How to Stay Cool at Hot Summer Festivals

posted by Alyssa Buffenstein on May 06, 2014

Governors Ball 2012 by Marjana Jaidi

For my very first Warped Tour, 14-year-old me thought it would be a great idea to make and wear a homemade Chiodos t-shirt so I could simultaneously rep my then-favorite band and look totally brutal and hardcore. Of course, the t-shirt was black, with layers and layers of pink spray-painted lettering that I believe said "Craig Owens > Chuck Norris" (we all did some weird stuff at 14). But once my friend's mom dropped me off outside the venue, I began to realize that I had made a grave sartorial mistake. 

No, I wasn't as bad off as the skeletal boy with dyed black hair who was already on the hunt for a pair of scissors to cut his skinny jeans into skinny shorts, but my sticky, heat-absorbing t-shirt had to go. Not long after I got through the gates, I bought a white tank top from some band and ditched my DIY creation, an act that saved me from missing Chiodos' set due to heat stroke. 

It's easy to get ambitious and try to put your best shoe (or black shirt, or pair of pants) forward when it comes to your festival look, but summer festivals just aren't the place for forsaking function for fashion. High temperatures, long days, and rigorous activities like dancing, moshing, and running from stage to stage call for clothes and accessories that will help keep you cool. To help, we put together this guide to staying cool at hot summer festivals. Read on for our tips then use the list at the bottom of the article as your summer festival packing list. 



Once you buy your festival ticket and finalize your travel plans, the next piece of planning you do is probably outfit-related. While some festivals can be as much about fashion as music, summer festivals shouldn't be catwalks. More than any other time of year, summer outfits must be carefully planned so they won't throw a roadblock in your day, whether that means forcing you to buy a more comfortable t-shirt, or contributing to your trip to the medic tent with a heat stroke. 

Keep color and fit in mind when planning your festival outfit - a white, long-sleeved cotton shirt can keep you cooler than a black polyester crop top. Wear light-colored, natural fabrics that are breathable and reflect sunlight. Flowy cuts and textured fabrics like seersucker increase air flow to your skin, keeping you cooler than tight-fitting clothes.  

And, especially if you're at a beach festival or plan on getting wet at some point, consider your fabrics - are you really going to want damp denim shorts all day? You could try a bathing suit that looks like clothes, like the one above by UNIF, to kill two birds with one stone, but bring along a change of clothes in case the suit gets uncomfortably damp or chafe-y. And speaking of water, don't forget a light plastic poncho if rain is in the forecast.


Via American Apparel 

Sunglasses are an obvious must-have, but don't bring your Ray-Bans. Cheap sunglasses get the job done just as well, and it won't ruin your day if your $10 pair gets lost or broken in the crowd. Even if you forget, plenty of bands, vendors, and sponsors love giving away branded sunglasses. Pick up a pair, and you can prevent your corneas from frying at the small price of becoming a walking billboard.

Alternatively, you could shield your face from the sun by wearing a hat. Your hat should be as breathable and lightweight as your clothes, because otherwise you'll just trap heat on your scalp. Opt for something straw, or even paper like the one above from American Apparel.

It's also not a bad idea to bring a bandana to a summer festival. You can use it to wipe sweat, keep dust and sand out of your face, tie back your hair, or tourniquet a wound (kidding - get yourself to the medical tent). 

If you have long hair, your neck will sweat, your hair might dreadlock, and the whole experience will be uncomfortable at the least. You should probably tie your hair back to avoid that whole fiasco.


Via La Roche-Posay and Neutrogena 

Your festival memories shouldn't involve peeling skin and aloe vera, so get yourself a good sunscreen - preferably one that will keep you cool as well. A spray is ideal, because it takes minimal effort to apply and is a lot lighter feeling on your skin than traditional versions. Some festivals don't allow aerosol cans, so check the festival's website before you go and get a cream version instead if you need to. Throw a chapstick with SPF in your bag while you're at it, because sunburned lips are a thousand times worse than regular chapped lips.

La Roche-Posay makes an ultra light, sensitive-skin-friendly SPF 60 that won't leave you feeling gunky and greasy after multiple applications, and it also comes in a cream if spray cans are a no-go.

Or, you could try Neutrogena's cooling sunscreen, which performs the dual function of keeping your skin protected and cooling you down, making applying sunscreen fun in the way that taking good-flavored medicine is fun - you get a little incentive for doing something tedious.

Hydration & Cooling

Via O2 Cool

Remember that misting fan your parents bought you when the heat index at SeaWorld was 110 degrees? Dig it out of storage, because it will save your life at a summer festival. If you're in the pit between sets, the temperature feels about 278 degrees hotter than it does when a band is actually playing, so this thing will be more valuable to you than your festival wristband. You can even get one with a carabiner to minimize the amount of stuff you have to carry all day, just make sure to have water with you or you'll just be left with a tiny plastic fan attached to your belt loop (oh, wait…). 

If you'd prefer not to bring back childhood theme park vacation memories, you could bring a spray bottle to your summer festival of choice. A couple face-spritzes here and there can do wonders on a hot day. And if you're really in a pinch, you could always just fill an old windex bottle with tap water. 

While we're talking about getting wet, I'll mention that staying hydrated is the key factor to enjoying yourself at any festival. It's all the more important when it's summer and you immediately sweat out any liquids you consume. Bring your own water bottle though, because the two things you don't want are 1) a hospital trip because you're dehydrated, and 2) to pay $10 for a bottle of Evian.

Some festivals might not allow full water bottles, so check with their websites first. In most cases, though, you can bring in an empty bottle to fill up at a water bottle filling station, water fountain, or bathroom sink, depending on the festival. Hydroflask and Polar Bear both make good insulated bottles, in stainless steel and plastic, respectively, with  a variety of colors and sizes to choose from. Drink up!  

Via Flexi Freeze

If you care a negative amount about your outfit's aesthetic but are really, really nervous about getting overheated at a festival, try the Flexi Freeze Ice Vest. It's basically a vest full of ice cubes, and while you'll probably look like a riot control cop in it, you'll be the envy of all your hot, sweaty friends with this wearable freezer. 

Probably the most festival-appropriate product to ever hit the shelves of Walgreen's "As Seen On TV" section is the Chilly Towel, which is exactly what it sounds like. You soak it in water, wring it out, and feel the icy-cool refreshment as the "hyper-evaporating" material gets colder as it dries. It might seem cheesy, but you'll be glad you have it when your friends' damp bandanas become tepid and your Chilly Towel is still, well, chilly.

To recap, here's what to add to your next festival's packing list: 
1. Light-colored, breathable clothes and/or a bathing suit 
2. Light plastic poncho, rather than a waterproof jacket
3. Cheap sunglasses
4. Lightweight Hat 
5. Bandana 
6. Spray or cooling sunscreen
7. Misting fan or spray bottle
8. Insulated water bottle
9. Fleexi Freeze Ice Vest 
10. Chilly Towel

See Also:

Stylish Camping Gear for Coachella's Fashionable Festivalgoers
8 Best Tents for Camping Festivals
Low-Maintenance Grooming for Camping Festivals