The Ultimate Festival Camping Guide: Tent Setup, Camp Prep Ideas, and More

Published on 12/30/2023 · 6 min readAbout to camp at a music festival for the first time? Camping & Hiking Expert Andrew Corley shares his tips for safe, cool, and fun festival camping.
Andrew C, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Andrew C

Photo by Smit

A car moseys by. Headlights shine bright on dust clouds floating over the dirt road.

It’s Thursday night, festival season has officially begun! Revelers are arriving to set up camp for a long weekend of music and dancing. Our group came either yesterday or earlier today and we’re already set up in a preferred camping location.

Now it’s time for some fun, the festival experience has officially begun; it’s time to go on tent patrol to stake out a festival campsite!

Festival Tent Patrol

What is tent patrol? Well, festival camping is a fantastic way to introduce city slickers to camping for the first time. And sometimes, they could use help setting up their tents. That’s what tent patrol is for.

Photo by Yuri A

Armed with a mallet and flashlights, dressed like backups for the Village People, we go out to make camper friends, have some laughs, and lend helping hands to set up tents. Other attendees come fully loaded with RVs missing out on the tent camping experience.

These camping newbies can be found on set-up night trying to figure out which pole goes where or which side of the tent opens. You’ll know the newbs by the clanging of their tent poles and groans of exasperation as they fumble around trying to set up their A-frame or dome tent for the first time.

Then comes solid gold: those expressions you hear when, after an hour of struggle, they watch other partygoers pop up a pop-up tent in under a minute.

“WTF!? It’s that easy? Why didn’t I get that tent!?”

“Why indeed?” we all laugh.

Then we’ll offer to help set up the tents or hammer in tent stakes so that the tent doesn’t fly away. Yes. Tents fly away in the wind more often than you’d think.

It's true. Once you have experience, most tents can be set up in a matter of minutes. Most tents. In good weather.

But for ease of setup, nothing beats a well-designed pop-up tent.

So why doesn’t everyone use pop-up tents? Well, there is a cost: pop-up tents are heavier. If you have a long hike ahead of you, the time to pitch a lighter tent can be worth it for the lighter pack load. But for car camping? Or the short hike to the campground for festival-goers? Then the pop-up tent is a very attractive option.

What’s the Best Tent for Festivals?

For first-time festival-goers, a two or three-person pop-up tent can often be the best choice. Many pop-up models include blackout padding to help keep it dark during the daytime. Blackout is a nice tent feature if you plan on dancing all night and trying to catch some sleep during the day

For our group? Smaller lightweight tents aren’t how we roll. At festivals and for car camping, we bring extravagance and luxurysome call it glamping (glamorous camping). For our festival tent setup, that means main tents that can sleep 10, 12, or more. We will usually set up two or three such large tents adjacent to each other, with a heavy tarp on the ground connecting them, and throw rugs on top!

Photo by Maks Tarkivskyi

Inside the tents is decadence: typically we don’t use a sleeping bag, but soft sheets and plush blankets. Some setups include self-inflating air mattresses. Others line the floor with 6 inches of foam cushion. And of course pillows, so many pillows!

Then the tent will be lit up with lanterns and track lighting powered by the same battery supply that powers the sound systems and the spinning disco ball. It’s all designed to be a great spot for a pajama after-party or even a super chill spot to drink beers in the afternoon. The battery supply is useful to hook up a portable charger to juice up all your devices after a long day of adventuring. Our camping setups generally include a couple of flags as landmarks so it's easier to track down our site.

Once you realize that car camping means that you can take whatever you want, you start thinking about what you really want in your camp space at a festival. I’ve even seen someone bring in a king-sized mattress in their pickup—not an air mattress, but a Beautyrest!

Made in the Shade

The key to comfort during summer days at camp is shade. Canopy tents and large tarp structures go over the tents, over the kitchen area, and surrounding the camp chairs. This way, the sun shines on the tarp and the tents stay cooler nestled in the shade.

Cooler. Still not usually “cool”. But it’s nigh impossible to sleep after 10:00 am in the summer if your tent isn’t set up in the shade. The inside of tents in the sun will frequently climb well over 100 F degrees and melt all that can melt.

While some festivals take place in forests under the trees, most do not. If you want shade when camping in the desert, your camp had better bring it.

Canopies are great for noonday shade. To block out the morning and afternoon sun, you’ll want to hang tapestries, sheets, or even a patchwork canopy. Our group likes to grill and chill so having a shaded camping area is an absolute necessity. Coming fully loaded with kitchen necessities like a stove, pots, pans, silverware and a picnic table is ideal to enjoy hot meals at your festival site. Nothing like a fresh cup of coffee and some bacon to start your festival morning off right! Food vendors are scattered about the festival for late-night munchies.

Photo by Oliver Deisenroth

“What camping gear should I bring at a festival?” you ask. Whatever you want! Some come with just the essential items (the clothes on their back), some bring a portable palace, but most land somewhere in between. But how can you know what’s possible? Ask an expert like me who’s been going festival camping for years. My festival packing list always includes:

  • Breathable clothes
  • Camping stove
  • Canopy
  • Camping chairs
  • A trusty headlamp or flashlight
  • Sunscreen
  • First aid kit
  • Comfortable sandals/footwear and socks
  • Sunglasses
  • Trash bags
  • Paper towels
  • Plenty of water and your favorite beverages
  • A rain jacket for unexpected weather conditions
  • Baby wipes
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Jumper cables
  • Breakfast, lunch, and snack items
  • The fun stuff: frisbees, hula hoops, speaker system, and glow sticks
  • Hand sanitizer is essential since there are generally no fancy bathrooms or showers on festival grounds.

So whether you’re a Burning Man veteran or a total festival camping newbie, this article about “What makes for an amazing festival camp?” is here to help you create the best experience possible for you and your friends. If you have any questions or want to get the perfect festival gear of your own, reach out to a Camping & Hiking Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read next

New and Noteworthy