Every year tens of thousands of people gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City for the annual Burning Man festival. It's described by many as life changing and I would have to agree with that from my experience. You will get to experience some pretty amazing things that I can't imagine you would find anywhere else.
Burning Man is hard to put into words, and I'm sure your time there will be very different to mine as there's so much to see, experience and do, and it's almost impossible to fit it all in the short time you have there. So rather than delving into the ins and outs of my time there, I've compiled a list of top tips that I wish I knew before heading to Burning Man…
There is a fair amount of slang thrown around at the festival and I'll fill you in on six words you should know.
- Playa(pronounced Ply-er): the Spanish word for beach, also used to describe dry lake beds in the American west such as the Black Rock Desert. The Deep Playa is the outer land located out past the man between the man and the trash fence.
- Art cars: Motorised pieces of art. Licensed by the Burning Man, these vehicles are an important part of the Burning Man experience. They come in all shapes and sizes and you can catch a ride on most of them - some are even moving parties with bike racks.
- MOOP/Leave no trace: "Everything that wasn't originally on or of Black Rock Desert, no matter how small, is considered 'Matter Out of Place' or MOOP" according to the Burning Man website. This is one of Burning Man's key principles and everything you bring in, you'll need to take out with you.
- Esplanade: The main drag. It's the innermost ring road facing the Man and where a lot of the action happens.
- Trash Fence: It's set up along the perimeter of Burning Man to prevent inevitable garbage waste from travelling into the nearby mountain range and surrounding nature. You'll most likely hear people telling you that Daft Punk will be playing a set out here at some point.
- White-out: When the wind creates a dust storm and you can't see more than half a metre in front of you!
2. Combat the dust
You'll read all sorts of recommendations to manage the dust and you won't really know what works for you until you get there. You'll most definitely need a pair of goggles to brave any dust storms. I would also recommend a scarf to wrap around your face so you aren't breathing in too much of the dust.
Burning man is just over 18 square kilometres so there is a lot of ground to cover. I would recommend buying a bike to bring with you or there are camps you can rent bikes from in advance which you can use for the duration of the festival and return at the end for a refund of your bond, or if you've fallen in love with your bike you can flag your bond and keep it!
A bike lock and bike lights are essential accessories. Bike decoration is big and you'll see some incredible masterpieces but travelling from another part of the world you might not have the time to put into this. I would recommend you bring some small bits and pieces to add to your bike.
4. Light up at night
As you can imagine, it will get very dark out in the desert at night. You need to light up your body and bike so you can be seen by other bikers and art cars out on the playa. I had a head torch and EL wire, which is a flexible wire that lights up which can be wrapped around your body and bike. Don't forget to bring extra batteries for your light sources. People also get really creative with all kinds of lights so if you want to put in some efforts here do some research in advance - there's heaps of great advice on the Burning Man website.
5. Festival friendly attire
Costumes and style are huge parts of this festival. Do some googling of Burning Man costumes before the festival for ideas of what you might want to wear. The more out there the better! But no feathers or glitter please. These are considered to be MOOP.Be prepared for extreme weather, hot and cold. I dressed up around 50% of the time as it can get extremely cold at night. You'll see a lot of amazing faux fur coats!Sturdy footwear are a must have at Burning Man. Your shoes will most likely get hammered so I would say don't bring your best pair. I purchased some sturdy lace up boots which were great for riding your bike, dancing, climbing and anything else which came my way.
Black Rock desert can get extremely hot and dry. You need to bring plenty of water and a vessel to carry it around it. Camelbaks are popular or a drink bottle with a carabiner to clip to your bag or bike. It's ideal to have something that can carry at least two litres as you may set out for the day and not be back to your water source for the rest of the day or until who knows when!You can be gifted water around the festival but it's best to be prepared. You don't want to be a Sparkle Pony, the name given to unprepared first timers!
Bring some quick and easy things to eat. You won't want to be mucking around with cooking anything fancy with all the fun that is going on and you will be no doubt lucky enough to stumble upon some food around the festival from camps who offer this as their gift back to the community. I lived on snack bars, nuts and I ate cereal with nut milk for breakfast. Jerky and pickles also come highly recommended from seasoned burners.Burning Man runs on gifting system, not cash, so you won't find stalls to buy food. The only two things you can buy at burning man are coffee and bags of ice in the centre camp shop.
If you do forget something, chances are someone will help you out because of the gifting system. It's good to pay it forward and bring something small you can gift to people you share a special moment with. I created some mixtapes of music I loved at the time. I only brought 20 with me and wrote my contact details on them so anyone I gave them to could get in touch.
You'll need shelter from the elements to rest your weary head at night and a motorhome or tent is your best option. When selecting a tent, the mesh vents are not your friend. If there are dust storms like the year I was there, your tent will quickly fill with dust. You can tape up the few vents you do have though! The standard tent pegs are not going to cut it either so you can either get heavy duty pegs, or rebar is another affordable option. To hire a campervan, you'll need to secure this well in advance and it is pricier. You will need to find Burning Man-friendly campervan places. The campervan will get covered in dust and some places will hit you with huge cleaning fees.
10. Photo I.D.
You'll need I.D. to get drinks at Burning Man. The drinks are free but you still have to prove you are over 21.
11. Bring a cup
You'll need a cup to put anything you are drinking in. This was something I forgot and I was lucky enough to meet someone who brought an extra. Those enamel tin cups are good and you can clip them to your backpack with a carabiner. I was gifted a silicon cup that worked well too as it flattened down and fit in my backpack.
12. Baby wipes
There are no showers at Burning Man, and unless you have a luxury motorhome with a bathroom, baby wipes will be a staple.
Clean socks were one of my guilty pleasures with the shower situation on the playa and I would highly recommend bringing a solid stock. A least one pair a day… Or more if you are a sock addict like me.
14. Ear plugs and an eye mask
In some parts of Black Rock City, the party doesn't stop so to get your rest, be sure to pack these.
15. An open mind
You will be pushed out of your comfort zone here, but I guarantee it'll be for the best when you look back on all the awesome things you've done. Burning Man has an inclusive culture so you will be invited to do all sorts of amazing things. My advice is to say yes to everything. You'll regret the things you don't do, more than the things you did.
19. Don't miss sunrise and sunset
These are magical times of the day and I would encourage you to see as many of these as you can! Watching Burning Man change from day to night and vice versa are incredible, firstly because of the colours at this time of day. Secondly, lots of people plan special things at this time e.g. me and some friends woke up one morning to make pancakes at sunrise for everyone that was around.
Burning Man was on my bucket list and easily takes out the number one spot on amazing festival experiences. I can't recommend it enough!