With a history spanning almost five decades, Reading Festival is one of the UK’s most globally recognised and appreciated festivals and has seen countless iconic artists head up their main stage over the years. From Nirvana’s critically acclaimed headline set in 1992, to Green Day performing Dookie in its entirety in 2013, Reading has had it all. As well as securing the biggest names in popular music, Reading Festival is also a right of passage for a lot of teenagers. For many music lovers Reading will be their first festival experience. Mud, lack of sleep, drinking, camping, and most importantly live music. Reading is a test of physical endurance but is also an unforgettable experience. If you want to have the most enjoyable weekend possible, there are a few tips and tricks you should be aware of, and this guide will provide you with all the best ones!
My first visit to Reading was in 2013 when I was 21 – already a few years older than a lot of the usual attendees, though I didn’t notice. It was one of the most incredible weekends of my life. I made some pretty fantastic new friends, saw an amazing line up of musicians and left the campsite on the Monday totally wrecked physically but also sure that I would be returning every year I could.
I did however also make mistakes, some that could have ruined the weekend had I let them. It happens and if it happens to you, shake it off. I have refined my behaviour over the years to minimise the risk of the bad things happening and have come up with what I believe to be the ultimate guide to surviving the weekend, which I hope you take advice from.
Most importantly – stay safe and have fun!
What they want you to know
- The location of Reading Festival is pretty fantastic. It’s well connected for however you mean to arrive, and there are plenty of supermarkets and restaurants etc in the local area for if you need a break from the festival or to restock on supplies.
- They do random bag searches as you enter the campsites and so don’t try to sneak in anything on the banned items list here. They also check every bag on entrance to the arena, and you will be searched. For previous attendees that are just looking to pick up some new tips, note that this list of banned items has changed in recent years and may require a once over to make sure you are aware of what can now be taken into the arena – a bag no larger than A4, and no chairs for example. The rule regarding one sealed bottle of water has also been done away with and now its plastic empties only. There’s nothing worse than trying to get into the arena to see your favourite band and being turned away!
- Want to see a number of bands but no idea if they will overlap or what time you need to get into the arena? A printed clashfinder will be your godsend. Yes, you could download the Reading app and use that, but why waste your precious battery. For me, the Clashfinder website is an invaluable tool and I always print a number of copies (trust me, you will need them). Impress your mates and take spares for those who haven’t planned.
- There is always a secret set and it’s normally easy to work out when and where. For those with battery, the festival usually tweet it out close to the time it’s happening so stick notifications on their posts on. For the savvier, consider the random gaps on your clashfinder between acts. Doesn’t make sense that someone isn’t playing the Festival Republic stage during a two hour gap at 4pm? I’d bet they are… Sometimes the festival make it not so secret and will poster it around the arena, so keep your eye on the tour adverts too.
What they don’t want you to know
- It’s really easy to sneak in alcohol to the arena. Be as creative as you want (I’m sure you have seen videos of people hiding drinks in their hair, loaves of bread, or the festival classic – beer can in your welly), but a simple bottle hidden on your person is all it takes. Though the bold can definitely hide any old 500ml bottle, I recommend investing in a few folding water bottles such as these available at sports direct. Don’t entirely fill them so they remain more flat, and can easily be hidden under whatever you are wearing.
- Can’t stand the thought of drinking warm spirits from a bottle you’ve snuck in? Add your alcohol to a slushy for an ice cold drink. There are plenty of stalls selling them – go for a refillable cup and you can top up for less money throughout the day.
- The long drops in the campsite are disgusting, yes, but the toilets in the arena are exactly that: toilets. No long drops, no portaloos, actual toilets you can sit on without fear of catching something. The arena opens at 11am every day so save your business for in there if you can, though expect a queue to get in at opening time.
