Once upon a time, when I was a fresh-faced and excited eighteen-year-old, I approached festival packing like I did any other holiday: with my most stylish outfits, different accessories and shoes for each look — and not much to how I would carry everything on my back. I was all about fun, drunken frolicking, getting the best pictures for social media and glitter. I know, I know — even I’m rolling my eyes writing this.
You’ll be glad to know that my 2023 preparation is very different, especially now I have several big camping festivals under my belt like Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and my hometown local, Latitude. Maybe it’s because my frontal lobe is finally fully developed or maybe it’s the last few years of lockdowns bringing things back to basics, but this year my main aim is to pack as lightly and as logically as possible. That means packing shoes that won’t rub and chafe, considering how different materials interact with the elements, and trying to double up on pieces as much as possible.
Read on for all my tips, tricks and practical festival essentials, from fashion and beauty to camping gear that has saved my skin. Whether you’re a seasoned festival-goer or a total newbie, this list will hopefully help you, too (or at least take some pressure off your shoulders — literally and figuratively).
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Think carefully about your getting-there outfit and pack fresh clothes for when you leave
This may sound contradictory, especially since this guide is all about minimising your packing, but hear me out. On your first day at a camping festival, you’re heading off early, either waiting in line in a cramped car or rammed onto public transport, lugging all your things across fields (sometimes with multiple trips) and putting up your tent. You’re going to end up hot, sweaty and feeling a bit icky. Of course, camping festivals are all about getting stuck into the camping life, but starting your week or weekend out already feeling disgusting and uncomfy isn’t fun. That’s why I suggest really thinking about what you wear on the way, and anticipating wanting to change into something else once you can relax.
For ease and comfort, my go-to, getting-to-the-festival outfit is always a pair of moisture-wicking and breathable leggings, a tank top and an oversized button-down shirt — usually with my bulky fleece or jumper tied around my waist and my heaviest shoes. This keeps me warm in the early hours, and I can easily strip layers off as the day heats up. It also keeps my heaviest, bulkiest items (the fleece and shoes) out of my bag (and off my back). Plus, if your backpack straps do start to rub — test this out with the full weight before you leave! — you have some layers to protect your shoulders.
For the last day, when I leave the festival, I always pack a totally fresh set of clothes, especially fresh underwear and socks. Trust me, it’s a total game-changer for facing the journey home after five days without a shower — particularly if you’re having to confront post-festival reality on public transport. In my case, this is always the comfiest outfit I can think of: leggings or cycle shorts and a baggy T-shirt. Almost like socially acceptable pyjamas for a snooze on the way home.
Pack your outfits into clear plastic bags and label them
The key to minimising your packing is planning your outfits. My Virgo moon has me checking and double-checking the weather in the run-up to the event, and listing every outfit I want to wear over the week. Once you have everything laid out on your bed, you can evaluate where items can double up (can you take one pair of shorts and multiple tops for different days? Maybe there is a dress that also works as a skirt?). Once you’re happy, I advise rolling everything up (helps with creasing and space) into individual clear, plastic sandwich bags with the corresponding underwear, socks and under-shorts, and labelling each of these for the day you plan to wear them. When it comes to rifling through your bag in the dark or deathly hungover the next morning, you’ll be very glad of the pre-planning. The plastic also helps protect your clothes from the rain and any leaks and curbs any over-packing.
Bring a spare outfit just in case
From leaks to spillages, you never know what might happen at a festival. Best way to anticipate needing a spare outfit, just in case.
Pockets, pockets, pockets!
The best kind of festival outfit is the one that lets you store things, hands-free, from your phone to your water bottle. Cargo pants are an amazing option — this year I’m even planning to wear a pair (Out From Under’s Cabot Utility Lounge Pants, they’re so comfy!) as my pyjama bottoms so I can stash spare toilet roll and a torch for nightly trips to the toilets.
This one is a given, but the importance of picking your hands-free, carry-all festival bag cannot be underestimated. What you’re looking for is an option with plenty of pockets to store all the essentials, thick, comfy straps that won’t dig into your shoulders (especially if you end up getting sunburnt!) and something that isn’t too bulky. When you’re crammed in the crowd, trying to dance in your little spot, you’ll be glad not to be banging into those behind you. For this reason, I’ll be opting for a cross-body bag that I can wear on my front.
