Festival season is kicking off, and if you’re planning to spend three days drinking warm beer and watching bands in a field this year, you’re probably thinking “hey, what tech should I take?”
The PR machine will grind into gear and tell you that you need a GPS tent finder, a 4K tablet of some kind and a Bluetooth subwoofer before you can even think about setting up your pitch.
But we’re here to tell you: don’t be silly. The real answer to the question of what tech you should take to a festival is somewhere between “none” and “as little as possible”.
Real talk: it’d be hypocritical of us to tell you not to take a smartphone to a festival because we cannot physically or psychologically spend more than 20 minutes away from ours. So take one if you want.
The pluses are that you’ll have a vaguely decent camera on you, internet when the signal is strong enough, and access to the official festival app if there is one and you’re not on Windows Phone.
But there are some caveats: Don’t go crazy and buy a brand new smartphone for a festival – that’d be like buying a brand new hat for your trip to a wind tunnel. If you’ve just upgraded, consider taking your old handset instead.
Get your smartphone a sturdy case – again, no need to go full-on rugged, just a decent case and a screen protector – and consider getting a waterproof bumbag to keep it. Things are harder to steal when they’re near your crotch (at least that’s what we’ve been told) and bumbags are very now.
We know you know this, but make sure your phone is insured. It may be covered on your house insurance, but does that cover everything that could befall you at a festival? Theft, liquid damage if you drop it in a toilet or a mud river, accidental damage if you dance it out of your own grip in a crowd, just straight-up losing it in the grass – these are all things you need to consider.
Dedicated gadget insurers like Protect Your Bubble should cover all these things, so it might be worth taking out a policy on top of your existing home insurance.
Now work out how you’re going to charge the thing so you don’t end up carrying around an expensive, useless lump of metal and glass. More on that later.
Pro tip: Get a burner
This is a brilliant idea for anyone who doesn’t mind not having internet access. There are loads of cheap phones out there that you can grab for next to nothing, like the Nokia 108 or 130, or a cheap Alba phone.
You might want a built-in torch on your burner so you can find your way to and from the toilets in the dead of night (which the Nokia 108 comes with). Or just buy a torch.
Pro-pro tip: Use the sponsors
If you’re just using your phone for texts and calls, your regular network should be fine – this is 2016, after all. But if your festival takes place in the middle of nowhere, check who’s providing the network. Most festivals in signal dead-spots will have a network partner.
At Glastonbury, for example, EE carts down a bunch of portable masts to provide extra coverage at the site. If you’re desperate for 4G during your stay at Worthy Farm, going with the festival network provider is your best bet.
Even if you’re taking a phone with a decent camera, don’t rely on it as your only way to capture memories. You might run out of battery on the first day. You might lose your phone or have it stolen. You might realise it’s not great for long-distant shots. So a separate digital camera is a good option.
Check for a decent optical zoom, a hefty memory card and a small footprint otherwise your extremely relevant bumbag might get a bit chockablock.
Pro-tip: Get a disposable camera
The best option, if you ask me, is a disposable camera or two. You can get waterproof ones if you’re worried about torrents of mud, and most come with a flash for night time shots. You won’t spend hours obsessing over getting the perfect group selfie because you won’t know how terrible the first one was until you get the film developed later – and, OK, so you can’t zoom in on Adele on the Pyramid Stage bringing everyone to tears. But, really, what do you do with those photos when you have them anyway?
Pro-pro-tip: Should I take a GoPro?
Don’t be a dick.
Just don’t. Seriously. Don’t. It’ll get nicked. Or broken. Or broken then nicked. Leave it at home.
Pro-tip: Take a notebook instead
Like, one made of paper.
Pro-pro-tip: Don’t forget…
…you’ll also need a pen.
I have friends who have taken tablets to a festival – not the fun kind or the ones to get rid of the inevitable headaches – because they are old and boring and want to check the news and the weather every morning instead of getting straight back on the ciders after a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.
I would advise against it, but if you really feel you must then keep it to a small one that you can keep on you in your fringed backpack (you’ll have to ditch the bumbag at this point). And see above re: insurance.
Pro-tip: Suspect everyone
Never leave valuables in your tent, even if you’re in corporate hospitality. When you’re asleep, keep your gadgets up by your head and your head away from the tent opening. Festival thieves are like glitter: they get everywhere.
Pro-pro-tip: Should I take my Kindle?
I think you might be doing festivals wrong. If you’re desperate for something to read, take a book you don’t mind getting lost, covered in mud, or ending up in a fire.
When nothing’s really happening in the mornings and you’ve woken up feeling spritely, you might want to put some tunes on to pass the time. So, sure, take a Bluetooth speaker, but be considerate. Not everyone is up for pulsing techno at 5am, even if your poor planning means you’re coming up just as everyone else is on their way down.
Pro-tip: Keep it simple
You don’t need HD sound – you’re in a field – so keep it small and cheap. If you’re feeling flush, the UE Boom 2 is a good call, and has a massive sound and is water/mud/long-drop proof.
Pro-pro-tip: Do not take your ukulele. Don’t be that person.
This section is the whole reason you clicked on this article in the first place, isn’t it?
For a nominal fee, you can leave your phone charging at a dedicated stand. Usually you’ll pay a certain amount per hour. Put your phone on flight mode to eke as much juice out of the session as possible, and don’t get so drunk you forget to pick it up later.
Some festivals also have Pedal Power stalls where, if you can be bothered, you can charge your phone in return for generating electricity by pedalling on a stationary bike. Bear in mind that you probably won’t be able to shower until you get home: do you really want to do this?
If you don’t mind carrying a backpack around, you can get some with solar panels on that will give your phone a bit of a boost. None of them are exactly lookers and I’m dubious about how much power it will actually give your phone, but I hate this Birk Sun one the least.
Mophie is the granddaddy of power packs. The XL External Battery would be a good option for sharing between two, but there are many others like it out there. The Mipow Power Cube 4500 is a good option if you only need to charge one device at a time.
You can always recharge it at a charging station instead of leaving your phone. For something smaller, try the Anker Astro Mini that’s about the size of a lipstick but will give your devices a decent boost.
Charging cases never look particularly brilliant but can be life savers. The Mophie cases are the ones that I’ve used – they double your talk time and have LED indicators on the back so you can see how much power they have left in them.
Pro-tip: Conserve energy
Keep your phone on airplane mode unless you’re actually using it. Turn down the brightness. Turn off Bluetooth. Keep it locked down.
Pro-pro-tip: Don’t forget
To charge all your chargers up before you go.
To sum up
When it comes to music festivals, take as little tech as possible. Leave the selfie stick at home, it’s probably banned. Try watching the bands through your eyes instead of through a screen and cool it with the tweets because no one who isn’t there wants to hear about it anyway.
If you get lost, make festival friends. Have another beer. Raise your face to the sun and/or the rain. Close your eyes. Smile. Feel alive. This is so much better than being at work.