FAQ for first-timers (“virgins”) who may want to join us in 2020 or some later year. If this is you, please read this in its entirety!
What is it, and do I want to go?
What is Burning Man?
Burning Man is a global community with year-round participation and events. The main event, what most people think of and mean when they say Burning Man, happens for one week in a temporary metropolis of over 70,000 people called Black Rock City.
Where is it?
The event is in the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada near the tiny unheard-of town of Gerlach, and about 160km (100 miles) from Reno. It’s about a 15-hour drive from Vancouver. The expansive desert area, or “playa”, is a dry lakebed surrounded by mountains.
When is it?
August 30th to September 7th in 2020 (the week leading up to Labour Day). The eponymous burning of the Man takes place on the Saturday night, September 5th. We will be at the event right from when the gate opens at midnight on the 30th, and staying until the 6th or 7th. Add 2 days on either end to drive down and back from BC, if that’s your origin.
Should I go?
Burning Man can easily be considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience — which it may be for some, but if you’re like me, you’ll want this experience every year! 🙂
It is a big commitment, and it is not for everyone. If you are like I was, you may have preconceptions about the event or the participants which are inaccurate or incomplete. You should read through this FAQ and explore the masses of other resources out there to decide for yourself. If you’d like a personalized consult or just to find out more, get in touch with me and I’ll talk about it until you tell me to shaddap already. 🙂
Can I go?
If you’re reading this page there’s a good chance that we’ve had a discussion about it because you’d be welcome to join us. Now getting tickets is far from assured (it’s essentially a lottery) with the main ticket sale in March or April. If you are even just toying with the idea of coming, whether this year or in the future, you should be trying for tickets in the Main Sale with action required as early as February 2020.
Can I just come for a few days?
Plenty of people do this — but I’ll go ahead and say that it’s not how we roll. Our main group will go for the full event, and campers arriving late in the week or leaving before the Man burns would mean making special coordination of schedules and vehicles. It’s also a) unfair to those who will be there for camp setup and takedown, b) a partial waste of a ticket (given someone all-in vs. someone who wants a weekender), and c) If you love it, you’ll be kicking yourself you weren’t there for the whole thing. 🙂
Can my partner/friend/someone come too?
Maybe — but it’s not necessarily a more-the-merrier situation. If your potential invitee has been to Burning Man before, then I expect that they know what they are doing. Virgins however require extra work to prepare and engage, and almost certainly won’t understand the effort and planning that is required to have a successful burn until after the experience. That effort to take care of the camp and all its members is disproportionately borne by me in this case, so for starters you’d have to be willing to stake your own reputation on their ability to prepare themselves, pull their weight throughout, and be a positive addition to the group dynamics.
Bear in mind that the experience can be stressful on relationships, and if you bring anyone you’ll want to already have confidence that your relationship can withstand taxing circumstances. Fights or friction between anyone in camp is a stressor for the entire camp.
Can I just go on my own if I want to?
Of course you can, but I would strongly recommend any first-timer go with an established camp or experienced companion.
I heard it’s a…
…non-stop drug-fuelled rave / massive free-love hippy orgy / playground for the rich tech elite / totally commercialized now / dominated by the selfie-obsessed crowd / etc…
With all due respect, FWYH. Burning Man is huge, spatially and figuratively, with a vast variety of people, places, and experiences. It can really be whatever you make it (and for better or worse all of the above can be found if you look). Despite its growing popularity, it seems to me that the 10 Principles are alive and well, and although the event and its participants are evolving, any old-school Burner will tell you it has always been evolving. The only way to know what it’s about is see for yourself; I guarantee your experience will not be quite like anyone else’s.
Check out Cyndi’s post 10 Reasons Why I Never Wanted To Go To Burning Man And Where I Was Wrong for more on this topic.
How do we physically get there?
We will drive, with origins of at least Kamloops and Vancouver, and passing through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene before cutting southeast towards Nevada. If you’re not in the Pacific Northwest, your options would be to 1) fly to get collected in one of the above places, 2) drive yourself there, or 3) fly to SF or Reno and get the Burner Express bus. As the main convoy will aim to arrive right when the gate opens, we will depart in the morning of Friday before the event, stay overnight in Oregon (probably Eugene/Springfield area), and finish the drive on Saturday to arrive around midnight.
