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How to Camp at Coachella Like a Pro

Insider Guides
by Colin Heinrich Apr 8, 2013

If you bought a car camping pass to Coachella, congratulations. For $85 more, you purchased twice the festival as the hotel heathens. They’ll be spending their mornings desperately looking for a taxi wait under two hours and wondering why they didn’t get a hotel closer to a shuttle line. You’ll be spending yours deciding between the slip-n-slide and the mini-carnival.

But that kind of freedom comes hard-earned, and there’s a lot of planning to do before you go if you want to have the kind of kickass campsite worthy of the modern-day Woodstock.

First thing’s first: Know who you’re camping with. That way, you can split up who brings what and save some money because, let’s face it, Coachella ain’t cheap. Each camping spot is 10’x30′, and you can pack a fair amount of people in there. For a better solution, have multiple people with their own car camping passes in your group. You only need one per space, so getting a second one doubles the number of people you can camp with, not to mention doubling the room to set up your dream campsite.

If you have multiple campsites, you’ll have to caravan down to Indio to ensure you drive in right next to each other. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee you’ll get spots next to each other. If you’re not leaving together or it’s a longer drive, set a meeting point at a grocery store near the grounds to reconvene. You can also stock up on supplies there. Some things to pick up:

  1. Fruit and vegetables, and lots of them. Nothing like eating healthy to stave off the guilt for the drugs you’re doing.
  2. More specifically, avocados. They’re a super food, they turn into bowls when you finish them, and you can play mini croquet with the pits.
  3. Goldfish, jerky, and other salty foods. That water retention will be worth the puffy face.
  4. Gatorade. Bring water if you want (it’s readily available all over the grounds), but Gatorade and Gatorade powder will do a lot to help your electrolytes. Coachella is as hard on your body as any sporting event.
  5. Booze. Cases of beer are fine, but if you get liquor, make sure you either put them in plastic or hide them well. No glass allowed in the lot.

If you’re bringing a camping stove (propane only on the grounds), you can also pick up stuff like pancake mix, eggs, maybe even some steak. It’s a little extra work, but there’s nothing like coming back to the campsite after a long day and having a full, home-cooked meal. Share with the neighbors, and they’ll hit you back. If you run out of food, there’s an on-site store with some options, and a shuttle that’ll take you to the grocery store in the mornings.

Once you arrive, you’ll appreciate having that case of beer. The security line is just one big tailgating party. Guards are tearing apart entire cars, in some cases taking off paneling to check inside (so make sure you hide your stash well), which takes a little bit of time. Get out of your car and meet some people, and pray you chose the line with the lazy volunteer who’s not being paid enough to care.

You should fill up your gas tank again before you go into the grounds, since you never know when you’ll need to run your car and you can’t leave once you’re there. The campground opens at 9am the day before the festival. If you’ve done everything right so far (and if you’ve read to here, you should) and you’ve arrived early enough, you’ll get a prime spot close enough to the festival to avoid too much walking, but far enough away from the gates that you avoid the casual looters and the crowds of the main pathways.

Set up your camp however you’d like. I’m not an architect. Really though, go crazy guys. Make your camp recognizable. Put up strings of lights and inflatable toys — this will look cool as shit, but it’ll also make camp easier to find, especially in the dark when you’re stumbling back with a ringing in your ears. Also, stake down your tents and canopies! If the weather acts up like it did in 2012, it’ll be more than the answers blowing in the wind.

Ideally, you’ve brought car paint to decorate your ride. Write “Carpoolchella” in a visible spot in the best design you can come up with, because officials wander the grounds looking for that specific word. If they like your style, you have the chance to win free VIP tickets for life. What have you got to lose? Make sure you only draw on the windows though, as car paint can fuck with the actual paint job.

Inside the campground there are lots of shower trucks, but lines can get insanely long in the mornings. Shower in the evenings if you’re willing to miss a set. Alternatively, bring a Sun Shower, a little bag of water you can hang in your campsite. Or there’s always baby wipes and dry shampoo.

Once you’ve got everything set up and you know where everything is, you’re on your own. Goldenvoice loves to keep people guessing when it comes to their plans. One minute you can be riding a little carnival in a back corner of the lot, the next you can be rocking out at a silent disco. Don’t get too caught up in what you think you should be doing. Follow your nose. And when your non-camping friends arrive, try not to rub in how much better your morning has been than theirs. But hey, don’t be afraid to rub it in a little.

