Because you can’t live on dusty hot dogs alone. (Or can you?) [Updated September 6th, 2019]

The basics

You need to bring enough food to last the week — remember, nothing can be bought. That said, food can be found being gifted throughout the city, from the common (but oh-so-welcome) hot dog, to the rare deluxe feast. If you really 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 personally just enjoy “found” food as a pleasant surprise, and rarely pursue it as a destination (but that is completely a matter of preference).

The bottom line: Radical Self-Reliance dictates that you bring enough food to survive.

How do I keep food cold?

The playa is hot, but fortunately ice is one of the few things you can buy on the playa. There are three Arctica stations where you can buy it, during daytime hours, for $4 USD per bag (of 7lb cubed or a 10lb block). There are often long lines, and transporting larger quantities could be tricky.

Don’t underestimate the size of coolers. If you bring one, plan way ahead with strategies like freezing everything ahead of time and packing it meticulously. This page of advice is a must-read.

Is there another option to coolers?

Sure! I forgo coolers and the constant supply of ice they consume and just bring non-perishable food, including a large supply of freeze-dried meals (we load up on Mountain House). 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. They aren’t cheap, but American Costco and Amazon have great deals (like $5–6 CAD vs. $11–13 at MEC). Team up and get in on a group order for the most savings.

Some people do some or all of the week with a meal replacement like Soylent, if that’s your thing. (Although don’t try that for the first time on the playa.)

Can we just do communal meals?

Schedules are notoriously difficult to maintain at Burning Man. If you’re counting on someone cooking for you at some time, or being counted upon for same, you will probably wish you weren’t. Then a couple people don’t show up for scheduled food and now you have leftovers to deal with, etc… Feel free to team up if you like, but understand the challenges.

What will the camp kitchen have?

Ours is a lean kit:

  • 2 x butane burners with a supply of fuel
  • Water boiling kettle
  • A few shared cooking pots
  • Cooking spoons, ladle, spatula
  • Can opener
  • Sponge and soap

BYO anything else you need for your food prep!

What are some things I might not think about?

  • Lots of people report a lowered appetite on the playa, probably due to the heat and constant excitement. I have found my appetite to be normal (or maybe it’s all the biking offsetting it).
  • 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 as far as I’m concerned.
  • You’ll be sweating a lot; salty foods are awesome! 
  • Anything you can’t eat, give away, or properly store has just generated garbage that’s going to sit in a hot bag for up to a week.
  • Any water used that you don’t consume has just diminished the supply and generated greywater that must be stored and packed out. This includes water for rinsing food, washing dishes, or boiling.

What are some good ideas?

  • Freeze-dried meals
  • Instant ramen noodles (mmm salty soup!)
  • Dried fruit (especially prunes, not a lot of fiber foods on this list!)
  • Meat jerky
  • Nuts
  • Granola or protein bars
  • Boxed mac-and-cheese or other no-drain pasta
  • Instant or heat-and-serve rice
  • Instant or 1-minute oatmeal 
  • Granola
  • Non-dairy or UHT milk in no-leftovers size, or powdered milk
  • Chips, crackers, bagged popcorn, or any other salty convenience snack
  • Whisps (those tasty 100%-cheese crackers)
  • Peanut or nut butter
  • Anything heat-and-serve (with packets or Tetra Pak superior to cans)
  • Pickles (although they break some other rules, they’re awesome)
  • Unripe bananas, apples, or other non-refrigerated fruit (something fresh is a nice treat)
  • Hard-boiled eggs (these will keep up to a week in a cooler)
  • Any compact, non-perishable food
  • Removing excess packaging ahead of your departure (less to pack back out)
  • Sealable bins for food storage; I like the Sterilite Clear Gasket Box (51L/54qt size recommended)
  • Powdered electrolyte mix

What are some bad ideas?

  • Regular pasta or anything that requires extra water
  • Anything that needs to be cooked more than a few minutes (too much fuel)
  • Anything that requires a lot of preparation or cleanup
  • Drinks not in aluminium cans (can’t be crushed)
  • Lots of liquor (booze is really easy to find)

What are some terrible ideas?

  • Inadequately-sealed food that leaks onto everything else and into your cooler water
  • Highly perishable food
  • Underestimating ice melt and/or failing to get ice and spoiling some or all of your food supply
  • Glass bottles
  • Anything that requires tools that we don’t have on hand
  • Anything MOOPy, i.e. preparing or consuming it creates a mess that can’t be completely contained

Post-2019 report

Here’s what I brought and ate to sustain me for over 8 days on playa, from 1am Sunday gate day, to 1pm Monday the week after. Not accounted for is the assortment of gifted food, which this year included hot dogs, a burger, some tacos, the AEZ potluck feast, a sit-down roast pork dinner at the Falzone Circus, a little BBQ, some camp shared food (including PICKLES), plenty of beer and cocktails, and some random snow cones and sweet treats.

  • 7 x freeze-dried main meals (Mountain House)
  • 7 x freeze-dried breakfast meals (Mountain House)
  • 2 x 120g instant noodles (Nong Shim)
  • 500g of dried mangoes (Costco Organic)
  • 75g of prunes (Costco Sunsweet)
  • 300g of pork jerky (Golden Island Korean BBQ flavour)
  • 6 x 40g nut bars (Costco)
  • 1 x 100g can kippered herring (Brunswick)
  • 10 x 2.4g packets sugar-free electrolyte powder (Propel)
  • 50g of ginger candies

Left uneaten:

  • 5 extra bags of freeze-dried mains
  • 1 extra bag of pork jerky
  • 3 extra cans of kippered fish
  • 5 extra packs of instant noodles
  • 1 bag of Whisps
  • Instant oatmeal

What would I do differently?

  • More electrolyte! I forgot about it until final food stop and I couldn’t find a bulk powder.
  • Probably a few bowl noodles instead of packages. Although they’re less efficient space-wise and make more garbage, I would definitely have been happy eating a couple more late-night bowls with that extra bit of convenience.