Burning Man is an incredibly popular festival that takes place every year during the week before Labor Day. Most people arrive mid-week to partake in the massive naked desert party and stay through the weekend as “The Man” burns on Saturday and “The Temple” burns on Sunday. All of this takes place in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada – a dry lake bed that is miles from the closest town and, under normal circumstances, is completely uninhabitable.
Considering that 70,000 people attended Burning Man in 2019, you might think it is relatively easy to go. But the process for obtaining tickets is complex and involves an online queue. Hundreds of thousands of people sit in for hours in the hopes that they are randomly selected.
But what really makes Burning Man such a challenge to attend is the principle of “Radical Self Reliance”. You must bring anything and everything that you’ll need to survive in the dusty, desolate Black Rock Desert for a week. In fact, the only two things actually sold at Burning Man are coffee and ice.
Is it all worth it? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some people love Burning Man and attend every year. Other people arrive and immediately wish they had stayed at home with all the comforts of modern living. But, one thing is certain, if you are well prepared for Burning Man you are guaranteed to have a much more enjoyable time at the festival.
Read on to learn how to prepare for the epic Burning Man experience that awaits you in Black Rock City!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: How to Prepare for Burning Man!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
How to Prepare for Burning Man in 15 Easy Steps
1. Get Your Burning Man Ticket
As previously mentioned, getting a ticket to Burning Man is no easy feat. Instructions for 2020 ticket sales are as follows:
- You’ll need to create a “burner profile” on the Burning Man website before purchasing tickets. Registration for the “main ticket sale” is open from April 1, 2020 at 12:00pm PDT until April 3, 2020 at 12:00pm PDT.
- The “main ticket” sale begins on April 8, 2020, at 12:00pm PT.
- On April 8th, 2020 at noon, you’ll want to log into your burner profile and be placed in the online queue. Those who are allowed to buy tickets are selected at random.
- There will be approximately 20,000 “main tickets” sold at $475 USD each and approximately 10,000 vehicle passes at $140 USD each.
- Each person can purchase a maximum of 2 tickets and 1 vehicle pass.
- You cannot use the same credit card on multiple orders.
You’ll get paper tickets sent to you by mail that you’ll be required to show when you enter the main Burning Man gates. DO NOT FORGET TO PACK YOUR TICKETS. You will be denied entry without the physical tickets and no, your online confirmation won’t work, nor will a photo of the tickets.
If you’re planning on driving to Burning Man make sure you purchase a vehicle pass! You will not be allowed to drive your vehicle into Black Rock City without one.
2. Read the Rules
To prepare for your Burning Man adventure, make sure to familiarize yourself with the Terms and Conditions. That way you can ensure you don’t accidentally break any rules.
Even though you probably have visions of drug-addled hippies happily wandering the desert, you should be aware that all laws still apply at Burning Man. Plain-clothed policemen attend the event and if you’re caught with illegal drugs you’ll be fined and kicked out of Burning Man in the best-case scenario. And you may even wind up spending some time in jail.
Drinking and driving are both illegal and extremely dangerous at Burning Man. Plan on staying sober for the drive into Black Rock City, parking your vehicle, and leaving it parked until you leave.
Also, your vehicle will almost certainly be searched when you enter Black Rock City so save yourself a lot of hassle and don’t bring any prohibited items.
3. Study the 10 Principals of Burning Man
It’s also quite important to read and understand the 10 Principles of Burning Man before your arrival. These 10 principles are what should guide your actions during your time in Black Rock City.
4. Decide How Long You Want to Attend Burning Man
How long do you think you can handle Burner life on the playa? Some people choose to go for the entire week, others just go for the weekend. You’ll want to determine the amount of time to spend at Burning Man to plan for your meals and your water. Also, you need to take the appropriate amount of time off of work. Your entrance ticket gives you access for the entire week.
We went for over a week, from Saturday to the following Monday. I personally found it to be WAY too long. If I ever go to Burning Man again, it will be for no more than four days. Nick, on the other hand, would happily stay in Black Rock City for the entire week.
