I’ve been to Burning Man three times (2017, ‘18 and ‘19) and each visit has featured some of the most magical, surprising, mind-blowing and simultaneously challenging experiences of my life. There really is no place like “the playa” (what attendees call the dried-out lakebed where the event takes place).
First started in 1986 with 10 people burning an eight-foot wooden man on San Francisco’s Baker Beach, Burning Man is now a massive art and music event attended by some 80,000 people every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert around Labor Day (August 28 to September 5 this time around). “Burning Man used to be cool,” is something people have said for decades, but I’m here to tell you it’s still unquestionably cool.
But Burning Man isn’t an event you just spontaneously decide to go to one weekend and then travel to the next. You’ll need a ticket, which you probably should have by now for 2022 as it sells out almost instantly every year, and enough supplies to survive the week. All this costs a lot of money — the $575 + taxes and fees ticket is just the beginning when you factor in getting there, accommodation and other supplies. But coming from someone who’s been and will certainly go again, Burning is 100% worth it.
Here are some tips to get you prepared for Burning Man 2022.
1. Don’t expect to be glamping
Flying into Burning Man and staying in a fancy RV with gourmet food is not only frowned upon, the organization has recently banned pre-paid RV or trailer deliveries and has previously booted some “plug and play” camps that provide everything for a usually-high fee. So expect to rough it at least a bit.
Whether that means staying in an RV or in a tent is up to you. I’ve done both. An RV is definitely more comfortable, but they are expensive and rentals get booked up quickly. If you’re going to sleep in a tent, make sure you have deep stakes as they do blow away in dust storms.
2. It’s a gifting culture
I can’t count the number of times people who haven’t been to Burning Man have told me (incorrectly) that it’s a bartering society. You won’t be required to flash someone for a beer or give a sticker to see Diplo DJing on an art car.
Burning Man works on the basis that everyone is a participant — no artist or creator is on a different level than anyone else. Some participate by creating art, delivering oven-baked pizza at 3am (I’ve seen it), offering airplane rides or spraying you with lavender water.
If you’re going to participate by giving gifts to others, don’t create needless waste that’ll immediately go in the trash.
3. Join a camp
A great way to participate is by joining a camp. There are camps for pretty much anything and everything. For instance, my camp, Electric Cheese Land, does cheese events like Swiss raclette with yodeling in the background. Others hold live concerts, give free showers or pour endless booze in Western-style bars (bring a reusable cup with a lid if you wish to partake). In a day you can go from getting a portrait of your genitals to playing in a hockey tournament to grabbing poutine at midnight — anything goes!
While it’s possible to go rogue and set up your tent behind the city limits, joining a camp will provide you with community right off the bat (everyone who has been to Burning Man loves seeing it again through a first-timer’s eyes). It’ll also help you get tickets in the future since camps in good standing (meaning they kept their area clean and contributed to the event) are allotted direct group-sale passes the following year.
If you’d like to join one, here’s a full list of registered camps with contact information (search 2019).
4. The playa provides (everything but water)
One thing that people almost never gift is water — you are expected to bring your own. “Radical Self-reliance” is one of the most important of Burning Man’s 10 Principles, so pack 1.5 gallons of drinking water per day (more if you plan to shower). Always take a bottle or hydration pack with you whenever you leave camp. Electrolyte drinks like coconut water or Gatorade powder mixed in a jug of water can also help you stay hydrated. As the old Burning Man saying goes: “piss clear.”
5. You will have dust in curious places
Sand in the Black Rock Desert is not the same as you’ll find at the beach. It’s alkaline dust that sticks to anything and gets into every crack and crevice. The only way to get it off is with fierce scrubbing or vinegar, and showers are few and far between during your week at Burning Man.
So take care of your skin. Good chapstick and sunscreen with high SPF are musts, and some bring eyedrops for their eyes (especially those who wear contact lenses) and essential oils or salve to remedy a dry nose and cuticles.
