Ask any outdoor survival expert and they’ll tell you that there are five essential ingredients for sustaining human life in a survival scenario: water, shelter, warmth, signals, and food.
With big-name festivals like Splendour in the Grass and Glastonbury just around the corner, it occurred to us that camping at a festival is much like any survival situation — albeit one with first aid professionals close-by in case anything goes seriously wrong.
If, like us, you’d prefer to spend your time outside the first aid tent enjoying the food and the music, keep reading; our festival camping survival guide might just teach you something new.
Scroll down for our complete festival camping checklist.
Water - staying hydrated and staying dry
Water is your most valuable commodity in any outdoor environment, but it’s also nature’s most powerful element.
At a festival, you’re going to need to stay hydrated, stay clean, and do your best to prevent Mother Nature from taking your campsite and turning it into a sodden mess.
Yeah, yeah, we know what you’re thinking, got to stay hydrated at a music festival (hyuck, hyuck, hyuck).
Bad jokes about recreational drug taking at festivals aside, having access to a regular supply of water is your number one priority while camping — anywhere.
Fortunately, finding water at a festival is a lot easier than finding water in the wild.
You should get a bunch of information, including a site map, along with your ticket purchase. It’s a good idea to keep a hardcopy on you so you have access to site information 24/7.
In the smartphone age, it’s not uncommon for some events to create their own apps that give you up to date performance schedules and maps showing the location of facilities. But when you're camping, the less you rely on your phone the better.
So study that map. That way you’ll know where to find water and shower facilities throughout the site before you even arrive at the gates.
We like to take a reusable water bottle to save forking out on one-use plastic bottles and to help reduce waste.
There are two types of festival goers: those who shower, and those who don’t. The annoying thing is you probably won’t find out which type your mates are until day three.
But there are shower facilities (however basic) at festivals that you can use, and if you prefer, you can always take a portable solar-powered camping shower.
Want a hot tip? Keep an eye on when the cleaners come to take care of the shower facilities (often at night when everyone is asleep / passed out) and grab your towel, quick. This is a great time to have a wash without feeling like you need another one straight after.
What to do about Mother Nature (a.k.a rain)
Even in summer it sometimes rains so you best be ready for it. Any festival veteran will tell you that gumboots are your best friend.
Make sure you have these wet weather camping essentials with you regardless of the season.
Tarps: the foundation upon which your rain-free camping experience shall be built. Tarps can be used in a huge number of ways. Laying one inside your tent helps prevent water seeping through to your bedding and stringing one above your shelter transforms, even a cheap and nasty tent, into a veritable Noah’s Ark (sort of).
A poncho: the perfect companion on those wet, humid summer days. Stay dry; stay cool while watching your favourite bands and performers wearing a waterproof poncho.
Waterproof breathable jacket and pants: great to have even if only as a backup. A waterproof jacket is essential if you are camping in autumn / winter.
Thongs: excellent for warmer weather and an absolute must-have if you are a camper who showers, because foot cooties.
Dry bags: keep a spare set of warm clothes and your valuables in a dry bag so you’ve got something to change into if things don’t quite go to plan.
Shelter - creating the ultimate festival campsite
It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security when planning your festival experience. With so many facilities and attractions and people everywhere, it’s easy to forget that camping at a music festival is just like a regular camping trip, except for the fact that you are surrounded by people, many of them mildly insane.
So it’s important that you set up a great shelter when camping at a festival, to keep you warm and dry, get a good night’s sleep, and escape to if everything gets a bit much.
The first step to setting up a shelter is finding your campsite.
Finding your campsite
Depending on the festival, you will either have a site assigned to you or you will be able to choose your own.
If you’re given free reign, get there early and nab a spot close, but not too close to the shower / toilet blocks (for obvious reasons). Try to avoid low-lying areas if you can manage. When thousands of people make use of the facilities every day, the likelihood that those facilities will (ahem) overload due to excess demand is as sure as death and taxes.
If campsites are assigned with your ticket purchase, your ticket information will tell you which gate to enter, and marshals should direct you to your campsite area. If you’re really unlucky, at least you’ve got your gumboots, right?
Building your campsite
Preparation and knowledge can get you through almost any survival situation.
If, however, you choose to approach the upcoming festival with the same level of preparation as your average 18-year-old male, you’ll likely feel the full force of Murphy’s Law at two in the morning in the form of your $26 tent collapsing on your head after having spent an hour and a half trying to find Campsite F.
After all, we know that, while not while not as powerful as Mother Nature, Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.
We prefer to say if it can go wrong it might go wrong, so it's vital that you choose your shelter carefully.
Choosing your shelter
If you are a first timer who hasn’t had the opportunity to learn from that ‘character building’ experience we just described, the first thing you’ll learn showing up at the site (cheap tent under-arm) is that veteran festival goers come prepared. Really prepared.
You’ll see them carrying couches and gazebos and setting up teepees … the first thing you’ll learn going to a festival is that your campsite setup is vastly inferior to everyone else’s and you’ll immediately start planning the most epic campsite ever for the next year.
But that’s cool! You don’t have to create a glampsite paradise first time; you just need to make sure you have a few of the fundamentals nailed.
Your shelter simply needs to be warm, dry, and comfortable (enough).
Tents are lightweight, provide good insulation, and give a little when someone drunkenly trips over your guy ropes in the middle of the night.
Tents are a winning choice for first-time festival campers.
If this isn’t your first rodeo and you’re reading this, maybe you’re hoping to go all out this year with your shelter? Be sure to check whether RVs are an option or consider expanding your site to include multiple shelters with your friends using tarps, gazebos and shade domes. If you don’t have a shelter yet, we’ve got you covered.