Remember that prep, packing, and cleanup are huge jobs. If you aren’t hands-on in these activities for geographical reasons, you’ll need to make up for it while we’re there!
What do I need to bring?
Check out the personal gear list. Ty manages a camp gear list, which has taken care of us for three burns. In a nutshell your gear is much like that of hot-weather camping, with a few unusual items like a bike, blinky lights for your bike and body, goggles, and dust mask. You will need a tent or to arrange sharing someone else’s. (Note that shade space is limited so there’s a constraint on tent space per-person.)
Something to know is that the playa is made of hard-packed, ultra-fine “dust”, not sand. It blows around and gets on (and in) absolutely everything, but it isn’t gritty like sand. It is however very alkaline, which can be harsh on all it touches. I still bring my normal clothes, my phone, etc., but I wouldn’t bring a nice tent that couldn’t take a beating. Cleanup is a big task involving a lot of vinegar to neutralize the alkali.
What does it it cost?
We run as lean operation an operation as possible and $1300–1800 CAD for a person is reasonable, assuming you’re joining the convoy from BC. (This is also assuming I can continue to accumulate and store infrastructure without a paid storage facility.) Basic cost estimates are:
- Ticket and vehicle pass share: $750
- Fuel share: $150–250
- Accommodation on drive down and back: $75–150
- Specialized gear and personal lighting you probably don’t own: $50–100
- Camp and gifting supplies, infrastructure improvements, water share, and a donation to our host village: $200–300
- Bike: varies
- Food: varies
How do I get tickets?
See the Tickets FAQ.
What do we do there?
This is is the easiest question (“Everything! Whatever you want to!”) and the hardest question (“There’s way too much — how do you even begin?”).
You can get an idea of some of the things that go on by looking at the Events list from last year, but this is just one aspect. There is so much exploring to be done, which can take you to incredible art, epically-themed camps, fascinating characters, and to planned or spontaneous happenings that will never make that events list. Or, you can just chill at your camp and invite random passers-by to come under the shade and hang out (this is very normal BTW). Oh yeah, remember to sleep once in awhile too.
What can I buy?
Forget your money, you can’t buy anything here (see principle Decommodification). Everything we need (yes, including water) must be brought in. The only useful thing that can be purchased is ice for coolers at three large distribution stations (“Arctica”). That means that all the bars, food, entertainment, art, experiences, etc. are free as part of others’ communal contributions (see principle Gifting). A popular misconception is that it is a barter economy, however this is untrue; anything given is a gift, and there is no expectation that you would give something in return. This takes a little getting used-to, but it’s amazing.
What do we eat?
Whatever you want to bring, plus you will find camps serving food to the public.
Many of us make the choice to forgo coolers and the constant supply of ice they consume and just bring non-perishable food including a large supply of freeze-dried meals. They’re pretty satisfying, especially considering they require only boiling water, are ready in less than 10 minutes, and dirty no dishes, saving more time and water. Unlike camping in the wilderness where preparing a nice meal can be a fun activity, spending time preparing food on playa is an inconvenient distraction.
Food can also be found being gifted throughout the city, from the common (but oh-so-welcome) hot dog, to the occasional deluxe feast. If you wanted, you could probably get by the entire week eating only gifted food, although you’d spend a lot of your time hunting it down and waiting in lines. For these reasons I usually just enjoy “found” food as a pleasant surprise, and rarely pursue it as a destination (but that is completely a matter of preference).
Many people claim to have reduced appetite due to the heat — mine has always been normal however (all the biking must help).
See the Food FAQ for lots more info.
What are there for bathroom facilities?
Large banks of porta-potties are found every few hundred meters in the city. Sometimes they are clean and well-serviced, and other times (particularly late in the event) they are pretty rough. Our camp also has a private pee station! Women, consider a pee funnel.
What is there for power?
We may have power for our camp (as we did in 2019 — thanks Paul!) but it’s not assured. Bring extra batteries, including a USB battery for your phone if desired. There are people around with power, but unless you’re in dire need, it’s tacky to ask (see principle Radical Self-Reliance). Camping in the Alternative Energy Zone also necessarily means we don’t run generators. As we continue down this path it is likely we will have some kind of solar setup.
Where do we shower?
