Packing for Burning Man, be it your first time or not, is an overwhelming experience. How does one prepare for just about everything? Weather can be cold, hot or rainy, and you can be sure to hit at least one massive dust storm. You’re dressing up, dressing down, wearing costumes, going to an un-wedding and thousands of other things you won’t imagine until you see it.
So what to pack to take part in the fun and games plus be comfortable and safe camping in such harsh conditions?
This list has been culled from a number of different lists shared with me by various long-time burners. I also refer to the Burning Man Survival Guide.
I break it up by rooms of the house and overall activities. Since we’re all different, you might decide you won’t need many of these things, but make sure to include the important staples, such as food, water, sunblock and the supplies you’ll need to protect your skin and feet in the dust of a dry and highly alkaline lake bed.
Something to sleep in. You can go simple or complicated on this one. You could bring just a sleeping bag and plan to sleep one of the many crash places.
Beyond sleeping bag
Bring a tent with sleeping pad or mattress, pillow(s) with pillowcase(s). Bring an extra flat sheet, queen or king size, to throw over your sleeping area during the day. It will protect your bed from dust that will invariably seep through the walls of your tent. Take it off. Shake your sheet outside the tent. Sleep in relatively dust-free bed.
You’ll want to cover the mesh with fabric or duct tape. It’s not easy to find a good tent with no mesh, but if you find one, hold onto it.
Then you’ll want some light or hanging lantern for your tent. Something you can attach to the top of the tent and simply switch on when you enter at night. Choose something battery-operated. You can find them in camping and army-navy stores for anywhere between $9 and $50.
The simple solution: bring a plastic bin, spray bottle and garbage bags. Lay the garbage bags on the ground, stand in the bin and spray yourself down or have someone do it for you. Soap up, rinse off. Done.
You can also choose a shower pump, a solar shower or an RV shower.
Remember: You can’t spill your used shower water out on the ground. Read up on how to dispose of this grey water.
For spot cleaning, bring baby wipes and/or face wipes. You’ll never really be entirely clean when on the playa, but it still feels great to remove the outer layers.
Vinegar neutralizes the alkaline dust. You’ll want to regularly spray your feet with vinegar, then rinse with water, dry and lotion before putting on your socks. This is particularly good to do before you go to bed at night.
Other bathroom essentials
- First-aid kit.
- Aftersun or aloe gel.
- A towel.
- Spray-on sunblock.
- Saline eye and nose drops to keep your membranes moisturized.
- Dr Bonner’s soap, which can be used for anything you want to wash in kitchen and bathroom. Dr. B’s is particularly good for keeping your feet healthy on the playa. Wash your feet down with the doctor’s soap daily to prevent playa foot.
- Disinfectant gel.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Two Nalgene bottles. One for spitting out your toothpaste after brushing. The other for middle of the night peeing. It can suck to have to trudge to the port-o-potty every time you have to go.
- Brush or comb.
- Oil such as jojoba to condition your hair.
- Lip moisturizer with SPF.
- Cotton balls/Q-tips.
- Make up remover (if you so desire).
It’s possible to hook up with a number of meal plans in Black Rock City. Some, you pay by meal. Some camps provide meals if you volunteer with them. Plenty of places all over the city offer food, but you’ll have to stand in line for them. Here, I’m including the basics to remain well nourished.
I personally didn’t feel too hungry. The heat and constant sensory overload left my attentions elsewhere. I ate one meal a day with a meal plan and then mostly lived on beef jerky and dried fruit. You can also buy or make prepackaged meals that you simply need a skillet and stove to reheat. Or bring ramen noodles or other soups that simply require hot water to prepare. Bonus: they don’t need refrigeration. If you bring a cooler, consider hard-boiled eggs (pre-cooked), chocolate, fruits and vegetables (which will probably need to be eaten earlier in the week) and cheese sticks.
Make sure you bring enough potable water. 1.5 to 3 gallons per day per person is enough for drinking, cooking and showering. Also make sure to bring food that contains salt to keep your sodium levels up.
Other kitchen possibilities
- Cooler. You can buy ice on the playa to replenish your cooler.
