The Lamplighters carry lamps to begin the procession of the burning of ‘The Man’ during a dust storm at the Burning Man festival near Gerlach, Nev., on Aug. 30, 2008. (Photo: AP/Brad Horn)
Burning Man begins the last Monday in August and runs until Labor Day, the first Monday in September. During “the Burn,” roughly 65,000 people leave work behind and trek to Black Rock City, a pop-up metropolis in the middle of the Nevada desert that only exists for a week each year.
The only things money can buy at Burning Man are coffee and ice, if you can find them. Burners, as attendees of the annual event are called, must come prepared with everything they’ll need to survive their time there, whether it be for three days or all seven. It’s part of the practice of Radical Self-Reliance, one of Burning Man’s principals, which also include Radical Self-Expression. To accomplish these two tenets, planning and packing are of utmost importance. To help those going for the first time, here are a few tips for things every Burner should have on a their packing list:
Goggles: They’re not a fashion statement; they’re a necessity. Dust storms are a regular and unpredictable occurrence in Black Rock City. One minute you may be biking through the expansive desert behind your buddies on a beautiful, clear day, and the next it could be a complete whiteout as the playa dust kicks up and you can’t see a foot in front of you. There is a range of storms in between, but for all of them, you need to protect your eyeballs with sealed goggles. Many people choose ski goggles, but you do have to be wary when shopping for goggles that they’re airtight. If you see a great-looking pair of goggles on Etsy or Amazon but on the side there are little vents, those goggles will not do. Goggles that allow air in will also allow in dust. In a bad dust storm, these are almost as bad as no goggles at all.
Some form of face mask: See reason above. Bandanas or scarves are stylish choices and get the job done, but some folks opt to step up dust inhalation protection by wearing surgical masks or, in some cases, full gas masks. All are generally worn around your neck with your goggles and put on as needed.
Boots: I repurpose boots saved for vacations in snowy locales for this festival in the desert, often a pair of furry white moon boots and black, knee-high lace-ups. Director Jerry Brunskill says his platform moon boots (which he often pairs with a tutu) and Advil are all he needs for his whole trip. The first time I went to Burning Man, he’s the one who explained to me the heavy footgear is a must-have because the playa dust, finer than talcum powder, is high in alkaline and has been known to cause chemical burns on any exposed part of your feet — a condition that’s become known as Playa Foot, the more radical cousin of tennis elbow.
Bike: You have to have one. It may come together in a week, but Black Rock City is a sprawling metropolis, and if you want to see even a portion of it or keep up with your friends, you’re going to need to bring a bike — preferably one you’re not too attached to.
ZigZag, left, and Christ kiss during a dust storm on the playa during the Burning Man festival. (Photo: AP/Brad Horn)
All bikes get instantly coated in corrosive playa dust, and it takes effort to ever return one to its pre-Burn glory. A beach cruiser or mountain bike is recommended to easily glide over the terrain, and adorning your bike with lights is another one of those necessities. People will nearly hit you at night and yell out that you’re a “darkling.”
Baby wipes: Showers are a rarity, and these babies become a lifesaver. Burners get coated with a fine layer of playa dust the moment they arrive. First-timers literally have to roll around in it before they are permitted entry!
This is what happens to newbies. (Photo: Jennifer Birn)
Rather than make you feel instantly dirty, the playa dust actually keeps you cleaner than you think, so aside from matted hair by week’s end, reduced showering doesn’t cause many to smell too bad, and the baby wipes are enough to save you from looking or feeling like you’re perilously lacking in personal hygiene. You can get 900-count boxes at Costco for $19.99.
Hand sanitizer: Not going to lie, the port-o-potties are not for the faint of heart — especially towards the end of The Burn — but you’re left with little choice other than to put on your face mask, hold your breath, and go for it. They have hand sanitizer nearby, but you’re going to want to have your own to take a post-potty hand sanitizer shower.
Related: Do Burning Man for $100 or $100,000
Burning Man participants ride an art car on the playa (Photo: AP)
Fanny pack: A great place to store things like your hand sanitizer, some tissues, lip balm (your lips will get dry), and maybe some hand lotion.
Costumes: I’ve known some girls who bring such an extensive wardrobe they pitch whole tents outside their RVs just as changing rooms and to house their clothes. The idea is radical self-expression, so literally your imagination is your only barrier.
Lots of people bring Halloween costumes from years past (I’ve only bought Halloween costumes that I could potentially wear again at Burning Man since I started going in 2012!). Last year, N.Y./L.A. publicist Rachel Krupa and I stumbled up La Maison de Fashion in West Hollywood, a shop nestled down an alley off Melrose Avenue. They get a lot of the costumes worn on sets for productions like Game of Thrones and rent them for a small percentage of the selling price! All you have to do is dry-clean the item before returning it. “When it comes to dressing … anything goes,” Krupa says. “Express yourself, try something different … but definitely don’t forget your faux fur at night.”
The author’s Burning Man uniform. (Photo: Jennifer Birn)
Apparel adorned with lights, specifically LED wire, is popular too. It adds to the festive vibe – and also keep you from being a darkling at night. But longtime Camp Morningwood burner Daniel Shoemaker warns, “When flying into Reno, I’ve learned that El Wire outfits will not go through security without extensive screening and explanations. But since I don’t want to pack it in my checked luggage for fear of damage or loss, I’ve learned to include batteries and dubstep to demonstrate that they are outfits that light up and not something dangerous. It makes for a pretty fun security-screen dance moment.”
An art installation lights up the playa. (Photo: AP/Brad Horn)
Gifts: There isn’t commerce, but Burning Man has created a culture of gifting. It’s customary to come to Burning Man with a gift to give people you meet, or just strangers you pass on the street. I’ve given out candy and fortune cookies and received everything from plastic jewelry to hugs, bike repairs, cocktails or simply unsolicited advice. A large part of the gifting culture also includes never expecting a gift in return for giving one.
Food and drink: When you enter Burning Man, your RV is checked to make sure you have enough sustenance to feasibly survive the week. Many stop at the grocery stores in Reno on their way in, and I’ve always eaten food similar to what I have at home. Some of the large theme camps also bring personal chefs, and all are welcome to walk in and grab a plate – few go hungry here. Trek Thunder Kelly (real name) has been to the Burn more than a dozen times. The thing he said he can’t be there without is “Playa Nachos.” He explains that the simple snack of Cheez-Its and Cheese Whiz “will give you all the salt you need to get through the day.”
Burners — from left, Corbin Stinson, Beth Rademacher, and Kaleb Acklin, all of Hawaii — stock up. (Photo: AP/Cathleen Allison)
Sunscreen: You’re in the desert, so as Baz Luhrmann says: “Wear sunscreen.”
Ziploc Bags: You’ll want to keep what you intend to wear on your way back home in a plastic bag, because everything exposed to the elements will become coated in playa dust — if you hadn’t deduced that by now.
And E! News chief correspondent Mel Bromley put it perfectly: “Don’t worry if you’re ill-prepared. Some people spend months gathering everything together for their trip, but if you do leave it to the last minute, like me, then that’s why online shopping was invented. … The most important essentials for me were baby wipes, suntan lotion and vodka!” Oh, and custom-made wings!
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