How To Pack (And Camp!) Like A Pro For Bonnaroo

That intimate, unplugged rendition of a Bowie cover performed by your new favorite band. That 4 a.m. cameo of an iconic rapper you never saw coming. That raucous punk set that took your crowd-surfing virginity. These are just a few different scenarios you’re guaranteed to come across at Bonnaroo, and you need an outfit and gear that works for all of them.
Any music festival can provide a handful of unforgettable moments over the course of a four-day run, but Bonnaroo does it differently than any other with its infamously varied and star-studded lineup year in and year out. Prepping for it can be a bit of a challenge, to say the least, and believe me, I know — I’ve been covering music festivals for years now, and every single time, there’s a brief moment of panic when I look down at my carry-on bursting with everything from Wellies to miniskirts.
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For Bonnaroo — which takes place on the sprawling hills of Manchester, Tennessee, which are notoriously hard to get to — comfort, versatility, and durability are key, because you’re presented with countless options that’ll take you out of familiar territory, style-wise. With that in mind, I culled some of my tried-and-true festival standbys — as well as a handful of new splurges I couldn’t resist — before packing up the truck and driving down to Bonnaroo on assignment this year.
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For Travel

As convenient as backpacks are, you want a purse that can swing around without making you uncomfortable (or look like a kangaroo) when you’re charging through a crowd — and you want one that you can bring from the airport to the after-party, too. I swear by a giant, ancient-leather satchel that’s come with me to the photo pits of South by Southwest and Newport Folk alike, and this durable pick from Anthro is a perfect alternative for my trusty carry-all. It’ll hold everything you need (and nearly everything in this guide!), the scores of pockets were tailor-made for your essentials, and its vibrant print works just as well hopping from stage to stage, as it does at for post-fest drinks in Nashville.

Anthropologie Ruidoso Bucket Satchel, $98, available at Anthropologie.
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I’m constantly Instragramming and Tweeting while covering shows, and few things are more terrifying than watching my iPhone’s battery hit less than 20% when I’ve still got at least one more set to go, let alone several at a live music marathon like Bonnaroo. I’m obsessed with this Mophie wireless charger as it’s proven to be a lifesaver time and time again — I get four full charges out of this bad boy — and there’s an added perk for its red hue, in that it stands out in the abyss of miscellaneous stuff inside of my purse.

Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation, $79.95, available at Mophie.
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Screw parking, finding a good spot by the stage, or making sure your shoes are broken in — getting to Bonnaroo can be a feat in and of itself, and the stress of travel can wreak total havoc on your skin. I’m one of those unfortunate people who wears “tired” on her face like nobody’s business when she’s going on four hours of sleep, so to keep from running ragged on insane sleeping and commuting Bonnaroo schedules, I swear by this tiny bottle of skin-drenching gold for its ridiculously restorative powers. My only gripe is that it’s missing a hefty SPF and therefore requires additional tiny bottles for the toiletries bag, but this moisturizer’s a godsend when you’ve gone from a delayed flight to a surprise closer that keeps you dancing ‘til the sun comes up.

Kiehl's Skin Rescuer, $40, available at Kiehl's.
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For Sleeping

Cozy is key when you’re camping it up, and these leggings are basically the least cringe-worthy sweatpants you’ve ever had. The sweltering heat you’re dealing with during the day gives way to some chilly evenings, and nothing’s worse than waking up the next morning with a horrible head cold because your sleeping bag couldn’t cut it in the warmth department. These leggings (I’ve got the charcoal ones) double as pajamas without making you look like you just rolled out of bed, should you do just that to grab coffee for you and your tent mates.

American Apparel Winter Leggings,$38, available at American Apparel.
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Sure, you can grab a pack of those foam earplugs at the drugstore, but invest in some quality earplugs that’ll tune out your neighbors a few feet over and double as the best concert companions money can buy. These hi-fi plugs are a tried-and-true favorite for rockers who’d otherwise have their eardrums blown to smithereens by their megawatt amps, and they’ll keep out the excess noise you’re looking to avoid both in and outside of your sleeping bag.

