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The Playa Essentials: What to Pack for Burning Man

Burning Man is unlike any other festival out there in the U.S. It’s more than arts, music, and community you normally find at a festivals. It’s really an experience, and to experience that experience (I’m really doing great with the English vocabulary here…), you have to have a certain level of sh*t together before you even get there.

You’re not just riding up to a festival, setting up a tent, and enjoying festival amenities. There basically are no amenities besides toilets, and you’re in the desert! Nonetheless, as long as you have your ticket, a good crew, and essentials, you’re going to have the time of your life.

Since I went to Burning Man in 2014, I’ve had some friends ask me every year around July or August what they need to pack. This is exactly the list I give them, but just so we’re clear, I’m no Burning Man expert. I just like to be able to party and explore comfortably when it comes to camping at festivals, especially one in the desert.

Also, this list is not comprehensive. It’s just the six things I never left camp without when I set out for the playa.

1. Water Canteen

What to pack for Burning Man, which are the key items you should never leave camp without -by
I don’t recommend this everyday plastic water bottle.

Water’s the most basic essential need for every day life so why would it be any different out in the desert? But don’t go for your everyday disposable plastic water bottle. Get a reusable one that’s BPA free with a wide mouth.

A wide mouth is important because if your camp has water in large canteens, which you need to muscle and tip over to pour into your bottle, then the wide mouth will catch all that H2O goodness instead of letting it spill onto the precious sand.

For this, there are two options. You can bring a CamelBak Hydration Pack, which I’ve used before and is really convenient because there’s water on your back whenever you want, or this Nalgene water canteens. 

I opted to bring the Nalgene water canteen over my CamelBak because I had multiple bags to wear at Burning Man so it was easy to toss this into whatever I was using at the moment. I also liked as it emptied, it flattened out.

The best part about the canteen is that it has a wide mouth so it was really easy to fill from our camp’s jugs of water. Because of this wide mouth, it can be used as a MOOP jug if you’d like (or use an empty plastic milk jug for MOOP).

Yes this canteen is quite big so if you’re only out for a couple of hours or are bringing out a smaller bag, then only fill up half of it. However, if you’re out for awhile and want to share the canteen/water carrying responsibility with friends, then the large size is great for 6+ hours out on the playa.

Check out the canteen on Amazon.

2. Goggles

Remember when you were walking down the block to get a bagel at your favorite deli, got some sand in your eye from the construction guys working on the new building next door and was like “Wah, my eyes hurt?” Well, it gets much worse out in the desert so you really need a solid pair of goggles to weather the wind and sand especially in the case of a dust storm.

There are a ton of different options when it comes to goggles such as motorcycle or ski goggles, but I opted for these Red Baron Motorcycle Goggles.

I chose the yellow color so that they would help somewhat with the sun during the daytime and not block out too much light at night.

3. Dust Mask or Bandana

What to pack for Burning Man, which are the key items you should never leave camp without -by

A dust mask or bandana is absolutely necessary because of the fine sand everywhere. You’ll definitely need to cover your mouth if the wind picks up, while riding your bike or in a place where a lot of people are dancing!

I was fine with using a bandana but my friend went as far as using this respirator.

4. Lots of Lights: LED Wire & a Headlamp

So now you’re keeping hydrated and protecting yourself against the elements, but you’re not yet protected from other people without an LED wire to wear at nighttime. What does that mean exactly?

At nighttime, it is basically impossible to see a person out on the playa, and with so many bikers, arts, and gadgets rolling around, you’ll want to make sure you shine like a star by wearing an LED wire, or what Burners call l-wire for short.

I suggest getting five sets because you may lose them, or a friend will need one. They are important so don’t forget them, or worse, batteries.

In addition to being seen, you yourself will need to see so grab a strong headlamp to shine your path as you bike or walk around the playa.

5. Bike

What to pack for Burning Man, which are the key items you should never leave camp without -by

I don’t know what’s more important: a bike or water. Just kidding– definitely water! But having a bike is a necessity at Burning Man. Burning Man covers nearly 7 square miles of land so if you want to check out as much stuff as you can and get deep out in the playa, being on two wheels is the way to go.

Here are some tips for your bike on the playa:

  • Make sure to have a bike lock with your bike because if it gets stolen, you may have to walk back to your camp from a mile away. The best is a bike lock with a combination so you don’t have to carry a key with you.
  • Among a sea of bikes, sometimes it’s hard to spot where you parked your bike especially with moving landmarks. Put a tutu or decorations on your bike, which is what my friend and I did. THIS WAS SO HELPFUL!

Where to Get Bikes for Burning Man: There are stands renting bikes before you enter Burning Man, or if you’re lucky like me, your camp will have some for you to use. I’ve also heard there are white bicycles floating around, which are free to use by anyone, but they’re like unicorns– never seen and only dreamily spoken of because we all love the concept.

6. Jacket

What to pack for Burning Man, which are the key items you should never leave camp without -by

When you think about the desert, it’s so natural to think about shorts and a tank top because most of us have never experienced the desert at nighttime, but man, does it get cold! The temperature can drop 40-60 degrees from its peak point during the day to the lowest point at night so if you’re going to stray away for camp for hours and hours on end, it’s a good idea to have a jacket on you.

Bonus: Burning Man Costume Accessories

What to pack for Burning Man, which are the key items you should never leave camp without -by

Now costume accessories aren’t vital to surviving on the playa, BUT playing a part in Burning Man’s theatrics is really fun.

If you want a more comprehensive list on what to pack or what not to pack, check out this huge list of 75 items or this checklist, which details your packing list down to socks, which are more important than you think.

Thanks for stopping by! xo.

The Toronto Seoulcialite

Tuesday 10th of May 2016

I've always wanted to go to Burning Man! Someone once asked if I had ever been (this was back in 2011) and when I said I hadn't, he said I'd hear about it all the time. true! I had no idea you'd need such heavy duty gear. This is a huge help to keep in my pocket next time I'm in North America!


Tuesday 10th of May 2016

Great list! I think maybe someday I will find myself at Burning Man. I'll want to make sure that I'm fully prepared since it will be my first time. Thanks for sharing!


Monday 9th of May 2016

Great list! I definitely can recommend to bring a camelbak. I have one myself which I often use for festivals and hiking. Burning Man sounds like a nice festival to go to.


Monday 9th of May 2016

Great list of essentials, Sarah! I am going to look into the water bag for hikes too. Most of the ones I've seen have small tops making it difficult to clean.

Tutus on the bike is a very nice touch!

Amanda Williams

Monday 9th of May 2016

Oh my God, I have always wanted to go to Burning Man! This is a really useful post and I will pin it, just incase I ever do get the chance. I wouldn't have thought of taking a bike - particularly good tip!

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