Your packing list, from someone who cares

To live

  1. Tent – Duh. If you’ve got a big car, you could sleep in the back, but then you have to decide between privacy and airflow. Coachella is hot and sexual enough as it is without choosing between one or the other.
  2. Canopy – It’s like a tent you shouldn’t be naked in, but that’s okay. Great for shading the rest of your camp.
  3. Tarps – You can use them on the side of the canopy to make shade, or to block off the windows in your car to cool them down.
  4. Folding chairs – Sit on these. Or just look at them. I don’t care.
  5. Folding table – They’re not just for beer pong anymore. Although they are also for beer pong.
  6. Camping stove – You don’t necessarily need it, but nothing beats a hot, home-cooked meal after destroying your body all day. Propane only allowed.
  7. Pot and skillet – For use on the stove.
  8. Plates and utensils – Disposable is best.
  9. Cooler and dry ice – For keeping your food and drinks.
  10. Air mattress with battery-powered inflator – You’ll be so tired you could sleep on broken glass by the end of the day, but glass isn’t allowed in the campground, so this will have to do.
  11. Sleeping bag or blankets – It doesn’t get too cold at night, but it’s nice to have in case.
  12. Pillow – Unless you’re that hardcore.
  13. Battery packs – Your phone is going to die. If you don’t want to run your car to charge it, this will be a good alternative.
  14. Jumper cables – Just in case. Stick around Monday morning and count the number of people who need them, then come back here so I can say I told you so.
  15. Fan – It’s nice to have. Combine with a mister to beat the heat.
  16. Wet wipes – They’re a godsend replacement for toilet paper in the desert environment, and can be used as a shower if the lines are too long.
  17. Saline nose solution – For getting rid of that giant dusty booger you don’t want to pick in front of your neighbors.
  18. Sunscreen – It’s the desert. I hear it’s sunny there.
  19. Toothbrush/toothpaste – For your mouth, yo.
  20. Ibuprofen – Your body will hurt. It doesn’t have to.
  21. Baby powder – If you’re a heavy sweater, this stuff will keep the chafing at bay.
  22. Earplugs – I don’t care if you’re up until 5 in the morning. There will be somebody with a sound system up until 6.
  23. Spare keys – Your friends might need them. You might need them.
  24. Duct tape – For when everything goes to shit.
  25. Trash bags – Don’t be that guy.

To enjoy living

  1. El-wire strings – Good for lighting up your campsite to make it easier to find, and to make it cool as fuck. Get the battery-powered kind to make it nice and portable, since you might want to bring some into the grounds to make yourself easy to find as well.
  2. Inflatable toys – Mostly just for fun, but if you bring one into the grounds, it can be your totem so your friends can find you.
  3. Inflatable pool – The least necessary. The most fun.
  4. Flag – If you can set one up, it’s a good way to identify your campsite.
  5. Body paint – A fun way to get ready for the day.
  6. Car paint – To win that Carpoolchella award.
  7. Cards – King’s Cup is a great way to pass some time.
  8. Speakers – Drown out the tinnitus when you get back at night with a little more music.
  9. Camera – You can’t bring a DSLR into the festival itself, but you can take some sweet pictures of yourself going down the slip-n-slide next door.
  10. Condoms – Better safe than sorry, ya know?

For the festival

  1. Phone – It doesn’t work half the time, but it’s your phone. Just in case.
  2. Canvas shoes – It’s nice to go barefoot during the day, but you’ll need arch support eventually, and flip flops won’t provide the protection when you’re in the middle of the Sahara Tent.
  3. Light clothing – Somehow, flowing clothes keep you cooler than none at all.
  4. Small sweatshirt – It can get chilly at night, especially when you’re not in the crowds.
  5. Money clip – You don’t want to bring a whole wallet that can get lost. Some cash and your ID. That’s it. You won’t need that skydiving coupon or your dental insurance.
  6. Sunglasses – It’s bright.
  7. Hat – It’s nice, but if you used sufficient sunscreen it might not be necessary.
  8. Lighter – Even if you’re not smoking, it’s nice to have one to lend to people.

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