashioned plastic port-a-loo days! Generally, you’ll only find port-a-loos outside of the festival, in the car parks or the disabled areas. Besides the plastic poo boxes, you’ll either get composting toilets or long drops.
Long drops are long trenches with metal cubicles plonked on top, that you find at Glastonbury or Reading. They’re semi-permanent structures, open-air and usually have doors which bang closed. These don’t smell too bad as they’re open air, just don’t look down. In a good festival, they’ll be cleaned and hosed down regularly.
Compost toilets are also preferable, these are elevated toilet seats inside proper cubicles. You do your business over a wheelie bin, pour a bit of compost down and if everyone does this then there are no nasty smells.
Bring your own toilet paper, which will be supplied but you don’t want to be caught in a cubicle without any. Also, wet wipes should never be put down the compost toilet or the long drops, ever, as they mess up the system and never decompose.
Expect there to be none, unless you’re paying extra for luxury boutique camping, which is available at certain festivals.
It’s not so bad washing with wet wipes for a few days. You can get camping showers but they’re designed for hanging from a tree or something. You probably won’t have anywhere to hang it from in an open festival field full of other tents.
If you’re that desperate, then pay for an upgrade that lets you use showers, if the festival you’re going to has that. Otherwise, the hippie areas often have saunas and sometimes showers, with a queue, but still!
Dry shampoo and seldom use of wet wipes will be the best way forward.
Food & Drink
Food and drink will be plentiful at festivals, but you’ll probably want to bring your own. Now, this is important because certain festivals operate differently, meaning that ‘campsites’ and ‘arenas’ are separated, meaning you can’t bring food or drink outside of your campsite. These festivals suck.
Festivals like Boomtown Fair or Glastonbury do things properly, where you can walk around with your food and drink regardless, as they don’t separate arenas and camping areas. Although some festivals have a limit on how much alcohol you can bring in, no festival allows glass bottles. You need to check with the particular festival what you can and can’t bring.
Anyway, there will be bars selling cans of beer, cider, pre-mixed spirits and soft drinks at relatively steep prices. Think £1.50 for a bottle of water, £2.50 for a coke and £5 for a beer. When it comes to food, you’re usually spoiled for choice! There’ll be a wide variety of street food from around the world, as well as burger and chips if that’s what you’d prefer. Prices start at £5 for a cheese toastie or some chips, right up to £12 for a large pizza to share with your friends.
You can always bring a refillable water bottle to fill for free at the water taps!
It’s also a good idea to bring a few snacks to keep in your tent, such as cereal bars, crisps, energy bars or sweets.
This website is about British music festivals, and the experience you’ll have does heavily depend upon the weather. Our rubbish British weather changes without warning, from boiling hot to blowing a gale with heavy rain. The only thing you can do for an outdoor event is to be prepared.
That means sun cream, sunglasses, waterproofs, wellies, a poncho and warm clothes. You can check the weather forecast obsessively for a few days before the festival, but be prepared anyway! Too many people checking the weather angers the festival gods and increases the chance of precipitation.
Generally, you’ll want hundreds in layers in preparation for the changeable weather. Most of all, you want to be comfortable. Sure, these glitzy sequins look amazing, but the best night of my life at a festival I was wearing PJ bottoms over tights, with an old sports jumper and a ski jacket. At the time, I couldn’t afford to buy trendy outdoor gear or the latest festival fashion. The point is, it doesn’t really matter what you wear, as long as you’re comfortable and you’re enjoying yourself.
Then again, if you want to go crazy and create some memorable costumes then don’t let anything stop you.
Remember that you will have to use the toilets at some point, so onesies, dungarees or things with lots of buttons can get really annoying, really quickly.
Denim takes ages to dry and so does wool. Keep it simple: leggings for women or cargo trousers for men are ideal, with a baggy t-shirt, hoodie around your waist for when it gets cold and a coat for if it’s raining. Sorted! Take at most 3 outfit changes and one set of clothes for if all your others get soaked in unfortunate precipitation! You don’t need loads of clothes with you, you’ll have to carry it all and you won’t wear half of what you bring. Except for socks, you can never have too many socks.
On the subject of socks, remember all that walking and dancing you’ll be doing? Well, good footwear is key to being able to last all weekend. You want to stay blister-free, so only wear wellies if the mud is really bad. Proper waterproof Walking boots with good socks are fine in most festival situations. They must be broken in before the festival or you may get blisters.
