A lot of people go their first year and realize how unprepared and/or focused on the wrong things they were. I won’t let this to happen to you.

Essential items are in bold, followed by recommended and optional items, covered in 6 sections:

  • Camp
  • Bike
  • Personal Care
  • Clothing
  • Gear
  • Other
  • Gifts

Camp

TentOr somewhere non-dusty to sleep!
Sleeping bagTemperatures could get down to 10C (50F) or so at night, but rarely lower.
Sleeping pad/mattressAny kind of pad you would use for camping to get off the hard ground. Inflatable mattress also good, tent space permitting.
Pillow
Folding chairStandard camping folding chair, cupholders are nice.
Bowl or deep-dish plateSomething unbreakable.
Fork and spoonOr spork!
Eye maskRecommended for sleeping.
EarplugsRecommended for sleeping.
Sheets/blanketOptional to supplement (if cold nights) or replace (if hot nights) your sleeping bag.

Bike

Bike
Bike lockA cheap, light-duty combination cable lock.
Bike lightingThe more the better!
Bike kickstand
Tennis ballTo put on your kickstand to prevent it from sinking into the playa.
Bike basketRecommended to hold misc stuff or to get your bag off your back.
Bike tagRecommended in case your bike needs ID. Should securely attach to bike and have your name and camp name and location.
Bike replacement chainOptional.
Bike replacement tire tube(s)Optional.

What’s this about a bike?

Please see the Bike FAQ for all the important information.

Personal Care

Basic toiletriesToothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, etc…
Wet wipesA “playa shower” may be all you get for a week.
Sunscreen
Lip balmSPF recommended. Chapped lips are extremely common, don’t let this happen to you.
Prescriptions, painkillersDon’t forget any prescriptions or painkillers you need to get by. Keep in original packaging so as not to be carrying unmarked pills!
Portable hand sanitizerYou probably want to have a travel bottle with you at all times. The camp may have a large supply you can refill from.
MoisturizerRecommended, or essential if you have sensitive skin (the air is very dry).
Eye dropsI don’t use them but they are often recommended.
Nasal sprayA basic saline nasal spray can help with the hot dry air. I use mine a few times during the week.

Clothing

ClothesSee below.
HatIdeally wide brim to keep the sun off your eyes and neck, and ideally with a cord for high winds and biking.
BootsOr any comfortable, closed shoe.
Exit outfitA set of clothes which will be completely sealed and only donned once you are off the playa.
Large bandana or shemaghRecommended utility item to fight dust, sun, or cold.
SandalsRecommended for at least wearing around camp, or to wear out if they are durable and if you are careful to look after your feet.
Warm coat
Recommended in case there’s cold nights.
CostumesOptional; see below.

What kind of clothes do I need? And what about costumes?

Climate-wise, the playa is a high desert, which means it can be very clear and hot during the day (35C / 95F) and get quite cold at night (10C / 50F). Layers are your friends. Assume lots of sun; and if it rains, you’ll be making a dash for shelter and waiting it out so no need for waterproof gear. I consider a good hat which keeps the sun off your face and neck essential gear.

Remember, no logos or brand-wear (see principle Decommodification).

In terms of costumes, the line between “clothes” and “costumes” is never thinner than at Burning Man (see principle Radical Self-Expression). Feel free to bring anything that brings you joy to wear, and don’t feel compelled to dress up in any particular way. There’s also costume camps in BRC! With any clothes/costumes just be sure that nothing can detach or disintegrate and create MOOP (feathers are notorious for this). For something fun and easy that’s also practical, I recommend bringing a onesie.

Be sure to pack an “exit outfit” of whatever clothes you want to wear once you’re off-playa and fresh out of that first glorious shower, and be sure to keep them sealed and completely dust-free until needed.

For more info check out Cyndi’s post What to Wear (and What NOT to Wear) at Burning Man.

What about footwear?

The common standard is fully-closed footwear (usually boots) due to the dreaded playa foot caused by overexposure to the alkaline playa dust. That said, you’ll also want some sandals or flip-flops to at least wear around camp. I have proper hiking sandals which I’ll wear out on some days and it feels great to get out of the boots. Some people go fully barefoot, so with the right foot care regime anything’s possible. Just be sure to at least have comfortable closed footwear and look after your feet. If you bring brand-new boots that have not been broken in, expect blisters!

