Festival season has finally arrived.
In June I saw The Wood Brothers at Mountain Music Festival in the New River Gorge. This month so far I was able to see Pokey LaFarge, Trampled By Turtles, The Devil Makes Three, and a host of other amazing artists at this past weekend’s Red Wing Roots Festival. While I don’t necessarily consider myself a diehard festival-goer like a Deadhead or anything, I’m not above waiting a couple hours before a show to make sure I’m front and center for my favorite artists’ performance.
That’s why it’s important to me to be prepared.
I know. It sounds silly. Prepare for what? Awesome music blasting my face off? What am I, a Boy Scout?
But seriously, a little preparation can go a long way when you’ve found yourself stranded at a festival for 5 days with a slimming wallet, a wet sleeping bag, dirty feet, and a classic case of dehydration.
With Floyd Fest right around the corner, I’m already in fan-girl-plan mode, strategically considering the weather, my tolerance for dirt, and which days I’m going to need to stay up late to catch the headliner. The following 10 items I’ve determined are my festival-must-haves, the essentials that keep the vibe groovy, help me stay sane, and don’t drain my bank account.
At 20L, this do-anything pack is perfect for festivals. Say the weather looks questionable and I’m getting ready to post up in front of the stage for the next two hours to be an arm’s-length away from Ray Lamontagne during his Floyd Fest set (which, will likely be happening). I need enough space in a pack to cram a rain shell, a hydration reservoir, my camera, and some snacks. What’s more, I need that space without the pack being stuffed-to-the-brim or too-bulky-to-rage.
I like to dance my hiney off at concerts. We all know what it’s like to be behind “that guy/girl” who gets too wasted too early in the day and needs a buffer zone for their flailing limbs. Now imagine how much more obnoxious that scenario would be with a giant pack waving around too. While live music, and not so much the alcohol, is what typically sets me a-scootin’, I’m what you might call an “expressive dancer.” Picture Elaine from Seinfeld with just a touch more grace. A pack with a streamlined design and a roomy interior isn’t just convenient for me: it’s a necessity.
Good, durable, comfortable flops are a must. If you’re not used to standing all day at your job, then 3-5 days of non-stop standing, dancing, walking…it’s bound to get exhausting and probably painful for either your feet or your lower back. Check out these flip flops from Freewaters, which feature a footbed designed by Therm-a-Rest. These babies not only look good; they feel good, support your arches, and keep your feet cool.
Let’s face it – eating every meal from the festival food vendors not only gets boring but gets freakin’ PRICEY. I don’t have $9 to spend on a burrito I can inhale and still feel hungry. Sorry. My solution? Pack everything I normally eat – eggs, veggies, almond milk, etc. – and throw it in my IceMule. A friend of mine started putting a small chunk of dry ice (available at many grocery stores) in his cooler which is a genius idea that I’d wish I’d thought of. It almost works too well and generally keeps things pretty solidly frozen for at least three days, but a 10lb bag of ice works just as well for keeping perishables cold.
This soft-shell cooler is better than its hard-top cousin because a) it has backpack straps, b) it fits into packed cars better, and c) it doesn’t have crappy plastic handles that break right when you need them most.
Sunburn puts a wrap on anybody’s day, especially when it’s a bad one. A sunburn early on in your festival experience will only get worse and will likely cause you to, dare I say it, LEAVE BEFORE THE SHOW’S OVER. For shame. Don’t pretend you’re tanner than you are, or that you “just need to get that base burn.” There’s no such thing. Trust me. I’m a ginger. Own your pasty skin and invest in some sun coverage (these days, sunscreen is just as likely to give you cancer as sun rays are, right?). This lightweight shirt from Eddie Bauer (I have the silver color) is great for long days out in the sun. I wear it equally as much on the river paddling as I do in town grabbing a drink with friends. It dries quickly and saves your skin with built-in FreeShade™ UPF 50+ sun protection. Whether it’s blazing hot or kinda stormy, this shirt will keep you cool and comfortable all day.
The days of baby wipes are over! I never thought a product like Road Shower existed but now, it’s hard to imagine what my life was like without it. Perfect for posting up at festivals for a few days of car camping, this 5-gallon, hard-shell reservoir is painted matte black which lets the water inside get warm from the sun’s rays. A bike pump attachment at the end lets you pressurize your shower, so at the end of the day you can rinse the sweaty grime off and give your muddy feet some love.
Sometimes, I don’t want to lug around an entire hydration reservoir filled to max-capacity. That’s a lot of weight, and what if I drink all that water and then have to pee in the middle of the Carolina Chocolate Drops set? That doesn’t sound very fun. Instead, I try to drink one of these at a time. The small mouth opening also helps me get more water where it belongs and not down the front of my shirt.
I stopped using DEET products years ago, but I’ve gotta admit, it’s been hard to find an effective all-natural alternative. That’s why when I stumbled across Little Sugar Naturals’ products at the Charlottesville City Market a few weeks ago, I was a little suspicious at first. Coconut, citronella, lavender, lemongrass…this sounds more like my mom’s perfume. I bought it anyway and at $15, it’s probably been my best investment yet. Even at the buggiest of campgrounds, I always walk away unscathed. What’s more? It smells way better than traditional bug sprays, and I’ve actually replaced it as my lotion for the summertime because of its coconut oil base.
Great for when you’re hanging around camp and you don’t want to waste your headlamp’s batteries (or continually annoy people by blinding them every time you look their way). These lights look cool, hang anywhere, pack down small, and run an unbelievably long time off only three AAA batteries (I’ve put well over 30 hours on the current set and they’re still going strong).
For when you need to give your dogs a rest, check out this super compact and portable chair option. The frame, made from lightweight aluminum, breaks down much like a tent pole does and is easy to set up. The entire chair can fit easily into your pack, making it awesome for when you want to take a break in between sets.
A Blue Ridge-made alternative to other energy bars, Threshold Provisions makes some seriously tasty bars out of their base in Asheville, N.C. A non-GMO bar that has no added sugar and is gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free, these things are only made with a handful of ingredients but pack upwards of 230 calories per bar. At festivals, it’s especially hard for me to get motivated to eat breakfast in the morning, but a cup of coffee and the Mango Mate bar is enough to get me amped for the day ahead.