Proper preparation for the festival is critical for your health and survival. While there are emergency medical services available, and they do sell ice to be in accordance with Nevada festival regulations, there is little much else available aside from portable toilets and seemingly endless streets of camps and art to explore. There are no stores or vendors.
Some people go as “ballers”. Ballers generally have other people prepare for them. They fly into Burning Man's makeshift airport, stay somewhere with some sort of air conditioning, and fly out at the end because someone else has hauled in their supplies and provided their shelter.
Some people drive RV's, but the cleanup following the event is not so simple. The dust from the desert sticks to everything. Even a seemingly microscopic layer makes things look and feel dirty. This goes for your supplies and camping gear, as well, not just your vehicle!
All that said, it is a fascinating environment to explore for a week. When I went, I stayed in a camp that a friend was an active member of. The camp was a huge help in providing some of the most basic necessities, and a huge help for my first year.
The camp not only provided water for the week, but a participant-cooked dinner each night. I paid a few hundred dollars to stay with them. Members each took shifts cleaning, cooking, bartending, and building, amongst other things. On the last day, everyone pitched in to disassemble the camp. Some members had even arrived early to build all of it … before us.
The camp also provided eggs and bacon for making your own breakfast. I had brought plenty of trail mix and snacks for lunch, but meals and cooking facilities are not existent unless you've hauled them in yourself.
All in all, there are lots of people around during the week, and no two years are anywhere close to identical. Recently, the festival's attendance has exceeded 50,000 participants. There is no currency, there are no stores. People may give you things, and you should be able to give them something back. It's the spirit and nature of the festival.
I had no idea what I was doing the first year, but I did manage to prepare somewhat well. Here's what I brought:
Random important supplies
- Cellphone (or camera) charger and USB cable
There are places to charge up (sometimes via solar panel + USB), and there is scarce Wi-Fi in some spots. The information booths know where. Cellphone service sometimes works.
- Plastic sandwich bags for your electronics and such. To keep the dust out. I like the ones that have the plastic zippers that slide across. Bring extras!
- $1 bills for buying ice
- Your Burning Man ticket!!
- A CamelBak backpack with a NEW RESERVOIR!
This is the most critical thing you can bring besides water itself. The reservoir could break at any time, and a new one ensures that most likely you won't have any issue. Test it beforehand for defects!
- The address of the camp you're going to.
- Hand sanitizer
- Portable tissues
- Wet wipes
Wet wipes cannot be disposed of in the portable toilets and cause problems, FYI. And since you are supposed to haul out your garbage, keep that in mind.
- Tons of sunscreen
- Lip balm (you'll need it)
- Dust masks for dust storms. The disposable ones are OK. Bring a few of them, and keep them accessible.
- Foam 3M medical tape … great for insulating things like blisters on your feet or heels.
- Ear plugs for sleeping.
- Lotion for your feet
Put it on every day before bed. The dust will destroy your feet otherwise.
- Disposable toothbrush + toothpaste
- EXTRA batteries for whatever you're bringing. Make sure you bought the correct kind.
- Saline nasal spray … extremely important to your comfort, because the dust gets in your nose.
DO NOT FORGET THIS, AND DO NOT BUY MEDICATED NASAL SPRAY of any kind!! Only buy saline and bring plenty of extra.
- A Sharpie permanent marker. Helpful for labeling your stuff in case it gets mixed up with someone else's.
- Any toiletries you want, since there are no stores. Pepto Bismol is always handy in case you get sick to your stomach.
Food + drink
- Gatorade powder
This is absolutely critical. Drinking just water is TERRIBLE and not hydrating enough! You will feel bloated, have a full stomach, etc. — Drinking Gatorade or some other sort of hydration formula will be fine. You will have energy and be OK. I brought two different flavors so that I could rotate, and actively kept track of how much was left in my CamelBak throughout the day.
- V8 (tomato juice)
Salty + awesome for rehydration and nourishment. Can somewhat substitute a meal if you're in need.
- Crackers (not cookies)
- Those little plastic cups of fruit. Critical for vitamins.
- Plenty of water
- Mints … to freshen your breath. Trust me. You can give them out, too. Altoids are nice.
- Trail mix
This was pretty much my diet between breakfast and dinner.
- Fruit leathers
- Ramen/Cup Noodles, as long as you think you'll have access to hot water. Trays of around 12 cups were cheap on Amazon.
