A Guide to Burning Man

Burning Man can seem intimidating for first-timers. While you should get ready to have a wonderful experience, it is not as simple as showing up for a ten-day party. There is a lot of preparation to consider before arriving; to help ease the process, I have compiled the best beginner advice to prepare you for the road ahead.

A Guide to Burning Man

70,000 people gather in the middle of a desert to create a beautiful city,

then burn it to the ground

and disappear without a trace.

What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is a gathering of like-minded people who believe in the power of self-expression, art, and love. Within the community, Burners follow Ten Principles which define their values as a group and individual:

1.Radical Inclusion. Everyone is welcome.

2.Gifting. Giving to others unconditionally - without expecting anything in return.

3.Decommodification. No sponsorship, profit, nor advertising.

4. Radical Self-reliance. Discover and rely on your own capabilities.

5.Radical Self-expression. The weirdest, most you you can do.

6.Communal Effort. Contribute to the community and support one another’s efforts.

7.Civic Responsibility. Be responsible for the behavior and welfare of yourself during these times; help your fellow man when in need.

8.Leaving No Trace. Cleaning up after yourselves.

9.Participation. There is something for everyone. Get involved.

10.Immediacy. Be present.

How was it started?

Burning Man began in 1986 by the San Francisco Cacophony Society, an anarchic group of free spirits known for their unique public displays, costumes, pranks, and goal to experience something beyond the mainstream. The first Man stood 8 feet tall and burned with 35 people in attendance - a stark contrast between today’s 70,000 attendees and a towering Man of 70-100 feet.

Important Vocabulary

Art car/mutant vehicle: a themed or decorated vehicle used to get around the playa; a work of art registered with the DMV

Exodus: the mass procession of leaving Burning Man

Gray water: “used” water that has been contaminated by soap, toothpaste, playa dust, food residue, etc.; should be collected and removed carefully; never dump it on the playa

Darkwad/Darktard: someone who walks or rides on the playa at night without appropriate lighting on their person/vehicle

MOOP (Matter Out Of Place): litter; anything on the desert ground that isn’t playa

Playa: the dry lakebed that makes up the ground in the Black Rock City desert; playa dust is extremely fine, almost like a powder; has a high alkaline pH balance, making is corrosive

Theme camp: a group campsite that embodies a particular theme


The dates for ticket sales changed in 2016 due to Burning Man's dealings with the Nevada government. The best way to stay up to date is by checking the official Burning Man Ticket and Vehicle Pass page of their website.

Tickets sell out fast. Plan accordingly.

February: Group Sale and Low-Income Program

March: Pre-Sale

April: Main Sale ($475)

If you don’t get a ticket during the first rounds, relax. There’s still a chance! You can search for tickets in online groups and forums. Remember to never purchase tickets over face value.

Nota Bene: Call and inform your debit/ credit card company in advance so they don’t block the high charge.

The When, Where, and How

Each year, Burning Man falls on the week between the end of August and start of September.

It is held in Black Rock City, Nevada, a couple hours outside of Reno.

If you are driving to Burning Man, make sure to also stop in Reno to top off gas and fill any cans you have, as this might be the last fuel stop you get coming in and out of the event.

Burning Man officials give you a map and schedule book with different activities going on. Hit a few of those, of course, but be sure to explore without using your schedule or map. Some of the most wonderful experiences come from simply getting lost, and you will quickly discover that there is more to do than you could ever cover in just one year.

Getting In, Getting Out

The process of entering and exiting Burning man can take on average 8-10 hours. Breathe, be patient and kind, and bring hobbies and some snacks along for the ride. 

Nota Bene: turn off your car engine when you’re not moving. This saves loads of gas - you don’t want to be stuck with an empty tank in a line of 69,000 people.

If you choose not to drive, there are several charter buses that carry people from San Francisco or Reno and an airstrip on the playa for private planes.

Join a Camp? Or Set Up Solo?

While most people without prior association will bring their own camping set up, it is possible to join a theme camp! There are many benefits to communal living at Burning Man; one of the nicest being above-adequate shelter. Group camps usually set up large shade structures that are braced for high winds and dust storms. Theme camps generally charge a fee to join, and many meals and drinks are prepared communally. This is great if you don’t have the equipment or want to spend time cooking your more substantial meals.

Remember that you will be in close quarters with the people of the camp for nearly ten days, so make sure a camp aligns with your values and personality. You can learn more about joining camps here and by check out different social media pages for the groups on Facebook or Reddit. You can also participate in one of the smaller, regional burns to network in-person.

So What the Hell Do I Bring?

Because Burning Man embraces the idea of radical self reliance, you are expected to bring everything you will need to survive. Besides ice, $5 per bag at Center Camp, and coffee, varying prices at Center Camp Cafe, nothing is sold at Burning Man - so pack wisely.

The basics:

  • Shelter - Something stable and dust-proof

  • Bicycle - The city is 7 miles wide; you can walk, but there's so much to see that a bike will help you cover ground more quickly. Don't forget a bike lock!

  • Food and Water

  • Clothing

  • Lights

Another important aspect to Burning Man culture is that it is a gifting culture. If you have forgotten or lost something, a neighboring camp is happy to help. Most people bring extra supplies to share or provide their own themed gift; more information on this later.


The food you bring should depend on your method of storage. Do you have a refrigerator in your RV? A cooler or ice chest in your tent? Just a box? The easiest choices are foods that won't spoil as quickly and don’t create large amounts of rubbish:

  • Fruit

  • Canned Goods

  • Granola Bars