Burning Man is an incredibly intense experience. You’ll be venturing into the Black Rock Desert where there are frequent dust storms. Your body and everything you own will be covered in the alkaline playa dust, all of the time. You will get bloody noses daily, your feet will get dry and crack, you’ll be kept awake all night by thumping rave music.
And to top it all off, the only things that are available to purchase are ice and coffee. So you’ll need to pack in anything and everything you will need for the week. It’s a scary thought but don’t fret! Burning Man has a gifting culture and there are countless wonderful people who will help you out if you forget anything.
You’ll also experience the most impressive artwork and meet some truly wonderful people (aka “burners”) along the way. It will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult and one of the most unbelievable experiences of your entire life. Follow our packing guide to ensure you’re ready for the craziness that is Burning Man!
This may seem silly but many disappointed people have made it all the way to the playa and forgotten their tickets at home. There is no way to get into Burning Man without your physical tickets so don’t leave home without double checking!
You won’t really need money once you arrive at Burning Man as it runs on a culture of gifting. However you should bring enough cash to restock your cooler with ice every 24-48 hours. Ice costs $3 for a 7-pound bag of crushed ice or a 10-pound solid block of ice.
The only other thing you can buy at Burning Man is coffee and it’s much easier to just make coffee in your own camp than to stand in line for a cup of coffee at center camp.
Two Gallons of Water Per Person Per Day
It is important to bring plenty of water for drinking, cooking, doing dishes, and showering (if you plan on showering). There is no water available on the playa so it is imperative to plan accordingly. Of course, there are plenty of wonderful people who will be willing to help you out if for some reason you run out.
Many people stock up either in Reno or at the Walmart in Klamath Falls which was quickly running out of water when we stopped there on our way to the playa.
There are a few things to consider when selecting your tent for Burning Man. The first is that you’ll want something that closes up completely, meaning no uncovered mesh areas. Don’t get me wrong, when a dust storm comes through, everything in your tent will be absolutely covered. But better to keep as much out as possible.
The second consideration is size. You’ll likely want to keep all of your clothing, costumes, and everything else you’ll need daily in your tent. The fewer times you need to open and close the doors to your car, the better. Invest in a tent that you can stand up in and that has extra space once you get an air mattress inside.
Because of the dust and strong winds at Burning Man most people agree that you’re best off with a heavy duty canvas tent. Kodiak Canvas Tents are the most popular choice for Burners who choose to go this route but they can be a bit expensive for your first trip to the playa.
If you’re only going to Burning Man once then you might not want to invest in a $500 heavy duty canvas tent. In that case try this tent by Core which can fit two queen-sized air mattresses and has a center height of 78 inches. It also has a room divider and storage pockets to help keep you organized. Plus it’s easy to set-up.
If you think you’re going to be a Burning Man lifer then you should consider investing in an RV or a ShiftPod.
Tip: Bring neon colored flagging tape and tie it to your tent lines to keep yourself from tripping over them constantly.
If you don’t use rebar (or really long tent stakes) to hold down your tent, inflatable furniture, and shade structure, a big gust of wind will send your camp flying down the playa. And possibly injuring people along the way. Bring plenty of rebar and don’t forget a 2-lb sledge hammer to drive the rebar into the ground, work gloves, and some way to get the rebar back out once you’re ready to pack up.
It’s also a good idea to bring tennis balls to cover the ends of the rebar. Cut a slit in the tennis ball and place it over the exposed end of the rebar so if you stumble over it in the dark you won’t wind up with a huge gash on your shin.
Recently a lot of people have been moving away from rebar and using 12″ long lag screws. Lag screws are a lot easier to get in and out of the playa plus there decrease the risk of gashing open your shin because you can screw them down so the head sits just above the ground. The downside is you’ll need a battery powered drill and several spare batteries or a generator to power your drill.
If you’re just planning to set up a small tent you can probably get away with some 10″ long tent stakes but if you’re building a shade structure or setting up a large tent you’re definitely going to want rebar or lag screws.
You’re going to be sleeping in the middle of the desert in a tent for a week so don’t skip out on a quality air mattress. If you only bring a little backpacking-style sleeping pad you’ll be miserable by the second night. This queen-sized mattress by Intex will keep you sleeping comfortably and won’t break the bank.
Don’t forget to invest in a portable air pump so you can use your car cigarette lighter to get the mattress pumped up!
Bring an old set of sheets (be sure they fit your air mattress) and pillows or pick some up at Goodwill. You’ll likely want to toss them at the end of the week.
Unless you plan on getting up before the sun rises in the morning, your tent is bound to get HOT fairly early every day. Bring along a battery-powered fan to keep the air flowing in your tent even when it’s roasting outside. This one by Haitral also includes a lantern to keep your tent lit at night.
If you’re the crafty type then consider making one of these swamp bucket coolers.
Avoid the Dust
Cover for Bedding
One of the worst tortures of Burning Man is attempting to sleep in a bed that has just been through a dust storm and is covered in a half inch of playa. Even if you try to shake out your sheets, it’s impossible to get it all out. Bring an extra fitted sheet to cover your entire mattress, bedding included, and then only remove it when you’re ready to go to bed.
