Burning Man Guide
For many ravers, Burning Man sits alongside EDC Las Vegas as a bucket list festival to check out at least once in ur life. Sitting in the dust of a dry lake bed in northern Nevada, Burning Man is unlike any other festival u could experience. It's also one of the most difficult festivals in the world to attend.
Harsh desert climates, a lack of infrastructure, no cell service, no money, and no hotels definitely make this one more of a challenge to navigate, but not impossible. Don't worry babes, I've got u! I started going to Burning Man in 2013 and haven't missed it since. Here is everything I know about Burning Man, from how to get there to what kind of vinegar you should soak your feet in (I'll explain later).
- What Is Burning Man?
- The Burning Man Ten Principles
- How to Get Burning Man Tickets
- How to Camp at Burning Man
- How to Get to Burning Man
- How do I... (eat, sleep, shower, find the lineup)?
- What to Wear
- Getting Around Black Rock City
- Black Rock City Events
- Burning Man Secrets
- Leaving Black Rock City - What to Expect
What is Burning Man?
Good question, and I'm not really sure. Burning Man is an annual event that takes place in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada.
Where is Burning Man held?
The festival comprises around 70,000 attendees who construct a city called Black Rock City for one week and leave absolutely no trace of their work when they leave.
How long is Burning Man?
The Burning Man festival is around 10 days, but most people go for around 5-7 depending on how much time they can commit to the event. If you can only go for a few days, go for the second weekend (which is always Labor Day weekend).
During its peak over the second weekend of the event, Black Rock City is officially the third largest city in Nevada. Throughout the week they burn a bunch of the art installments that you'll find scattered throughout the desert, and at the end of the week they burn a giant wooden man (it doesn't really mean anything, it's just a man). The next day, the city is gone.
There is a little bit of everything at Burning Man, which makes it hard to describe when people ask, "what is burning man festival?" in the first place. If a music festival is what you want, a music festival is what you'll find. If you're looking for a laid back event to hang out at and maybe meet a few new friends, you'll find that too. The burning man experience is whatever you want it to be.
There are thousands of art installments, parties, bars, places to get food, things to climb on, dance floors, comedy shows, fashion shows, diners, movies, orgies and more. There are AA meetings and sober events for sober burners, kids camping zones for families, educational events, crafting parties and really anything you can think of. There's just no money, which we'll explain later.
Burning Man started as a small bonfire party on Baker Beach in San Francisco in the '90s. Back then I think it was really just a friend group that eventually got so big they had to move it to the middle of a dry lake bed in Nevada. Today the same people still run the event, and when one of the founders passed away a couple of years ago they made a special man to honor him.
The Burning Man Ten Principles
Burning Man operates on something called the Ten Principles. These are the guiding "rules" for the festival. They're not strictly enforced, but they'll make your experience and the community as a whole much better. There are no official Burning Man rules, but these are the closest you'll get.
Anyone is welcome at Burning Man!
Burners are encouraged to gift and share something with others while on the Burning Man playa. Since one of the other Ten Principles is to Leave No Trace, I recommend finding ways to gift that don't include things that could easily be lost or thrown away. Don't feel like you need to gift something to everyone you meet, either. Helping out around your camp, cleaning up or lending a skill can also count as gifts, and they're zero-waste!
I say this because lots of people feel obligated to make crafts like little necklaces or cigarette tins that they can gift to people. It's a nice idea, but keep in mind that a lot of these gifts only end up in the trash or on the ground as MOOP (Matter Out Of Place). Burning Man doesn't operate on a bartering culture, so if someone gives you something (food, a drink, a trinket), you're not obligated to give them something in return.
You're encourage to cover up any logos or labels while you're on the playa. Brands aren't allowed to put up activations so you won't see something like Red Bull offering a special event or a sponsored party. You'll even see people cover the logos on their rental RVs and trucks.
