Music Festival Essentials: The Ultimate Guide to the Best Music Festival Experience

by Erica

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Today I want to talk about music festivals! It’s no secret that I’m obsessed. All winter long, I dream about warmer days and waking up to the sounds of music and laughter… now festival season is finally here! 


Since I’ve been doing this for a while, I wanted to share a list of music festival essentials that we never leave home without! (Unless we forget them, then you know someone is in trouble…) Years of trial and error have taught us which items are essential for a great music festival experience… and which we’d rather leave at home.


If you’ve never been to a camping music festival before… it’s time to make it happen. Each weekend spent sleeping outside and celebrating the magic of live music helps restore my faith in humanity a little bit more. Even though we’re spending most of this year traveling, we still have plans to attend our two favorite music festivals. The first is Strangecreek Campout over Memorial Day weekend in Greenfield, MA. And the second is LOCKN’ music festival in Arrington, VA. One is small with mostly local bands, the other is massive with every major act we could ask for… but both are equally magical and inspiring. 


First I’ll share some of our favorite camping equipment. Then I’ll go over the smaller, but super essential things you probably wouldn’t have thought to bring with you. Follow this list, add your personal touches… and you’ll be ready to go! 


music festival essentials: hammocks! Two happy music lovers hanging in a hammock

My adorable best friends (who I met at a festival) enjoying the ULTIMATE music festival essential: the hammock.


Music Festival Essentials: Camping Gear


music festival essentials: Coleman tent with LED and hinged doorTent

Okay, so this part seems kind of obvious, right? If you’re camping, you’re going to want a tent. While I know some people who have, and will continue to show up to music festivals with only a backpack and a hammock, I prefer to be a little bit more prepared. Because being in the rain for any period of time with no shelter really sucks.

The tent that I’d recommend is the Coleman Elite Sundome Tent with LED Light System. It has a hinged door for easy entry and a built in ceiling light with a switch by the door. Both features are so convenient, especially the light. We currently have the 8-person version of this tent Coleman Elite Montana Lighted Tent which is also awesome, but way too big for 2 people. 



My hammock is one of my favorite possessions. I almost never leave the house without it.  It really is the music festival essential. If you’re going to a music festival that has any trees at all (almost all of them have at least some trees) … it’s worth bringing one just in case! On most festival nights, we sleep in our hammocks… and we spend most of our downtime during the day hanging as well. I personally own a ENO Double Nest Hammock with the Atlas Hammock Suspension System, which has been awesome.

music festival essentials: travel hammockAnother similar option with a smaller price tag is Live Infinitely Double Outdoor Camping Hammock Set. I’ve bought 3 of these as gifts, and they hold up great over time and heavy use. This company also has amazing customer service. Tim had a small issue with his first hammock, and they had a new one in our mailbox 2 days later, for free with no questions asked. (And they let us keep the first one!) I would highly recommend this product and company, it will make your festival experience (and life!) infinitely better!


Self Inflating Sleeping Pad & Sleeping Bag

music festival essentials: self inflating sleep padsThis one most certainly not necessary if you’re cool with sleeping on the hard, cold ground. I, however, enjoy small comforts. We inherited our sleeping pads from one of my oldest friends… I keep promising to bring them back, but I never remember! (If you’re reading this, sorry Brett!) We tried the air mattress thing but never had luck keeping it inflated. The pads that we personally use are no longer available, but the KOOLSEN camping sleeping pad is very similar. As for the sleeping bag, I love my flannel lined sleeping bag from L.L. Bean. I’ve had it for at least a decade it’s still awesome. 


Sun Shelters

music festival essentials: EZ Up shade structureNotice I said shelters, plural? That part is essential if you’re going to a music festival during high summer. The first type of sun shelter I recommend is a plain old EZ Up Canopy for your campsite. Most music festivals only offer field camping, which gets really hot depending on the time of year or part of the country. Having some shade to rest under during the hottest  part of the day  is essential if you want to make it through the entire weekend.

music festival essentials: pop up sun shelterThe Second type of sun shelter that I recommend is a smaller, more portable type that you can bring to the stages for daytime music viewing. Not every festival is set up in a way that you have space to set up something like this (especially dance music festivals)… and some festivals prohibit canopies on the show field – but in my experience, it’s better to be safe than sorry. During our first year at LOCKN’, it was sunny and about 100° each day with incredible humidity. Festival rules prohibited sun shelters at the stages but with the weather being dangerously hot, they didn’t say a word. It was truly the only reason  we were able to endure daytime acts. We have the Coleman Daytripper Beach Shade that folds up to about the size of a chair so it’s easy to pack even if you’e not positive you’ll need it.