Pack your clothes, costumes, toiletries, and everything else in tupperware containers that have locking lids to keep them organized and free of dust. The clear ones make it much easier to find what you’re looking for with having to open every bin.
Having something on hand at all times to shield your nose and mouth from impending dust storms is a must. Keep a bandana or a piece of cloth tied loosely around your neck, all day and all night, so that you can access it in a pinch.
Likewise, you’ll want to keep your eyes shielded from the dust. Invest in some funky googles and keep them on you all the time in the playa.
However, while those are fun, they probably aren’t the most practical. If you prefer function over form then invest in a cheap pair of ski goggles.
Having a rug outside of your tent to wipe your shoes and feet before you enter is a little luxury. But don’t spend any money on one and definitely don’t bring one that you like from home. You’ll definitely want to throw this one away as soon as you leave. Pick one up at Goodwill on your way out of town. If you want even more luxury, pick up a rug for the inside of your tent as well.
This is only necessary if you are headed to Burning Man on your own. If you join a camp they will likely provide shade structures for everyone to enjoy. While there are so many things to see and do in the playa, you’ll likely want to spend at least some time in the afternoons lounging in the shade.
Building your own shade structure that can withstand the epic windstorms you’re likely to encounter on the playa can be difficult. Our best piece of advice is not to use a tarp as they are essentially giant kites once the wind starts blowing. You’ll be much better off using shade netting because it will let the wind pass through while still keeping the sun out.
Aluminet can also be a great choice for covering smaller structures (like your tent) as it is reflective and will keep your living space a bit cooler during the day. It’s also not a bad idea to throw one of these over your coolers so your ice will last a little longer.
You’ll need to bring along some inflatable seating to lounge on under your shade tent. The more loungers you bring, the more likely you’ll have other burners stop by to hang out. Pool floaties work if you’d rather not invest in proper inflatable furniture.
Make sure your inflatable furniture is tied to something sturdy (like a piece of rebar driven into the playa) before you leave for the day or go to bed at night. Otherwise it will quickly go missing – carried off by the strong winds at Burning Man.
Spray Bottle Fan
Keep yourself cool while you’re lounging in the afternoons with a misting fan! And bring a few more to share with your new friends.
For one week out of the year, Black Rock City is the 10th largest city in Nevada. It is roughly the size of downtown San Francisco. So to think that you can walk everywhere you’ll want to go is a bit unrealistic. You’ll most definitely need to bring a bicycle (with a basket!) and you’ll probably want to add some furry padding to the seat so that you’re always riding in comfort and style.
You’ll also want to add some battery-operated lights to your bike so that art cars and other cyclists can see you when it’s pitch black outside. And keep extra batteries with your bike at all times.
Folding Bike Trailer
If you’re traveling to Burning Man with a larger group or if you are bringing several coolers, you’ll likely need to do some ice runs. And depending on how far your site is from center camp, you may have to lug the heavy ice a fairly long distance. Make the trek easier on yourself with a folding bike trailer.
No one at Burning Man is going to intentionally steal your bike, but every now and again a drunk person mistakenly rides off on the wrong one. Purchase a lock with a simple combination that will be easy for you to remember. Don’t buy a lock that uses a key as it’s easy to lose while wandering around the deep playa at night.
Luci Lights are solar powered inflatable lights that are amazing to have hanging around your camp. They will charge during the day and stay powered all night. Plus they pack down small so you can pack several without taking up too much space in your car.
Battery-Powered String Lights
Nights in the playa are absolutely unreal! Deep playa is filled with art cars flashing neon lights, lit-up people and bikes zig-zagging around, and giant art structures that look completely different in the night than they do during the daylight hours. But it’s pitch black outside so unless you are lit up in some way, you’ll be impossible for others to see. And no one wants to get run over by an art car…
Pick up some battery-powered string lights to decorate your bicycle, your hat, and even possibly your body if you feel so inclined.
Be sure to bring a headlamp to help you see what you’re doing when cooking in the dark or finding your way to the toilet in the middle of the night.
Don’t forget plenty of extra batteries to keep you illuminated all week!
If you aren’t planning on using a camera or your cell phone while at Burning Man then you probably won’t need to keep electronics charged. But if you do want to snap some pics or stay connected to the outside world, be sure to pack a solar charger as there’s definitely no electricity to be found.
Saline Nasal Spray
My nose was a sad state of affairs for the entire week of Burning Man. I woke up every morning with blood streaked across my pillow. Gross right? That alkaline dust is actually really terrible for anyone to breathe in (hence why nothing and no one lives out there). Nasal spray will help a lot but be ready to be boogery.
We’ve heard rumors that there is one bathing tent at Burning Man so if you don’t mind sudsing up with a bunch of naked strangers, don’t worry about bringing one of these. However if you’d prefer some privacy you may want to invest in a solar shower for your bathing convenience.
For extra showering privacy, invest in a pop-up shower tent. And to comply with Burning Man’s “leave no trace” mentality, don’t forget a kiddie pool or a tarp to catch your greywater. This allows it to evaporate rather than soak into the playa.
