Essential Gear You Need to Conquer Your Next Camping FestivalArticle by: Morena Duwe
Wed March 14, 2018 | 14:08 PM
It’s five in the morning and you’re sitting outside under the influence of delirium. The almost inaudible thump of house music pulses out of someone’s dying bluetooth speaker and the once-raucous group that brought you here is fading in and out of various states of consciousness. As the first eyelashes of sunshine begin to wink over the horizon, you remember that you are at a music festival—only you haven’t been inside the festival for hours because you’ve been raging at a campsite all night. You contemplate slogging back to your camp until the pop of a champagne cork resets your circadian rhythm and the cycle starts over.
If you’re a festival junkie, you have most likely endured some iteration of this experience. Camping is one of the most beloved aspects of these multi-day events and comprises a large percentage of the festival experience. It’s more than just a place to eat, drink, sleep, have sex and change outfits—it’s a second home. Festival-goers invest thousands of dollars in their camps—sometimes gradually and sometimes all at once. While wandering through sinuous paths bordered by tents, cars and shade structures, you may stumble into a Moroccan tea lounge or a renegade sound camp. Festival campgrounds are a veritable vortex that sometimes occupy your time more than the festival itself.
If you are still accumulating your camping arsenal or looking to upgrade, here are some essentials broken down into three price points that will take care of your basic human needs. While there are innumerable options for each category, these come recommended by avid festival-goers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Once these items are checked off your list, you can let your imagination (and wallet) take care of the rest. Happy camping!
One look at this thing and it’s easy to see why it has become one of the most popular festival tents. Its spacey, silver exterior reflects sunlight and its spacious interior allows for an infinite array of arrangements and décor. The SHIFTPOD is made with “Dark Out” fabric to block the sneering sun on those especially wretched festival mornings. It is also built to connect to a freestanding AC unit for the ultimate luxury camping experience. To take it a step further, SHIFTPOD has also created the SHELTERPOD, which is better suited for cold weather and can be used as an emergency shelter for those displaced by natural disaster. Broken down, however, it is quite large and heavy so if you’re planning on backpacking with it—don’t.
Tepui Rooftop Tent, $995-$3800
Available in an array of colors and sizes with several add-ons and accessories, the Tepui is one of the most unique tents out there. While it is somewhat limiting, as it can only be attached to the roof of a car, those who own one perpetually praise its awesomeness. It’s kind of like sleeping in a treehouse, giving you a unique vantage point and an optimal spot to watch the sunset (or rise). For festivals that allow car camping, the Tepui is ideal. It saves ground space allowing more room for a common area or for other campers. The setup is relatively easy and also saves precious car space that can be better utilized for, say, a trunk full of fur coats or a bean bag chair.
Engineered by Outback Logic to withstand the conditions of the Australian Outback, this reflective silver tent is a festival staple. Insulated for cold nights and designed to reflect the heat of the sun, your days of waking up in a scorching hot furnace are over. This galactic rainbow disco tent even allows two fan attachments (sold separately) to keep the air circulating for maximum comfort, which is refreshing in humid climates. The Siesta4 folds up into a silver duffel bag and while it is not compact, it is small enough to bring on an airplane as a carry-on—a happy medium between a minimalist backpacking tent and the gargantuan Shiftpod. Plus, it is easy to spot amid a sea of Colemans and Kodiaks.
Outback Logic’s newest creation is a more compact and lightweight version of the Siesta4. Ideal for backpacking or flying to festivals, the Siesta2 is perfect for the light packer. Though it does not have the same silver exterior as its predecessor, it does have fan attachments and Outback Logic’s promise that it offers the same cooling benefits. While the fans are not interchangeable between the Siesta4 and Siesta2, the company is offering discounts on the fans for those who purchase both tents.
Coleman Instant Tent, $120-$240
Coleman has remained a camping classic in the gear game. These extremely roomy pop-up tents are sold at a variety of places ranging from REI to Wal-Mart. They are also easy to setup and take down which is especially helpful on that last festival day when your body aches and your central nervous system is shot. Since they do not breakdown into a compact size, these are best paired with car camping.
Winterial Personal Tents, $65-$685
Depending on which model you choose, it can quickly move up to the baller bracket. However, there are a variety of personal tents that are available for under $100. This is the ultimate in light packing and sleeping as many of them only have room for one person and not much else. Some even have a built-in, hammock-like cot, so what it lacks in space it makes up for in comfort. If you want to get to a festival on a budget and are in need of cheap shelter (and don’t mind its minimalist qualities), the Winterial is your best bet.
There is much debate about whether a fuel (butane or propane) lantern or electric (LED) is the prevailing choice. It really comes down to preference and usage. The warm and extremely bright light of a fuel lantern is unrivaled and, according to customer reviews, they are well crafted and last indefinitely with proper care. These lanterns, though bulky and fragile, also emit heat which is great for a cold weather trip but not for hot (or if you’re camping with children who might burn themselves on it). Those who do prefer the fuel lantern, however, are loyal and outspoken about it. One read through REI’s customer reviews and it’s easy to be swayed by the users’ confidence in this product.