Check out the full range of tents, and portable shelters right here at Outdoria (that won’t collapse on your head at 2:00am).
Disclaimer: Outdoria takes no responsibility for tents that collapse as a result of poor construction because you had a couple more beers than you really should have before setting up.
Warmth - it's what you wear and who you meet
Your shelter obviously plays a bit part in the process of staying warm. But let’s face it, you’re going to be spending most of your time outside getting amongst the shenanigans.
Staying warm (and cooling down) at a festival is all about what you wear, and who you meet.
Now, we’re a website about the outdoors, so we’re not going to attempt to delve into the psychedelic realm that is festival fashion. We’re going to keep things simple and practical by providing you with a detailed festival camping checklist. After all staying warm and keeping cool is all about layering right? [Fashion bloggers nod their heads].
We've made this list detailed to make it relevant to a range of festival goers. Simply right click, save, and print it out to help you pack.
Warmth is also about people
Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that a festival is about more than the music and the delicious food.
Like any great camping trip, festivals are all about people and the sense of community that develops surprisingly fast when like-minded individuals gather to celebrate something they share in common.
So embrace the festival spirit and get amongst the community. If you’ve made a few friends it won’t seem like such a big deal if you end up next to the loos...
Signals - communication is key
At any time during the day, hordes of smartphone-reliant campers queue up to charge their phones so they can message their friends, take photos, and share their experiences on social media.
Communicating with your mates is one of the real first-world struggles of camping at a festival.
But if you think of entering the festival grounds in the same way you would venturing into the Australian Outback, you’ll spend less time waiting in line for that device to charge and more time having a blast. Take a portable solar charge device with you and avoid the queues.
- Hot tip: fancy dress is great for more than starting a conversation and looking awesome. It also makes it easy for your mates to spot you in a crowd.
Schedule meeting points and make a plan
Before you go into the Outback (or any outdoor environment), you need to create a trip plan, ensuring someone knows what time you're leaving, where you're going, and what time you expect to be back.
Adopt a similar strategy at the festival.
Before you leave the campsite each day, make sure you let each other know where you are going to be spending most of your time. Pick a landmark everyone knows and head back there at scheduled times between sets.
If you prefer to keep things loose and just meet up at the campsite later, make sure that you come up with a plan for when someone doesn’t return. Agree on the amount of time that you will wait before sending the search parties; that way you won’t spend your time stressing when someone in the group has simply made some new friends and is off having fun.
It's a great idea to create your own unique flag before you leave and mark your territory. You’ll be able to find your campsite from a distance, even if you’ve had a few.
Should you lock your tent at a festival?
If you have a lot of valuables with you, it can be tempting to buy the burliest padlock you can find to keep your tent secure. But this can be a signal to others in all the wrong ways.
Putting that big padlock on the front zip is like putting up a sign that says, “Hey I’ve got a brand new Macbook in here. Please cut a giant hole in the side of my tent and rob me!”
Unfortunately, not everyone bought a ticket just to see the show. There are people that go to these events just to take advantage of others (although, they are usually few and far between), so take precautions and try not to make yourself a target.
Food - to cook or not to cook?
It all depends on festival rules, but usually, you have two options available to you when it comes to food: make it yourself, or buy it from the many stalls packed with delicious, exotic dishes.
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to cooking your own food is managing to keep your produce fresh over the course of the event.
One great way to improve the performance of your esky – and save doubling up on containers of water – is to freeze large 1.5 - 2L water bottles two nights prior and pop them in your esky the night before you leave to lower it's internal temperature.
Bringing the esky's temp down first will help your ice remain ice for longer, and eventually, those frozen bottles will melt making for a convenient backup water supply.
Cooking while camping at a festival
Most festivals won’t allow open flames, so a campstove or portable BBQ is your best bet if you plan on cooking your own grub.
Set up your camp kitchen a short distance away from your tent(s). This is a great way to establish a communal dining / living area; a tarp overhead is always a winner.
When it comes to the meals themselves, keep it simple. We like to cook recipes that are high in energy and require few ingredients. And if you get bored of camp fair you can always dish out some cash at the market every now and then.
These super easy, super-delicious camp recipes should give you some inspiration:
Not cooking while camping at a festival
Unfortunately in Australia, street food is mostly found in fairly expensive restaurants and cafes.
Walking down the streets of our major cities, you might see a few stalls here and there specialising in a particular dish, but there’s nothing compared to the abundance you’ll find in European or Asian countries.
That’s why festivals are awesome. They offer up the unique opportunity to sample dishes from a huge range of different cultures.
So even if you plan to save some money and make your own meals, we highly recommend you at least try something new while you’re there.
And if you prefer to stick to your souvas and burgers, don’t worry, they usually have those too.
You’re alive and it’s time to go home
We hope that you’ve found some useful advice in this survival guide. But before you pack your gear and lug it slowly to your vehicle or the bus to take you home, take a moment to consider the state of your campsite and the people tasked with cleaning up after you.
This might make you think twice about leaving that empty can on the ground.
Clean-up crews are usually made up of volunteers (a.k.a. legends) who do an amazing job of transforming those spaces back to their former rubbish-free glory, and it’s easy to do your bit to help.
Keeping your own campsite clean is easy. Make sure you bring a few large black rubbish bags for tidying up at the end of the day. It’s much easier for a volunteer to collect a bag-load than to pick up hundreds of individual items of junk.
Remember, you’re in the outdoors, so treat the area like you would any campsite and take out what you take in or put it in the bins provided.
That’s it, the Best Festival Camping Survival Guide Ever! (probably). Have an awesome time, and if it doesn’t quite go to plan the first time around, don't worry, there’s always next year.
So what do you think, did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section below or get in touch on social media to share your best festival veteran tips with the rest of the Outdoria community.