An Expert Guide to Festival Camping

About 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.

An aerial shot of the ground below absolutely covered in tents with a few well-worn paths cutting through the throng.

Photo by John Such

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

It’s Thursday night. Revelers are arriving to set up camp for a long weekend of festival partying. 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; it’s time to go on tent patrol!

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.

People walk around a festival campground. Snow-capped peaks rise in the distance.

Photo by Ruth Hartnup

Armed with a mallet and headlamps, dressed like backups for the Village People, we go out to make friends, have some laughs, and lend helping hands to set up tents.

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 2 or 3 person pop-up tent can often be the best choice. Some models include blackout padding to help keep it dark during the daytime. Blackout is a nice tent feature if you plan on partying all night and trying to catch some sleep during the day.

For our group? Smaller tents aren’t how we roll. At festivals and for car camping, we bring extravagance and luxury—some call it glamping (glamorous camping). For our festival tent set up, that means main tents that can sleep 10, 12, or more. We will usually set up 2 or 3 such large tents adjacent to each other, with a heavy tarp on the ground connecting them and throw rugs on top!

Inside the tents is decadence: typically we don’t use sleeping bags, 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 track lighting powered by the same battery supply that powers the music speaker 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 hang out in the afternoon.

Once you realize that car camping means that you can take whatever you want, you start thinking about what you really want while camping 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 around camp. 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 which can melt.

While some festivals take place in forests under the trees, most do not. If you want shade, 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.

Cars and tents share the space in a festival camping ground. Pop-up canopies are used to create shade.

Photo by Oliver Deisenroth

“What should I bring camping at a festival?” you ask? Whatever you want! Some come with just 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.

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.

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Written By
Andrew C
Andrew C
Camping & Hiking Expert
**You (yes you!) can do a backpacking adventure that lasts 3, 6 or even 9 months. **You really can. I will help you gear up for it: both mentally and with actual gear. How do I know? For 10 years, I spent over 90 days-a-year backpacking through 54 countries on 6 continents. I am the adventure touris...
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