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 a few years ago, 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
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 flatted out.
There are two sizes. I brought the 48oz size, and my friend brought the 96oz size. The bigger one was great to share when only one of wanted to bring a backpack. This was really the handiest thing we had when we were out on the playa for 6+ hours at a time. The music doesn’t stop just because you ran out of water so be prepared with a reusable canteen.
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
In addition to keeping the dust and sand out of your eyes, you’ll want to keep it out of your lungs too, or you’ll have a scratchy throat and lose your voice by the end of the festival, which is no fun for anyone.
I opted for a simple bandana such as my friend above, but some of my friends opted for more heavy duty dust masks, which I could see being really handy if there was a serious dust storm.
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.
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.
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.
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
Now costume accessories aren’t vital to surviving on the playa, BUT playing a part in Burning Man’s theatrics is really fun. Here are some things to buy for the playa!
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