Camping at Burning Man
I know, I know, I know you’ve been camping before, you know it all. First, have you been desert camping before and secondly have you ever camped in a 50mph talcum powder storm? Ok, so camping at Burning Man is in most ways like other camping with some twists and Burning Man is a no trace event. First, the sun beats down on the Playa fairly mercilessly in the summer and there are no trees on the Playa so you will need shade. This is where a theme camp can come in handy, typically they have a central shade structure for the whole camp and this can relieve you of the responsibility of creating your own shade. In lieu of that, the Costco carport structure is a very popular and reliable option.
However, buying a Costco carport removes one of my favorite parts of Burning Man, the challenge of engineering the simplest and most effective shade structure. I’ve already detailed my first year failure and in doing research for year two I found a very straight forward design. Essentially I drilled out the bottom of 2×2’s so they could accept ¼”rebar and then drilled a horizontal hole clear through at the top. I set the 2×2’s onto rebar driven into the ground and then anchor a tarp at 4 corners through the horizontal holes and into additional rebar. If you get the tarp pulled very tight, it hardly flutters in the wind and can withstand very significant winds. The first year I used this it was highly successful, however the second year I’d accidentally angled one of the bottom drill holes and it weakened the wood so it failed and snapped off in an especially strong wind storm.
Luckily an engineer was watching from another camp and convinced me that I had to go with steel instead of wood, he was right. Since then my shade structure has withstood many wind storms in excess of 50 mph without ever coming down. Google Burning Man shade structures and you’ll find tons of material to help you out, or post a comment if you want more info on the one I use. The most important thing however, like a new tent, is to put it up once before you hit the Playa.
Tents are a pretty standard event for the Playa, if you are using a tent probably the most important aspects are keeping the windows zipped during the day to cut down on dust and to use a drop cloth on your sleeping area to keep it dust free during the day. The other thing that is very important is keeping your tent staked into the ground. The cute little metal pegs that came with the tent will only serve to be decorative features on a tent shaped kite you lost in BRC. You need at a minimum to use the 10” metal tent stakes and a lot of people will recommend using at least ¼ “rebar as stakes. I typically use the 10” stakes and then a piece of rebar or two as anchors. Just always remember if you have rebar sticking out of the ground please cover the ends with a tennis ball or plastic bottle taped on, otherwise rebar in the middle of the night can really tear someone’s leg to shreds.
I know, you’re coming by RV and you want to know more about, unfortunately I can’t help, have never used one in BRC or otherwise and personally I like the aspect of tent camping that immerses you in the environment, so check the web and here’s a link to get you started, this is the Burning Man website RV page:
Water of course is a huge issue, a general rule of thumb is about 2 gallons of water per person per day for drinking and cooking, a little more for showers and even more if you plan on using misters and water toys on the playa. The more dishes you need to clean and showers you take will increase the amount of grey water you need to deal with. Again, rely on Google for finding out which of the myriad of ways you would like to use to handle your grey water.
Showers are always a popular issue of discussion for new and potential burners. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, I’m not going a week without a shower. Well there are a lot of options on this front. We’ll go from lowest amount to highest amount of water usage. First, the low water option is to basically to do baby wipe and sponge bath bathing. This is basically a wipe up each day using baby wipes and a wash cloth and water bowl. It works amazingly well and really reduces the amount of grey water that you have to deal with. Option two is to use a small solar shower or water jug to wash your hair a couple of times a week and catch the grey water in a small bucket or kiddie pool. This ups the more “real” showering you can do but again ups the grey water. Of course you can always build a shower set up, it’s not difficult but the grey water pool takes a bit of work. Essentially you need a pole to hang a solar shower, some wood for framing the pool and thick black plastic to create your grey water evaporation pond. This can be great and I’ve had years with a full set up where I showered every day, but the effectiveness of your evaporation pool is really what drives how well it works. Again, check the web and you’ll find tons of designs including really great designs with raised platforms, pumps and contained catchment systems. The only limit is hauling space and your imagination.
A quick note about foot care and Playa foot. It is really tempting to run around barefoot on the Playa and plenty of people do, however it is important to remember that Playa surface is alkaline. So if you run around barefoot you can actually get a basic burn on your feet. So, if you are someone who is planning on running around barefoot, bring some vinegar, its acid and neutralizes the alkaline dust. Also bring some skin lotion for your feet and the rest of you at that. One of the great thing about Burning Man is that some camps do foot care, so check the maps and go looking for them.
This is also a great time to mention that animals (pets) are not allowed at Burning Man. Make other arrangements for your dog. It is cruel to bring an animal to the Playa where it will deal with significant heat, crowds of people and most of all have its paws burned on the alkaline ground. Leave it home or it may suffer the fate of the infamous missing Beagle.