Black Diamond Apollo Lantern, $25-$50
Highly recommended by the festival community, this LED lantern can reach up to 225 lumens on its maximum setting. It is also rechargeable which is an advantage when compared to many of its battery-powered competitors. It comes in several versions, but the average price remains between $25-$30.
Petzl Headlamp, $20-$100
Though not a lantern per se, one can easily coast through a festival sans lantern with just a headlamp. In fact, a headlamp is a festival staple even with a lantern, especially for those late-night porta-potty trips. The Petzl in particular is a trusted brand in headlamps as far as quality, comfort, battery life, affordability and being user friendly. If you’re broke, get a headlamp. If you’re not broke, get a headlamp. Don’t festival without one.
Great for hammock camping and decoration, these AAA battery-powered lights are affordable and easy to pack. However, battery life is inconsistent as well as the lifespan of the lights themselves. Regardless, I continue to buy them and use them, mostly because of the price and convenience.
Luci Inflatable Solar Lights, $15-$35
These fun, inflatable, floatable, color-changing LED lights are solar powered and easy to pack. They add a smattering of color to any campsite and require no electric charging or wasteful batteries. Just leave them in the sun while you’re inside the festival all day and they are ready to go by the time you get back.
Marmot Never Winter Sleeping Bag, $150-$500
Marmot is a highly trusted name in sub-zero sleeping bags. With a range of colors, styles, and temperatures, you can never go wrong with a Marmot mummy bag.
Nemo Double Sleeping Bag, $300-$380
For couples who’d rather not snuggle with a layer of nylon betwixt them, this luxurious Nemo double bag is the ideal choice. It was even designed to compress into the same size as a single sleeping bag, making it a light, space-saver as well.
Rumpl Down Puffy Blanket, $99-$245
While this is not a sleeping bag, it is a great alternative. Made from the same silky nylon as most sleeping bags and containing real duck down, these blankets are versatile and warm without taking up too much space. It's ideal for spring and summer festivals or to throw on top of yourself if your sleeping bag isn’t warm enough. Plus one version comes in rainbow—perfect for those who want their blankets to match their personalities.
Another highly recommended sleeping bag, these come in a wide array with the light, summer packs being in the $35 range and the freezing and sub-zero packs approaching $200. These bags don’t sacrifice quality for price.
Though typically meant to be a liner that adds 12 degrees Fahrenheit to any sleeping bag, this cozy fleece bag is perfect on its own for warmer weather events. In my early, highly unprepared festival days, I purchased one out of poorness and even as I moved from the broke to budget (and sometimes baller) bracket, I continued to use it every summer for those hot festival nights. It also packs very small, can be unzipped into a comfy, swaddling blanket, used as a tapestry or bed sheet to lay upon or for its intended purpose—to line your other cheap sleeping bag that isn’t warm enough.
Steel Carport, $760-$5000
Steel carports you will often see at the shade structure mecca of Burning Man. These sturdy structures will provide ample shade while also withstanding the various elements that festivals throw at you. Because these are not easy to store or transport, they are only recommended for the seriously committed festival-goer.
Geodesic Dome, $400-$3000
An iconic festival structure, these domes not only look cool on the outside, but are extremely badass on the inside as well as relatively wind resistant. Hammocks can be slung from its bars and cool images can be projected on its interior and exterior surfaces. It is inviting and provides an infinite array of decorating options. These are sometimes used as stages as well, so they're perfect for those who are building a sound camp. Like the carport, however, these are recommended for the serious festival-goer because, in addition to being difficult to store and transport, they also take time and skill to assemble. The finished project is well worth the effort, though!
Shade structures are where creativity and resourcefulness are truly exhibited at festivals. Whether building a PVC pipe monkey hut or a large structure with rebar, conduit poles and tarps or slinging a tapestry between two cars, the options are endless. Different festivals require different types of shade structures as well. Desert events are always a challenge because of high winds; these demand stakes and strong materials. Forest events need very little, as the trees provide most of the shade. Whatever shade situation your mind envisions—whether it be ornate and beautiful or solely utilitarian—let your ingenuity take over while building it. By doing so, you will inspire your festival community.
E-Z Up, $100-$400
I have seen many a mangled E-Z Up piled in heaps come that final festival day, but that doesn’t stop people from purchasing these quintessential shade structures. I have burned through a few myself but continue to buy more, mostly because they are cheap, easy to find (Wal-Mart, Target, etc.), easy to store, easy to transport and, as the name implies, easy to set up. Tie some trippy tapestries on the sides and weave some lights through its poles, and you have yourself a nice little campsite. But don’t forget to stake it down, because these things can and will fly.
The Yeti is the crème de la crème of coolers. To open one several days into Burning Man and still see ice cubes and very little water at the bottom is a revelation. They come in varying sizes and colors as well as in soft and hard shells.
While still on the pricier side, if you are a self-proclaimed bargain hunter, the RTIC is said to be comparable to the Yeti but just a hair cheaper.
Ain’t nothing wrong with this classic cooler. Not just a fancy lunch-box for elementary school kids, the Igloo comes in a wide variety of sizes, colors and models. There’s the classic rectangular, or the beverage cooler, which is ideal for those who want to whip up a large batch of jungle juice. While they do have some fancier models that stray into the higher price bracket, most of these coolers can be purchased for under $50.
What are your favorite festival basics?