- Camp stove and gas canisters.
- Plates/bowls. You only need one per person.
- Eating utensils: Bring cutlery or a hobo tool. Chopsticks are great for the playa. They’re easy to transport, easy to clean and you can burn the wooden ones. You can also use them to decorate your hair.
- Electrolyte powder.
- Coffee and coffee maker.
- Condensed milk. There’s just something about real coffee with condensed milk first thing in the morning.
- Ziplocks are good for storing just about everything.
- Garbage bags.
- Paper towels.
- Burn Bin to collect burnables to take to center camp burn stations.
- Batteries to replace in your flashlights, headlamps and tools.
- Giant clips. The ones you get at the office supply store are great for attaching things to your clothing or tent.
- Zip ties. Supremely useful in many situations.
- Plastic crates or bins for storing your stuff.
- Rebar to stake down your tent. Regular tent stakes are likely to result in your tent flapping away in the wind.
- Tennis balls or stuffed animals to cap the rebar stakes. One stumble over a 24-inch rebar in the middle of the night will explain why you don’t want to forget this.
- Hammer for putting in rebar. One per camp. Bring or borrow.
- Utility knife.
- Duct tape.
- Tarp for under tent or doing other work, showering or art projects.
- Work gloves. Especially if you’re camping with a larger group and putting together and later tearing down a more intricate camp.
- Cleaning rags, mostly for kitchen and bathroom.
- Karabiners. Because you never know when you want to attach something to something else.
You want to make sure whatever you bring to wear is comfortable.
- Full length mirror. Every camp should have one. Bring or borrow.
- Tutu for Tutu Tuesday.
- Warm clothing: jacket or windbreaker, pants, scarves, gloves, sweaters. Fuzzy fake fur clothing is the best. It’s warm and feels good and soft.
- Hot-day clothing: tank tops, shorts, underwear, skirts, corsets, bras, sarongs, pieces of cloth to wrap around your body
- Costumes. Anything you want.
- Whatever make-up you want.
- Hair elastics.
Even if otherwise totally naked, you’ll want
- Socks and tights.
- A hat.
There is only one rule to remember when it comes to dress: No shirtcocking.
Going out and about
- Bike with tractor seat if possible. Your butt will thank you.
- Camelbak or similar way to carry water.
- Utility belt to hold whatever else you want to carry. I got mine at an army-navy store along with easily attachable and very secure pockets for carrying stuff. Cheap and really work well.
- Repair kit for bike.
- Bike basket.
- Bike lock. You definitely need one.
- Lights for both you and your bike. You want to be seen at night and the playa can be really dark.
- A cup to attach to your bag or clothing to use for free drinks.
- Desert goggles. They should be clear, not dark. You won’t be able to see during a dust storm, especially at night, with dark goggles. You can find these at army navy stores or purchase eye protectors from the hardware or dollar store. These eye protectors usually have holes, so you’ll want to plug them up before going onto the playa.
- Face mask, scarf or bandana to protect you from dust storms.
- Ear plugs.
- Rain gear. It does occasionally rain.
Use your imagination. One year, I took mate cups and bombillas, jewelry I’d collected through our travels, including two necklaces I bargained with a Bedouin man named Fahdi on the West Bank, and leg and arm beads from the Kuna Yala on Wichaub Wala. Also, cans of beer are wonderful to stuff in a bag and give away when you’re out exploring.
Gifts, though, don’t have to be stuff. They can be giving of yourself, doing something for someone. One year, I took the supplies I needed to give pedicures on the playa.
Remember, though, you only want to give gifts that people actually want. Cheap mardi gras beads and stuff too easily labeled as crap isn’t really a gift, anyway. Use yourself as a yard stick. Is the gift you’re giving something you’d want to receive?
Last but not least
- Your Burning Man ticket. You cannot get in the gate without it.
- Directions to the playa. The survival guide contains this information.
- List of where your friends are on the playa.
- A bit of money to buy coffee in center camp or ice for your cooler.
- One change of clothes in a large Ziplock bag to wear after Burning Man.
This post was originally published in 2010 and was updated for the 2017 Burning Man.