The Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Music Festivals: What to Wear & How to Prepare
Pack smart, look amazing, and have the time of your life this summer.
Outdoor music festivals have always been a rite of passage for young adults. Flower children in the ’60s packed their bags and headed to San Francisco. Twenty-somethings from across the country hopped on Greyhounds and traveled to Catskills for Woodstock in the summer of ’69, while Deadheads roamed across the country well into the ’80s. With the ’90s came a surge in well-organized, blockbuster music festivals outside of major cities in the US, which were embraced by yuppies, grunge kids, and new hippies alike.
Today, music festivals are more common than ever. Coachella in California has already passed, but there are dozens of festivals scheduled this summer across the country. A while back, we told you about Bonnaroo, Hangout, and the Electric Daisy festival, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. From Lollapolooza to Governor’s Ball to Outside Lands and more, the options (and locations) are plentiful.
If you’re on the fence about shelling out the cash for one of these, think of it like this — you’re never going to be younger, have more energy, or have fewer responsibilities than you do RIGHT NOW.
These tickets are not cheap, but — to me — they are totally worth forgoing a few weekends out, skipping some trips to the mall, or picking up a couple of extra shifts at work. An outdoor music festival is something that you will remember and tell stories about for the rest of your life. And let’s face it — once you have a full time job, a pet, and a family of your own, you can’t exactly skip town and go on a three-day camp out as easily as you could before. Embrace your youth and seize your summer. Do something awesome and memorable now while you still have the chance!
Having more than a few music festivals under my belt at this point, I’ve done tons and tons of research on how to stay safe and comfortable, while having as much fun as you possibly can at these events. I’ve compiled it all, and am thrilled to get to share with you some of the best tips and suggestions for enjoying an outdoor music festival.
At the end of this post, be sure to comment — especially if you have experience with these sort of concerts — and give some good advice to your fellow CF gals. We’re a community here, so don’t hold back if you have an awesome story or some good advice to share!
7 Packing Tips and Considerations for Outdoor Music Festivals
1. Be prepared for all kinds of weather.
I know this probably a no-brainer, but I can’t think of an easier way to ruin your trip than to not have the right clothes with you. I know you smart girls will obviously check the weather forecast, but be sure to bring a pair of leggings, a hoodie, shoes that won’t get ruined in the rain, and an anorak. That way, you’ll be covered for any sort of surprises.
Also, sunscreen is completely non-negotiable. Oftentimes, the days with the most perfect, breezy weather lead to the worse sunburns because you don’t feel the sun roasting your skin. A swimsuit, flip flops, and a wide-brimmed hat seem like good ideas, too!
2. Have a plan for looking fabulous.
Sure, I understand that at these festivals, you spend all day (and possibly all night) outside. That said, ignoring my hygiene and appearance for four whole days is more than I can handle. Here are the best tips that I rounded up for staying fresh at festivals:
- Bring cash for showers. A lot of campsites have locker room-style showers you can use for $ 5-$ 10 a pop. I don’t know about you, but to me this seems totally worth the cash. You might want to wear a pair of flip flops and your swimsuit while you shower too, just in case! Budget for this as part of your financial plan for your trip.
- Pick up some bio-degradable shampoo. I’ve heard that at some nature-centric shows (like Bonnaroo, for instance) you’re allowed to wash up in swimming streams as long as your products aren’t toxic to the environment. Sure it’s not ideal, but it seems like it could be an awesome way to freshen up greasy, sweaty hair in a pinch. Add some leave-in conditioner or scrunch your hair with salt spray, and you’ll be ready to go!
- If you hate going to bed feeling sticky, baby wipes will be your new best friends. They’re the perfect way to swipe the grime away from your neck, underarms, forehead, feet, and more. Bring a full pack to leave at your campsite, then pack a few singles in plastic baggies to bring with you during the day.
- This sounds pretty crazy, but seems like it’s worth a try. If you want to wash your face, but don’t have access to a sink, pour water into an upside down Frisbee and use it to rinse. Genius! Also, I’m sure that you could probably get away with brushing your teeth using a water bottle to rinse as well.
- Remember your old standbys from home, dry shampoo and makeup primer. Dry shampoo will make even the dirtiest hair last another day or two (see our post on the best dry shampoos), while a good makeup primer will keep any makeup you have on from melting all over your face. I know some gals love to go makeup free, but I’m just not one of them!
- While we’re on the subject of makeup, leave as much at home as you possibly can. You want to stick to things you can apply quickly and easily, and not bring anything that at high risk for melting. Personally, I usually try to survive the weekend with Chapstick, highlighting powder, waterproof mascara, and eyeliner, but to each her own!
- This is obvious, but double check to make sure you have hair ties, deodorant, contact solution, medications, and any other essentials you think you might need.
- Again, do not forget sunscreen! This will probably be the most important thing you pack all weekend.
Although I’ve done plenty of research, I’m not an expert on this subject, even after a few festivals. If you have any good music festival beauty tips to share with the rest of us, please leave a comment and the end of this post and tell us!
