I was asked by a friend recently for advice on planning for his first Burning Man and I figured it would make a good post to put on the blog. These are some recommendations that I have based on 6 months of reading every guide I could before my first Burn and 2 subsequent years of actual on-playa experience. I’m no salty veteran of the Burn, but by now I have started to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
This guide makes no assumptions about the composition of your greater camp (if any), its only intended to be an individual guide for getting ready.
Light, airy, clothing for the day (leave your t-shirts with graphics or slogans at home), warmer clothes at night. By 3 am it is COLD so fancy robes, cloaks, furry coats etc are all recommended. Good boots have worked well for me (get gel inserts to make them more comfy to walk long distances in). If you buy new boots for the Burn make sure they are 100% broken in before you go. The playa dust is alkaline and the mixture of sweaty feet + dust can give you a chemical burn affectionately known as playafoot. You don’t want this. It will ruin your Burn. Lots of people seem to enjoy sarongs or utilikilts, but I haven’t tried either.
Bring good wide brimmed hat of whatever style pleases you. Goggles that seal. This is important, if your goggles don’t seal you might as well not have them. You can get a pair of Oakley snowboarding goggles for like 70 bucks at backcountry.com. Decorative Steampunk goggles are cool, but generally do a terrible job at protecting your eyes from the dust.
Don’t bring Halloween costumes, be creative, make up your own stuff. The more you do here the more rewarding it will be when you’re actually out wandering around, (quality over quantity!) If you don’t bring enough costumes, or you don’t put enough time into them, you’ll wish you did. Costume envy sucks! Its much more fun when people are excited to see what you’re wearing. Burning Man is about stimulation (visual and otherwise) after all!
Bring baby wipes. Unless your camp is bringing a shower, or you’ve arranged with another camp to use theirs this is the only way you’re going to get clean. Even if you’re bringing a shower baby wipes will come in handy. You won’t usually feel sweaty and gross because of how dry the climate is, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t filthy!
Vinegar and water in a spray bottle. The vinegar will neutralize the alkali dust and you should clean your feet with it once a day. a quarter to third cup of vinegar its plenty. Don’t forget the clean socks!
Dust masks: my first year I took a respirator, and while it was ace at handling the dust storms it was clunky, and I couldn’t talk to my friends easily. The second year I just took white dust masks and they worked well enough.
Gatorade/Emergen-C to keep your electrolytes up. Sunblock. Chapstick. A hand pumped bug/weed sprayer makes a great evaporative cooling unit (make sure its brand new, don’t want to hose yourself down with chemicals). Ear plugs are a must. Bring several pair. A High-powered moisturizer. If you have an RX, Xanax, Seroquel and Ambien can help you sleep through the chaos. A first aid kit.
You need a good 5 day cooler. Keep it out of the sun and elevate it off the ground with bricks to make the ice last longer. Bring cash for ice, its the only thing you can buy on the playa (besides coffee at center camp) and even with a 5 day cooler you’re going to need more by day 3. Freeze anything you won’t be eating before Wednesday. It will help your ice last longer. Make sure everything in your cooler is sealed tight, contaminating the cooler water is just asking for food poisoning.
A food sealer has worked well for me (I scored an $80 Seal-A-Meal at Big lots for $20). I’ll go to restaurants and get take out then seal and freeze it. Then when I’m out there I can just boil some water and I’m eating like a king. Plan 2 smallish meals a day as you’ll be surprised how little you feel like eating when when you’ve been in the heat for so long. Also lots of camps serve breakfast, lunch or dinner daily so if you think you’re running low on food you can supplement it by hitting up one (or several) of these camps. My personal favorite is the White Dragon Noodle Bar. Those guys are badasses and their camp is themed around the White Dragon in the movie Blade Runner.
Make sure to bring lots of water. Plan on 4 gallons per day. You definitely don’t want to run out here. I also strongly recommend a Camelbak; don’t put anything in it but water. Bring a separate water bottle for other beverages. Lots of places will serve you a drink, but you have to have your own cup to put it in. Since you will be traveling with your beverage you’ll find a bottle with a sealing lid will be ace. Don’t bring the plastic drinking water jugs they sell water in at the grocery store. They will break and you will be sad. If you want to use this kind of water, transfer it into a solid camping water container.
Water disposal is something you don’t really think about before you go, but you should because there is nowhere to get rid of your grey water while you’re out there (this is and isn’t true, but for the newbie its best to assume there isn’t). Bring at least one empty 6 gallon water jug to store your grey water. (this is why its so nice to just boil your food in the bag, no nasty grey water to dispose of). The majority of this is going to come from your cooler water. Larger camps have other ways of dealing with this problem. A quick Google search for ‘burning man grey water disposal’ will offer up lots of advice on this topic for the curious.
Pack everything out as there are no community trash cans. Leave all packaging at home. A 5 gallon painters/brewers bucket with a lid has worked well as a trash can for me both years but you’ll want to estimate how much disposable stuff you’re actually taking and bring 2 if you think you’ll need them.
This is super important. You need something that will give you shade all day. Temporary carports that they sell at Costco for around 200 are perfect. They hold up to the crazy wind if you secure them properly and they’ll give you somewhere to set your tent up out of the sun. Bring at least one length of re-bar per shade structure support bar and plenty of rope to tie it down. Don’t forget the mallet to drive the re-bar. Also bring tennis balls and cut holes in them to make effective re-bar caps. Trust me, you don’t want to trip in the dark and land on one of these.
There are no lights on the playa so if you’re not lit you’re just asking to get run over by an art car. Make your lighting fun and incorporate it into your costume. Also bring a good headlamp. Flashlights are ok but you don’t want to have to carry it around all the time.
This has varying levels of utility. If you spend a lot of time riding art cars the bike will be a pain in the ass because you cant take it with you. Bring one anyway because Black Rock City is huge, and you can always leave it at camp. A cheap Walmart cruiser works well (like 80 bucks or so) and you’ll see hundreds of people riding them. Make sure you light it for night travel. Whatever bike you bring make sure it has the fat knobby tires. Road bike tires are completely useless out there. Bring a pump and a patch kit and a lock. Bike theft at Burning Man is usually an act of convenience, rather than profit so even if you can’t lock it to a bike rack or other structure, you can just lock it to a friends bike and be reasonably sure it isn’t going anywhere.
In all if it is your first year I would over-prepare. You can read all the guides and tips that are floating around about what to bring and what to leave home, but until you actually get there you wont have any experience to guide you. After your first burn you can make a list of what worked and what didn’t and then start tailoring your supplies for subsequent burns.
Lastly, this is a gifting economy. This doesn’t mean a barter economy though. You wont have to trade something you made in order to eat breakfast at Porn and Eggs. The concept is that you bring something of yourself to give to the community and other people will do the same and at the end of the day it will even out. Pick something fun. Don’t go and buy cheap trinkets to give away. Make something yourself, or provide a service to passers by. Don’t underestimate simple pleasures. One way to bring a smile to anyones face at 4pm is to give them a spray with your sprayer bottle. Don’t go too overboard with your gift the first year. Take everything in and enjoy yourself, you only get one first Burn. You can come back with a crazy art project or theme camp next year!