Don't put yourself in a situation where you rely on others for your own survival. Burning Man is fun, but it's also a festival that will require you to be responsible for yourself, whether that means survival, getting around, or having fun!
Honor yourself at Burning Man by being yourself! It's your burn.
Burning Man is a community at a large scale, and each camp is another community. Do your part by participating in the community however it may be asking you to show up. If that's dancing at a party, let loose. If that's cleaning up around camp, be sure to help out.
Burning Man may seem like a lawless, Mad Max-style place, but it's still in the United States. In fact, it's on federal BLM land. This means that laws can be applied federally and not in accordance to Nevada State laws (meaning that things that are legal in Nevada may not be legal at Burning Man).
Getting to Burning Man also requires you to go through native land, so I recommend learning a bit about the Paiute tribe and being respectful of their community as you travel to and from the playa.
Leaving No Trace
When burners say leave no trace they mean absolutely no trace. Take the time to pick up pieces of MOOP around the playa as you see it. MOOP can be anything from broken and abandoned bikes to tiny specks of glitter and plastic.
At the end of the burn you'll see people raking their camp, picking up every last speck of MOOP that could be left behind—including water stains on the ground. How well the playa is cleaned each year plays a huge role in whether the event is allowed to happen the next year. Respect the Earth!
Leave No Trace also includes not putting your environmental impact on the Indigenous people in the area. Get rid of your trash ethically, meaning at paid dumpsters or all the way back at your house.
Put down your phone. You probably won't get service out there anyway. Take as many photos as you want, but wait to post them until you get home and just enjoy the moment.
How to Get Burning Man Tickets
No, but it is a bit difficult. There are a couple of sales that you can buy tickets from. There is a pre-sale called the FOMO sale that lets you buy tickets at an inflated price early in the year (the prices range each year). This isn't a VIP ticket since there are no VIP sections at Burning Man, but it's just a way for you to get tickets easier if you're willing to pay more for them.
The stewards sale is a private sale for established theme camps. If you're offered tickets in that sale through a theme camp, take them!
The next sale is the main sale which sells 10,000 tickets at $575 per ticket. The last sale is the OMG sale, which sells 3,000 tickets at the last minute for $575 each.
There is also a low income ticket program which you can apply for. If you're approved you get allocated a ticket by the organization. Another way to get tickets is through the Secured Ticket Exchange Program (STEP), which is Burning Man's official resale program.
If you buy a ticket from a third party (online or through a friend), I recommend meeting in person to do the exchange. There are a lot of ticket scammers. Burning Man releases information on how to authenticate a ticket each year on its ticketing website, so make sure to check that before you purchase the ticket. You can learn more about the tickets here.
Also, it's worth noting that a Burning Man ticket only gets you in to the festival. Once you're in the experience is free, but it will also require you to bring in anything you might need, including food.
How to Camp at Burning Man
The entire festival is a camping site, so you have a lot of freedom to pick a camp. Theme camps will have dedicated spaces throughout the city, so before you take a campsite make sure to ask around the area to make sure it's not taken. The closer you get to the inner ring in the city (a street called the Esplanade), the louder it will be, along with the closer you get to the 2:00 and 10:00 streets. You can look at the map below to get a good idea of what I mean by this.
If you're looking for a quiet place to camp I recommend camping closer to Center Camp at 6:00 on either side. The further back you go on the lettered streets, the quieter it will be as well.
There is an unofficial gayborhood in the 9:00 area that has a lot of LGBTQ+ events, parties and theme camps. The sound camps are all along the 2:00 and 10:00 street facing out of the city, so if you're going to be raving a lot I recommend getting closer to those. Where camps are placed each year tends to vary, but you can pretty much guarantee that there will be more house and techno on the 10:00 side, and more EDM on the 2:00 side. I recommend camping in the thick of the city between 3:00 and 6:00 and then between 6:00 and 9:00 to get the most out of the experience.