3. Pack smart.
Now isn’t the time to bring that Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote you got for graduation — fancy or designer items will make you and your campsite a target for theft. Other things to keep in mind:
- Only bring clothes that you wouldn’t be devastated if you lost or accidentally ruined.
- Be sure to think about comfort first. I know that you want to wear that adorable crocheted halter top you just bought, but would you really want to spend all day tugging at your uncomfortable strapless bra?
- Double check that your shoes won’t give you blisters, your shorts don’t chafe your legs, and the tops your wear don’t require constant adjustment.
- It would probably be a smart idea to have bandages, feminine products, aspirin, granola bars, Gatorade, and a couple extra water bottles tucked in your bags as well.
- See our list of music festival essentials for a few more must-have items, plus in-depth explanations for why you need them.
4. Have your essentials with you at all times.
Carry a small backpack, a cross-body purse, or even a fanny pack with you during the day and use it to store your cell phone, camera, cash, ID, keys, and anything else that’s crucial with you.
Your regular purse won’t work — you’ll want to have your hands free, and not risk accidentally setting your bag somewhere and forgetting about it. I hear that these concerts are generally very peaceful and safe — most people are just there to listen to music and have a great time. But, at the same time, it’s important to be prepared and cognizant of the people around you. Speaking of which…
5. Safety first!
Any event that draws thousands of people will attract a handful of shady characters, but you’re at an even higher risk considering that many of these shows are overnight events, and, well, many people you encounter will be using alcohol or drugs. It’s super-important that you use the buddy system and stay very aware of your surroundings. Here are a few general rules to follow:
- Concert festivals are a great place to meet people, but don’t go back to another person’s campsite without one of your friends.
- Be careful about wandering too far away from main areas, and schedule specific meeting times for your group in case your cell phone dies.
- Don’t carry too much cash with you, and be sure not to flash it around at vendors.
- Don’t accept food or drinks from people you don’t know. If you start to feel weird or sick, tell a friend or security guard immediately and have them take you to the first aid tent.
- Remember that it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
6. Beware of wearing the wrong things….
As much as I love rompers and leotards, they are not always the best choices for music festivals. Both will be problematic if you have to use the restroom during the day. Since most festivals only have outdoor Port-A-Pottys, removing your entire outfit to pee is not something you’ll want to do!
Dresses are also something you may want to stay away from if you are planning on trying to crowd surf at your festival, as you do not want to give the audience a show of your own. If you do wear a dress and want to crowd surf, wear bike shorts underneath. (One of our music festival outfits below includes a dress, so this isn’t a hard and fast rule, just something to keep in mind.)
Finally, go easy on the perfume in the morning, as the heat may exacerbate the aroma and you do not want to give yourself or those around you a headache.
7. Embrace the experience.
You’ll never be able to duplicate an experience like an outdoor concert festival. Be sure to explore all aspects and really soak up the whole event. Meet new people. Join a yoga session or Frisbee game. Participate in an interactive art expo, learn to play hacky sack, or enjoy a hippie drum circle. We’re young and fun, and need to do these cool things while we still can. Don’t worry about how you look or what people will think. Just squeeze the juice out of your weekend and make this experience the best it can be.
Music Festival Outfits Ideas
Of course, your ideal music festival outfits will depend on the temperature, location, and even the genre of music found at the event. Consider these looks as a good starting place to get you inspired!
Music Festival Outfit 1:
This music festival outfit will keep you cool and looking cute all day — and all night — long! I love the look of a cropped tee shirt with denim cutoffs — a total music festival fashion must-have. (Seriously, just count the number of pairs of cutoffs you see when you’re at the festival — they’re everywhere!) Tie a flannel around your waist for a cute look during the day, then untie the flannel and wear it over top when it gets chilly at night.
Canvas sneakers are comfy and practical, while a stack of bracelets (to wear alongside your festival wristbands) adds some extra flair. Throw on some lipstick and shades and you’re ready to go!
Music Festival Outfit 2:
This ensemble would look particularly amazing at a festival like Coachella where boho-chic is the style of choice. A simple, breezy dress makes a great base, while tough combat boots and a quirky hat will give you a cool-girl vibe. Finish with sunglasses and a long, bohemian necklace.
Music Festival Outfit 3:
This look reminds me of something a celebrity would wear to Coachella! A trendy kimono-style cardigan like this is stylish, comfortable, and perfect for a concert setting. Paired with ripped jeans and a crop top, it’s a perfect outfit no-brainer.
Fringed boots with a low heel look cute, but won’t kill your feet. Statement earrings draw out one of the colors in the kimono while adding a quirky vibe to the look. Finish with a cross-body bag.
Stories or Tips? Please Share Them!
What music festivals have you been to before? Where are you going this year? What unusual items did you wish you packed, and what did you pack that you ended up not using? What is the best live show you’ve ever been to? How did you keep smelling fresh and looking great over the weekend?
We want to know any tips or tricks you might have for us newbies. Please leave a comment and tell us your thoughts on summer concerts. Can’t wait to hear what you girls have to say!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2013; it was completely updated and revamped in 2018 with new photos, outfit sets, and information.