Burning Man: top tips for festival planning and preparation
Burning Man – attending takes commitment, from bagging tickets to getting yourself all the way out to Black Rock City. The adventure starts way before the festival, and planning your journey into the Nevada desert presents a fun and logistical challenge, factoring in that day time temperatures can soar to over 35˚C and plummet to the low teens at night. You have to anticipate all your needs for the duration of your stay, most obviously water and food. And if that wasn't enough, you cannot leave anything behind – except perhaps a little piece of your heart.
The same goes for a number of similar festivals which have recently taken off as a result of the growing popularity of Burning Man, which was first held in June 1986 on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. One such sister festival includes Afrika Burn in South Africa, which runs earlier in the year, April 25th to May 1st.
Whichever commerce-free arts festival you choose to visit, here are a few pointers on what to pack and how to plan for the adventure.
Gifting is a central element of Burning Man’s ethos, creating social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships or advertising. In Burning Man terminology, a gift is something which does not require reciprocation or an exchange of goods of equal value. Whether it’s ice-cold slices of watermelon, chocolate brownies, umbrellas for the heat, karaoke facilities or an entire camp devoted to repairing your bike free of charge, gifting is part of what makes these festivals so much fun and so unique. So make sure you’re stocked up like a summer-time Santa and plan your gifts in advance.
The clue: you’re spending seven days in the desert. This means all your food, water and drinks have to be pre-planned. That includes water for washing (you and your dishes) as well as hydrating, which is incredibly important if you’re going to survive over 12-hours every day under the desert sun. Plus, you need to eat enough food to keep you dancing! This festival comes with no shower facilities, but you have a couple of options: try renting an RV (Recreational Vehicle) to provide some comforts of home, or you could cross your fingers and hope you stumble into one of the many themed camps where you might be lucky enough to find a shower. Whatever you choose to do, planning for water access is essential.
How do you keep your energy up so that you don’t miss out on all the fun? There's plenty to do at Burning Man; biking around, visiting the themed camps, admiring the structures, as well all the fun and games once night fall comes. All this burns calories at an accelerated rate, especially when the heat rises.
If you're there with an RV (perhaps the best option if you’re travelling from the UK) pre-order or make a few cooked meals in advance which you can then freeze and re-heat on the day. Lighter snacks like energy bars and fresh fruit are also practical. If you don’t have an RV, then stop at a Walmart on the way to stock up on cheap food – but remember that whatever you buy you have to carry. Alternatively, themed camps can help out and they’re great for finding little luxuries - but it’s best not to rely on them for a full week’s feed. Look out for these pit-stops: Artica and the Ice Caps for ice and Bacon without borders for an all day brekkie.
Camp and clothing
Self-expression, usually in the form of dressing up, is a serious affair at Burning Man, as is decorating your tent and camp area. Make sure you are prepared to join the fun on themed days. Basic festival themes to adhere to include: Tu Tu Tuesday, Leopard Skin Thursday, and of course the overall theme this year, Carnival of Mirrors. But your attire also needs to be practical for a desert environment. The evenings can be chilly, so warm jumpers and sweatshirts are essential if you intend on taking full advantage of the night time outdoor dancefloors. We also recommend adding touches of UV to complete your Burning Man look because you can easily lose your group in the dark amongst the thousands of other party-goers sprawled across the desert – so get your UV face paint and glow sticks on!
Anyone who suffers from acutely from FOMO (fear of missing out) will have a tough time trying to decide which events to catch. Steel yourself. It will happen, you will miss out on something. It's inevitable because there's just too much going on at once. But if you want to make the most of your time, plan what you’re going to see in advance. There are great blogs, survival guides and checklists online. Time To Burn app will help you keep track of playa events. Make sure you know the festival schedule, so you can always be in the right place at the right time. Once you’ve got a prioritised list of what you’re going to see and do, make sure you can get between these things quickly and get a bike. It’ll save you time and energy reaching all the art instillations and help to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings, plus it'll never run out of juice - unless you do!
Lastly – take part! Don't sit on the side lines. Throw yourself into the ring. That's what Burning Man is for, and that's how you'll have experiences you'll never forget.
If you've got time to stick around stateside once the camp clears away, then have a read about the ultimate US road trip to take in the festival, as well as San Francisco, Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe - plus many more incredible highlights!
Looking or more festival fun? Check out these articles:
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Written by Lezaan Roos for Skyscanner. Photos ©LezaanRoos