Collapsible Wagon

music festival essentials: collapsible folding wagon
Buying a collapsible folding wagon has been a serious game changer for us.  It’s essential for getting all of our heavy gear from the car to the campsite. Without it, the camp set up and breakdown process would be long and unbearable. (We bring a lot of stuff!!!)  This wagon folds up pretty small so it doesn’t take up much space in the car (leaving more room for the fun shit like costumes!!!… more on that later). It’s also invaluable when you wake up late feeling like a zombie on the last day of a festival and have to drag all of your stuff back to the car before they kick you out. This is probably one of the few things that if forgotten, we’d turn around and go back home for. 


Camping Chairs

music festival essentials: camp chairI assume that chairs are kind of a given when packing for camping, but for the sake of creating a complete guide.. I figured I’d throw it on the list. We have a variety of standard folding camp chairs, most of which we’ve inherited during music festival clean up. (You’d be surprised at all the shit people leave behind when they leave!) My biggest recommendation is not the type of chair that you bring… but the quantity! We always bring couple of extra because one of the best things about festivals is making new friends… and if you have some extra seats in your temporary livingroom, new friends WILL come. 


LED Lanterns

Honestly, a lantern is something that I’ve often overlooked.. but it’s an invaluable tool after the sun goes down. I’ve cycled through many different types of lanterns over the years, but I LOVE these LED lanterns. They come in packs of 2 or 4, which is convenient so you can place one inside your tent and another outside (because there’s nothing more annoying than having to search for your only lantern… in the dark). Another positive is that these lanterns run on AA batteries, so it’s a cheap/easy switch when they die. 



 Tarps are one of those things that you don’t think about unless there’s rain in the forecast (or if you’ve lived through a soggy festival weekend and have learned your lesson). I recommend bring at least 3: one for under your tent (trust me!!), one for over your tent if it rains, and another just in case. (Pro tip: this is another thing people ALWAYS leave behind after festivals that will inevitably end up getting thrown out. We’ve taken full advantage of this and will more than likely never need to buy a tarp again.) 


music festival essentials: hanging out at Lockn' music festival in Arrington, Virginia

Happy kids at Lockn’ music festival in Virginia.

Music Festival Essentials: Small Items that Make a Big Difference! 

Now that we’ve covered essential music festival camping gear, I want to tell you about all of the little things that I’ve found to really enhance the music festival experience. These are all small, overlooked items that will either make your life a little easier or your experience a little more vibrant.

(Disclaimer: I’m *a little high maintenece* and can’t pack light to save my life…so what I deem essential in this section may be very non-essential to others. However, I know there’s at least one aspiring festival kween out there looking for ALL of the music festival essentials.. and this is for you boo boo!) 



music festival essentials: head lamp
Forget what I said about potential non-essentials for a minute.. because this one is an absolute must!!  If you buy one thing to make your life easier at music festivals or just for regular camping… buy a headlamp. You don’t know real horror until you walk into a dark festival porto-potty that may or may not be covered in shit (especially if you’re a girl!!). Most of the time I just wear the light around my neck instead of on my head, but when you’re potentially intoxicated and traveling through a dark sea of other intoxicated people… being able to see where you’re walking is super helpful and definitely underrated. I’ve bought many headlamps over the years, but my favorite so far has been this purple one made by Blitzu


22000 mAh Power Bank

music festival essentials: 22000mAh power bankI’m not sure how we ever lived before the invention of the external power bank. Being able to keep my phone and cameras charged throughout the weekend is a pretty cool thing that I never take for granted. Since I’m an over-prepper, I always bring several different packs… but if you’re just planning for yourself – this 22000mAh Power Bank will have more than enough juice to get you through the music festival. 


Tiny Camp Stove

music festival essentials: tiny portable camping stove. We’ve never been the people who cooked our own food at music festivals – but we came into posession of this tiny camp stove last year and it was really convenient. It works as a single burner that runs off of a little can of isobutane/propane fuel. This is a great option if you want to save money on food throughout the music festival. 



