Monday, December 04, 2006

SYWTGTW: Gear, Packing, and Documents

Now, you know how to get to Wacken. What you may not know yet is what you'll need for gear once you're there. The following is a general guide to Wacken equipment that I did a while back.

Wacken-gear for the international traveler

- frame or military pack
You don't want to be stuck dragging a suitcase around the campground, looking for somewhere to pack your tent out. Your pack should be big enough to stow all your gear, and have enough straps or lashing points to allow you to tie other stuff onto it. It also should have well-padded shoulder straps and some kind of hip belt. This allows you to carry your gear easily around without breaking any part of your body.
If you haven't ever backpacked before, do some practice walking around with your pack under its full load to get a feel for it. You will likely have to carry your pack about a kilometer to get to somewhere where you can tent.

- light tent
If possible, make friends in Germany or other European countries who are going to be driving, and share a tent with them, as they'll be able to bring in a larger sleeping structure, and it's one less thing you have to pack. If this isn't possible, or if you don't feel comfortable in such a situation, you need your own light tent. This should have, if possible, a plastic tarp bottom in order to prevent leaks to the underside, and a moderate degree of waterproofing. Those two-second tents are good for anyone who is not flying, but will usually be destroyed in a typical airplane.
Your tent should be small enough to fit into your pack with the other gear. When you set it up, be sure to also set up the rain fly. Most of the time, the weather is fine, but when it rains, it fucking pours.

- sleeping bag
This should be rated to about freezing, and should pack up into as small a space as possible. Compressibilty is probably more important unless you catch cold easily. At night in this part of Germany, a 40-degree (Fahrenheit) bag will not cut it, but you don't really want the weight or expense of a full winter-weight bag in your backpack.

- ground pad
This is not strictly essential (I did my first Wacken without one), but going without will tie your back in knots, and you'll need to be a lot drunker to get to sleep. There are pads out now that will auto-inflate on being unrolled; I had one of these and it was a perfect solution, compressing small and light for packing in and out while being nice and soft to sleep on. Anyone who claims that sleeping outside on anything other than the hard ground and/or a cloak is unmetal has never tried to do so in real life.

- longsleeve t-shirt or patchjacket
Most of the time, Wacken is too hot for most people to wear a kutte over their normal black shirt. However, once it gets dark, it's fucking cold if you're in a shortsleeve t-shirt. With a longsleeve, you can push the sleeves up for daytime operations, then pull them down after dark. This is probably the optimum solution; a full patchjacket is comfortable at night, but will probably induce too much heat during the day.
I built a patchjacket instead of a kutte because that's where my inclinations lay, and it's that jacket that I wear to Wacken, because it also provides better weather protection, and my first Wacken was 2005; weather protection accordingly looms large in my mind. The heat is more or less bearable.

- cargo shorts
If you think you can get by with the normal allotment of pockets and no straps, go ahead and try. However, if you aren't wearing a kutte or some other jacket, you're going to need the extra pockets to store cups, running order sheets, free CDs, your camera, your phone, your lighter and cigs or rolling accessories, etc, etc, etc in addition to your wallet, passport, and normal accessories which normally travel in your pockets. It is for this reason that most other people you see, especially natives, will be in a black longsleeve and cutoff military pants. Blend in, it's optimal! The other option is to wear a mini-pack, but then there is the risk of getting beaten up as a fucking Eastpak metalcore emo, which they also have in Germany and like just as little.

- boots
If you don't normally wear boots or other heavy footgear, start doing so to toughen up your legs. If you aren't used to wearing boots, they will drag on you and wear out your legs long before the end of the day. Most of the time, boots are not necessary, but they make you more sure-footed when carrying your pack to and from the campsite, and they will be a lifesaver if there is significant rain and the ground starts dissolving. Because Wacken is held on a field that is normally a cow pasture, there are not a lot of really deep roots, and the trampling of 30-60,000 metalheads rapidly destroys any structure in the soil. At Wacken 2005, where it rained basically without letup, the organizers laid down several tons of straw in front of the stages every morning, and the infield was still ground to a fine paste by mid-afternoon. The campgrounds, especially those in lower-lying areas, were in places more or less underwater by the end of the festival, and many more cars had to be towed out by tractor than got out under their own power. This is not a usual situation, but it's always possible.
My boots are all-leather-top Chippewas with Vibram soles and ten-inch uppers. Boots less tall will probably not provide sufficient ankle support. If you won't be using these as everyday footwear, you can buy a pair of army-surplus jungle boots for about $20, but you should be prepared to discard them after the festival; I tried wearing surplus boots once, and completely destroyed them in the space of five weeks. Rotten for sustained use, but they will probably do good service over your break-in period plus the festival weekend.

- extras
Pack one pair of underwear for each day you're going to be at the festival, and 2 extra pairs of sturdy socks. You should accordingly be sure that you've got at least 3 pairs of hiking socks before going overseas; regular socks will not stand up if you're going to be on your feet thrashing for 10+ hours a day. Similarly, have at least one extra shirt in case you don't find anything cool at the merch stands. You won't need spare shorts, but you should be mentally prepared to discard your shorts on returning home if they become too destroyed.
The reasons for these are as follows. Your underwear will likely smell like concentrated butt and gym locker after you've been out and sweating into it all day when you first strip down to go to sleep. Your immediate and correct instinct will be to tie it off in a plastic bag and bury it at the bottom of your backpack. If it's wet out, it's not smart to put socks on wet. The proper technique is to spread out the previous day's socks out to dry on your pack and put on a new pair; on the following day, you can swap the wet socks for the dried-out ones, leaving one dry pair in reserve. Spare shirts are less essential because they can be easily bought on location; these will be dry and won't stick cold wet compresses to your torso. Spare shorts are unnecessary because they won't be in constant contact with your body, and the area they're on isn't as sensitive as your torso. This allows you to get out of bringing spares.