Gear

Personal lightingYou MUST be clearly visible from all sides or you’re asking to get run over by a bike. EL wire is good as you can wrap it around your clothes and/or bag and it’s fun. I’ve wrapped my bag in it such that it’s visible from front and back, so I never have to worry about not having my lights.
Headlamp
Water bottle or camelbakMust be durable for playa use and attach to your gear somehow. A wearable system (like a Camelbak) is ideal. Strongly recommend 1L or larger.
SunglassesAnd a backup pair if you are prone to losing things. No logos please.
GogglesFor sandstorms. They must seal reasonably well or dust will just blow in through the cracks. I would get clear lenses as you want to be able to also use them at night (although it seems the heavy winds are really just during the day, but what do I know).
MugMust be unbreakable and attach to your gear somehow. Insulated and sealable are big bonuses.
Photo IDBars are supposed to ID everyone. An official but unimportant ID (like expired DL or passport) is ideal. Some people just affix a photocopy to their mug which seems to be sufficient (although technically it could be refused).
Extra batteriesAny extra batteries you’ll need for your headlamp, personal lighting, or devices.
Dust maskSome people use a dedicated mask regularly and others get by just using their scarf, depending on preference and sensitivity. In any case you don’t want the the big cartridge respirators, they are too bulky and the cartridges require replacement. A few disposable-style masks or a dirtbiking mask would be much more appropriate. As with a lot of gear, if it’s not convenient, you probably won’t use it.
CaribinersFor your mug at least, handy for other items too.
Personal tagSomething you can wear (like a dog tag) with your name, camp name and location, and In Case of Emergency name and phone number.
WatchEssential if you don’t want to have to use your phone for checking the time.
Notepad and penAgain, so you don’t have to use your phone.
Camera or phoneQuite optional as you won’t have any reception. Best have a dust-resistance rating, or consider a ziploc it to protect against dust. Understand the camera rules and etiquette.
FanA small battery- or hand-powered personal fan could be handy if it’s a hot one.
Extra water bottleA bottle for around camp and in your tent so you don’t need to use your wearable water system all the time.

What do I need to carry with me?

That depends your sense of minimalism vs. preparedness, and of course the time of day and how long you plan to be out. Remember that a bike basket allows for extra gear, but I would always recommend bringing only what you really need. My personal list is below, all of which fits in/on my utility bag.

I do not leave the neighbourhood without:

  • 1.5L of water or electrolyte (the capacity of my Platypus water system)
  • Hat and sunglasses if daytime
  • Goggles
  • Mug
  • ID
  • Watch
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Ziploc bag for own and collected MOOP

And usually also:

  • Dust mask
  • Chapstick
  • Small snack (like a Clif bar or trail mix)
  • Gum/mints

And if night, definitely:

  • Personal lighting (my utility bag has this, so I’m never without)
  • Headlamp
  • Warm layer
  • Extra batteries if my lighting or headlamp might get low

Other

TicketYou will require your own ticket in hand to get through the gate.
Vehicle passRequired at the gate if you have a vehicle.
Bike transportationHow is your bike getting to the playa? Remember that step-through designs (aka “ladies” bikes) require some kind of crossbar to span the seat and handlebar stem to properly load onto some car carriers.
ShadeWhat shade is your tent under? Unless you’d like to bet whether sunrise or the ensuing baking heat will wake you up first!
FoodSee the Food FAQ. Remember to remove all packaging and consolidate ahead of time! Clear, sealing storage bins are also nice.
Food prepWhatever you may need to prepare your food that the camp won’t have.
Water6L (1.5gal) per-person per-day, if not supplied by the camp.
Medical insuranceNon-Americans, get insurance that covers you in the USA. I use BCAA Traveel Insurance. Also see this about separate optional airlift insurance.
PassportBorder-crossers, don’t forget this! I strongly recommend getting Nexus (i.e. Trusted Traveller Program) if you are eligible for it.
US phone servicePre-arranging some kind of US phone coverage for the travel days is going to be much cheaper than roaming, and not having coverage is a PITA for everyone you’re travelling with. I have Google Fi service which is very convenient to enable for just the days I am travelling.

Gifts

Gifting is one of the 10 Principles at Burning Man — it can be daunting though for a first-timer to consider gifting without any context or knowing what might make a “good” gift. My main advice is don’t go buy some cheap “stuff” because you feel like you need to have something to hand out like halloween. Instead, invest yourself in our camp gift efforts, volunteer on-playa, or figure out what craft or talent you can bring that is meaningful for you as the giver.

I recommend reading this really great post on gifting from a first-timer’s perspective.