The thing to know is that the heat is very dry, and you tend not to perspire heavily. Add that the fine playa dust is like baby powder or dry shampoo, and it’s actually not nearly as bad as you’d think. Baby wipes are considered enough by many, and it’s been adequate for me for the past three years (although I expect I’ll check out the Human Carcass Wash this year).
Why not a solar shower? In addition to the extra water you need to pack in, all greywater generated needs to be captured then packed out or evaporated (see principle Leave No Trace). It’s not exactly the convenience of a camp shower in the forest.
What’s the weather like?
Often hot and dry, but it varies. The area where the event is held (the “playa”) is a dry lakebed on a desert about 4,000 ft above sea level. It can be extremely hot during the day and then drop down to single-digits at night. Because of the landscape, winds often pick up and instigate dust storms, occasionally creating whiteout conditions. Small tornados can even develop, strong enough to shred up a camp. Although rare, rain storms can hit which turn the entire playa into an impassable mud until it dries out. But for the most part, it’s hot, very dry, and clear!
What should I wear?
Wear whatever you like (see principle Radical Self-Expression). That can be basic (the uncool but super-practical t-shirt, cargo shorts, and wide-brimmed bush hat), to the elaborate costumes people spend all year on, to no clothes at all (yes, it is quite acceptable to just be naked). Just no logos please (see principle Decommodification). Also, don’t get sunburnt or heatstroked.
Speaking of the done-up, Instagram-loving crowd which you’ve surely seen in many depictions of the event: don’t be fooled, this is a small portion of the population. They are dramatically overrepresented in photo galleries, because getting their picture taken is what they’re good at. The majority of folks are somewhere closer to the basic/practical end of the spectrum, and aside from compliments and attention you’d surely get on your fancy costume, nobody really cares what you look like.
For more check out Cyndi’s post What To Wear (And What NOT To Wear) At Burning Man.
How do I get around?
Typically using your bike (see Bike FAQ). This is a huge space, with an entire city and vast open playa; the entire pentagon-shaped event boundary is 4.5km (2.8 miles) between furthest points. A bike is essential gear and the most common way to travel. When without your bike (which I do recommend as a way to see different things at a different pace) there are also art cars you can ride from place to place which is tremendously fun. Private vehicles are not allowed except for getting into and out of the event.
Is it hard to sleep?
Depends, although FWIW I’m a light sleeper and I do fine. The stimulation and sheer FOMO may make it difficult, but we do our best to camp in relatively quiet areas (and earplugs are always recommended besides). 2017 had record-breaking temperatures which meant it was uncomfortably hot at night, but typically it cools right down. Sleeping past a certain time can sometimes be difficult as the temperature in the tent can rise sharply with daybreak, especially if any part is not under shade.
What is there for cell service and wifi?
Practically speaking, none. It’s possible that your phone will work intermittently, although this declines as the week progresses and more people arrive. If you keep your phone on for apps or your camera, I recommend you put it on Airplane Mode to save battery and just forget about the outside world. Anecdotal reports seem to be that the coverage during the event is improving year-over-year, but I would never rely on any kind of connectivity, and I make sure the world knows I’m off-grid. There was somewhere I was able to get WiFi in 2018, and we even had WiFi right in camp in 2019 (again, thanks to Paul) but it’s best you don’t think about this or count on it.
If there’s no cell coverage and it’s such a giant busy place, how do we coordinate ourselves?
A camp notebook, random check-ins, and luck. Always be prepared to venture out on your own and not be tied to specific plans too much: plans and schedules are notoriously difficult to maintain (everything is on”playa time”). Making friends, which can be for a minute or for the week, is easier than any other place I’ve been, so count on that!
Okay, I’m interested! What should I do?
- Fill out this short form. Go do it now!
- Mark out August 30th to September 7th in your calendar.
- Begin recruiting some family and friends to try for tickets on your behalf.
- Check out the Personal Gear List FAQ and start thinking about what you’ll need.
How do I get plugged in?
- Sign up for The Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter.
- I like the Accuracy Third podcast. Their audio Survival Guide series is a good start.
- Go on the official Burning Man site and do some reading.
- Google for some survival guides, but remember that people focus on different things so feel free to consult me if you find contradicting or concerning information. Avoid the shiny best-of photo galleries, IMO.