February 4, 2013

Steff Metal’s Essential Metal Festival Wardrobe and Gear Guide

Concerts & Grog Fests, Grymm and Frostbitten Lands, Kvlt Fashion

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A friend of mine is heading over to Wacken Open Air this year (jealous!) and is wondering what she should pack. Her festival wardrobe needs to fulfil a number of requirements:

1. She has to not look like a complete tool.
2. It has to be comfortable in all weathers.
3. It has to be lightweight and small, to fit in her travel bag alongside the clothes she needs for the rest of her trip.

So, being the helpful friend that I am, I thought I’d pool together the fashion tips and woes of various festival experiences – as well as the experiences of other friends – to compile a metal festival gear guide. This goes alongside all the tips I posted (and you all contributed) in the Unofficial Wacken Open Air Gear Guide article I wrote a couple of years ago.

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Campsite decoration – not essential, but definitely fun! (And makes your site easier to find)

When packing for a metal fest, you need to consider the following things:

Festival Weather

The first thing you’ll need to do when planning your festival wardrobe is learn a little about what the weather is likely to throw at you. If you’re attending a local festival, you’ll probably already know what to expect, but for those of us who have to travel around the world to attend metal festivals, it can be a bit more difficult.

If the festival website doesn’t offer any weather information, then choose the nearest town or city and look up travel information. A tourist website should be able to tell you what the weather will be like at that time of year.

And then, you basically need to pack as if it’s going to be the complete opposite. Because it’s inevitable that if you show up during rainy season with four pairs of galoshes and your thermal underwear, it will be the hottest festival on record. And if you’ve been told to expect warm, balmy days, it’s going to piss down for most of the weekend. The weather hates metalheads – this is a scientifically proven fact.

Seriously, if you pack enough clothes so you can layer up and get warm, and enough clothes that you can strip off and get cool, you’ll be fine.

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Testing towels for appropriate level of fluffiness.

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1 trolley of food – check. 1 trolley of drinks – check.

Festival Activities

You also need to ensure you’re prepared for all associated festival activities. Not only will you be enjoying bands at various stages, but you might also be dancing in a sweaty tent till all hours of the morning, enjoying a swim, going to the beach, taking part in ridiculous games, or being stripped naked and painted with amusing pictures of genitalia.

All eventualities must be accounted for. Bring those snow shoes!

Will you need to carry your stuff from your car some distance to your campsite? What will you need to bring from your campsite to the festival grounds?

The truth is, most of the time, if you discover you’ve forgotten to pack something, you will either do without it, find a friend or festival neighbour who will let you borrow it, or buy a replacement at the festival. This may require you to owe a lot of people a lot of beer, or pay an exhorbitant fee for a Wacken-branded towel you didn’t really want, but at least you HAVE a towel.

For carrying around the festival, I use a sturdy shoulder bag or backpack that is smallish, yet large enough to hold a rain jacket or hoodie alongside my wallet, glassescase, and cellphone.

Choose a Suitable Bag

My husband and I always use tramping packs. When we are attending festivals, it’s always part of a bigger trip, and packs are definitely easier for us than suitcases. If you’re buying a pack, get one where the whole front side flips open like a suitcase so you can see everything inside, otherwise, you’ll just end up with clothes strewn all over your tent, and if your tent floods, which it inevitably does in these situations, you will be forced to make an emergancy trip to the festival market for expensive branded underwear.

For lugging gear around the festival grounds myself, I use a sturdy shoulder bag or backpack (usually the festival bag if they are giving them away) small enough to not annoy me, but large enough to carry wallet, cellphone, glasses case, and hoodie/rain jacket in. Extra space to store a water bottle or purchases can also be handy.


Festival footwear needs to be comfortable and sturdy. You will be standing for hours. People will stand on your feet, especially if you’re up in the mosh-pit. At some point during the weekend, you are going to be ankle deep in mud, water or some kind of grotesque port-a-potty-related puddle. You will want closed-toed shoes, ideally boots of some description. If you go to a lot of festivals, it’s worthwhile spending a decent amount of money on boots that are comfortable, well-made and sturdy, especially if they have steel-caps. I get all my boots from NZSafety, army surplus stores on online. There’s a fantastic selection of shoes and boots perfect for festivals here.


You will not spend much time in your tent. In fact, many metalheads don’t spend any time at festivals inside their tent at all. That’s because if you’re partying to all hours of the night, all the tents look the same. And you often feel in your drunken state that any tent will do. It is not uncommon for campers in the busier areas to find completely random people passed out in their tents. Don’t worry about anything fancy unless you’re part of a group camp and you can bring along communal camping equipment or furniture. Just bring something big enough to sleep in, something warm and comfortable to sleep in, and leave the rest of the room in your bag for alcohol.


Some people bring their own gear for cooking meals. I don’t do this for a number of reasons. A. Yes, festival food IS expensive, but with all sorts of delicious smells wafting on the breeze, you are unlikely to feel inclined to heat up your can of beans. B. When it comes to dinner you are usually in the festival ground because that’s when the bigger bands start playing. Are you going to want to walk 20 mins back to your tent, past all the food stalls, to cook your dinner? I think not. C. Camping stove + drunk metalheads = not a good idea.

I do bring my own breakfasts to music festivals. You are usually at your tent for breakfast, and it’s super easy to pour yourself a bowl of cereal, eat muesli bars or scoff down some fruit. It saves a ton of money and you don’t have to walk anywhere.

If you have a campervan, however, all food rules go out the window, and you can store as much as you like. But a warning – you might end up like this:

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We were finishing off leftovers from this feast for another week.

