Burning Man: 10 tips from a seasoned burner

burning man sunsetsThere’s a lot of hype right now about Burning Man and it’s elite visitors – is it a tech millionaire’s debauchery playground or a hippy artists’ paradise? While everyone on the internet argues that topic, I thought I’d put a hater-free, friendly list of tips for the curious non-burners or new-burners on how to plan your next (chic) burn productively with a few tried and tested tips. And just so you know – I am not a techie or a hippy artist, I’m simply a seasoned burner than enjoys electronic music, the arts and a sincere annual penchant to escape this ‘real world’ into a fantasy, hug-driven realm in order to restore my faith in humanity.

Reading this, you might already know what the Burning Man festival is all about, despite all the recent hater inspired articles floating on the internet. You are simply interested to know how to pack, prepare or maximise every moment spent at your ‘burn.’ Someone once told me that after Burning Man, you spend 6 months talking about the festival and the other 6 planning the next! Too true. Here’s a quick, basic list that you should consider framing, come the time of planning for your big week.

1. Bikes: Technically, your bike will be an extension of your body and an integral part of your trip. A well decorated, glow-stick adorned bicycle (for night riding safety) with a lock is quite possibly your best bet to get around independently and explore the soul, sights and sounds of the festival. It’s 5.5 square miles of desert wonderland, you don’t want to be stuck in one spot for too long or develop playa FOMO. Other than bikes, you have ‘mutant vehicles’ or art cars that can shuttle you back and forth otherwise you’re left with walking or hanging out locally at your camp, which is boring. Bike rentals are found in Reno but evaporate quickly due to high demand. Alternatively, all the big super stores sell affordable dirt bikes for under $100 that are dust friendly. By the end of the festival, you will find it hard to say goodbye to your trusty dusty friend that you formed a deep and meaningful relationship with over that magical week.


2. Hydration: Do not skimp or splurge on your water purchase. Find a good medium or you will be desperate for water, annoyingly begging your neighbours for some or otherwise left with plenty that you end up wasting on the last day by indulging in a long unnecessary lavish shower. On average, a single adult requires at least 1.5 gallons of water per day or 2 gallons if you’d like to include showers. I have found coconut water to be the best hydrator, especially since it contains just as much sodium/electrolytes found in sports drinks, sugars for mild energy and more potassium than 4 bananas to take care of any post party desert dehydration induced hang overs. But make sure, above all, that you’re always hydrated. Rule of thumb: if you’re not peeing, you’re not hydrated.

3. Hygiene: Look, don’t expect that by rolling into Burning Man with your banging new RV you have a ticket to hygienic luxury. Thou shall end up using a public toilet whether you like it or not my friend. And for that auspicious occasion, here’s what you do. I recommend making room for a mini sanitiser spray and a baby wet wipe pack in your elaborately decorated, sequinned fanny pack. This is to spray and mass wipe the public toilet seat before use. For the ladies- there is a camp that hands out ‘pee-funnels’, a tool that makes the toilet trip for us more bearable. Otherwise, the heroic squat ala Ibiza nightclub style can work, especially after too many day time cocktails. Please, however, make sure you *leave no trace*, not even around the general loo area.  Also, whether you’re wearing fancy boots, costume shoes, pony feet or 16 inch platforms- I promise you, some good thick socks to keep your feet dry and happy will have an effect on your overall burn-o-meter. In addition to thick, comfy socks (they come in funky shapes and animations these days animocks, anyone?), a sock a day, keeps playa foot away… a serious case of alkaline damage that can only be cured by continuous shedding of your skin every 28 days. Lastly, a baby saline nasal spray is always good to have. You’ll be amazed at what comes out of that nose.

4. A small spray bottle: You will thank me for this one. If the desert heat is much for you, a handy spray bottle that’s easily refillable at most camps on every block is worth the thought. You fill it with water, spray it and let the cool breeze naturally evaporate the mist off your skin. The evaporation process is cooling and motivates you to bike to the furthest of the deep playa chasing music buses, artist spots or creative adventures.

5. A large (fake) furry, furry coat: This you will appreciate in the evening, here’s why- you will be easily spotted by your friends in your neon pink fur under those shiny leggings; it is fashionable/trendy and looks good on anyone even if you were dressed in a potato sack and generally makes thinking about evening costumes less of an arduous. Lastly, it keeps you warm from cold desert nights. I’ve also found them useful, by converting them into little cushion cradles on art buses for disco naps and chill out sessions.

