With Coachella just around the corner (literally, Weekend 1 is in 4 days!), I feel that it might be a good idea to cover the basics of car camping at a festival, for all you newbies or people who just can’t get enough of checking out other setups 😉
When I purchased my ticket for my first Coachella, I will admit that I might have gone a bit overboard with the amount of research I did on the dos and don’ts of car camping. If I recall correctly, I believe Jaimie was the exact same way when she first car camped. I have no idea what it is about car camping that makes it so much more novel than regular camping, but there is something to it that makes it so special.
I love car camping at Coachella. As long as I keep going to Coachella, I will be doing my absolute best to car camp over any other option. The atmosphere is absolutely phenomenal. Everyone is so happy to be there and it is more or less a giant party. You are so close to the festival venue too, which is a bonus for your feet at the end of a long day. Car camping is what truly what makes the festival experience as a whole an epic adventure.
First off, I strongly urge you to wander on over to the Onsite Camping Guide at Coachella.com and get a feel for what to expect. There are a lot of rules that you need to keep in mind when starting to pull together you necessities. The big ones to keep in mind are no glass containers, no metal tent pegs, and no hard liquor. While yes, some of these are silly, your vehicle will be searched when you enter the site and if you are caught with these items on hand, they will be taken and tossed. Period.
Getting to the Campground
Coachella opens up the campgrounds at 9:00 a.m. on the Thursday prior, April 9 and 16 this year. The earlier you arrive at the festival site, the better your chances are of getting a spot close to the festival gate.
When you arrive, you will get into line to go through security. This is usually about a 30 minute wait or so, depending on when you arrive. Once you get up to the front of the line, security will ask you to exit your vehicle while they go poking through your stuff. They are more or less looking for drugs, glass containers, metal tent pegs and hard liquor. If you have any of those things, they will be confiscated and you might be subject to a more thorough search.
Once you get through this point, your camping pass and wristbands will be scanned to ensure they are valid and linked. If you bought a camping pass through a third party source that is NOT linked to your wristband, you may face some trouble at this point. Coachella has linked the wristbands to the camping pass that was purchased in the same order and reserve the right to deny you entry should yours not be linked.
From here you will be directed to your home for the next few days. The campground is divided up into 4 lots, 4, 7, 8 & 10, with 8 being the closest to the festival gate.
Now to the fun stuff! This is my recommended setup and what we will be doing this year.
Most people swear by having a canopy for car camping. It keeps the sun and rain off of you as well as gives you some privacy. Shade is of utmost importance while at a hot festival like Coachella or Burning Man, so just do yourself a favour and bring a canopy. More specifically, bring a 10×10 straight leg canopy. Straight legs stand up to the wind much better than the slanted legs AND 10×10 covers as much space without creeping into your neighbours site. Use binder clips to clip sheets up as sidewalls, and you will have a bit of privacy while still having some air circulation.
I really recommend that you NOT use the canopy enclosures like this. They are great in theory, but awful in actual practice. Not only do they trap heat inside and make it unbearable hot BUT should the wind pick up, your canopy will fly away like nobody’s business thanks to these. That’s what happened my first year, and our canopy was destroyed because of it. Also make sure you have the legs weighed or pegged down. You are allowed to bring in plastic tent pegs, it is just the metal pegs that are banned. With this said, metal pegs work better to keep everything in place.
On that note, be sure to lower your canopy while you are inside the festival venue and if you are aware that the wind is going to be brutal, pull the topper off of your canopy. This saves you the heartbreak of coming back to your campsite to find that your canopy has gone through the windshield of your neighbour’s car.
Many people recommend just bringing an air mattress and sleeping directly under your canopy. If we didn’t have an awesome tent, this is probably what I would wind up doing. That said, I am lucky that my boyfriend has an awesome tent which is almost completely mesh when you leave the fly off, so we will be using that. If your tent is mostly enclosed, I’d recommend opting out of it and just sleeping under your canopy. That thing will turn into a sauna as soon as the sun comes up and you will be sweating and up around 7 or 8 in the morning. Ick.
One thing that I will 100% recommend that you bring over anything else, is a set of earplugs. Your neighbours are probably going to be noisy. Worst case scenario, you have a wannabe EDM DJ within a few sites who are going to blare their crap remixes aaaaaallll night long. Bring earplugs, and you won’t feel the urge to murder.
Finally, you are in the desert. For those of you who, like me, think the desert is 100% hot 100% of the time, it is so not. Make sure to pack a decent sleeping bag and extra blanket for sleeping because, surprise surprise, it gets cold at night in the desert. I didn’t realize this when packing for our first year, and we froze our butts off.
It would be a good idea to have a light or two around for when the sun goes down. This is one area which we have always failed miserably on each year. This year, I have ordered a hanging LED camping lantern to put up at the top of our canopy as well as a string of white fairy lights to hang around our general camping area so that we have some semblance of light when we come back from the festival grounds. Also, as nerdy as it sounds, headlamps are also a really good idea. While you might not need them around the campsite, midnight treks to the porta-potties are a little sketchy when you can’t see what you are doing. Seriously, you need a light in one of those things.
Eats and Drinks
Festival food is not cheap. While it is awesome to try out some of the different shops on site, you will also save a small fortune by packing some food and cooking at your site. I’d recommend bringing a small camping stove (kerosene only, no propane) to cook the likes of breakfast and lunch on. You can purchase ice on site, but it is expensive. I’ve heard of several people purchasing dry ice to make their ice last the entire weekend. Just make sure to cover the dry ice with a layer of paper or ice. Anything that comes into contact with the dry ice will freeze.
In terms of booze, you are only allowed to bring in canned alcohol, like beer, cider or coolers or boxed wine. Coachella will confiscate any hard liquor that they find in your vehicle when you first enter the campgrounds. They also state that there is a limit of one case per person. We have previously gotten away with bringing in cases of 24 per person. From what I understand, it is a rule that isn’t really enforced unless your are extremely unreasonable with what you are bringing in.
When you first enter the campgrounds, security will search your car. So long as you are nice, cooperative, and courteous, they will not make your life miserable. If you give them a reason to though, they will rip apart the contents of your car, bags and gear. Our first year, we watched security go through everything down to unrolling the sleeping bags of the car in front of us. When it was our turn to be searched, they flashed a light into our cooler quick and asked us if we had metal pegs before letting us through.
There are showers on site. Some are free, some are $10. The lines are usually pretty long, especially in the morning. You stand a better chance of having a quick shower in the late afternoon or evenings. Baby wipes are also a life saver to keep yourself somewhat clean.
Coachella is also fairly notorious for having some nasty winds. Make sure to keep all of your belongings at the campsite either tied down or stored in your car while you are away. Bandanas are a good thing to keep on your person, not only to wet down during the day, but also to cover your mouth and nose at night when the dust picks up.
Car camping at a music festival is easy stuff. Don’t overthink it. Honestly, whatever your set up is, so long as you have a bit of shade and somewhere to sleep, you’ll make it through the weekend. Having some of the stuff that I have noted above should hopefully make your experience a bit more comfortable and enjoyable.