If you’re concerned, bring Compeed plasters and moleskin which cushion delicate areas of your feet and prevent blisters. It’s well worth doing, once the plasters are on, they won’t come off unless they get soaking wet! I always take up my feet at festivals as I often walk 9-10 miles per day, up hills and along rough terrain. So, good shoes and plenty of spare socks.
The same laws apply inside the Festival gates as they do outside. That means that drugs are just as illegal inside a festival as they are anywhere else. If you are caught engaging in illegal activity then you can be ejected from the festival, handed over to the police and arrested.
Whilst there are drugs at festivals, it doesn’t mean that you have to take them. We don’t condone illegal drug use, but we understand that people do experiment.
Don’t buy drugs from strangers, don’t mix drugs with alcohol, look after yourselves and each other. If you or one of your mates is in trouble then don’t lie about what they took to medics – it can save their life if you’re honest. This includes prescriptions, pharmacy medicines, alcohol, and caffeine too, which don’t always mix well with other drugs.
All festivals have the right to search you upon entry and during the festival. This is to prevent violence and drug dealing. If you’re chosen for a search, stay calm and be co-operative, it goes without saying that they shouldn’t be able to find anything illegal on you if you’ve obeyed the rules and are careful.
Some festivals have sniffer dogs to prevent drugs and weapons getting into the festival. Do not underestimate these dogs as they’re very good, I’ve seen people who have been sniffed out hiding small amounts of drugs wrapped up in their sleeping bags due to a dog reaction. Don’t bring illegal or otherwise prohibited items into festivals. It’s genuinely not worth the risk.
Most festival goers are just like you – there to have a good time. But, just like everywhere you’ll also find the odd bad egg.
It goes without saying that tents are not very secure. Don’t bother with a padlock, it only looks like there’s something valuable to be had and tents can be cut anyway. Don’t keep money or valuables in your tent, keep them on your in a zipped up pocket at all times. Most festivals have lockers you can pay for (free in Glastonbury) to keep your valuables safe (if you must bring them).
When you’re sleeping, keep all your money and valuables tight inside your sleeping bag and far away from any chancers. NEVER leave your backpack or bumbag filled, that’s just an easy swipe and probably has all your important stuff inside it. Empty it at night before you go to sleep and hide away your money, phone and ID somewhere very close to you and away from the tent door.
Keep your tent generally messy, to make things less easy to find for thieves (and yourself, frustratingly).
As for personal safety in crowds, keep your wits about you and stay close to your friends if you’re caught up in a shuffle or a bottleneck. If anyone harasses you or behaves inappropriately then do not be afraid to make a fuss.
Comfort & Sleeping
You’ll want a mattress to sleep on, some go with a yoga mat, some a self-inflating sleeping mat and others go for a Lilo or air bed with a pump to inflate. Also, a sleeping bag, duvet and pillow. You can usually buy most of this stuff at stalls inside the festival if you find yourself uncomfortable or too cold on the first night.
If you’re bringing any form of an inflatable sleeping mattress, then bring a repair patch or two, especially if you smoke in your tent, just in case!
A comfortable place to sleep can make your festival experience more enjoyable. Try to find out which campsites at your festival are quieter and less rowdy, being an eye mask and earplugs like you’d get on a plane for some guaranteed shut-eye. You’ll need it!
Festivals generate a lot of rubbish, they also provide a lot of bins – use them! There will be tonnes of colourfully and lovingly hand-painted bins all over most festivals, for both recycling and general waste. You won’t have to walk far to find one so there really is no excuse.
Bring cups back to the bar if they have a reusable cup scheme, use bin bags to keep your campsite clean and tidy. Be generally conscious of your environment as the future of the festival scene depends on people being respectful about their rubbish.
Don’t forget to pick up a portable ashtray if you’re a smoker, cigarette butts are litter and harmful to the environment.
And don’t even think of leaving your campsite in a mess when you leave. Tents, air mattresses and camping chairs are NOT single use, take them home and care for them and they will last you for many festivals. If you leave any equipment or general rubbish behind, it will go to landfill, not charity, a landfill.
Don’t bring what you can’t take.
You’ll want to bring a torch with you that fits in your pocket.
- Bumbags and utility bags are great for being hands-free and being able to keep your money, phone, and camera safe!
- Always check the festival’s rules on booze limits, some allow spirits but they must be decanted into plastic bottles first.
- Aerosols such as Deodorant and dry shampoo are sometimes prohibited, again, check with the festival first to avoid having item confiscated.
What are your tips for beginners at music festivals? What have we missed out? Drop a comment below!
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