Burning man is overwhelming on almost every level. From the cacophony of sounds to the level of radical self reliance and preparedness expected that goes along with it.
I decided early last year that I would buy a ticket with my girlfriend and we would undertake the experience that is Burning Man.
I am not one to be unprepared for anything!
No one thought we were Burning Man virgins and were shocked when we revealed that fact.
I want to share with you my top tips and preparation guide to be a prepared playa virgin!
About the time you buy your tickets (Feb) you should be narrowing down on what camp you should join. As a first timer choosing a well organized camp will save you tons of money, connect you with a community of people, and help you prepare. Be ready to spend $100-$350 on dues for the camp and attend multiple work days.
Our camp was amazing and had showers, water delivered, a greywater tank that was serviced right on the playa, an amazing shared kitchen, shade for the tents, use of the generator for recharging electronics in the evenings, and an epic community of half veterans and half virgins.
Start thinking and working early on at least one or two outfits to start making or buying. Mix and match items work great because you can come up with a variety of looks. Don’t forget to think about cool warm vests/jackets to wear at night! Two themes out on the Playa you may want to join is Tutu tuesday, and the White Party. Here is a cheap way to make a tutu. The white party is usually pretty epic and is worth a trip to a thrift store for an all white outfit. My girlfriend made some amazing rainbow hair inserts so she could keep her hair in pony/pigtails using the same method of the Tutu tutorial but using braided colorful yarn around an elastic hair tie. Planning how you are going to keep your hair from dreadlocking as a woman should be a priority. Don’t have time for making more costumes, get body paint!!!
You will also likely be creating some artistic project or clothing item to bring, but don’t delay on planning time for it. If you still have stuff to make and it’s august, you likely won’t get it done.
I can’t recommend this packing list enough: Stitch’s Best Ever Burning Man Packing List
Here were things we brought we found to be essential:
Tent with as few vents as possible to keep the dust out. The Coleman Instant 6 person tent was a fantastic tent. We also made sure to get some rebar and bend the tops to candycanes to replace our tent stakes. Rebar is a must; if you don’t have a way to bend the top get tennis balls to cover the stakes.
Fitted sheet to put over all your bedding during the day to keep the dust off. Baby wipe down before going to bed and your bed will stay almost completely dust free.
I froze (took 4 days in the freezer) a case of 1l water bottles and filled our 5day rated cooler with them instead of using ice. We ate a lot of dried food but did freeze a few things prior and brought those in the cooler. We didn’t need to add ice until 6 days in. 3/4 water bottles frozen and 1/4 food (some frozen) was a good mix.
Go nuts on LED and other lighting. EL wire your bike at a minimum. Maybe learn some arduino and try something fun from adafruit.com I made their led belt kit into a bandolier and wore it almost every night. Glowsticks just dont cut it. If you are looking for cheap buy the 12 packs of jelly led rings. Get 3 or 4 packs and pass out the extras to the dark-tards out on the playa.
Goggles are pretty cheap on amazon but do get one of each both dark and clear. The color changing ones reactive to light don’t work so well in the heat.
Bandanas work just fine in my opinion for dust protection. I had a couple dust masks with valves on them just in case and never used them. Your mileage may vary.
Buy a kickstand for your bike! This was one thing that was really annoying. Not essential if you are trying to save some money but I wished I had one.
Buy a cheap string of battery powered white christmas lights to decorate the inside of you tent. You will be surprised how much time you spend getting ready to go out at night.
Bring a folding table for inside your tent if you have room! It is so incredibly useful.
Bring your stuff in as many bins, milk crates, and storage containers as you can. They can be stacked and the mess stays so much more compartmentalized; making it easier to find stuff and not mess up the tent.
A small 12oz cup with a lid and clipped to your pack with a carabiner is CRUCIAL. I don’t drink alcohol so i figured I wouldn’t bother. There were so many times people offered me Chai, Lemonade, Sodas, Energy Drinks, etc where I wished I had brought one. If you drink, it is a necessity along with your ID to get alcohol at any of the camps serving it.
A luggage lock for your tent zippers. Theft is becoming more an more of an issue. We caught one guy sawing through a propane tube of our neighbors camp to steal the tanks. Don’t be low hanging fruit; lock your bike, lock your tent zippers, don’t leave your bags unattended.
