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.
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
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.
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
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:
Peanut Butter/ Nutella
Water. Two gallons per person per day is the recommended proportions.
White Vinegar. The dust from the playa is slightly acidic can get into the nooks and crannies of your feet and hands and give you what is commonly known as “playa foot,” a minor chemical burn. Wearing socks and close-toe shoes, cleaning your hands regularly, and shielding your sleeping area from dust are all ways to prevent playa foot, but pouring or wiping white vinegar over these body parts counteracts the acid in the soil! You don’t have to do this every day; once every couple days to help the dryness feels amazing.
While bringing perishables can require extra work, if you have the proper resources, it can feel like luxury. My advice to those who want to give this a try:
1.Bring an ice chest, waterproof and resealable packaging for food, and small camping stove.
2. Refill the ice each morning. Get up every morning as early as possible and refill the cooler with a bag of ice or two. This will last you through the night.
3.Keep packages and the cooler closed as much as possible. This helps it retain its temperature.
What to Wear
Anything and nothing!
Remember #5 of the 10 Principles? Radical self-expression. Oh buddy, don't we mean it!
You will see individuals rocking everything from original fairy costumes to character portrayals, astronaut suits to birthday suits. Be creative. Be weird. Be you.
A lot of what gets brought into Burning man as costumes are recycled due to wear and tear from the playa; therefore, many people shop thrift stores to find unique pieces for their outfits.
Remember to bring items that will also help you manage the harsh environment :
Socks and close-toed shoes - Avoid getting playa foot
Goggles - Protect your eyes from the playa dust
Bandana, scarf, gasmask, etc. - Cover mouth and nose covering during dust storms
Light clothes for hot days - It is a desert after all.
Thick jacket/ coat for cold nights - Deserts are cold at night.
Nota Bene: 1. Dust storms can happen anytime, day or night. Always be prepared.
2. Some groups set up thrift shops in their camp! Keep an eye out in case you're missing that perfect piece for one of your outfits.
All of the Lights!
Because there are so many lights throughout Black Rock City, many people do not realize the danger of your own person being unlit on the playa at night. It can be dangerous as you can easily be hit by a bicycle or art car you hasn't seen you.
To avoid this, light up! Deck yourself and your bike out in anything that lights up, i.e. glow sticks, LED strings, a flashlight, fairy wings, hats, etc. Don’t forget to put lights on your back!
Nota Bene: Always snag some extra batteries to bring with you and to share.
Burning Man is a gifting culture. This means that most people bring something to hand out or offer a service to others unconditionally, without expecting anything in return.
No need to rack your brain for ideas, because it is likely that anything that pops into your mind will be appreciated. Two of my favorite gifts have been a banana from a guy in a gorilla suit pushing around a shopping cart full of fruit and a scheduled lecture on time and space given by two award-winning PhD physicists.
Think of something you’d love to receive while spending your days and nights in an isolated desert environment:
Moistened face wipes
A cold drink
A good joke
Fans for the day
Hand warmers for the night
Leave No Trace
#8 of the 10 Principles
Plain and simple: keep the playa (and the planet) clean. Anything and everything that came with you, leaves with you.
One of the best parts about Burning Man is surviving a new environment with only what you need, so pack to create as little waste as possible. Don’t bring cheap clothes and accessories that will blow away in the wind or break apart on the playa.
Nota Bene: Do not pour (grey) water or piss on the playa.
And take your damn bike with you.
Other Tips to Go Green for Burners
Pack smart. Pack to create as little waste as possible.
Recycle. There is a Recycle Camp at the event each year. More information here.
Carpool. Save money and space.
Do not waste food. Do not put food on your plate and not eat it. Food waste, at a minimalist event of all places, doesn't vibe well. Evaluate your second helping, pass the rest to a friend, or bring Tupperware.
Solar lights. Solar power is one of your best friends on the planet and playa. Brining a few extra strands of solar lights is one of the easiest ways to be proactive about safety and comfort.
Be responsible reducing and getting rid of your grey water. More information here.
Have a Blast!
Burning Man is all about love. Love for your neighbor, your planet, and yourself. People are there to shake off the pressures of society and the demand to be anything other than your authentic self.