Hands-free water bottle carriers and carabiners or foldable water bottles
Staying hydrated at a festival is so important, especially when it’s hot, there’s not much shade and you’re drinking alcohol. Water bottles can be heavy and bulky, so rather than trying to shove them into your day bag, opt for a cross-body water bottle carrier and attach them to your bag or belt loops with a carabiner clip, or invest in a soft, foldable bottle.
Top up with a rehydration supplement
Along with drinking plenty of water, I’ll be packing a tube of Phizz tablets — a rehydration remedy made with multivitamins, including zinc, antioxidants, 375% of your daily dose of vitamin C and the 4 key electrolytes that we through sweat. So ideal for battling a hangover.
Pack a lightweight, foldable raincoat
Anticipate the unpredictable British weather with a lightweight, foldable raincoat. Again, look for one with plenty of pockets that is also wind- and water-resistant, so you can stay warm. A slightly more oversized, boxy fit is best for layering up underneath.
Opt for a sunhat with straps
Most festivals famously lack shade, apart from the occasional bell tent or patch of trees. Your head is also often a spot that you forget to protect with SPF. Rather than adding more grease to unwashed hair with sunscreen, stay safe and protected with a sun hat with straps that you can sling around your neck when the sun goes down. A hat is also a must for covering up that aforementioned greasy barnet, FYI.
Prepare for chilly nights
Even if the weather report is for 30° and sunny during the day, most festivals are based out in the countryside, on open fields, with little wind cover. Clear days also mean clear, cold nights, so prepare to bundle up for the evenings with cosy fleeces and sweatshirts. In the past, I have found a woolly hat and pair of gloves have not gone amiss for staying warm while sleeping in a tent.
Be practical about your footwear and sock situation
For several years now, I’ve tried to battle blisters in order to wear my pair of platform Dr Marten Jadons because they look great but have yet to be fully broken in. This year, I’m admitting defeat and thinking practically, packing a pair of sturdy hiking boots that can fare all the miles walked at a festival (it’s estimated that, from Wednesday to Monday, full-time Glastonbury goers walk over 30 miles!). Fitflop’s Neo-D-Hyker Boots are officially the comfiest shoes I’ve ever tried and are both supportive and lightweight; perfect for a festival. If the weather looks like it might rain, I’ll instead be opting for Diemme’s sturdy and solid Everest boots, rather than packing both wellies and walking shoes.
If you are planning to brave a pair of Docs or wearing new boots, make sure you break them in beforehand and plan your sock situation accordingly. This means plenty of thick, walking socks that reduce friction and use breathable materials.
Yes, you might also need trainers and sandals
If it looks like it’s going to be sunny for your festival, then comfy, supportive trainers are your best bet — the Grappa Hikers from Diemme look and feel like trainers but also uses all the technology usually found in a pair of hiking boots. For wandering around the campsite, grabbing a morning coffee or heading to the loos in the dark, a pair of simple, lightweight slides are essential.
Pack a swimming costume and a small, fast-drying towel just in case
Some festivals are set around lakes so you can swim and take part in water sports. If it’s hot, having a swimming costume is also super handy for giving yourself a quick ‘camp shower’ at the taps. Make sure to also pack a small, fast-drying towel or flannel to dry yourself off after.
Don’t pack glass or plastic bottles
Many festivals advise not to bring glass or plastic bottles on site and Glastonbury confiscates all glass, even mirrors and perfume bottles. Instead, opt for boxed or tinned drinks and a plastic mirror, and decant your cosmetics into plastic bottles. Those with spray tops are especially handy for dimly lit tents. Most festivals accept aerosol cans but this year, I’ll be testing out Nuud’s cream deodorant which is packaged away in a tiny tube — just a pea size amount promises to keep you fresh for hours, so I’m keen to see if it lives up to the hype.
Look after your hearing
I’ve never given my hearing much thought at a festival, but this year I’ve decided to be an adult and protect my precious eardrums — they’re already exposed to far too much loud music via my AirPods and love of gigs. Loops’ Experience Earplugs are designed for music lovers going to events, providing up to 18 dB of filtered noise reduction whilst maintaining the quality of sound and promising to stay put whilst dancing.
Pack an eye mask and earplugs
When sleeping in a tent, an eye mask is a must for sleeping through a 5 am sunrise or a mid-day nap. Likewise, earplugs are key for light sleepers.
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