If you choose to go to Burning Man for the entire week, make sure you’re emotionally, mentally, and physically prepared.
5. Request Time Off from Work
How bad would it suck to forget to do this one? Best to be prepared for Burning Man by requesting time off as early as possible. Mark your calendar for Sunday, August 30, 2020, through Monday, September 7, 2020, and put in your vacation request right after you purchase your Burning Man tickets!
Also, don’t forget you’ll need an extra travel day (or two) to get to Burning Man and to get back home after you leave the festival. Traffic both entering and leaving Black Rock City can be horrendous so give yourself plenty of extra time to make the journey.
Most people also try to build in an extra day to recover and adjust back to normal life before returning to work.
6. Decide Whether to a Join Theme Camp
There are hundreds of themed camps at Burning Man of all different sizes and specialties. Many theme camps have been established for years and many of the same people attend the Burn with the same camp each year.
One of the biggest factors that will determine if you have a good time at Burning Man is who you choose to attend the festival with. Deciding if you want to join a camp or not and which camp to join is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in preparing for Burning Man.
If you join a camp you’ll pay a fee directly to the camp (this is in addition to your Burning Man ticket) that will usually cover meals, shade structures, and other amenities that you will need during your stay.
Some of the more luxurious camps operate like all-inclusive resorts, charging members thousands of dollars and providing everything from comfy accommodations to 5-course meals prepared by a private chef. Other camps are just a rag-tag bunch of friends that combine efforts to build a central shade structure and share cooking responsibilities during the week.
Theme camps are generally expected to offer some “gift” to other Burners – it might be yoga classes, a unique cocktail concoction, a DJed dance party, made-to-order espresso, an interactive activity, a service – the list goes on and on. For instance, a camp made up of avid skydivers offers free plane rides to lucky Burners. Our favorite camp had a sink station on wheels with free toothbrushes so you could clean your dusty mouth. Many camps also build art installations at Burning Man for everyone to enjoy or bring elaborate art cars for cruising around the playa.
The best way to join a camp is to get a referral from friends. You can also browse camps on the Burning Man website and inquire electronically. The earlier you message them the better!
7. Figure Out How You’re Getting to Burning Man
Burning Man is located in the Black Rock Desert (known as “Black Rock City”) in Nevada. It is often referred to as BRC or just “the playa”. The next step in your Burning Man preparations is figuring out how you’re going to get there.
The easiest way to get to Burning Man is to drive. Logistically, it is the easiest way to get yourself and all of your stuff to the festival but it generally takes the longest. And if you don’t live on the west coast of the USA it may not be feasible.
Gerlach is the closest town to the entrance of BRC and is a good place to fill up on gas, but there isn’t much else there in terms of supplies. If you need any last-minute items then make sure you stock up in Reno before venturing onto Black Rock City.
The closest major city is Reno if you plan to fly. From there, you can rent a car and drive to Black Rock City, or you can buy a ticket on the Burner Express Bus – it provides bus service between Reno and Black Rock City (and to San Francisco if you choose to fly into SFO).
There is also a small airport in Black Rock City itself for small private planes and Burner Express flights – more on that below.
Keep in mind that if you do choose to fly to Burning Man, it will probably be difficult to pack everything that you’ll need. We drove from Oregon and filled up an entire Ford Bronco with essentials and costumes – there is no way we could have gotten everything there in two checked bags!
8. Decide Where You’re Going to Sleep at Burning Man
An important step in planning and preparing for Burning Man is to determine what kind of lodging you’ll need. In general, there are three options for sleeping at Burning Man – a tent, a yurt, or a motorhome.
When we went to Burning Man we camped in a tent which meant that we spent a week sleeping in dust-covered sheets and it was not enjoyable. So unenjoyable in fact that I insisted we leave midweek to spend one night in a hotel (which was a 2-hour drive away).