Goggles and face masks or bandanas also help protect you during inevitable dust storms and always wear closed-toe boots or shoes — bare feet can lead to painful playa foot rashes.
6. You need a bike
Burning Man is way bigger than most people think — it’d likely take you hours to walk from your camp to the outer limits “deep playa,” especially if you want to climb on or interact with all the jaw-dropping artwork.
Rent or bring a bike (preferably one with thicker tires) and take it out with you. Also, use a combination lock as people do steal bikes.
7. Light up your life
The playa at night feels like a video game on the moon — tens of thousands of people biking around, mutant vehicles spewing fire and music blasting from every direction. Do not be a “darkwad,” Burning Man speak for people without lights, so bring lots of LED lights and EL wire and put them all over your outfits, bag and bike.
8. Express yourself
You can be whoever you want at Burning Man, so bring clothes that you feel express your best self. This could be a neon wig, sparkly captain’s coat or sorcerer’s hat — again, anything goes at Burning Man. Just be sure to bring various outfits, including warmer clothes for cooler nights — fuzzy onesies are perfect since you can slip them off when the sun comes up. Avoid glitter, loose sequins and feathers as they will fall off, creating MOOP (matter out of place) referring to garbage on the playa.
Need to refresh your wardrobe while on the playa? Camps like Kostume Kult gift outfits.
9. Go with the flow
As you enter the event, you will be handed a booklet with events happening throughout the week — everything from salsa classes to free ice cream to seminars about polyamory and BDSM. It’s tempting to want to plan out your week, but you should also leave plenty of time for spontaneity. Exploring (especially on your own!) is when the magic happens and will make for the best memories.
10. Catch a sunrise set
You will never do or see everything at Burning Man no matter how hard you try, but you should definitely see a sunrise set at least once. I once spent the night dancing on the playa and watched a guy sing a rousing rendition of “Hallelujah” on top of a yellow submarine while the sun came up, and it might have been the best moment of my life.
On mornings I want to see the sunrise, I like to have a late nap after dinner when it’s cooler and set my alarm to wake up around 11 pm.
11. Give your phone a rest
There’s no cell reception or Internet on the playa, so don’t expect to update your family every day or check the news. Enjoy the break from the “default” world.
Speaking of your phone, don’t take pictures of everything. The dust will diminish the quality, and some people don’t want their photo shared online. If you do take photos of specific people, ask permission first.
12. Don’t smoke weed in public and go easy on the booze
While cannabis is legal in Nevada, it is prohibited at Burning Man since the event takes place on federal land. There are undercover cops dressed as partiers who can kick you out.
And perhaps don’t bring bottles upon bottles of booze for yourself. If you plan to drink, there are plenty of camps distributing free alcohol. Besides, if you drink too much, you risk getting dehydrated.
13. Plan for a meltdown
Even if you stay sober, the heat, dust and constant socializing will be taxing on your body and mind, usually resulting in a meltdown around Tuesday or Wednesday if you stay the whole week. I’ve seen many a tear and shed my fair share, so when those challenging feelings inevitably arise, hydrate and take some quiet time at your camp (or in a chiller one if yours is blasting music).
If your meltdown happens while on drugs or psychedelics, the Zendo Project provides a comforting environment with professionals who know how to assist you in letting it pass.
14. Leave a memory in the temple
On the last night, silence sweeps over the playa when the giant Temple is burned down, marking the end of the event. The Temple is solemn and spiritual for a lot of people, regardless of their religion or faith, and visiting it before it burns down is a special aspect of the event.
If you have someone or something to commemorate, bring a photo or write a note and leave it on the Temple walls.
15. Leave no trace
Do not toss your beer cans or food wrappers in the dust expecting someone to pick them up. You will be judged. Burning Man is a privilege and will not continue if the playa can’t be kept the way it is before the event takes place every year, so bring out everything you bring in and dispose of it properly. Here’s a list of places to throw our trash after the event.
For more specifics on what to do and bring, read Burning Man’s official Survival Guide.