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It’s hard to gauge what percentage of the US population knew what Burning Man was before last month…
But thanks to the mainstream media’s love for sensationalism, I think it’s safe to say that the number just skyrocketed. Whether you’ve known about the storied event for years or just recently read about it in The New York Times, it’s not something you can truly wrap your head around until you’ve stepped foot inside.
With friends who attend annually, I’ve been intrigued by the Burning Man experience for some time. Tickets to the week-long event are notoriously hard to come by, but for reasons nobody can quite articulate, there was a surplus of them floating around this year. I decided it was time to go and see the spectacle for myself.
If you like a good challenge and a heavy dose of weirdness, I would highly encourage you to make the trip out to Nevada next year. Just make sure you’re prepared for anything. Below is a list of gear that helped me survive Muddy Man 2023 with relative ease. Start there and add whatever other comforts you might enjoy.
Burning Man: The Gear To Make It Through
My Shelter: Danchel Outdoors B5 Pro Canvas Bell Tent
Burners camp in everything from lightweight backpacking tents to massive RVs. The former will not hold up well in a mud pit while the latter might be a bit out-of-budget. I opted for a durable, four4-meter canvas tent. The B5 Pro stayed nice and dry inside thanks to a heavy-duty floor while the spacious interior allowed room to set up a queen-size cot on one side and a nice living area on the other. This is particularly nice when you have to spend a couple of days in camp. Hit Goodwill for a cheap rug and some fabric or tapestries to hang up so it feels homey inside.Buy on Amazon
Don’t Bust Your Face: Feveqher Luminous Guy lines
There’s a lot of activity around camp at night and tent lines are notorious for tripping people up. My tent had 11 guy lines, keeping it super secure in the wind but increasing the trip hazard so I picked up 6 of these illuminated lines to replace some of the standard ones that came with the tent. They were perfect—super bright, easy to see, and barely used any battery power. Your neighbors will thank you when they’re not face-down in the dirt.Buy on Amazon
My Camp Bed: Coleman Airbed Cot
Getting yourself off the ground is key to getting good rest throughout the week. This cot was super easy to set up and came with a pump to get the mattress inflated in minutes. Bring some comfy pillows and bedding from home, including an extra set of sheets to swap out mid-way through the week.
Camp Lighting: MPOWERED Luci Solar String Lights and Detachable Power Hub
I used this handy kit to light my tent and it worked great. They’re easy to string up and offer three levels of brightness to accommodate your needs or mood. Stick the charger out in the sunshine during the day and you’ll stay lit all week.
My Dinner Table: ALPS Mountaineering Simmer Table
Inside your tent or around camp, having a handy little table is always nice. This one is lightweight and super easy to set up. Plus, it’s indestructible and downright affordable.Buy on Amazon Buy on REI
My Burning Man Boots: Keen Circadia Waterproof Boot
With all the walking about biking about, a solid, ankle-high boot is essential. While “waterproof” is not usually the first feature you look for in Burning Man footwear, it saved me this year and I will certainly be going the same route next year.Buy at REI Buy at KEEN
My Burning Man Socks: Darn Tough Wool Socks
Wool for the win! I cannot stress how much you should prioritize the right socks…and plenty of them. Whether you’re dealing with sweaty feet, cold nights, or muddy conditions, wool socks are the best way to keep your feet comfortable thanks to thermoregulation. Plan on two pairs per day so you can change them out and keep your feet feeling fresh.
My Wheels: Craigslist Cruiser Bike with Wheel Brightz
Having a bike is essential for getting from one side of the city to the other. People get pretty crazy with their creations but you can keep it simple by picking up a cheap cruiser bike on Craigslist. Secondly, since you’ll be biking around with thousands of other people at night, you’ll want to be well-lit. Start with some Wheel Brightz around your rims and get as crazy as you want from there.Buy on Amazon Buy on Brightz
Burning Man: The Experience
The roots of Burning Man date back to 1989 when a group of friends burned a wooden effigy on San Fransisco’s Baker Beach to celebrate the summer solstice. After a few years, the local community and its authorities had had enough and by 1990, the annual celebration was driven off the beach and out to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. In the three-plus decades since, the event has grown steadily from the 20 people it began with to an estimated 74,000 who made the pilgrimage this year.
Black Rock City – as the temporary metropolis is known – is erected entirely by its inhabitants each year, in the middle of the harsh desert landscape. Most people told me I wouldn’t be able to grasp how large it was until I got there. While I didn’t find that to be entirely true (though it is massive), it’s certainly not like anything I’ve seen before and what I came to realize is that I had no idea how busy it would be.