- Quite often you will find businesses just outside the gates of the red camp entrance and along the river selling food for a lot cheaper than inside the arena or festival grounds. One time I even saw someone order a Domino’s pizza to the camp gate! So don’t feel trapped into buying your food and drink inside. Personally, I trek to the Tesco each day and buy food from their hot counter at the back of the store as typically you can get a meal for less than a fiver. As far as alcohol is concerned, I pop into Aldi on the way back from Tesco and buy their own brand spirits for a lot less than the stuff in Tesco. Try to only buy what you will actually need and realistically eat – food and drink open in tents only calls out to ants and wasps.
Tips for Reading first timers
- Pack light. The treks from the car parks can be long and unforgiving. You don’t need the added weight of a 24 pack of beers and 8 gallons of water – leave it in the car or buy it at Tesco later.
- Parked in Green car park? Don’t bother with the boat to the festival unless you are really weighed down. The walk isn’t that long, but the wait for the boat is.
- Parked in White car park? I hope you plan on camping in White or Brown then! Note that anyone with walking difficulties/struggle with stairs should absolutely not park in White as you have to cross a bridge to get into the festival.
- Don’t take a suitcase, you need a camping bag. Every year I see poor folks ruining their suitcases and dragging them through mud/stones with broken wheels. Argos, Amazon and Decathlon all sell really good value bags that will be much more appropriate.
- Camping with friends and want space in the middle of your tents to socialise? Just make sure you don’t leave too big a gap only to find a stranger camped right in that perfect spot that you left!
- Always double the person capacity on a tent. If it’s a four man, it will be big enough for two of you.
- If you want to camp in Green or Purple, get the early entry ticket. In my opinion Red is the best and is where I always camp. White camp may sound appealing to those that want a quiet weekend but it really is a trek to the arena! If you arrive on Friday when the music starts, chances are that White camp is all that will be left.
- Always put your chairs, food, alcohol etc back in your tent before you leave. If you leave them outside, chances are they won’t be there when you get back. I’ve even had people from neighbouring tents go into mine to retrieve my chairs once! So if you can, lock your tent.
- At night whilst you are sleeping, place your bag with your money, your camera, anything valuable really, by your head. Don’t leave anything by the door to the tent that is valuable or you would miss. Don’t keep all your money together
- If the worst does happen and something of yours gets stolen, do report it and approach the lost and found team. My first year at Reading my camera and purse were stolen from my bum bag whilst I was squashed in a crowd during the headline act. I managed to get both of them back, though the money in the purse was gone. Even so I was grateful to have my items back and have learnt since then to be more aware in the crowds.
- Remember to leave time to cross the arena between acts – if it’s a particularly big crowd and you are smack in the middle of it, it’s going to take some time to get out. It’s always easier when getting in or out of the crowd to cut in from the side rather than try to navigate in from the back.
- Finally, a tip I actually learnt from AS4S Editor himself, pay attention to where the speakers and relays are when choosing your spot. If all you can hear are the people around you and not the band, you aren’t close enough to a speaker. A simple tip but one I never considered for many years! Now, I always go for sound over a good view. Thanks Will!
My Reading Packing Essentials
- Wellies – I’ve never not needed them
- Wet wipes
- Socks, socks and more socks
- Tissue packs, not toilet paper. A pack of tissues in your pocket is more discreet than a roll of toilet paper and you might need it on your person throughout the day – better to be safe than sorry
- A chair. Relatively cheap to buy, and your back will thank you for not subjecting it to four days of no support
- Bin bags. Keep your camp area tidy unless you want bugs! Also useful for bagging any wet/dirty clothes should the weather turn
- A padlock. If you can, lock your tent from the inside whilst you sleep. I had my tent robbed and my money stolen at Reading whilst three of us slept inside it, and none of us woke up. When you leave, lock it again. Pick a small combination lock if possible so you don’t have to worry about losing a key!
- Waterproof camping bag cover. You will be surprised how quickly these bags can soak through if they aren’t waterproof (and therefore, your clothes inside too) and a cover is only cheap.
There we have it – the ultimate guide to surviving Reading Festival! You should now be fully prepared to stay safe, keep dry, prevent back problems, and face any other tests that a weekend festival with tens of thousands of teenagers will throw at you. Most importantly, you should be ready to enjoy one of the best weekends of your life!
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