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You’re not going to be allowed to carry grog into the festival grounds, but you should be able to bring it into the campgrounds. Don’t bring glass bottles as they get broken and it’s dangerous. Stick your booze in plastic sipper bottles or flasks. You can buy mixers like coke in the grounds, or bring them along with you if you have the space. Hint: the dude with the chili bin is always popular.

You could bring a drinking horn, but you might need to leave it in your tent when you go into the festival.

Toiletries and First Aid

You don’t need many, because no matter how often you shower you will still smell like a music festival. Bring some toothpaste, some shower gel (I find this much easier to transport and keep from leaking than soap), and maybe some small shampoo/conditioner bottles. Also, sanitary items if you’re a chick. And a towel. Towels are essential. Hand wipes can be a great way of quickly and effortlessly cleaning your hands and cooking utensils.

Also, a little travel first aid kit never goes amiss. You’d be surprised how often someone in your camping area will sprain their wrist in the mosh pit, or get blisters on their feet from new boots. And some Neurofen or whatnot for the hangover will be a blessing!

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Johnowar after a successful shorts-purchasing expedition.

Suggested Gear List for 3 day metal festival:

  • 3x black t-shirts
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 1 pair jeans/trousers (jeans are miserable to wear if it’s wet – if you have something better, like army pants, take those instead)
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 hoodie or warm jumper
  • rain jacket
  • 1 pair
  • 2-3 pairs underwear
  • 1 bandana (there’s a reason so many people wear these at festivals. They keep the hair out of your eyes and the sun off your head. You can wet them to cool down, and you can even buy ones that are soaked in insect repellent to keep bugs away)
  • 1 pair sturdy boots
  • water bottle
  • Shelter – tent, car, campervan – + associated equipment (hammer, pegs, air mattress, chili bin, tarp).
  • sleeping bag
  • camera plus extra batteries or memory cards
  • pen (I never bring one and ALWAYS need one)
  • swimming togs
  • earplugs (several pairs)
  • plastic bags (these have a multitude of uses. Bring many.)
  • roll of toilet paper (because there are some things you just never want to be without)
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Cellphone (or smartphone if you’ve got one of those, especially if the festival has a schedule app. Those are MAGIC.)
  • ID, preferably two forms (especially if you’re in a foriegn country). Make sure the name on both forms matches – especially if you’re married like me and still have some stuff in your maiden name).
  • Cash for food and merchandise
  • Sunblock (Skin cancer isn’t grymm)
  • Sunglasses
  • Watch – useful if you don’t have a phone with which to find out the time. Or bring a friend with a watch who you can shadow for the whole weekend and bug with incessant parroting of “what’s the time NOW?”
  • Condoms

Optional extras:

  • Charger for your phone. (I would never bother with this. I would charge it up before I left for the festival, and keep my phone turned off most of the time, and only turn if on to check the schedule or if I was meeting up with someone. The lines at the phone-charging booths are always long and I don’t want to spend time at a festival worrying about collecting my phone or waiting for it to charge. You can also get those solar ones, but that means leaving your phone outside in the camp).
  • hayfever pills.
  • costumes or silly hats.
  • torch. (I can see in the dark, so don’t need this, but apparently other people do).
  • MORE cash. (You inevitably find more awesome stuff you want to buy, or you eat or drink more than you anticipate. And the lines at the cash machines are even longer than the cellphone booths)
  • Insect Repellent. (Not necessary at all festivals, but if the bugs are out and you’ve got some, you will be the most popular dude in the camp).
  • Backup car keys. (I don’t worry about this because I don’t drive and we usually get two keys with rental RVs anyway, so each couple in our party has a key. But it’s actually a good idea, if you happen to lose your bag or your keys fall out of your pocket.)
  • Decorations for your tent and camping area – such as flags, streamers and blow-up apparatus.
  • A she-pee (some women swear by them. My friend who used one peed all over herself. I’ve never tried one but it could be handy!)
  • Map of venue and running order (Not essential as you can usually find them printed on boards somewhere, or just follow a more knowledgable colleague. But definitely recommended as getting lost can rob you of valuable drinking time).
  • Frisbee – someone suggested to me that this serves a dual purpose of being something to play with, and a makeshift food plate.
  • Proof of health insurance (accidents do happen at festivals, and in some areas of the world, this is essential in order to get treatment).
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Silly games to make the hours fly by.

Once you’re at the festival, you’re on your own. You’ll have to beg, borrow, or purchase any item you’ve forgotten. You’ll meet new friends, see some awesome bands, and have an incredible adventure. See my Summer Metal Festival Survival Guide for more tips on festival shenanigans.

Readers, I throw open the comments to you – what are your metal music festival essentials?

2 Comments on “Steff Metal’s Essential Metal Festival Wardrobe and Gear Guide

February 5, 2013 at 9:52 pm

If I may add to this forum, my travel blog has a section called “The Maiden Voyage”, which provides detailed info on everything to get to a fest. Long read, but worth it.

February 5, 2013 at 6:34 am

I was at Bloodstock Open Air, which was unusually hot and sunny, and I saw a lot of people with awful sunburns (not me though, sunny Buenos Aires has provided enough training) so in addition to sunblock I would add some aloe ointment just in case someone gets burnt. It really helps soothe those burns. Also, we did’t bring shampoo because there wasn’t a way to wash it without going to the showers (which were painfully expensive) and by the last day my hair was an awful mess. And it turns out there was a water tap. Dry shampoo is an alternative but it only freshens the hair a bit.
Also: antibacterial wipes. I bring them everywhere when I travel, and this time they doubled as an alternative way to wash. I didn’t stink!! Much.

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