Food is probably handled in more diverse ways than anything else at Burning Man and in fact you may even encounter food as a result of Playa Magic. I know burners who make gourmet food in advance and freeze it, thawing it out each night on the Playa to eat very well. I know folks who bring full propane grill/stoves with multiple burners and cook ribs and pasta and all kinds of things. There are lots of folks who do the standard camp stove and then there are people like me who are solid minimalists on the food front. I decided in my first year to minimize the amount of cooking and cleaning I had to do, to reduce water usage and have food I really enjoyed eating. My decisions, which work well for me, include Mountain House camping meals (I love the Beef Stroganoff but stay away from the pasta primavera), Chef Boyardee ravioli in a can, jello pudding cups and some Tasty Bite packs as well. Top Ramen and Cup of Soups work as well, soy milk and cereal are great but Pop Tarts and granola bars don’t require any clean up.
Food is really an individual decision and the biggest thing I would recommend is to think not just about eating, but what it will take to keep it chilled, prepared and then cleaned up. Also how will it impact you trash, for instance apples, bananas and other fruits are great, but banana peels and apple cores will rot all week. Not so bad, but left over coleslaw might be a different ball game all together. Also, ice is available in BRC at Center Camp and typically at the 3 & 9 O’Clock keyholes.
Once you are on the Playa
Dust gear is a necessity, we’ve talked enough about dust storms but suffice it to say, a good pair of dust goggles are really necessary. As for dusk masks, you can buy a real dust mask or just use a bandana. These are needed all the time on the Playa, but you should carry them all the time, storms can come up quickly and unexpectedly.
Costumes are a wholly individual decision and pretty much anything goes. Not costuming at all would leave you feeling a little bit out-of-place and hell, you’re on the Playa to have fun so join in. Also it’s good to keep temperature in mind, light costumes for the day and warmer costumes at night. Lovely fake fur jackets are great for the evening. Scan the web for BRC photos and you’ll find a myriad of costuming ideas.
BRC is a gift economy, this means that if a camp is giving away food or drinks, they are giving it away, you won’t need to tip or pay them anything. It’s always appreciated if you have your own cup for those camps giving away drinks. If, after receiving your gift, either food, drinks or kindness of any kind, you wish to gift someone back that’s great. So it is a very good idea to have some small and sometimes not so small gifts to give. I have alternated given or received drinks, buttons, stickers, poetry books, homemade journals, psychic readings, cookies, pottery and the list goes on. Something personal to you and unique is a very special gift.
Get involved, pull an ice camp, work as a Temple Guardian, help out an artist with their project. Being involved is very much part of what Burning Man is all about and you’ll have more fun and feel more connected if you do. More info at the link: http://www.burningman.com/participate/
The art of Burning Man is unbelievable, the art is everywhere it can be giant and magnificent or small and obscure so that only some people find it. Take time to find and see and experience as much as you can. This will give you some idea: http://www.burningman.com/art_of_burningman/
The Playa is very dark at night and there are bikes and art cars moving around, so have some way to light yourself up at night. Many people use glow sticks but these cause MOOP (matter out of place) and EL Wire is a much better option, as well as flashlights and other forms of lighting, it can be decorative and keep you safe. A word on MOOP, Burning Man is a no trace event, so after it is over, the Playa should be like we were never there. PLEASE be cognizant of this with whatever you bring to the Playa and make a point of picking up MOOP when you see it and please, please MOOP check your site before you go home.
The man and the Temple are the main fixed features on the Playa. They both burn and I have always described the burning of the Man as New Years Eve and the burning of the Temple as a sacred ceremony. Read this piece on did on the Temple to understand a bit more <Temple Piece> and then spend an hour there and you’ll understand the difference between the two.
Center Camp is a camp at 6 O’Clock and Esplanade at the city, there you can buy lemonade, coffee, tea and on the loop around Center Camp, you can find Playa Info, Ice Camp and a number of other useful places. Center Camp is also a gathering point, a performance area and a generally interesting place to people watch.
Finally, other advice on being a Virgin Burner, enjoy, and see you on the Playa.
Other Virgin advice
2011 – a fellow 2011 virgin burner – http://virginburner.blogspot.com/
2011 – an interesting take http://www.phaster.com/burningman_2001/burning_man_2001.html
2010 – virgin’s perspective http://www.teague.com/2010/09/a-virgins-view-from-the-suburbs-of-black-rock-city-burning-man/
2009 – another virgin blog http://jadecelene.blogspot.com/2009/07/virgins-guide-to-burning-man.html
2009 – music perspective http://dancefever5000.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/shilo%E2%80%99s-virgin-burning-man-guide-by-tricia/