We would highly recommend that you opt for a motorhome or a camper van so you are somewhat protected from the elements, but it all depends on your Burning Man budget.
9. Get a Bike
After your sleeping setup, your bicycle is one of the most important things at Burning Man. The festival is massive and walking around just isn’t practical. By Saturday there are over 70,000 people in Black Rock City making it temporarily the 6th largest city in the state of Nevada!
Like everything else at Burning Man, your bike will get covered in playa dust. The tiny particles will get in the oil on your bike chain and create a gummy mess. And the alkaline dust will slowly corrode any metal it touches. Don’t take a nice, expensive bike to Burning Man. Buy a cheap used bike on Craigslist or at your local thrift store.
Also, the wider the tire on your Burning Man bike, the better. The surface of the playa is hard-packed but you’ll occasionally encounter soft sandy sections as well. Narrow road bike tires dig right into the surface of the playa and are worthless. A cheap mountain bike is your best bet.
The playa is completely flat so gears won’t make a bit of difference – the fewer gears your bike has the better as more gears just mean more moving parts that might break during Burning Man.
Once you have purchased a bike you’ll want to think about styling it up. Radical self-expression is one of the principles of Burning Man and decorating your bike is one great way to express your individuality. It also makes your bike much easier to find when you park it somewhere. And it is less likely someone will mistake it for their own and wander off with it.
And speaking of people wandering off with your bike, buy a lightweight bike lock and always lock your bike at Burning Man. If someone gets confused and accidentally takes your bike instead of their own, there is little to no chance that you will ever see it again. Combination locks are way better than locks with keys – check out our favorite bike lock for Burning Man.
10. Plan Your Meals for Burning Man
If you choose not to join a camp, you’ll be on your own to plan and prepare your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for your entire trip.
You should also not plan to survive off the food “gifts” from other campers. Many theme camps gift food and snacks to the community, but it’s not enough to survive on for an entire week. And while no one will let you starve on the playa, showing up and asking for handouts from other campers will not make you popular at Burning Man.
You can make it easy on yourself by bringing a bunch of peanut butter sandwiches, but those will get old fast. Better to plan out easy-to-prepare meals for the week that don’t involve a lot of meat or dairy products as those can be difficult to keep cold.
Buy oatmeal or protein bars for breakfast, sandwich fixings, such as peanut butter or canned tuna for lunch, and curry pastes for dinner. It’s relatively easy to whip up a vegetable curry with curry paste, canned coconut milk, and an assortment of vegetables (carrots, potatoes, and canned beans hold up well at Burning Man). Noodles with canned pasta sauces are also easy to pack and prepare.
If you have meals that require cooking then you’ll need to make sure you have all of the proper kitchen gear – a stove, propane, a lighter, pots and pans, oil, a sharp knife, cutting board, a spatula or cooking spoon, salt/pepper/spices, plates, bowls, and silverware.
Remember to bring plenty of snacks to munch on throughout the day. Nuts, salami, apples, carrots, beef jerky, pretzels, and protein bars are great to have around.
Finally, think about beverages. You’ll need 1.5-2 gallons of water per person per day. Plus, you may want electrolyte-filled beverages to cure your hangover, energy drinks to keep you going, juices for mixers, and plenty of booze.
11. Figure out a Shade Structure
As mentioned previously, Burning Man is set in the middle of a dry lakebed and it is absolutely scorching in the middle of the day. If you plan to stay in a motorhome then you can relax in your air conditioning when you’re not cruising around the playa on your bicycle. But if you’re tent camping, you’ll need some kind of shade structure because the inside of your tent will be 800 degrees.
One major mistake that Burning Man virgins make is bringing a big plastic tarp to use for their shade structure. These tarps have a tendency to take off like a kite down the playa in the first big wind storm you encounter.
You’ll be much better off with shade netting instead so that the wind can pass through freely. And don’t forget to pack some comfortable inflatable lounge furniture for lazy afternoon naps in the shade. And same as with tents, you’ll need to firmly anchor your shade structure to the playa – 12-inch rebar or lag screws are your best bet.