To camp at Burning Man you'll need:
- A tent, sleeping structure or RV (I recommend Kodiak tents, Hexayurts, and Shift Pods for the harsh wind)
- Tent stakes
- Extra tent stakes
- A mallet
- A car port or pop up structure
- Lots of tent stakes for the shade structure
- Some more tent stakes just in case
- Folding table
- Camping chairs or an inflatable couch
- Extra gasoline
- Kitchen stove
- Paper towels
- Baby wipes
- Dish soap
- Air mattress or sleeping pad
- Sleeping bags or blankets (it does get very cold at night)
- Headlamps (keep a few in your camp and in your backpack for when you go out at night)
- LED wire or lights for your camp
- A camp shower
- Water for the camp shower and dishes (1 gallon per day is usually enough)
- A misting bottle
- A bucket to soak your feet in
- White vinegar to put in your foot bath (the playa dust is alkaline, which dries out your feet and can cause them to crack and bleed—a phenomenon called playa foot. The vinegar helps neutralize the dust and return your feet back to normal).
- Jump kit for your car
- Flat tire kit for your car
- Flashlights and lanterns for camp
- Flip flops for camp or showering
If you're going with a theme camp or are camping with people that have been before, ask them for a specific list of what you'll need to bring. Some camps offer things like a camp shower or a group kitchen, so this list only really applies if you're truly going on your own.
How to camp with a theme camp:
There are tons of theme camps at Burning Man that each bring different vibes and have different themes. I recommend going with a theme camp to truly get the most out of your experience, but you'll need to meet that camps requirements in order to be invited in.
If you have no idea where to start and don't know anyone that goes to Burning Man, look for groups on Facebook in your local area. Ask around in your rave community for people that also go and they can probably connect you to the right camp.
Sometimes the theme camp of your dreams is completely distant from your local community—check the theme camp registry on the Burning Man website to find camps that sound appealing! Make sure the camp you're trying to camp with is the right fit, and make sure you can afford their camp dues and dedicate your time to any participation requirements they may have. Some camps have art cars or art installments you can get involved with, which is a great way to meet new people in the community if you're a virgin (first time burner).
How to Get to Burning Man
If you're driving into Burning Man you'll need a car pass. You can get those on the Burning Man ticketing website linked here. The line to get into the event can get pretty long, so add anywhere from 3 to 12 hours into your travel time depending on when you arrive. If you arrive within the first day of the gates opening, it really could be up to 12 hours. If you also have to go to Will Call, add another 3-12 hours. You're on playa time now.
Burning Man is in the northern Nevada desert, just northeast of Reno. Drive north from Los Angeles or East from San Francisco to Reno and keep going to Fernley. Reno and Fernley are going to be your last stops, so grab any groceries or last minute stuff here, before heading north to Gerlach. If you're coming from the East, drive west on I-80 until you get to Fernley!
I recommend flying into Reno or San Francisco for easiest access. The Burner Express bus has great options to bring you to the playa and back (I think you might even get to skip the line!). You can get tickets here. There is a private airport at the event itself, so that's always an option if your name happens to be Diplo or Elon Musk.
If you rent a car or RV give yourself an extra day to deep clean it. If not, you'll probably be charged a cleaning fee. Don't bother trying to keep the dust out either, it will get in.
How do I ....
There are no food vendors at Burning Man, so you'll have to bring all of your food in with you when you arrive, as well as your drinking water. Burning Man recommends one gallon of water per person per day, for both drinking and other things like washing dishes. Some camps offer food services for free as their contribution to the event, so you'll probably be able to grab some food here and there, but don't depend on it.
Here are some Burning Man food ideas if you're stuck:
- Pre-packaged, non-perishable meals like those on the shelves at Trader Joe's
- Pre-cooked meals, frozen and vacuum sealed
- Mac and Cheese
- Salads and sandwiches (bring a cooler!)
