What to Pack for Burning Man

2011 Rites of Passage poster by Cory & Catska

After 9 years of attending Burning Man, I have a pretty good sense of how you should prepare. Here is the most important thing. Read this carefully. The most important thing is that you arrive in Black Rock City safely, you leave safely, and you arrive home intact. That is true wisdom right there. PLEASE BE SAFE. One of the jokes at Burning Man is “safety third.” I laugh every time I hear it. It gives people license to climb to the very top of a 50 foot structure. But safety is not a joke and I have seen scary situations first-hand. RVs and cars crunched, collapsed, overturned on the side of the road. I see it all the time! Take turns driving. Make sure you are well-rested. Make sure the driver has an alert passenger who is also watching carefully. Take breaks.

How many times have I gotten pulled over for speeding? Let’s just say many years ago, I almost had my license suspended—during a time when I absolutely needed my car for work. That’s a bad situation. So pay attention to every speed limit sign. In Gerlach, you will need to slow down. Obey that limit, otherwise you will get pulled over.

On a happy note, make sure that you stop in either direction at one of the taco stands and get Indian tacos. Those are some of my best memories. Indian tacos!

Read the Survival Guide. If you buy a ticket, you’ll get one mailed to you. Otherwise, read it online. http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/ I read this every year. It is required reading with helpful tips on what’s new, safety, exodus, etc. Don’t be that first time burner who misses out on some really good information. Many smart tips from seasoned burners are in the guide!

I’m not going to give you a litany of all the crap you should pack. You can find most of that in the survival guide. My advice is to be prepared for the most extreme hot and cold weather you have ever experienced. Pack as if you’re going to the Philippines in the summer. Pack as if you’re going to Antarctica to see the Emperor penguins. Pack for extreme weather. I get heat rashes. After a week, little bumps start appearing all over my arms and thighs no matter how much sunscreen I’ve been applying. Do as much as you can to shade yourself. Also make note of the Walmart locations in Reno to pickup any last minute items.

In addition to a camera, I wish I’d had a flip camera or video capability to capture what a picture doesn’t—the roller coaster ride, the zip line, the Homouroboros zoetrope.

If you don’t have a lock on your bike, it will get stolen. Lock your bike at all times. Also, you can get disoriented and think you left your bike in a specific space. While you reorient yourself and get your bearings, it will give you peace of mind to know that you locked your bike and that it’s definitely there. Locking and unlocking your bike should be easy. I have a kiddie lock with a simple key that I keep strapped to my wrist. So easy to click in and out while watching other people deal with chains and complicated U-locks. Any simple lock is fine. Also, having a basket on your bike is huge!

One tip I like is to make your first picture: a piece of paper with your name, playa name, camp name, specific camp location, phone number, email address. That way if your camera gets lost, they know how to find you.

Make sure you have a backpack and bring a pen, pencil, and paper. It’s so nice to be able to write down events that you hear about ad hoc while chatting with people. A wedding here, a dinner there. That stuff ain’t going to stick in your head.

There’s no vending or exchange of currency on the playa with the exception of the Café. Make sure you bring lots of cash because the chai iced teas are to die for!

Bring pre-stamped postcards and envelopes to mail to all your Burner friends who can’t make it that year. I’ve never received mail, but I believe they have the BRC mark on it. Anyone know? Pre-stamped postcards also make great gifts since you can’t buy stamps at the post office. Remember, there’s no vending. It’s a fully-functioning post office without the ability to purchase stamps.

Since Burning Man is a gift economy, here are some of my favorite ideas for gifts: lip balm, lavender-scented anything, patches. Every year, I have someone come up to me and say “That patch is from my camp. We made those in 2007!”

You want to be a savior? Bring toilet paper to any of the porta-potties near the big sound camps on Friday or Saturday night. The porta-potties always run out of tp in the middle of the night. I have had women beg me when they see me taking my roll of toilet paper out of my backpack.

But the best gift of all is just giving of yourself: helping your neighbor setup her tent, helping a theme camp setup their shade structure, preparing a meal with friends, giving someone a bottle of water when you see them struggling.

The first time I went to Burning Man, my boyfriend told me to pack costumes. That was his advice to me. He told me to look at pictures and buy things so that I could fit in. That is the lamest advice I’ve ever been given. Burning Man is what you make of it. You can be all jazzed out or naked. Come in your t-shift and shorts if that’s who you are. Don’t fall into this trap of needing to get ‘playafied.’ There are people who will look down at you and think you’re not participating because you’re not wearing fur which is total bullshit. Come as your unique self. If you express yourself by dancing or reading poetry in the Café, that’s what real. Not your fucking costume! I hate that shit. A city of 50,000 should have 50,000 ways to express itself. Everyone is welcome.

Second to last point I need to make, buy your happy pills (if that’s something you do) before you get to the desert. Don’t go in search of that stuff when you’re on the playa. There are undercover cops. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s very scary. Get your goods from the default world from people you trust.

Lastly, the wait is torturous! The wait to drive into the city, the wait at Will Call, the wait at the gate. Exodus. Oh, the hell that is Exodus. Be forewarned. Be ready to entertain yourself, your camp mates, your car mates while you W-A-I-T!

Are you getting excited yet?!


  1. Kendrick Wright says

    Great info Vixen. Thanks! Especially taking a picture of your info on your camera, and reminding people that the line to get in and the exodus will just about drive you mad unless you mentally prepare yourself…

  2. says

    I second having t.p. on hand at all times. I’ve made more then a few women (and men) happy when I handed them a few squares. Also, sunglasses in the backpack when you go out at night. Inevitably there will be that one night (or maybe every night!) where you stay out ’til dawn. Making the long walk back to camp is much easier when you don’t have to face the rising sun with tired, unshaded eyes. Can’t wait to see you out there, lady!

  3. Swan says

    Yes, BRC has its own beautiful postmark. I’d send a postcard to myself. It’s also good to bring stamps that are not affixed to postcards yet. In 2007, when I went, I was gifted some beautiful postcards that someone had made specifically for Burning Man. So I was able to send those out to friends instead of something I had brought from home. Stamps are also good for gifting to the BRC Post Office, so they can in turn gift them to someone who didn’t bring stamps.

    • Catherine says

      Stamps is a great idea. It’s something very few people think about, but definitely worthwhile to have.


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