Buy a 12 pack of socks and throw them away after you wear each of them, it will save your feet. I washed with vinegar once but found wiping down my feet with baby wipes each night sufficed to ward off “playa foot”.
Pre-packing day and night packs
One of the biggest time wasters seemed to be packing everything you need in the morning and after dinner when going out. In the future I am going to buy a small mesh drawstring bag and pack one for day and one for night with the following. That way I can just shove the bag in my camel back and go after getting dressed up.
Food Bar (like a powerbar, larabar, or Kind bar)
Bag of salted nuts
Shaker bottle with gatorade to add to drinks to up your electrolytes
Bag of dried fruit and or jerky
Ziplock with toilet paper
Ziplock with baby wipes (don’t EVER put in portapotties)
Light pullover shirt
Bag of snacks
Small water bottle with lid (I often dance with and carry this and just fill it up using my camel back)
A couple extra AA batteries for your various lights
Ziplock with toilet paper
Ziplock with baby wipes (don’t EVER put in portapotties)
If you prep these before you even leave for BRC it will be super easy to find if you end up arriving in a long line and need your sunscreen, goggles, bandana, and hat. Especially if(most likely when) you hit traffic. Having your playa essentials at hand means you can run around and meet people in line with you while cars are stopped waiting.
Plan out your meals and don’t bring more than the plan. You will eat less than half of what you bring. We stuck with granola and almond milk most mornings, with one day of pancakes, and one day of scrambled eggs early on in the week. We also brought a bunch of Pre-boiled eggs.
We never ate lunch and mostly just snacked very lightly. Some apples, cookies, chips and hummus, apple sauce in squeeze containers, jerky, nuts, and dried mango was about all we brought for snacks.
For dinners we made an asian seasoned beef mix and froze it ahead of time. That made great tortilla wraps, quesadilla filler, and more interesting scrambles. We also bought two backpacker meals that you just add boiling water so we could be lazy for a couple nights to make dinner. Everything else went uneaten. You can almost guarantee someone will share an evening dinner with you once or twice as well.
Everyone told me how wrecked my car would be if I drove to the Playa, they were flat out wrong; at least with a little Pre-planning on my part.
Be sure to make a light check to ensure all of your brake, signals, license plate, and headlights are in full working order. The cops are INSANE on the way in and out and will pull you over for any little thing. Remember if you bring bikes your license plate cannot be obscured.
Before you leave cut cardboard to the size of your windows so you have custom fitted window shades. Also bring a couple paper bags to put on the floor like you see mechanics use when your car is in the shop. If you put them down as soon as you hit the playa you can get in and out without getting tons of dust in your car mats. Also bring a couple extra sheets to throw over your seats so you can do the virgin dust angels.
Once you get to camp set up, put your window shades in, and don’t go back in your car all week. I have a black car and black interior and using these tips I barely had to vacuum my car out when I got back, there was very little dust inside. On the way out we stopped at a gas station to change into some Pre-bagged clean clothes, took off the paper floor covers, sheets off the seats, and changed the air filter in the car. Beyond a good wash and wax when we got back, there was very little post playa cleanup and maintenance needed for the car.
Other optional ideas we saw or thought of for next year:
Bring a small mailbox/whiteboard and a flag or something distinctive you can mark your tent with. You will likely have a few visitors and having a place for them to leave messages/gifts is a really nice touch.
Bring a small entryway mat for outside your tent and a hall runner carpet for inside your tent. I brought a dustpan and broom and it was useless.. Carpets trap the dust and can be shaken out easier.
Bring more lights! The intensity of LED’s on people, camps and art cars gets brighter every year. A small bit of EL wire on a hat or clothing is now almost the minimum requirement at night; Glowsticks are a waste of time, money, and are very MOOPy. Think of more ways to be lit up!
Use burnermap.com to find your friends and let people know where you are camped.
In Reno use google maps on your phone and zoom in on BRC. That will cache the image then if you find something cool that you want to return to you can turn on your GPS to see where you and it is. I’m sure sooner or later there will be an app for that if there isn’t already. My goal next year is to GPS map the mid and deep playa porta potties so I can find them even in a dust storm. Those porta potties are like getting keys to the executive washroom, so clean and nice!
Pick up some candied ginger and always carry some with you to tame mild stomach upset/nausea from food or substances you imbibe.