Note: This is an updated version (August 2017) of Ross Borden’s original article, with reader suggestions added. Feel free to contribute more packing-list items in the comments!
1. Don’t make the trip twice.
Make sure you have your tickets!
2. Printed out google directions to Black Rock City (BRC)
There will be long stretches where you are out of cell service area, so don’t rely on directions from your phone.
3. A spare car key
In case one of them is lost on the Playa.
4. A hide-a-key
So that you can leave the spare and people from your group can get into the car if need be, while everyone is out running around.
5. Car charger for your phone
7. Make sure your tires are in good shape and you have a spare.
8. Either bring a small gas can or be very sure to fill up often.
Gas stations are scarce along the 90-mile stretch from Fernley to BRC.
9. Some people choose to take illegal substances out to Black Rock City.
Keep in mind that you will be driving through Nevada, which has some of the toughest drug laws in the country.
10. A good set of ratchet tie-downs.
Better than bungees!
Things to help you pimp out your car and make it more comfortable
The Black Rock Desert is not designed to sustain human life. It is hot, flat, windy, dusty, devoid of vegetation and water, and very inhospitable. The more of the following things you can bring out, the more comfortable you and your group are going to be.
1. A shade structure
It is essential to have some escape from the sun – and something that can sustain high winds. If you don’t know where to start, get some ideas here.
2. An RV — this is a big one.
I take an RV out with my group each year because during the day it’s (way) too hot to sleep in tents and provided your RV has a generator, the air-con will save your life and make you lots of friends. And it can mean the difference between getting sand-blasted in a Black Rock windstorm to being inside, rolling doobies and cooking quesadillas.
Unfortunately, RVs are crazy expensive for this week because every rental place knows about Burning Man. If you can’t afford to rent an RV the traditional way, I’ve had luck scanning Craigslist for RVs that are listed “for sale,” and cold calling each owner to see if he would be interested in making a quick $1200 for a one-week rental before putting it right back on the market. If you can pull this off and split the cost between friends it’s well worth it.
If you have more than one tent, I would suggest bringing two. Anything left “out in the elements” will be covered in dust within 20 minutes of arriving on the Playa. It’s nice to have one tent to sleep in and one to store all your stuff in.
4. Extra-long tent stakes
As I said above, the wind is no joke in the Black Rock Desert. I have seen 60mph gusts at Burning Man and I’ve also seen tents cartwheeling down the Playa like tumbleweeds. No fun…so when setting up your tent you need to batten down the hatches and expect the worst. Sometimes, for larger tents, it’s a good idea to bring skinny rebars, which can be bent and driven down deep into the Playa to hold your tent in place.
5. A warm sleeping bag
Yes, it is hot most of the time, but around 3 AM temperatures plummet and it can get very cold.
6. Sleeping pads
The more the better.
8. A tarp
To go under your tent.
9. Folding card table(s)
If you have more than one, bring them all. It’s really nice to have a table to eat / cook on and just sit at when drinking / playing cards.
10. Folding chairs, camping chairs, etc.
Preferably with cup holders.
11. Lanterns, tiki torches, or other sources of ‘space light’
12. Camping stove and extra gas
The bigger the better, so if you have a Coleman that you use for car camping, better take that over an MSR backpacking stove.
13. Christmas lights or strands of LED lights to give your camp a nice glow.
14. A large tub for cleaning your feet
After running around in sandals all day it’s SO nice to clean your feet off and put some clean socks on before going out at night.
Add it to that tub with water to soak your feet and help avoid “Playa foot,” a chemical burn caused by the alkali dust in the desert.
16. Don’t bring carpet or astroturf
They fray and pieces get blown away, and they’re a beating to clean up.
17. E-wire or battery- / solar-powered Christmas lights
Use them to decorate your tent, bike, self, etc.
18. Fire extinguisher
Especially if you’re going to, you know, burn anything.
Kitchen and cooking
Being a ninja about planning your food / booze and kitchen is well worth the effort.
1. A huge cooler
I bring all the coolers I own and one of them could fit a body in it. I store food (after a Costco mission) in a few of the smaller ones and pack the big one with ice. You will be able to buy ice in BRC but it’s expensive and a pain to carry back to your camp from Center Camp, so bring as much ice as possible. Dry Ice is even better.
2. Pots, pans, cooking spoons, strainer, cutting board
3. A couple sharp kitchen knives
4. Cleaning supplies for dishes, sponges, paper towels
5. A pack of large ziplock bags
6. A washtub for doing dishes
7. Bowls, plates, forks, and knives
I would recommend either hard plastic stuff that can be washed or paper stuff that can be burned.
8. A large pack of the heftiest garbage bags you can find.
9. Mugs and cups
Drinks are free, but drinking out of your dusty hands might not be the way to go.
10. A kettle
A cup of noodles at 11 PM is sometimes the best thing you can imagine.
Food and drinks
1. Be strategic about food.
Anything that goes out with you either needs to be consumed or brought back out of the desert with you. I would recommend planning every meal before you go shopping and bringing things that compress well or burn.
Plan on each person in your group drinking a gallon of water per day. Yes, a gallon per day per person is a shit-ton, but if you are not constantly drinking water you will get dehydrated.
Booze is good, usually better cold so don’t forget your cooler(s) and ice. If you bring beers, it’s better to bring cans.
You want to bring things that are easy to prepare and have a lot of calories — there might be days where you only get one real meal.
5. The more ‘preparing’ you can do at your house before Burning Man, the better.
For example, it’s great to BBQ a bunch of chicken breasts before you leave and seal them up in ziplocks to be frozen in the cooler.
