I’m gearing up for festival season. It’s been many years now, so I’ve got a system in place that mostly works, but my first couple of events were rough. One year, I forgot to make sure my tent bag had the poles inside (it did not). My first festival, I didn’t realize that tents have to be waterproofed after purchase (and then again each season). I also brought a sleeping bag, but no ground pad (don’t do that). I’ve forgotten bottle openers (nooooooooooooo), contact lens solution, make-up remover, something to write with, and at least a dozen other things each time. You learn how to improvise (and make friends borrowing from other cabins and camps).
Aside from the usual toiletries, foodstuffs, and clothing, here’s a list of some of the items that get neglected, forgotten, never occur to folks, or just require a little extra explaining:
A Tent (That You’ve Waterproofed and Know How to Set Up)
Off the shelf, tents are not necessarily ready-to-use, especially the cheaper one from big box stores. Before packing my tent, I always give it a good once-over with a spray sealant (usually Scotchgard). I also use a seam sealer, which is a kind of gel that you run over the seams of your tent to keep water out (the seams are the weakest points and require the most attention). Seam sealer usually requires a trip to a specialty outdoors store like REI or Bass Pro. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure you’ve got all the tenting spikes and poles you require. If you’ve never set up a tent before, practice with it beforehand. This will save you time and stress when you’re trying to unload, need to move your car, and can’t figure something out.
These are crucial. There should be one folded completely under your tent (important: the edges should not be visible, as this only allows your tarp to collect water and siphon it underneath). This will keep water from coming through the bottom. I also like to keep two more on hand for lashing across the top in case rains are particularly heavy (bring a roll of cord or twine). Also, there will always be some camping newbie who brought a tent off a shelf without any kind of tarp. Use that extra to go make a friend and save them from being rained out.
Festival camping is not “real” camping. I’ve done some ultralight backpacking in the past and am perfectly capable of employing a minimalist sleep system, but there aren’t weight limits or scant resources at Pagan festivals. Camping air mattresses are a thing. A most delightful thing indeed. I have a twin-sized mattress with an external, electronic air pump (which I charge at home beforehand…it’s usually good for three or four fills). I also bought a two-inch thick foam mattress cover to lay on top, so it’s extra comfy. Then just make up your bed as normal. A long festival will screw up your sleep schedule as is. Having a comfy bed ensures that the sleep you do get is quality. It also makes for more appealing sexy times, unless tree roots in your back is your thing.
Sunscreen and a Big Ass Water Bottle
“Oh I don’t need it. I just tan.”
You, sir, are the one who’s going to end up at the medic tent on your back.
Don’t be that guy. There’s at least two or three at every festival. Sun damage is so preventable. Take it seriously. It is sunnier and hotter than you think it is. You may like it now, but things like heat stroke can come on real quick and lay you out. You’ll be going to workshops, moving around more than usual (probably), and probably consuming less quality food and more alcohol than usual. People sometimes leave in ambulances, and it’s usually because they were careless about the sun.
A Canvas Folding Chair
If you go to workshops or like to wander in other camps, you will find yourself wanting a place to sit. Yes, the ground is wet. Choose something that’s light enough for you to carry comfortably, but sturdy enough that it will actually support you. Unless you’re inside (and even then), there are rarely chairs provided. Even if you’re comfortable on the ground, at some point it’s going to be muddy or simply too crowded to be underfoot.
If you already have business cards, awesome. If not, it’s worthwhile to make some kind of calling card to hand out to new friends. You could just cut up pieces of card stock and write plainly, but if you’re artistic you can do some decorating and experiment with types of paper. This can be a lot of fun and a good way to get psyched for festival. Put your name and whatever contact information you want people to have. This is a great way to make sure people can reach you after the festival. A scrap of paper torn out of a notebook is easier to lose, easier to smudge, and less memorable.Iffy Magical Acquisitions
Do you have things you aren’t using and don’t want? Maybe books that you’re tired of dusting? An athame that you thought you’d love but you just don’t? A tarot deck that just doesn’t vibe with you? Festivals represent great re-homing opportunities. Come prepared to give or trade, not to sell (there are usually restrictions surrounding any kind of vending, so be mindful).
If you’re a musician, you’re going to want your instrument. I bring my guitar. There are usually a couple of other guitarists floating around, and every now and then I see a ukelele, but mostly it’s sad people saying things like, “Oh I wish I’d brought mine!” How can we play and become musical soulmates if you don’t bring your instrument?
Sidenote: If you’re at Free Spirit Gathering this year, hit me up (look for the Foxfire banner, right next to where the Heathens just opened that bottle of mead). There’s already a Bardic Circle (where you can usually see fellow Patheos writer Tom Swiss), but I’d love to see an open jam, too. If you play fiddle or mandolin, I need you in my life. My Chris Thile covers sound empty and hollow without you.
Your Divination Tool Even if You Suck
Are you flirting with runes? Do you have a tarot deck and sort of suck but are interested in sucking less? How about a scrying mirror you’ve never used but also don’t want to get rid of? Bring it. Whatever it is. There will be someone there to help you. Even if there isn’t a formal workshop, there will be someone doing something that will inspire you or make you reconsider things. One of the things that I did when I was first learning tarot was to put a sign on my tent that said, “FREE TAROT READINGS: I’M NEW HELP ME PRACTICE” and it was a great experience. I learned to read runes from scratch at Free Spirit a half dozen years ago, thanks to Scott Mohnkern being awesome. I went home knowing how to improve and what to read and try, and I go back each year and ply him for more. Festivals are the perfect opportunity to push yourself off of a plateau.
Really, Really Good Ear Plugs and Possibly an Eye Mask
Whether you’re in a tent or cabin, there will sometimes be things that you just don’t want to listen to. I’m a light sleeper, so I avoid cabins if at all possible (even when people are courteous, there’s nothing to be done for some noises). Snoring, children screaming, sex, drumming, uproarious laughter…at all hours of the day. It never stops. My experience is that people are usually respectful and mindful, but some things just can’t be helped. And it’s a festival! People should be able to laugh and drum and have vocal sex and bring their families and sleep whenever the hell they want. Just be prepared.
Theses are all things that have made my festival experiences better. There’s a lot of variety possible when it comes to the food you pack (if you need to pack food at all), the personal items you’ll want (for me, like, four notebooks and a stuffed animal), and whatever health needs you have to meet (you’ll see plenty of CPAPs, EpiPens, pill trays, etc.). But a lot of the things above aren’t so obvious.
So what are you bringing to your festival?
Edit: Do not bring towels. Just borrow Corvus’s. She doesn’t mind. Don’t even bother asking. Just take it when she isn’t looking. She likes it.