How to Prepare for Burning Man

How To Prepare for Burning Man on northtosouth.us

[NOTE: This post was written prior to Burning Man 2014, but all the steps below still apply, year after year. Have a great burn, everyone.]

16 days til the man burns. That means less than two weeks to finish prepping for our week-long journey into radical self reliance and expression in the playa of Black Rock City. (If you’re not familiar with this exquisitely unique festival, read more here.)

When prepping for Burning Man, careful planning helps keep Walmart trips, Amazon orders and overall expenses to a minimum. These next two weeks we’ll be sharing our preparation process right here for your reading pleasure. Organization is key, so I’m splitting up the whole charade into easy-to-follow (but very thorough) steps.

Hey Burners: You may also like How to Dress for Burning Man, In Dust We Trust: Photos From a Dusty Playa (2014), and Portraits of a Camp (2014).

Before we get started, know that the numbers here are arbitrary. Pick an order that suits you. You’ll find this stuff randomly and simultaneously falls into place.

1. Secure Tickets

Returning to Burning Man this year was a bit of a last minute decision, which we arrived at in late June. But we didn’t have tickets. Lucky for us, we were able to secure our BM admission in the OMG Sale on August 6 (Yay, no Craigslist required).

Woman and ship silhouette at sunrise at Burning Man 2012 on northtosouth.us

With freshly acquired tickets, we’re eager to witness more epic sunrises like this one from 2012.

There are various ticket options for Burning Man, with all the fun starting in January. 2014 tickets ranged in price from $190 (low income) to $650 (pre-sale), plus $40 for a vehicle pass. Our tickets were $380 each in the OMG Sale. If you’re looking for tickets at this stage in the game, your only options for finding tickets will be asking around and searching Craigslist. Read the official BM ticketing info here.

2. Read the Survival Guide

Seriously. Read it. It’s not just helpful, it’s essential, especially if it’s your first time.

Dust storm at Burning Man 2012 on northtosouth.us

One of many survival challenges, a dust storm approaches at Burning Man 2012.

3. Decide What to Wear

What you wear (or don’t) will play a big part in how comfortable you are and how much you enjoy your burn. Whether you go all out in costumery or prefer to keep your wardrobe simple, keep this in mind above all else: days are hot and nights are cold. And moop is bad. Avoid moop generators like feathers and other crappy lightweight things that can easily become detached from your outfit.

Burning Man 2014 sunset playa portraits on northtosouth.us Burning Man 2014 sunset playa portraits on northtosouth.us Burning Man 2014 sunset playa portraits on northtosouth.us

Take a look at our post Burning Man 2014: Portraits of a Camp for ideas.

male and female Burning Man costumes on northtosouth.us

Our Burning Man 2012 daytime costumes at sunset

Women's Burning Man cold weather clothing at sunrise on the playa

Chilly at sunrise, a fur coat, tall boots and hat kept me warm in 2012.

I put this step early on the list because I like to get a jump start here. One of my favorite parts about Burning Man is wearing absolutely whatever I want. I  enjoy sewing, so I have a lot of fun shopping for bargain fabrics and thrift store specials and seeing what I can come up with. You don’t want to spend too much money on something that may be destroyed by just one trip to Black Rock City.

Motocross goggles modified with spray paint and strap covers for Burning Man

Our finished goggles, both modified with strap covers, and mine with spray paint

The Wrong Way – At BM 2012 I had a poorly sealed pair of bargain goggles and a thrift store scarf to use as a dust mask. And I spent way too much money on decorative attire. The result was terrible. That photo at the top of this post? That’s me facing an oncoming whiteout. You can’t see my face, but I’m probably crying because I’ve gotten way too much playa under my contacts and up my nose.

The Right Way – This year, we did the opposite. I spent more on comfort items (mask, goggles, utility belt, etc.) and very little on the costume aspect.

Burning Man 2014 sunset playa portraits on northtosouth.us

Ready for dust in the daytime at Burning Man 2014

Now when deciding on costumes, I look for functional, comfortable, and affordable stuff to wear. All of our costume items this year are either old clothes we’ve had, thrift store specials, or stuff I’ve sewn myself. Here’s what I’m packing for our 7 days in the desert.

Womens Burning Man costumes on northtosouth.us

A collection of what I’m bringing to wear to Burning Man this year

Daytime Attire

  • lightweight maxi skirt/dress (self-sewn)*
  • cutoff shorts (old)
  • sheer spaghetti strap crop top (self-sewn)*
  • bra tops (old)
  • cropped faux fur thrift vest ($3)*
  • flip flops (old)*
  • sunglasses ($4)

Comfort Attire

Nighttime Attire

  • long underwear
  • warm leggings
  • long-sleeved thermal shirt
  • faux fur thrift coat ($9)*
  • boots

*These items are pictured above.

Ian spends less time than me on wardrobe, but he enjoys a good trip to the thrift store to see what creative and furry outfits he can find. Here’s what Ian’s packing.

Daytime Attire

  • running shorts
  • t-shirts
  • flip flops

Comfort Attire

Nighttime Attire

  • long-sleeved thermal shirt
  • faux fur vest
  • boots

We’ll both be ready for dust storms with dust masks and motocross goggles. Since I dislike carrying weight on my shoulders and back, I’ll use my utility belt to carry water, my camera, and a few other extras. Ian’s opting for a small bag to carry his camera but will use his belt for water and other items.

Nix the Branding

In the spirit of Burning Man, we’ve rendered our branded gear brand-less with a few simple tricks. I’ve suited up our cameras and goggles with comfy DIY strap covers, and Ian’s already gone to town with photographer’s tape on his camera.

