Desert music festivals are amazing, but can be pretty rough if you don’t come prepared. This guide will set you up for success and give you some tips to minimize waste and contribute to the overall sustainability of the festival. Joshua Tree Music Festival just around the corner (May 16-19), and is the perfect place to test out your desert festival packing skills! Tickets are only on sale until May 13, so be sure to get them ASAP!

First, prep your mind

Before we get down to the material stuff, I think it’s important to go through the exercise of mentally preparing yourself for the journey you are about to go on. Music festivals are extremely powerful experiences that can have a profound impact on your life, especially if you are able to fully immerse yourself and really be there.

Without sounding too archetypal California hippie, here’s a few things you can do to mentally prepare.

  1. Clear your calendar: This may seem obvious, but make sure you are really free to be at the festival. If work is a big part of your life, set an email auto-responder, change your voice mail message, let your colleagues know that you will not be available. Many festivals are in no coverage areas, so this is good practice anyway.
  2. Commit to the experience: Make a mental decision before you even leave for the festival that you are fully going to be there when you arrive. This means that you are not checking your Facebook feed every 10 minutes while a band is playing. You are entering a culture of music and community and need to fully show up to contribute. Give yourself the gift of letting go of your other responsibilities for a few days to grow and heal as a human being.
  3. Set an intention: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: MUSIC FESTIVALS ARE POWERFUL. When thousands of creative loving people gather in a fully present situation, magic does happen. Ask yourself why you are choosing to participate in this experience; do you have art you want to share, do you want to connect with others, do you just want to dance your ass off? Clarifying your intention before leaving for the festival can really help to identify what it is you’re seeking, and the first step towards an answer is a question.

Material Goods : The Obvious Stuff

First off, decide whether or not you are car camping or not. Keep the following in mind when making this decision:

  1. While car camping can be super comfy and amazing when it works out, often times it’s impossible to find a good, shaded spot near your friends if you don’t arrive extremely early.
  2. Car camping usually costs extra; plan for this.
  3. Your car will probably get dirty no matter what, but this is especially the case if you are camping.

That being said, whether you’re car-ring (new verb) or tenting, you will want your home base to be a place that is both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. What I mean by this is that your camp should be solid enough that you can get a good nights rest, but not so cushy that you just….hang out in camp the whole time. Here’s what my general ‘camp’ packing list looks like (we’ll go over the rest in the next section):

  • Tent (with rainfly!)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Pillow
  • Sleeping bag
  • Lantern (preferably solar powered)
  • Cooler
  • Camping Stove with extra propane
  • Folding Table
  • Utensils
  • 1 pot, 1 pan, 2 plates, 2 bowls, 2 cups
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Refillable water jug (5 gallon)
  • Toiletries (TP, toothpaste, tooth brush, floss, soap)
  • If no shaded areas, an EZ Up

You’ll notice I’m leaving out the generator and margarita machine. This is still a lot of stuff, but it’s pretty nice to have all of these things with you. BTW, I’ll compile all these little micro-lists into a comprehensive ‘master list’ at the end of this article….so keep reading.

Food

If you are flushed with cash and don’t know how to cook, you can eliminate the cooking stuff from the above list, as there are usually amazing food vendors about, but be sure not to forget at least ONE PERSONAL PAIR OF UTENSILS AND A CUP AND PLATE! Not only will this help you eliminate a ton of waste from a remote environment, it will also allow you to partake in other camps meals.

If you are like me and not flushed with cash, plan on eating one or two meals from a vendor (preferably towards the end of the festival) and prepping the rest. While cooking can definitely be a nice break from the festivities, try to prep as much as you can before heading out to the festival so you aren’t obligated to spend a ton of time cooking if you don’t want to.