- 2 tarps
Pack two tarps with you; if you've got a change of flight, one should go in your crash bag. One of these tarps will go under your tent as a ground cloth to be extra-sure that water won't get into it, and the other can be used as an emergency supplement to your rain fly if things get bad enough. The tarp in your crash bag has an additional use.

- crash bag
If you have to change planes at any point, there is the chance, though slight, that your luggage could be lost. If this happens, you will be without tent or other camping gear -- unless you buy some in Germany at inflated prices, reducing your cash supply for merch, food, and beer, or unless you brought a crash bag for a carryon. My crash bag is a messenger-bag style design that when I'm not on the airplane can be strapped easily to the top of my pack; this year at Wacken it carried one tarp, six all-purpose wire tent stakes, one fleece blanket, a coil of nylon rope, a roll of duct tape, and my camera and notebook. If I had landed in Germany without my field pack, I would have purchased a knife and a lighter locally, then used the tarp to make an open shelter, staked down with the stakes and tied down with lengths of rope cut and sealed to length and held open at the head end with a stick support found and shaped on location.
The crash bag, if you use one, should contain the absolute minimum of stuff needed to shelter yourself at Wacken. In the event that you have to use it, you should also be prepared to leave everything you brought in it in-country so that you can use it to carry back merch and other souvenirs. If your main pack makes it, it should be possible to pack in all your crash bag stuff so that you can also use it to make sure your Wacken souvenirs get home in one piece, even if your backpack is a little delayed.

- garbage bag
Bring at least one sturdy plastic garbage bag to put over the foot of your sleeping bag. This is the part that is most likely to come in contact with the side of the tent, accordingly the part that is most likely to get wet, and the part that you most strongly do not want to get wet, because your bare feet will be in close contact with it all over. The garbage bag will keep the water out as long as your tent doesn't flood.

- plastic shopping bags
These will hold your laundry, which will in many cases (as mentioned above) be unbearably stinky. They will contain the stench and isolate it from other parts of your kit.

- carabiner
The most cost-effective way to drink at Wacken is from the highly souvenirable liter-mug (Massbier). However, these are usually impossible to put in a pocket, and if you've got one in your hand all day, it can get tiresome and awkward. A decorative carabiner attached to a belt or tool loop on your shorts will allow you to keep your mug to hand wthout it actually being in your hand the whole time. Tip the mug over so that the open end faces down; this will prevent it from inadvertently catching other people's cigarette ashes, which is always a good thing.

- camera
You will be able to get into the infield with any camera that looks sufficiently non-professional, and of course you ought to, in order to get pictures for the home folks. These can be a powerful inducement to get people to come the following year, and ofcourse more is always merrier (as long as the organizers are prepared for it, which they usually are). Shoot cool one-of-a-kind pictures that you won't get in the metal mags, and they'll know that you were really there at the world's greatest metalparty instead of just banging hookers in the Reeperbahn.

- cap
More people wear boonie hats than caps, though there are some in attendance. However, one won't just make you look like a metalcore kid, it can actually be useful. When you pass a drinking water tank in the campground, draw yourself a hatfull and drink it on the way down to the festival grounds. This gives you some refreshment and also a cool towel on your head that will prevent the early heat from getting to you as much.
This assumes, of course, that you're a normal metalhead and using some variant of an army or painter's cap rather than a baseball-style hat that has holes in the top. This will still cool you off, but is kind of useless as a drinking vessel. Trucker caps are right out and will probably get you beaten up for a fucking emo anyways.

- pellet chocolate candy
This may be underestimated, but it can make a definite difference if you need a quick shot of energy. Before any significant trip on which I may need such instant power boosts, I lay in a pound or so bag of peanut butter M&Ms; nothing else is quite as effective at pure get-up-and-go delivery, as they contain both sugar and chocolate for an immediate hit and fats in the peanut butter to sustain the burn a little. Peanut stuffs, especially peanut butter stuffs, are probably the best; those who have peanut allergies are I guess kind of screwed.

This should about cover it; it's nearly everything you're likely to need and it should be eminently air-portable.

Of course, you have to be able to get onto the airplane for any of the foregoing to be useful. For that, since this is an international connection, you will need a passport, and if you're one of the nine in ten Americans who don't hold a currently-valid US passport, you're going to need to get one. You can fill out the forms at many post offices, and if your local post office won't let you do this, they will know where you have to go to do them. In addition to the paperwork, you're going to need to submit two standard photos, which you can probably get taken at any photo-supply shop. Ask about passport photos; if they don't do them, they'll probably know somewhere that does. The post office, if they do passport applications, will also usually know of a couple places to get photos taken.

Adult passport applications cost a $45 processing fee (check payable to the State Department) and generally take about six weeks. Do this right now if you think you might want to go to Wacken any time in the next decade; some airlines require a passport to be able to purchase international tickets. As alluded, your freshly minted passport will be good for ten years from date of issue, and will get you into most countries that you might want to go to without an additional visa.

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