Anything that can cook easily or doesn't need to be cooked at all is a great option! At the end of the day, you know your diet the best, so think about how you can best accommodate your needs in the desert.
Bring ear plugs! If you're really concerned about noise and want to be able to sleep at night, camp toward the outer parts of the city or closer to Center Camp at 6:00. The loudest music camps and art cars will be along 2:00 and 10:00, so look for a camping spot away from the Esplanade (the inner ring road just before A), and further away from each end. If that sounds confusing, here's a map:
You'll have to bring one. Burning Man itself supplies port-a-potties to use but no showers. This is also a big reason many people join a theme camp because many of them offer a shower. You're also responsible for your grey water, since dumping water on the playa is considered MOOP.
Find a Setlist
Because Burning Man doesn't handle any of the actual events that happen on the playa aside from the scheduled burns throughout the week and weekend, there is no lineup. Theme camps can submit their own lineup to a camp that creates a guide called the Rockstar Librarian. This is a pretty comprehensive list of set times and music events that happen throughout the week. But keep in mind, no one really cares what time it is.
Just enjoy your time there and explore the playa! You might stumble across a Carl Cox surprise set or find Diplo performing an African drumbeat yoga set at sunset.
You'll see from the map above that Black Rock City is laid out like a clock. The inner part of the clock is the playa, which houses a lot of the art as well as the man and the temple. The upper part is the deep playa, which houses more art and space for art cars to park at night and throw parties. Go explore!
I recommend getting around on a bike, or art car hopping. You will absolutely need a bike, but you can always park it somewhere central and walk around or art car hop too. The distances are pretty long, so plan ahead if you do go art car hopping and understand that if you get stuck across the playa you could be walking a couple of miles to get back to your camp.
What to Wear
Black Rock City is in the Nevada desert, so it gets pretty hot in the day and drops quickly in temperature at night. The air is extremely dry, so you don't have to worry about humidity, but a lot of people underestimate both the heat and the cold. You'll want clothes in the day that don't cover you too much, and clothes for the night that will keep you warm. I sprinkled a lot of recommendations into this guide but you can't go wrong with bikini tops in the day and fur coats at night! Just be aware your clothes may be permanently destroyed by playa dust, so don't take anything you're too attached to.
Burning Man Events, Art Cars, and Art
There are tons of things to do on the playa. When you get your ticket checked at the entrance you'll get a book that has information for all of the events that take place throughout the week. Spend some time looking through the book and go explore! You can find tons of events inside the city at various theme camps, or you can venture out onto the playa and find events that pop up here and there.
The whole city is covered in art, so I don't really have much to say about it other than enjoy exploring! There are hundreds of art cars that do various things. Some of them serve food, some will give you a ride, and some are massive sound stages that travel around the globe visiting other festivals. You'll probably recognize a few from festivals like EDC.
Leaving the Playa
Just like entering, leaving Burning Man can take a long time. Expect to hit lines if you're driving out on Sunday or Monday during Labor Day Weekend. If you need to catch a flight or have to get back to work by Tuesday, I recommend leaving a full day in advance.
Again, you'll be passing through native land in order to get back into the world. Don't throw your trash away anywhere before Reno unless someone offers to let you dump it at a cost. It's not the responsibility of the indigenous population in the area to handle your waste. This also applies to grey or black water.
Black Rock City Secrets
There are lots of fun things to uncover at Burning Man. Here is a blog post with some camping tips. My biggest tip is to bring white vinegar to soak your feet if they get too dry and to keep your hair braided to avoid having to shave your head, but there are plenty of fun secrets as well.
You'll find some of the best music at the Trash Fence (ask around for directions when you get there), and you can get pretty good coffee at Center Camp which is the only place on the playa that sells any kind of food or drink. If you find the Talk to God phone booth you might even be surprised when someone answers!
In Dust We Trust! Burning Man 2023 is closer than you would think, so start planning now to be prepared in time!