Etymotic Research High Fidelity Earplugs, $12.95, available at Full Compass.
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For Wearing
You can’t fight the elements when the skies open up and you’re watching a set from the middle of an open field, but you can push back a little bit when you’ve got an easily packable raincoat at the ready. When I was in Boston last month for Boston Calling, we were basically swimming vertically — it was pouring that much. Given the amount of very un-waterproof gear I had to keep whipping out (camera, tape recorder, iPhone), I knew it was high-time to invest in lightweight rain gear that didn’t make me look as though I were trekking up a mountain or copping the Morton Salt Girl’s look.

Free People Utility Raincoat, $64.60, available at Shopbop.
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No festival uniform is complete without a pair of jeans you refuse to take off, and this pair is nothing short (totally not even ashamed of that pun) of perfection. They’re stretchy, they’re an ideal level of worn-in, and I’ve put them to the ride-up test when I’ve had to spring between stages for back-to-back sets. I’ve got them in two different washes already, but I’m seriously considering picking them up in classic, frayed denim so that I can wear nothing but these all Bonnaroo.

Madewell Denim midi shorts, $59, available at Madewell.
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If you hit a handful of live shows a year — especially ones that take place outdoors — these kicks are worth it on a cost-per-wear basis alone. I lived in my boots during South by Southwest because they look killer with everything from ripped tees to LBDs, while holding up to pounding pavement and unexpected whiskey spills. I needed shoes just as durable but more seasonally appropriate for Bonnaroo, and I’m in the process of breaking in these booties for the Manchester fields.

Frye Wyatt Harness Short Boot, $248, available at Frye.
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For Washing

Dirt, sweat, booze, sunscreen residue: Let’s get real: A sun-up-to-sun-down day at a music festival brings on the filth in a big way. Dr. Bronner’s straight-up organic concoctions smell amazing, work as both a basic soap and an incredible facial cleanser, and last for ages — you only need a couple of drops for a full-on onslaught of bubbles, making it the most perfect travel soap in existence.

Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Liquid Soap, $4.25, available at Karst Sports.
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Don’t judge me and my infomercial steez; these things look goofy as hell, but they’re genius. As Bonnaroo’s big on communal showers, you want to suds up and dry off fast. This tiny terry wonder keeps my unruly curls in check, and the suitcase space I save by bringing this instead of a janky, old towel means more room for newly acquired band T-shirts and other scores from the merch table. (Just keep in mind, the “no band T-shirt at the band’s show” rule applies here, even if you’re seeing 12 bands in one day as you do at the ‘Roo.)

Turbie Twist Original Cotton Turbie Twist, $19.99, available at Turbie Twist.
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For Amusement
I’ve read my dog-eared copy of this music journalist bible approximately 912 times, and yet this is the first thing that gets thrown in my carry-on when I’m heading out of town on assignment. It’s a volume of collected interviews and anecdotes that documents New York City’s punk and rock scenes of the ‘70s and ‘80s by those who made it monumental — The Ramones, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, the Velvet Underground — and it’s the perfect piece to lose yourself in (or psych yourself up with) when you’re taking a breather away from the tents.

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil, $12, available at Amazon.
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I was covering CMJ a few years ago when an ambitious music writer peeled off a three of Clubs from a deck, wrote her information on it with a Sharpie, and used it as a DIY business card. It was a rad, original idea that got her noticed — and a simple deck of cards makes for a great icebreaker when you’re down for a game of Kings and talk of the shows from the day before starts to get old.

Jonathan Adler Playing Cards,$10, available at Jonathan Adler.
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There’s no better time to step away from the screen of your SLR or iPhone than a rock show, and the light leaks and dreamy quality the Diana imprints upon its photos will add a vintage vibe to your festival shots. It’s super easy to be distracted by the shots I just took in the photo pit by flipping through them on my digital camera, so I appreciate the fact that I can’t scope out my pictures right away after taking them with the Diana — and it makes it that much more fun to get the film developed later, too.

Lomography Diana + Dreamer Camera, $65, available at Urban Outfitters.