6. Camp with dramatic, creative friends but not friends with drama: It is very important you know who you camp with. The last thing you need is some drama that messes with your experience and that is very likely if you allow such characters into your group. Make sure the vibe is right in your group and always perform a test drive on email before committing to a week with that moody friend. The last thing you need is a buzz kill, so pick your troopers carefully, considering the desert conditions and low altitudes of the festival location. There will be times when your friends go off on their own, have different sleep schedules and different interests. This should not allow you to feel sorry for yourself or make room for other people’s complaints. Ideally, camping with people who are easy going and with similar music interests are best.

7. Plan big event meet ups together with friends. Take notes – Visiting ‘The Man’, Center Camp, The Temple, Distrikt afternoon parties or Robot Heart raves have all become great meeting spots for rekindling friendships or multi-camp meet ups. Make the experience even more interesting by dressing up according to the public costume days- Tutu Tuesdays and Fishnet Fridays… men, women and children, all participate. Use these public ‘hot spots’ for connecting but also to meet interesting characters that flew all the way from Japan or Jordan to appreciate that piece of art you are looking at. Most people in the ‘real world are shy to approach strangers, but remember- what brought you to burning man pretty much attracted the person next to you to BM for the same reason.. Which takes me to the next tip… gifting!

meeting spots

8. Gifting at BM is simple- you can commission an Etsy artist to create precious necklaces and handicrafts for your gifting rituals. Or you can buy a pack of gum, cigarettes, disposable mini toothbrushes, travel size anythings or little spray bottles and give them out to those that gain access to your VIB gift giving program. Night time gifting is also customary although, the laziest and unimaginative form of gifting I hear, comes in the form of illicit substances. Which takes me to night time acrobatics and shenanigans…

7. Follow Rockstar Librarian for music listings and BMIR for the latest in events and happening or … simply to impress your group with your playa knowledge. There’s nothing better than following art cars or getting lost on one when you’re either not too well or sun-stroked/burned. You will find freshly clothed evening birds adorned with costumes that seem to have taken months to create while the rest indulge in cirque du soleil inspired make up

8. Costumes & Make Up: I must admit, this is my biggest vice at BM. I spend all year preparing costumes for myself and my husband that we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in the ‘real world’ public. As for the circus inspired makeup, most people opt for the easier kids-store bought face paint and Indian inspired bindis. Graduate level burners indulge in Martha Stewart craft stickers, fancy chain or plume adorned costume hats or masques while the rest try to fit in and sport a costume hats with the repetitive (and now boring) soldier/pilot theme. I am a costume snob, so you can do better than a pilot hat, people- make a little effort, at least for the photos. So, here’s your costume pack list: something sequinned, outrageous leggings, a unique hat that you can make over a weekend with anything that catches your eye at a craft store, a fancy tutu, a furry furry coat, cowboy boots, burner-style goggles, dashing sunnies, some face paint (the glittery kind) and flashy Martha Stewart Stickers. Boom.


9. A truck: Yes, you might have your RVs, your tents, domes and other forms of shelter from the scorching but chilly desert. Extreme weather conditions happen. A communal moving truck is a great way to share things. I’ve found a truck useful by using it to throw in an air mattress for days when you want to stay away from RV and tent banter, a great place to hang all your costumes neatly, a make up station with room for a stand up mirror, a spacious area to change, a place to store all food and frozen items and always a great place for that dj friend of yours to align his equipment out of for a private party around the truck.

10. Photo Shoot: I guarantee that you will have a photographer friend in your camp, group or immediate family, it’s hard not to nowadays, even aspiring photographers. The festival is set on a ridiculously good piece of desert real estate and you can’t go wrong taking photos from any angle on the playa. Look at it this way,  the playa offers the photographer a perfect background that frames his or her subject- white dusty grounds against clear blue skies providing great light reflection on the subject (you). So if you’ve got a little bit of ‘vain’ in you, now’s the time to exploit this vanity. Photos on the playa will be memorable, natural and  forever treasured.. it’s hard not to look your best with a stunning backdrop and atmosphere. In addition, have you seen all those TV commercials of sexy cars swooshing through white deserts with blue skies? That sexy car can be, well, you. On the other hand, this would be fodder for your aspiring photographer friends.

me on the playa