6. No-prep foods that don’t require heating or water
Trail mix, cereal, etc.
1. Bike — absolutely essential
Burning Man is massive and you will want to go and do things that are very far away from each other.
2. A flashpack
This is a small backpack that can be rolled up and stuffed in your pocket, but also be unrolled and used to carry dozens of cold beers around the Playa.
3. A camelback hydration system
This will be nice to have during the day when you’re cruising around on your bike. Note: Putting margaritas in it at night can be dangerous.
Burning Man is a very photogenic place. You will get amazing shots if you always have your camera on you. Make sure to bring a few ziplock bags to ensure it’s not affected by the dust.
Critical for finding things at night in your camp and riding a bike at night.
Sandstorms are serious. Search eBay for used military goggles.
1. Extension cords and power strips
2. Duct tape, zip ties, and bungee cords
3. A small sledgehammer to put in your extra-long tent stakes
5. Hand-held vacuum.
If you have one, bring it. If you have an RV, bringing a full-sized vacuum is not a bad idea.
6. A rake
For combing through sand and keeping your camp clean.
Even if you’re going for that deep, dark, Black Rock Desert tan, bring some high SPF for your face and shoulders. The sun is eff-ing hot.
Burning Man doesn’t stop when you do, so if you’re a light sleeper it’s a good idea to bring some.
3. One-ply toilet paper
For use at your camp’s local portos.
4. Basic dopp kit
Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, etc.
5. Lip balm
Preferably with sunblock in it.
Bring a few per person; they will get dirty fast.
7. Lotion, or aloe vera post-sun burn stuff
8. Eye drops
The wind and dust can be hard on your eyes.
9. Solar shower
These are great since your only other options for cleaning off are a shower in an RV or stripping down and chasing one of the non-potable water trucks that spray the playa during the day.
10. Smokes and gum
You can’t just run down to the gas station to get either one, and both of these can be constantly gifted. Both are crowd pleasers.
11. Multiple bottles of hand sanitizer
12. Saline nasal spray
The desert can really dry out your nose.
Be they birth control, contact lens solution, just anything that you might possibly need, and enough for a few weeks.
14. Spray bottle
You can pack some small wet cloths in zip lock bags and stick them in your cooler.
1. Bring functional clothes and leave the brand names at home.
You’ll notice a lot of people aren’t wearing clothes that have the brand stitched right across the front. Better to rock random stuff you find at thrift stores.
2. You want to bring layers.
It will get both very hot and very cold.
3. Warm jacket or hoodie
4. Sturdy rather than stylish shoes
As Burners say, “Your costume ends at the ankles.”
Bring a few.
The brand-less, gas station kind are best, and buy a few pairs because those are made in China and won’t all survive the week.
8. Bandanna (big enough to tie around your neck)
It’ll help keep your skin from chafing from things hanging around it, like cameras and Christmas lights.
9. Portable sewing kit
Potential costume emergencies abound in the desert.
1. LED lights, a few packs of glow sticks — or glow-anything
If not for aesthetics, you need to be well lit when walking and riding your bike around the Playa at night. You certainly don’t want to get hit by an art car or someone else not paying attention on their bike.
2. The sky is the limit for costumes at Burning Man.
Go thrift store shopping for awesome, silly, and sexy costumes — you can’t go too big. If you rock something completely outrageous that you’d never wear to a Halloween party, there will always be people that are more outrageous, remarkable, or naked. Be yourself and have fun.
Thoughts on participation
One common misconception of Burning Man is that it’s a “barter economy.” It’s not. It’s actually a ‘gift economy.’ If you make someone a taco or a cocktail, they might give you a hug but they’re not going to give you their hat. And you might be surprised how liberating it is to not touch money for an entire week of your life.
This system only works because almost everyone who comes to Burning Man brings something — a good or service that provides value for total strangers. What your group’s contribution will be is one of the toughest decisions to make as you’re planning your trip to BRC.
Don’t think that you’ll always be carrying something around and giving it out…just make a meaningful contribution at some point. I find that people always appreciate good food and quality booze, so if you throw a little cocktail party right on your street and invite everyone who walks by to have some drinks and dinner, you will make lots of new friends and your contribution will be a success.
Some general advice
1. Plan out each individual meal as though you are going camping.
If you don’t, you’re likely to either run out of food or buy way too much and have to toss it at the end.
Buy the biggest ziplocks you can find and bag up your stuff. For example, it’s always nice to have a completely clean pair of clothes to drive home in. You’ll also need the bags for any cameras / phones / electronics, and for cooler food.
3. Plan out and remember where in your car or around your camp you’ve stored things.
It’s easy to pack a car or RV full of stuff and get to camp only to realize that you have no idea where things are being kept and have to go digging.
4. Pound water constantly.
It is uncomfortable and unnatural to drink as much water as you need to be drinking in BRC. To keep myself and all of my friends hydrated at Burning Man, I use a ‘game’ that I use while climbing high-altitude mountains. At least 3 times each day I gather up all the people standing around my camp and we have a water-chugging contest. If you are hydrated you will be happy.
5. There are no dumpsters at Burning Man.
You pack out everything you take in, including trash (and dirty water!), so always try to plan ahead and either choose things that can be cleaned and reused, or things that can be burned.
6. Separate trash
Burnable, non-burnable, and recycling. Bring reusable items rather than single-use.
7. Shyza sanitiza.
You are eating and drinking and using porto-potties that a lot of other people are using. Keep the hands clean at all times.
8. Make no mistake…
Burning Man is the biggest, bad-est party you’ve ever been to in your entire life, so get stoked!