I may still be a baby in the metal world, at the tender age of 21, but I’ve been going to gigs since I was 13, festivals since I was 15. My first was Sonisphere in its opening year, and I was a dedicated festival goer from day one. Over the years I’ve learned a lot to help the festival experience run smoothly. Some lessons were learnt the hard way, like Download Festival 2011 when our tent flooded and all our clothes were floating in a puddle buy Saturday, or Sonisphere 2009, where I accepted a beer from a stranger and got roofied. I was more gutted about missing most of Metallica’s set than anything else.
But yeah, there are a few things I’ve learned that are helpful whether you’re a first timer or a veteran.
1. Bring some black sacks/bin bags. They might seem useless, but they have about a hundred uses at a festival. You can clean up your rubbish (because trust me, there will be a LOT of it at your campsite). If it rains, you can keep your stuff in a bin bag when you’re away from the tent to make sure it doesn’t get wet if the worst should happen and your tent should fail. And most importantly, festivals are notoriously MUDDY. dumping your muddy clothes and shoes in bin bags at the end of the festival will save your car from needing a professional clean after.
2. Hand Sanitiser and mini packets of tissues will be your best friend. The portaloo situation at festivals gets progressively worse throughout the weekend, and by Sunday the loos in the campsite will be unbearable. Don’t rely on the supplies of hand sanitizer and tissue paper in the stalls, bring your own! Pocket sized tissue packs and hand sanitizer will help keep you feeling clean and fresh throughout the fest.
3. Buy a water carrier. You know those collapsable water carriers that cost like, £2 in camping shops? Buy one. You won’t be able to take it into the arena, but you’d be surprised how useful it is around the campsite, for washing, brushing your teeth, cooking with or drinking. You could just fill up water bottles, but you’ll find yourself going back and forth to the nearest tap way too often.
4. Wet wipes and dry shampoo. This one seems obvious, but it’s often the little things you overlook when packing. This isn’t an essential if you’re going for a day only, or if you’re staying in a hotel, but if you’re camping it’s a must. The showers at festivals are usually overcrowded, communal and cold, so if you can avoid them and get away with a wet wipe cleaning of essentials in the morning and a freshen up with dry shampoo, you should go for it.
5. Pack for all weather types. Pack like you’re going on a beach holiday, but also like you’re going for a wander round the arctic circle or are planning a week in Wales in the middle of March. Bring suncream, shorts, t-shirts, wellington boots, rain-macs, disposable ponchos and jumpers. Assume it will be scorching hot some days and sleeting rain other days. The more prepared you are, the less likely you’ll end up burnt and wet all weekend.
6. Buy a programme or print out the set times before you go. Download have released an app to help you organise your days, but don’t rely on patchy data signals, and don’t drain your phone battery unnecessarily. Either buy an expensive programme to keep, or print out the set stage times for the days and decide who you want to see and when. This will help you avoid clashes and make sure you get to see everyone on your list.
7. Budget. Download are changing the game this year with the introduction of a cashless dogtag system, where you preload your cash onto a dogtag and pay for everything with it, but it’s still important to make sure you don’t spend too much money. Alcohol and food in the arena will always be expensive, so try to bring as much food and drink as you can with you and plan to eat at your campsite.
8. Bring the right food and drink. Avoid food that takes preparation or cooking. At best, you’ll have a little BBQ or hex stove, but cooking is time consuming at festivals. Bulk out on bread, cereal bars and canned food you don’t need to cook, it’ll make things much easier. Bring your favourite alcohol, but bear in mind you have to carry what you bring, and often the walk from car park to campsite is a long one, so you might want to switch up those crates for bottled spirits (but remember you have to decant spirits into plastic bottles, no glass is allowed in the campsite or arena).
9. Wear COMFY SHOES. I cannot stress this enough, especially for girls. Heels look great, but if you’re on your feet all day in violent crowds your feet will HURT. Also, if there’s even a hint of rain the whole arena will inexplicably turn into a crazy mudslide and you’ll be wishing you had wellies or at least super comfortable, waterproof shoes.
10. Bring something to sleep on. Although airbeds usually aren’t all that popular or practical at festivals, you’lll want to sleep on something. Not only is the ground hard, but the campsite is usually loud, with people staying up all night. At Download the campsite is right next to an airport, so you’ll be woken by planes flying VERY close overhead. Anything you can do to make sleep more comfortable is a good idea. Bring a rollmat, or a self-inflating mat like THIS one, or even a pool li-lo like THIS makes a cheap, easy to inflate alternative to an airbed. In addition to this, bring a warm sleeping bag, nights will get cold.
11. BRING A CHAIR. It may not seem like an essential, but you will be spending a fair amount of time in the campsite, and sitting on the floor gets uncomfortable. A fold up camping chair will make the whole experience more pleasant, and I promise you’ll regret not bringing one when you’re sitting on the damp floor staring up at your friends on their thrones.