Don’t Forget These Essential Toiletries
- Eye drops
- Biodegradable baby wipes
- Biodegradable soap ( we recommend Dr. Bronners!)
- Post-Sol Lotion
- Vinegar (soak your feet in it to neutralize the effects of the akaline dust)
- Single-ply toilet paper (the port-o-potties can’t handle more than one ply!)
You’ll probably spend most of the week in a pink tutu and pasties but there are a few items that you won’t want to forget. The most important of these is a change of clothes kept safe and sound in a ziplock bag for your drive back home. Sitting in a dusty costume for 10 hours when you’re hot and hungover is torture.
- Sun hat to protect you from the harsh mid-day rays
- A warm jacket as evenings on the playa get quite chilly
- Boots instead of flip-flops as the playa dust is terrible on your skin
- A backpack to carry your goodies on your daily adventures
Part of the fun of Burning Man is the outrageous costumes that people create! Head to your local fabric store, pick out some fabric and other funky decor and see what you come up with! Just try to avoid things that may come unattached and become playa “MOOP” (Matter Out Of Place). Feathers and glitter are generally frowned upon.
Need some inspiration? Check out these Instagram accounts!
And be sure to pick up a few fun, colorful wigs to keep from having to wash your hair throughout the week!
Cooking and Eating
Fancy Drink Cup
Many of the larger camps bring plenty of extra goodies to share with fellow burners. As you cruise around on your bicycle you’ll encounter people offering various cocktails and snacks. But very few have cups on hand (to cut down on waste). So be sure to bring your own uniquely decorated cup to keep in your bike basket all day every day!
You can purchase ice in center camp for a small fee so it’s no problem to keep everything in your cooler cold. You’ll probably want at least a couple of coolers – one for drinks and ice and one for food. This Coleman version can hold up to 100 cans and has cup holders in the lid so you can use it as a table as well!
Table and Chairs
If you don’t join a camp and you don’t roll to Burning Man in an RV, you’ll need to bring your own table and chairs for dining on. There are no amenities like picnic tables in the campsites. Of course you can eat while lounged out on your inflatable furniture but you’ll probably want some sort of flat structure for preparing your meals.
Some people go to Burning Man and just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all week. If you follow that plan you won’t need a cook stove, propane, or pots and pans. But if you’d rather prepare actual hot meals while you’re there then you’ll want to bring a double burner camp stove.
This one by Coleman will be great for Burning Man as well as any other camping trips in the future.
Pots and Pans
Unless you plan on cooking food for a large group, you should only need to bring two pieces of cookware; a large skillet and a large pot. Plan on purchasing ingredients for easy-to-make meals like soups, chili, and curries. And use the pot to boil water for your morning coffee.
Plates, Bowls, Silverware, and Utensiles
You shouldn’t need more than one plate, one bowl/mug, and one set of silverware per person unless you want to invite some new burner friends over for dinner. Pack a set that is easy to clean and is durable.
Also be aware that metal plates, bowls, and cups have a tendency to get extremely hot when you put hot things in them – like coffee or hot food. You’re much better off with a plastic plate and cup (or double walled coffee cup).
These mugs by Sistema are perfect because you can drink out of them, eat out of them, and store your leftovers in them. They can also double as your “fancy cup” if you’d rather keep things simple.
This is more of a luxury than a necessity. You can purchase coffee in center camp and there are also plenty of themed camps that provide some kind of coffee experience daily. But if you can’t function without your caffeine fix, best bring your own just in case. This french press by Secura is super durable and easy to clean.
Make yourself a cup of coffee and then set out to cruise around the playa on your bicycle. Pack a few Contigo Autoseal Travel Mugs to keep your coffee from spilling while you’re on the move.
Other Kitchen Essentials
- A sharp knife and Cutting board
- Can opener, wine opener, and bottle opener
- Spatula and Ladle
- Salt and pepper grinders
- Measuring cup
- Sponge and scrubbing brush
- Paper Towels
- Biodegradable soap – you can use Dr. Bronner’s for for doing dishes and for showers!
- Trash bags
You’ll probably find yourself snacking on various concoctions offered by themed camps throughout the day. And you may get offers to join others for dinner. But pack plenty of snacks for when hunger strikes!
- Veggies that don’t bruise easily or go bad quickly: onions, peppers, carrots, and mushrooms to name a few
- Eggs (keep them safe in an egg container)
- Curry mix
- Canned beans: black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans
- Fajita or taco seasoning
- Fruits that don’t bruise easily: apples, oranges, and grapes
- Sliced cheese
- Deli meat for sandwiches (eat early in the week!)
- Peanut Butter and Jelly
- Dried fruit
- Crackers and chips
- Beef jerkey
- Yogurt and granola
- Coffee creamer
- Energy drinks
- Pedialyte for hangovers – trust us, you’ll want to start every morning with a tall glass of this:
We hope you have the most amazing Burning Man experience ever! If you have any other playa staples let us know so we can add them to the list!
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