12. Plan for Dust Storms
As mentioned previously, the playa experiences massive dust storms that will cover everything you own in a layer of alkaline powder. And this playa dust is almost impossible to shake off. The best way to keep your clothing and other supplies dust-free is to pack everything in large Tupperware containers. And make sure to keep them closed and sealed.
You’ll want to pack goggles and a bandana to cover your mouth in case you get caught in the middle of a dust storm. It’s best to never leave your campsite without your goggles at Burning Man as dust storms always seem to happen when you least expect them.
We also highly recommend bringing nasal spray because your nose will be filled with bloody boogers every morning from the alkaline dust on the playa.
Also, don’t be fooled into walking around barefoot at Burning Man. Even though the dusty playa feels great on your bare soles, you’ll almost certainly wind up with dry, cracked feet from the alkaline surface. Just wear shoes and you’ll be fine. Or if you choose to go barefoot bring vinegar to soak your feet in at the end of each day.
We would also recommend packing one complete outfit in a ziplock plastic bag for your trip home. Trust us, you’ll be so happy to have one outfit that isn’t filthy, especially if you have to get on a plane or bus immediately after.
13. Make a Packing List
Another important step in planning for Burning Man is to make a packing list of all the things you’ll need to survive the week. If you choose to pay extra to join a camp, they will likely provide shade, food, and other essentials which will lighten your load.
But if you are planning on going to Burning Man on your own you’ll need to make a detailed list of everything you’ll need for the week. This includes camping gear, shade structures, lighting, toiletries, food, cookware, utensils, lounge furniture, water, clothing, costumes, and more. Burning Man has a gifting culture so if you forget something you’ll likely find a kind soul to give you what you need, but best to be as prepared as possible.
If you’re camping you’ll need to list out all of your required camp gear including rebar to keep the tent tethered during a sandstorm, bedding essentials, and shade to keep you protected from the sun in the heat of the day. You’ll also need lighting for the evenings and a table and chairs for cooking and eating. Lounge furniture is nice to have but not required.
You’ll need 1.5-2 gallons of water per person per day for cooking, cleaning, and drinking (more if you’re bringing a solar shower).
You’ll want to plan out all of your meals for the week so you pack all of the food, spices, cooking oil, and pots and pans that you’ll need. Plus a stove, gas, and a lighter for cooking and plates and utensils for eating. Also, a container to collect your greywater and a cooler to keep your food cold. And don’t forget plenty of alcohol for the week!
Of course, you’ll need your styled-up bicycle for getting around Black Rock City. And costumes, boots, a jacket for chilly nights, toiletries, toilet paper, cash, and most importantly, your Burning Man ticket!
Whew, that’s a lot of stuff to remember! Check out our complete Burning Man packing list to ensure that you bring everything you’ll need for a week in the desert!
14. Test Your Gear
A common mistake that Burners make is failing to test their gear before heading to the playa. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve forgotten one of your poles as you’re pitching your tent with no store around for miles. Or finding a hole in your air mattress.
Be sure to assemble your tent and any other shade structures that you’ll be bringing ahead of time to confirm that all of the parts are accounted for and are in good condition.
You should probably prepare one of your meals ahead of time to make sure you pack all the cookware and utensils you need and that your camp stove works properly
Be sure to bring rebar, a mallet, gloves, and rope to secure everything to the playa. And bring extra duct tape and rope, just in case.
15. Doublecheck Everything
Do you have your Burning Man tickets in hand? Plenty of water? Have you checked to make sure all of your gear is in good condition and that all parts are accounted for? Have you planned and prepared your meals? Do you have all of your costumes and a needle and thread in case of a wardrobe malfunction? Have you familiarized yourself with the rules and principles of Burning Man?
If you’ve double-checked everything on this list, you should be well prepared for an epic week at Burning Man!