Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

What you actually need to bring to festivals

This the season for “festival fashion”. But what do you really need?

Thu, May 29, 2014, 14:23


Sarah Waldron had a great piece in the Irish Times this week about the death of festival fashion. Anyone who suffered through countless photo spreads about Coachella knows that Native American headdresses (why??) and Spring Break tank tops knows this to be true, yet while it’s all well and good to roll around the desert in a neon bindi, not so much at festivals in northern Europe which have become a dumping ground for paper-thin ponchos and disposable wellies.

So what do you actually need? These are my real festival essentials.

Proper trainers
And by proper, I mean running shoes, runners with decent support and cushion. Converse make the arches of your feet ache after walking a few miles. Your fresh new kicks will get wrecked. Hiking boots are heavy on your feet. So if it’s dry, wear a pair of running shoes. It makes sense because they’re specifically designed to go the distance without you sitting on a curb, barefooted and crying by the end of the weekend. I am proud to have pioneered the soccer mom look at SXSW and have stuck with it ever since.

Lightweight wellies
You can keep your cut price floral boots that eat your heels, or the plastic heavy duty gardening wellies that accumulate so much mud you’re eventually walking around with 3kg of mud on your feet. Lightweight wellies mean your feet won’t get tired and they’ll stay warm and dry. Crocs are possibly the ugliest shoes on the planet, and should not be seen outside garden centres or playgrounds. HOWEVER, Crocs rain boots are a revelation. Super light and durable, they’re the best wellies I’ve ever tried – a great investment.

A festival phone
God be with the days when you’d charge your old Nokia in January and still be playing Snake come the solstice. iPhone batteries are pants, and it’s an expensive and awkward phone to lose. Pick up a cheap phone (or dig out an old one, the battery is probably still fine), and use that for your festival weekend. Don’t worry, you won’t actually miss your phone photos from 30,000 people back of some band you can’t make out in the picture.

Portable phone charger
Let’s just say you really want to bring your smartphone or your phone has died anyway. A portable phone charger will save the day, and means you won’t have to queue for charging stations. You shouldn’t have to spend more than €30 – €40 on one of these lads, and what you’re looking for is a 5V battering that’s 6000mAh or larger. Don’t bother with ones that you put AA batteries into, the best are chargers you charge up before you leave and then they stay humming all weekend. A basic one with those specs I bought in Maplin last year charged about five phones a few times over at Glastonbury last year. A good rule of thumb is the fancier and more branded they are, the more gimmicky they are. Go for a plain looking slab of a thing.

A giant scarf
Maybe it’s an old shawl or a bought-for-purpose wrap, but a giant scarf will save you. It’s an extra layer at night, a picnic blanket, a pillow, a hood and a sun shade. American Apparel’s Circle Scarf is a really good buy.

Decent sunglasses
Novelty sunglasses are fun for about a minute until you realise they (a) turn everyone purple, (b) won’t prop on top of your head, (c) don’t actually protect your eyes from the sun, (d) get stolen by A REALLY FUNNY GUY in a mankini. You can’t go wrong with a decent pair of polarised Ray Bans.

Ziplock sandwich bags
Insert phone, cash, ID, festival ticket, tissues, camera, in separate bags for maximum dryness.

Aluminium water bottles
Screw top aluminium water bottles keep drinks hot or cold, are reusable, and will be your BYOB friend for the weekend. They rarely leak or break, can clip on to your bag or belt, and last summer, various two euro shops in Dublin stocked loads of them, so bring a few.

Wet wipes
No brainer.

A blow up mattress
I’m not really getting into tent hardware in this list (although my rule of thumb is the guide capacity for a tent is generally double what’s realistic – a four man tent comfortably sleeps two plus rucksacks, etc.), but a blow up mattress increases your comfort and amount of sleep remarkably. Bring one and a foot pump or compact battery powered pump, or buy one on site, but either way, I don’t know how people sleep in a tent without one.

Lightweight Gore-Tex rain jacket
You don’t need to look like you’re mountaineering to stay warm and dry. The best investment anyone going to a festival can make is a simple North Face Gore-Tex rain jacket. Sure, they’re pricey, but they last for years. Ponchos have an amazing way of actually accumulating more rainwater than appears to have fallen, cheap rain macs simply aren’t waterproof, leather jackets are sweaty, but a Gore-Tex jacket will keep you dry and toasty, and they’re super easy to squish into a bag.