Inflatable Couch

music festival essentials: inflatable lounger/blow up sofa/ air couchI love my inflatable lounger for the times that I can’t find trees to hang my hammock. It’s a little tricky to get inflated unless it’s windy… but once you get it all set up, it’s soooo comfortable! It serves as both a super lightweight chair to bring around to the music festival stages as well as a great place to take a nap. Definitely worth the money. (Pro tip: These loungers pop really easily. It’s best to lay down a tarp of another barrier if you’re using it on anything but soft grass.)


Baby Wipes & Toilet Paper

Baby wipes are honestly the OG music festival essential. Most small music festivals don’t have showers, and big festivals will charge you like $10 for a cold shower after you wait in line for an hour. Instead of staying dirty and sweaty for 4 days, just bring baby wipes! Also, it’s a smart idea to pack some toilet paper too. Most music festivals are really good about cleaning and stocking port-o-potties.. but during the early morning and late night, toilet paper can be hard to come by. 


Battery Powered String Lights

music festival essentials: battery operated string lights

I loooove string lights! They are inexpensive, portable and almost never need new batteries! We have several different types from Target and Amazon, but these ball lights and fairy wire lights my favorite by far! Based on my research, more lights at your campsite = more new friends made.  




music festival essentials: tapestries

We like to bring a variety of tapestries with us for various uses. One use is to hang them around the campsite for some extra privacy and/or shade during the sunny parts of the day. We also bring a couple to sit on while watching music. Amazon carries a HUGE selection of inexpensive cool tapestries.



music festival essentials: unicorn onesie

One of my favorite things about music festivals has always been dressing up in fun costumes! It’s the one place where anything goes. You wanna wear a rainbow fur coat? Or a gorilla suit? Or an umbrella hat? Or nothing?… this is the place for you. I could write an entire post just about fun festival costumes, but I’ll start by recommending one of the most essential music festival costumes: the onesie. It’s fun, functional and will keep you warm after the sun goes down. Some of my other favorite music festival costume items are these harem pants from Etsy (I have like 10 pairs!), cool hats and any sweet tie dye clothing I can get my hands on.


Fun Items to Sell/Trade or Give Away

One of the best ways to meet people at festivals is to bring something to share! Music festivals (jam band festivals more than dance music) are filled with tons of friendly, cool people that are interesting to talk to.  During our first weekend at our favorite local festival, we brought a duffle bag full of koozies to give out. (Tim’s brother bought 1000 random print koozies off of Ebay… so we had a few to get rid of) People were stoked, we made a lot of friends, and it made the weekend a lot more fun! Another option is to bring something small to sell. I’ve seen people selling everything from stickers and jewelry to fresh produce. Regardless of what it is… it’s another reason to get involved and maybe end up with some extra cash, sweet trades, or even new lifelong friends!  


music festival essentials: how to make festival friends!

More silly faces with best friends we found at a music festival! This photo was taken at Organic Smiles in Middletown, CT


Music Festival Essentials: A Word of Advice

If you’re reading this, thinking about going to a music festival… do it now. Buy that ticket and plan that trip… even if you have to go alone. If music festivals are right for you, it will change your life. (If not, you’ll still have a ton of fun) Talk to every person you can, most people you meet will have an interesting story.


Music festivals and the people we’ve met there have had a HUGE impact on our lives. People who were strangers only a couple of years ago have become our family and the venues where we gather have become like home. 

Music festival essentials: organic smiles music festival sunset

Beautiful sunset over the main stage field at Organic Smiles Music Festival 2017.


If what I’ve written here excites you.. but you’re not sure where to start – send me a message! I’d love to help you find an awesome music festival in your area. If you live in or around New England.. I recommend Strangecreek Campout, Jerry Jam, and Wormtown Music Festival. 


If you have a favorite festival (extra points for small music festivals in the western/ southern U.S!), or some life-changing music festival essentials that I haven’t discovered yet – please leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!! 

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Stacy October 14, 2018 - 1:05 pm

Going to my first on two weeks! So excited. Thanks for your article. It helped. Looking for a fun way to decorate camp.

Erica October 14, 2018 - 1:20 pm

We get a lot of our camp decorations from Dollar tree, target and amazon! Anywhere we can find cheap stuff that we don’t mind possibly getting ruined over the weekend hahah. I’m glad it helped!


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