If you haven’t heard of Burning Man, pull up a seat. There’s no proper way to prepare someone for the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of this world-renowned festival if they don’t have prior knowledge. It’s certainly a wild ride. This festival is not for the faint of heart. It takes stamina; it takes courage, outrageous outfits, and a whole lot of body paint and love.
August 25th to September 1st, 80,000 ‘Burners’ will take to the deserts of Nevada for a week-long experience of art, music, community, and self-expression. While the saying technically belongs to Las Vegas, we think we can adapt it to “what happens at Burning Man stays at Burning Man” and not because of the outlandishness of the activities but because how can one accurately retell an experience so personal and spiritual without it losing its luster?
So if you’re headed to Burning Man, we’ve got you covered on what to bring, wear, and expect as you embark on this journey. If you’re not, well, check the details and try not to add it to your festival bucket list, because we certainly have.
A Brief History
33 years ago, the first Burning Man was held. While much has changed, it’s principles and core purpose has not.
On the summer solstice of 1986 on San Francisco’s Baker Beach, the festival started as a modest gathering founded by artist, activist, and philanthropist Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James. The organizers brought wooden effigies of a man and small dog to the shores and set them alight. Dubbing the event “Burning Man”, the gathering grew in attendance year after year before it was moved in 1990 to the deserts of Black Rock City, Nevada, US.
Harvey described his reasoning for burning the wooden man as a statement of radical self-expression. The festival operates on 10 principles: radical inclusion, gifting, radical self-reliance, decommodification, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. Written in 2004 by Harvey, himself, these principles are not meant to control but to reflect the ethos of Burning Man.
Harvey and his five partners successfully ran Burning Man from 1986 to 2013 when it became a non-profit.
Burning Man has run uninterrupted for the past three decades and since 1995, every event has had a unique theme that guides the artwork, events, and festivities. These themes were always personally chosen by Harvey, described in a detailed essay format, until his death in 2018. This year’s festival, themed Metamorphoses, will reflect on the festival’s ability to change participants’ lives and the world.
What to Bring
In line with the principle of self-reliance, you’re going to need to be sufficiently prepared for this 7-day stint in the middle of the desert. There’s no corner convenience store to pop into if you forget an essential. However, there are the principles of communal effort and gifting that some Burners may exercise in an attempt to help you out, but it’s not their responsibility. So, you’re going to want to double-check that packing list.
We’ve got the obvious: ticket, water (1 gallon per person per day), reusable water bottle, and food. And the safety precautions: sunscreen, first aid kit, dust goggles, dust mask, and earplugs. You’ll need camping gear and a lot of it. This includes your tent, tarp, lanterns, mattress, sheets, zip ties, cable ties, bungee cords, cookware, and stove. Many burners opt for RVs to escape the harsh camping climates.
One of the most important principles at Burning Man is leave no trace, and it is strictly enforced. MOOP is an acronym for Matter Out Of Place and refers to anything that was not originally of the land. Anything and everything that is not an original part of the Black Rock City desert can’t stay. This includes glitter, dishwater, shower water, and cigarette butts; anything but the native dust and sand. Bring garbage bags that can act as MOOP bags and make sure you leave the habitat as you found it.
Random items that may come in handy when at Burning Man are utility knives, notepad and pen, trinkets (remember the gifting principle), walkie-talkies, headlamps, vinegar (to treat ‘Playa foot’, chemical burns caused by the alkali in the desert sands), a bike, vacuum (MOOP be gone!), and hand sanitizer.
What to Wear
Literally, anything goes. Burning Man is known for festivalgoers in extravagant costumes and wearable art. Radical self-expression, remember? You’re bound to find a lot of leather, fur, feathers, glitter, masks, stilts, and tutus. You can dress to your wildest dreams.
There are, however, some practical clothing items you shouldn’t leave home without. Remember the Playa is a desert and conditions are extreme. You’re going to want to leave the labels at home and opt for some functional clothing. Layers are essential. While daytime temperatures will soar, nighttime temperatures plummet. You need to be prepared for both extremes.
Dust storms and whiteouts are frequent and not pleasant. Protect yourself from dust and sand with goggles, masks, and bandanas. Rain also happens. Don’t forget your wet weather gear.
Days are long and you’ll be trudging through the sand so comfortable and practical shoes are a must. However, flip-flops and sandals are convenient for midnight trips to the loo.
Who will be there
Expect 80,000 new best friends. But aside from the Burners, Burning Man has a stacked lineup of electronic music artists that keep the party going and the vibes high.
Since 1992, electronic music and DJs have been the main source of music at Burning Man. As Black Rock City functions as a temporary city with different areas describes as camps, regulations on noise have been put in place as to not to disturb Burners trying to experience a spiritual awakening or focus on the art. Thus sound camps were formed where ravers, groovers, and shakers can radically self-express through music and quirky dance moves.
Some well-known sound camps with a reputation of returning year after year and delivering epic beats are Playground co-founded by Carl Cox, Disco Knights brought to you by the guys behind Green Gorilla Lounge, Kazbah, Symposium, Kalliope, and Deep Playa Music Zone (DMZ).
While Burning Man doesn’t have an official lineup, artists who have confirmed that they will be making an appearance are Carl Cox, Pauli Pocket, Diplo, Lee Foss, Unders, Amine K, Amare, Carlita, Franca, and Scalar Theorem. You’ll find these artists performing at various camps across Black Rock City, on epic stages, and some even performing their set on mutant vehicles.
To all the Burners hitting BRC in the upcoming weeks, be safe, be yourself, and best of luck!
Still want to squeeze in one (or) more festival this year? Check out our list of upcoming festivals you won’t want to miss.