Foods to bring:

  • Popcorn. Lots of popcorn. It’s cheap, delicious and nutritious. Trust me.
  • Popcorn. More of this.
  • Chips & Dip…instant meal…avo’s if they’re in season.
  • Trader Joe’s canned dolmas: cheap, easy and delicious, no refrigeration needed.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Pre-cooked lentils & veggies: super easy to reheat…delicious
  • 1 or 2 planned out epic meals (like a decadent breakfast or veggie burger)…this will take some time but you will be stoked.
  • Apples & Carrots : they can generally take the heat and are easy to transport.
  • Homemade trail mix: go to a store with bulk bins and put together a big ol’ bag of custom trail mix. It’s cheaper this way and you’ll minimize packaging.

Foods to avoid:

  • Meat items: cooking meat necessitates a lot of cleanup and refrigeration and can also offend nearby campers who may not be stoked to be inhaling your bacon smoke.
  • Packaged granola bars and such: this may seem counter-intuitive, but packaged items require that you dispose of the packaging. Rather than buying a bunch of Lara bars with non-recyclable wrappers, just make a bunch of big bags of popcorn or trail mix and save yourself the hassle of finding a trash can and helping minimize impact.
  • Ice cream, etc… this is obvious, as you’ll be in a desert, but yeah, coolers are a pain to keep cool.

Material Goods : The Easy to Forget Stuff

Here are a few things that you’ll thank yourself for bringing and are super easy to forget:

  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Condoms (better safe than sorry)
  • Bandana
  • Ear Plugs – Trust me you want these with you.
  • Metal water bottle
  • Some cool, small gift item that is not packaged trash (gifting culture at festivals is often a common thing)
  • If you’re musical, bring a drum, harmonica or other portable and not easily destroyable musical instrument.
  • A fun costume
  • 3 bags dedicated to compost, recycling and garbage

Minimizing Waste

Festivals can be intense on a natural environment not used to being occupied by a bunch of humans, so it’s important to minimize our impact however possible. I had a chance to interview Luke Dunn of the Trash Pirates who had some helpful tips for minimizing the waste left over from festivals.

  • Water bottles, beer cans and food wrappers were the most common waste item found post-fest.
    • Eliminate plastic water bottles from your packing list
    • If you must drink, consider hard liquor or a mini-keg instead of bottles and cans
    • Try to avoid food items with excessive packaging.
  • Broken items often get left behind
    • Make sure your camping gear is in good enough condition that it can reasonable be expected to last through the festival
  • Keep in mind that most festivals (Joshua Tree Music Festival included) now have water fill-up stations for your re-useable water bottles. I’ll re-iterate again, plastic water bottles are not necessary.

Recap and a full packing list

Ok I think that about covers it. Be sure to get your tickets for Joshua Tree Music Festival. They are only on sale until May 13th! They’re a hell of a deal and it’s a great festival fun for all ages.

So…without further adieu, here’s my complete packing list for 4 days of music festival fun:

  • A clear calendar and mind
  • Tent (with rainfly!)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Pillow
  • Sleeping bag
  • Lantern (preferably solar powered)
  • Cooler
  • Camping Stove with extra propane
  • Folding Table
  • Utensils
  • 1 pot, 1 pan, 2 plates, 2 bowls, 2 cups
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Refillable water jug (5 gallon)
  • Toiletries (TP, toothpaste, tooth brush, floss, soap)
  • Popcorn: 4 large bags
  • Chips & Dip: 1 large bag, 2 types dip, 2 avocados
  • Trader Joe’s canned dolmas (3 packs)
  • 6 Hard boiled eggs
  • Pre-cooked lentils & veggies (3 cups)
  • 1 or 2 planned out epic meals (like a decadent breakfast or veggie burger)
  • 4 Apples & 2 bunches Carrots
  • Homemade trail mix (1 lb)
  • If no shaded areas, an EZ Up
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Condoms (better safe than sorry)
  • Bandana
  • Ear Plugs – Trust me you want these with you.
  • Metal water bottle
  • Some cool, small gift item that is not packaged trash (gifting culture at festivals is often a common thing)
  • If you’re musical, bring a drum, harmonica or other portable and not easily destroyable musical instrument.
  • A fun costume
  • 3 bags dedicated to compost, recycling and garbage