- Whatever other snacks you want
.@BurningMan last year taught me so much about nutrition. Not able to run out to the nearest deli or bring a fridge yet always feeling good.— Ben Guild (@benguild)
… Plan ahead, feel good, eat enough, + drink plenty of Gatorade!
- Sleeping bag / tent?
Depends on where you're staying. You're honestly going to get baked out of your tent by 10AM because it's so hot and there's no shade, so don't worry too much about the quality of these things.
- 12-inch stakes for your tent
The stakes that come with your tent are crap. They will not work. The wind is strong, and the ground is crumbly. Some people use rebar that goes a few feet deep. This is something you should research.
- Duct tape for random stuff
- Swiss army knife
- Trash bags. One for dirty clothes, one for clean clothes, one for your sleeping bag, a few extras. These can keep the dust out. The ones with draw strings are the best in my opinion.
- Flashlight. — Ideally an LED headlamp that you don't have to hold.
- Reusable cup for social drinking
People will give you free alcohol, and although drinking it isn't the best choice since you're in the desert and alcohol dehydrates you, you'll need a cup to put it in.
- A towel, or two. Small ones are OK, in my opinion. Stuff dries out pretty quickly here.
- What I wore most of the week: cargo shorts, a CamelBak backpack, sunglasses, and shoes. At night, I added a sweatshirt and an LED headlamp. I did not wear a shirt, because it was so hot. I did not wear a hat since they make my head hot.
- Hat, if you want.
I don't wear hats. I chose to duck into random tents/exhibits/structures for shade. Grow your hair out as an alternative?
- A winter coat + warm clothing.
A sleeping bag might be enough granted that you can get back to your camp fast enough if it gets cold. An interesting option is a space blanket since they are very compact and super warm.
- Shoes that you don't care about. I wore Vibram Five Fingers and only removed them inside my tent. Five Fingers are great since you don't need socks.
DO NOT buy knock off Vibram Five Finger shoes. Be extremely careful about this, as the price being cheap often means poor durability. — Also, do not get your feet wet or dirty, because when you go to put your shoes back on, they'll get dirty inside or won't fit at all! … These shoes are perfect as long as you don't have to take them off outside your shelter tent/RV.
- Goggles for dust storms. Swim goggles are OK as long as they are accessible. These are important.
Clothing tip: Do not wear clothes that will chafe. IN ANY WAY. This includes seams that may rub against your skin, tight things, baggy things that may float around and rub your limbs/chest, shoes that rub against your heels, etc. — Why? Because the dust gets into that seam or whatever rubs against you and it will burn or blister.
Bicycles: If you can bring a bicycle, do it. But, don't bring a good one because the dust will ruin the mechanics. — And, bring a lock for it! People “borrow” bikes all of the time.
Before you go: Pay your rent/bills, cut your finger and toe nails, make sure that your email has an autoresponder, SETUP AND TEST YOUR SUPPLIES/GEAR BEFOREHAND! Make sure you know how your tent assembles and disassembles.
Illuminate: Find a way to be visible/cool/flashy at night. The Playa can be pitch black and it's somewhat dangerous. I wrapped some cheap battery-powered Christmas LED lights around my CamelBak backpack's straps.
How I rolled…
As mentioned, I pretty much walked around shirtless with cargo shorts on and my CamelBak backpack for the entire week. It's hot, it's dusty, and you don't want to have to haul a ton of laundry around. — At night I would put on a sweatshirt and an LED headlamp, but keep the same outfit otherwise. I only changed clothes out entirely a few times over the course of the week since the air is so dry.
My tent was setup at the camp I was registered for, and I kept my stuff in boxes and trash bags to try to keep the dust out. By the end of the week, the dust was everywhere, but my food and supplies were safe. I was feeling OK, too. However, my supplies were running out, and it was clear that I was not prepared for a second week should I have had to stay for one.
I'd bought everything I could on Amazon Prime before the California Sales Tax act passed, taking advantage of the discounts and Free 2-Day Shipping. The shipping boxes they'd used were helpful for transporting stuff to the Playa, too. Everything was pretty cheap on Amazon, and I think that overall the trip cost me about $1000 USD. That price is including my Burning Man ticket, which was just under $300 itself. The biggest hassle I had, honestly, was finding transportation to the Playa. Since I didn't own a car, and renting one would be prohibitively expensive compared to the rest of the trip's overall cost, this was difficult to figure out. In terms of bus transit to the Playa, everything was fairly booked up since I was planning at the last minute. — Through friends, though, I was finally able to secure a ride. — I was stoked!
Looking forward to adventures again on the Playa! See you there.