Camera strap and goggle strap covers for Burn

My de-branded camera and goggles

Camera strap and goggle strap covers for Burn

Ian’s de-branded camera and goggles

4. Plan Your Camp Experience

Go Solo or Join a Theme Camp

Burning Man is best first experienced with experienced burners. If it’s your first time at Burning Man and you don’t have anyone to camp with, look into joining a theme camp. For those considering starting their own, check out the theme camp resource guide.

A club at night at Burning Man 2012 on northtosouth.us

This theme camp offered a night club setting at Burning Man 2012.

But remember, self reliance is key. Even when camping with a group. Regardless of whom you camp with, you should take your personal camping area into consideration.

Plan Your Shade

If you’re not part of a larger camp with a large shade structure, pack some shade. Even if you’re camping with a well-shaded group, having some private shade over your tent is a good idea. We’re packing two small canopies that will cover a 10′ x 20′ area. Our shade plan includes:

  • REI Alcove
  • Alcove Windwalls
  • EZ-Up (borrowed)
  • two 8’x10′ all-purpose tarps
  • paracord
  • stakes
  • mallet

Plan Your Shower

I’ve been a resident of BRC just once before. But I can still say I’ve been to Burning Man enough times to consider showering an essential to having an enjoyable experience. So this year, we’re including this in our prep list. Here’s what our 2-person camp shower set-up entails.

  • extra jugs of water
  • Pocket Shower
  • somewhere to hang it (we’re using the ceiling of our canopy)
  • inflatable kiddie pool
  • tarp
Pocket Shower on northtosouth.us

A new addition to our camp this year, well worth the $30 price tag in my opinion.

Since we’ll have minimal graywater, we’ll be using the dispersal method. So we’re bringing:

  • siphon
  • 2-gal watering can
  • pantyhose (filter)
  • bleach

Read more about acceptable graywater disposal methods here.

Plan Your Layout for Maximum Shade

We’re covered on top for a 10×20′ area, but shade moves with the sun. Our solution: wind walls, tarps, and optimal camp orientation.

5. Find a Bike

If you already have a mountain bike that you don’t mind covering in playa dust, then sweet. You’re set. If not, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other thrift stores are good places to go searching. Or get up early and go garage sale-ing on a Saturday morning. For last minute bike acquisition, stop at Reno Bike Project on your way to Burning Man for a $60 bike. (Bonus: You can support the Bike Project by donating it back after the burn.)

Bike lights at Burning Man

Our bikes were festively lit with bright LEDs for nighttime visibility at Burning Man 2012.

6. Plan Your Meals

Food that doesn’t require refrigeration is usually easiest. We’ll be packing several canned condensed soups, chili, ravioli, etc. plus some grilled cheese and quesadilla fixin’s. For breakfast we’ll pack oatmeal, coffee and tea, and of course we won’t forget plenty of water and beer. We’ll have Clif bars and cuties on hand for snacking, and we’ll bake some delicious desserts for an occasional sweet homemade treat. Looking for more meal ideas? View my post on easy, healthy camping meals.

Make a shopping list. You’ll shop for food, water, alcohol, and ice on your way, and replenish ice daily at Arctica on the playa. Get rid of as much packaging before you hit the desert, sealing food up in ziplock bags where possible. Contain your food in either a Rubbermaid container or your cooler.

7. Make a Packing List

Tickets, clothing/costumes, camping gear, bikes, toiletries, cooler, lights, food, drinks, etc. Put it all on a list so you don’t forget anything. Pack it all up in Rubbermaid containers and ziplock bags to keep the dust out as best as possible.

The way you pack will depend on your mode of transportation. We’re driving our Yaris hatchback, so we have the benefit of organizing our vehicle in advance. We just ordered a bike rack to ensure enough interior space for everything else.

Burning Man 2012 temple at night on northtosouth.us

The 2012 Temple by night (We’re packing our cameras for more nighttime photos this year.)

8. Plan Your Transportation

Drive – A vehicle pass ($40) is now required if you plan to drive. Carpooling and caravanning is common. If you need a ride, search the Craigslist community. You should find plenty of options, especially if you’re departing from a major city in California or Nevada. You may also choose the fancy route and rent an RV, if you’re prepared to spend plenty of money on gas and the rental.

Dusty road into Burning Man

A dusty road awaits you on your drive into Burning Man.

Bus – The Burner Express is an option if you’re flying in to San Francisco or Reno-Tahoe airport, offering transport to and from Black Rock City directly from these airports. One-way tickets start at $68 with added fees for extra luggage, bikes etc.

9. Participate

There are many facets of and vehicles for participation at Burning Man. Focus on the 10 Guiding Principles of Burning Man when exploring ways you can express yourself while contributing to and maintaining respect for the community. You don’t have to be an artist or an engineer to be a great participant. That said, there are countless ways to contribute as an artist, engineer, inventor, tinkerer, or what-have-you. But the community doesn’t expect you to be anyone other than a radical version of yourself. Read more about participation here.

10. Have a Great Burn

I hope this list has been helpful — for both virgin and returning burners. No matter how you choose to go about it, enjoy your burn!

Burning Man fire tornadoes at Burning Man 2012 on northtosouth.us

The base of the Man ablaze at Burning Man 2012

Have I missed anything?

Did I miss any steps in the planning process? Do you have any tips to share? If so, let us know in the comments!

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How to Prepare for Burning Man on northtosouth.us

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

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