Burning Man is a festival in the desert. However, this post is only about getting ready for the festival, and not about the festival itself… aside from the cool photos I've included. — For some more clips of it, check out my previous post! 😉
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 “turnkey campers.” — These goers generally have other people (called “sherpas”) prepare for them, in exchange for real-world cash outside of the playa. They often fly into Burning Man's makeshift airport rather than traveling by land, stay somewhere with some sort of air conditioning, and then fly out at the end because someone else has hauled in their supplies, provided their shelter, and agreed to remove their trash.
Some people drive RVs, 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.
The camp not only provided water for the week, but also a participant-cooked dinner each night and provided eggs and bacon for making your own breakfast each day. — 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.
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!
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.
Gathering supplies to go
I had no idea what I was doing the first year, but I did manage to research and prepare somewhat well. — So, here's what I brought! 📦
Random important supplies
- Your Burning Man ticket! 😱
- Cellphone and/or camera chargers and USB cables. (There are places to charge up sometimes via solar panel or USB, and also scarce Wi-Fi in some areas. The information booths know where and can tell you, but also cellphone service sometimes works, too.)
- Plastic sandwich bags for your electronics, and such! These help keep the dust out. (I like the ones that have the plastic zippers that slide across, but regardless, be sure to bring extras!)
- $1 USD bills, for buying ice. (A little cash to be safe is good in case you really have to leave the playa to go to the General Store as a day-trip.)
- A CamelBak backpack and a new reservoir for it! (This is the most critical thing you can bring besides water itself, and since the reservoir could break at any time, having a new one ensures that you should be OK. Just test it out beforehand to check for defects!)
- … The address for the camp that you're going to! 😅
Supermarket (non-food items)
- Hand sanitizer
- Portable tissues
- Wet wipes (These can not and should not be disposed of in the portable toilets and will cause problems. Since you are supposed to haul out your garbage, keep this in mind!)
- Tons of sunscreen
- Lip balm (… You'll need it!)
- Dust masks, for when there are 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 and an eye-mask for sleeping.
- Lotion for your feet (Put it on every day, before bed. The dust will destroy your feet, otherwise!)
- Disposable toothbrush and toothpaste
- Extra batteries for whatever you're bringing. (Double-check that you have the right kind, and test all equipment!)
- Saline nasal spray is extremely important to your comfort, because the dust will get in your nose! (… DO NOT FORGET THIS! AND, DO NOT BUY MEDICATED NASAL SPRAY OF ANY KIND! Only buy plain saline, and bring a few extra bottles.)
- A Sharpie permanent marker can be helpful for labeling your stuff in the case that it might get mixed-up with someone else's.
- … Any other toiletries that you want, since there are no stores! (Pepto Bismol is always handy in case you get sick to your stomach!)
Food and drink
- Gatorade powder! This is absolutely critical. Drinking plain water is 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 with me so that I could rotate between days, and actively kept track of how much was left in my CamelBak throughout the day. Sugar-free might be a good choice, but YMMV!)
- Plenty of water!
- Canned V8 vegetable juice! (Salty, awesome for rehydration and nourishment, and can also somewhat substitute a meal!)
- Some crackers (Not cookies!)
- Those little plastic cups of fruit.
- Some mints… to freshen your breath! Trust me. (You can give them out, too! Altoids are nice.)
- Assorted trail mix. This was pretty much my diet between breakfast and dinner. (Be sure to avoid stuff that'll melt!)
- Those chewy fruit leather snacks are pretty great, although they may melt a bit and become sticky in the wrapper.
- Cup Noodles, as long as you think that you'll have access to hot water. (Trays of about 12 cups were cheap on Amazon!)
- … Whatever other snacks you may want, too. 😄
.@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)
- Sleeping bag / tent? This sort of depends on where you're staying. (You're honestly going to get baked out of your tent by 10AM if you're without air-conditioning and shade, so don't worry too much about the quality or ratings of these things.)
- 12-inch stakes for your tent, if using a tent. The small stakes that come with your tent are not enough! (The wind is strong, and the ground is crumbly. Some people use rebar that goes a few feet deep, but this is something you should research.)
- Duct tape and a Swiss Army knife (For random stuff!)
- Some trash bags. One for dirty clothes, one for clean clothes, one for your sleeping bag to keep the dust out during the day, and a few extras because why not? (The ones with draw strings are the best, in my opinion.)
- A flashlight. Ideally an LED headlamp that you don't have to hold with your hands.
- A reusable cup for social drinking. (People may give you free alcohol, and although drinking it isn't the best choice since you're in the desert and alcohol dehydrates you, …you'd need a cup to put it in!)
- A towel, or two. Small ones are OK, in my opinion! (Stuff dries out pretty quickly there.)
- What I wore most of the week: cargo shorts, a CamelBak backpack with storage, sunglasses, and shoes. At night, I added a sweatshirt and an LED headlamp, but overall I did not wear a shirt because it was so hot, and chose to not wear a hat either since they make my head hot! Maybe grow your hair longer, instead? 😅
- A winter coat and warm clothing? A sleeping bag might be enough at night if you can get back to your camp quickly, but sometimes it can get cold. An interesting alternative is to carry a space blanket, since they are super compact and very warm.
- Shoes that you don't care about. I wore Vibram Five Fingers and only removed them inside my tent so that the dust couldn't get inside, because otherwise you can't put them back on if they're dirty/wet. 😕
- Sunglasses are obviously key.
- Some goggles for dust storms! Swim goggles are OK. (These are important, so keep them accessible.)
… And, that's about it! Don't bring too much, either. 😅
A few other random things…
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 your skin.
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, and definitely setup and test your gear and supplies beforehand!
Make sure that you know how your tent assembles and disassembles, also!
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, 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 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” (targeting online stores) had passed, taking advantage of the discounts and free two-day shipping. The shipping boxes they use are 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 USD 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 already since I was planning at the last minute.
Through friends of friends, though, I was finally able to secure a ride, and I was stoked! 👍🏻
Looking forward to adventures on the playa again soon! See you there. 😎