Once inside, you’ll be entranced by the pure magnitude of happenings: Art installations, “mutant vehicles,” theme camps of all varieties, free food, open bars, eccentric performers, friendly people, and endless dance parties. It’s a trip. What I most certainly did NOT see was an ebola outbreak, acts of cannibalism, alien invasions, or any other of the ridiculous fake headlines you might’ve seen in your newsfeed.
With all the city has to offer, you can make the experience whatever you want it to be. When you get your ticket, it comes with a map and guidebook with all the planned events and activities for the week. The list, simply put, is mind-boggling. It ranges from kid-friendly activities to educational workshops, X-rated yoga sessions, and everything in between.
Glancing at the schedule for Friday, I saw over 1,000 different events and offerings and something for everybody. Sake and bowling, anybody? The pillars, however, are the aforementioned effigy, known as The Man, and The Temple. While it’s easy to chalk the week up to one big bohemian party, the Temple represents the opposite end of the spectrum. It is its own entity and the place where I found the heart of the event to lie.
The organization behind Burning Man describes The Temple as a place for “reflection, resolution, release, and renewal.” While most of Black Rock City exudes a jubilant atmosphere, crossing the threshold of this impressively ornate, handbuilt structure brings a swift and acute change of energy. Solemn and respectful, visitors come to remember loved ones, reflect on hardships, and confront happenings in their daily lives. Heartfelt messages and photos are written and hung in every corner, as friends and lovers embrace, releasing what it is they’ve been holding onto. I am not a religious person, nor would I place myself high on the scale of spirituality, but I found the Temple experience to be particularly moving and I was inclined to visit multiple times.
Burning Man: The Unexpected
Nevada’s Black Rock Desert is not a forgiving environment. Attendees are typically subject to scorching afternoon temperatures, frigid nightly lows, and blinding dust storms. What they are not accustomed to is what we got this year: heavy rain and deep mud.
When a weather front moved in and dropped a little more than half an inch of rain on the dry lake bed, conditions got… interesting. The dusty landscape morphed into a sloppy mess but while people on the outside gobbled up outlandish news reports claiming “Tens of Thousands Stranded at Burning Man,” the truth was that most of us were capable of handling the wet conditions and had no intentions of leaving before the event was over. As any person familiar with outdoor adventure travel knows, you need to expect the unexpected. Sometimes that means a bit of overpacking, which you’ll thank yourself for when Mother Nature throws you a curveball.
It certainly wasn’t ideal. Some individuals were put in a tough spot due to bad luck, ill-preparedness or the need to leave the event for other obligations, which wasn’t really an option. However, what I saw on the ground was a resilient community of people banding together to overcome a challenging situation, help their neighbors wherever needed, and make the most of the hand we were dealt…with the help of champagne.
Burning Man: Helpful Info If You Go
The city is comprised of hundreds of “theme camps” as well as individual campers. Theme camps offer fun activities and come with camp dues (which can range from $100-$1,000) which go toward infrastructure like shaded lounge areas and shower setups as well as shared meals. Alternatively, you can head out on your own or with a group of friends and set up your own little camp zone.
Burner Express Bus
If you don’t have time or just don’t want to subject your car to the sand and mud then you can take the Burner Express bus from Reno or San Francisco. This helps cut down on traffic at the event and comes with the huge benefit of skipping the line of traffic in AND out. It costs about $140 each way and allows two pieces of luggage. For additional fees, you can add two more pieces of luggage, a bike, and even get 5 gallons of water when you land on the playa.
Unfortunately, as with any city, you do need to be aware of thieves. Keeping your camp tidy and secure will help deter would-be thieves from targeting you. Always lock vehicles and consider a small luggage lock for tent zippers. Wherever you bring your bike, be sure you have a lock with you. Lock bikes to each other or through the frame and wheel to ensure it stays where you left it.
Editor’s Note: In recent years, more and more news articles have popped up about Burning Man attendees leaving behind hoards of trash. It’s important to remember that Leave No Trace principles should be followed anywhere and everywhere you go – whether you’re hiking in the mountains or partying in the desert. Much of the trash being found is stuff like clothing, entire tents, shoes, and more items that are reusable and not designed for one-time use. If you plan on attending Burning Man, please clean up after yourself and don’t create waste. Thank you!
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