After 11 trips to Burning Man, I have my camping system down. Other than a few tweaks each year, I take the same gear. I have found it’s a lot easier and less stressful when I use gear dedicated to the event, even when it means having duplicate items, such as folding chairs, tents, and sleeping bags. I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything or searching for items that may have gotten misplaced during the year. Everything is kept together in a large deck box, the kind you find at swimming pools. I don’t use this gear for anything else, so when Burning Man rolls around next year, everything will be exactly where I expect it to be and ready to go. No last minute panicking!
- 10′ x 9′ instant pop-up cabin tent
- One 8′ x 12′ BROWN tarp (not the blue ones–they disintegrate too easily) as a ground cloth for under my tent
- Four small cotton throw rugs to help with dust control inside my tent
- One folding kids’ table–they’re smaller, lighter, and fold flatter than regular folding tables
- One folding cloth camping side/end table
- One folding canvas camping chair
- One dozen 12″ rebar staples for tent stakes (replacing these with 12″ lag bolts for 2020)
- One cot
- One inflatable camping pad
- One zero degree F sleeping bag (it can drop to freezing at night!)
- One fleece sleeping bag liner (helps keep sleeping bag cleaner)
- One inflatable camping pillow with fleece pillow case
- One twin sheet to cover my bed during the day and keep the dust off
- Two dollar store oil drip pans–one for the water evaporation system and one for washing my feet every night
- One big rock or brick (water evaporation system)
- One old terry towel (water evaporation system)
- One plastic tub of food and utensils
- Two water bottles with carabiners
- One cup with carabiner
- One plastic tub of clothing
- One plastic tub of misc. (lights, bike stuff, toiletries, hand towels)
- One pair of Crocs for late night/early morning runs to the porta potty
- Two seven-gallon water jugs
- Mountain bike
- Bike lock
My clothing is dedicated for the event, as well. Whenever I buy new clothing, I cycle my old stuff to my Burning Man clothing tub. I repair it or “refresh” it as needed (patches, tie dye, decorations, etc.), store it in ziplock bags, which then goes into the clothing tub. Some stuff, such as socks, might be a little threadbare, but I only wear these things once a year, so it’s fine. This also extends the life of clothing I like for another couple of years.
I do the same with my expensive running shoes. Once they’ve cycled from running shoes to everyday shoes, they then go to the Burning Man tub, and then usually to the trash at the end of the event. Burning Man is really hard on shoes. I could clean them, if I want, but they’re usually in pretty sad shape by the time they reach Burning Man status.
Because there’s no driving in the city, bikes are essential. Some people prefer beach cruisers, but I prefer mountain bikes. I like shifting gears and using handlebar brakes, and it’s what I’m used to in the “default world,” where I do a lot of cycling. I had to buy a new bike this year because I dropped my old bike, a $35 Goodwill special, against a campmate’s car last year, and the gear shifter snapped off. The heat and alkaline playa dust is brutal on bikes, and that one had been to Burning Man nine times and had reached end of life. It just wasn’t worth putting money into, so I purchased a new bike this year, a $100 cheap, basic white mountain bike from one of those sprawling stores that’s taking over the country. You know which one.
I knew there would be thousands like it, so I pimped it up a bit by painting dots all over it–green, blue, gray, pink, purple, and yellow. It looked pretty cool! I also added a small child’s bicycle basket to the front. The larger baskets get in the way and block headlights, making it difficult to see at night. A child’s basket is large enough to hold my water bottle and a hoodie, which is sufficient for my needs.
In addition, I made a small saddle bag from a purse I purchased at Goodwill for a couple bucks. I used part of a coat hanger to give it more stability, a couple of carabiners to hang it from the bicycle seat, and a ribbon to tie the bottom to the seat post to keep it from swinging. This enables me to carry extra clothing, snacks, and water, in case I stay out longer than planned. I added a headlight to the handlebar, a swinging ballsack light from the seat as a taillight, and wrapped the frame in a string of LEDs just for fun and to be more visible at night. And, of course, a bike lock. Bike theft is the most common crime committed at Burning Man.
I am very glad I took the time to paint dots on my bike. I stopped at a theme camp one afternoon, and when I came out, there were FIVE bikes exactly like mine parked in front of the camp. Mine was the only one that stood out!
Everyone’s tastes are different, so my food list may not work for you. In addition, I volunteer a lot of hours, so I eat one meal a day at the commissary, usually lunch, and I don’t need to bring as much food as someone else. (On the other hand, I always bring too much food and usually take home 2/3 of it.) And, I make it a healthy lunch, so I’m OK with eating crap for dinner, which is usually when I’m on shift, anyway.
- Ten small cans vienna sausages
- 20 packets instant oatmeal
- Sandwich baggie of raisins (for the oatmeal)
- Ten snack baggies of trail mix (I mix my own)
- 24-30 cheese/peanut butter cracker packets
- Six tuna salad/chicken salad cracker boxes
- Three dozen granola bars
- Two boxes of crackers
- Small jar peanut butter
- Ten microwave rice packets/bowls
- Three dozen small bottles of sports drink
- A case of diet soda
- Assorted snacks for the camp bar
The trail mix and granola bars are snacks I take with me on shift or when I’m out doing Burning Man. However, in 2019, I didn’t touch them or the rice or peanut butter, so I may rethink bringing these next year. Or, at least, not as much as I did this year. On the other hand, I went through all the oatmeal, raisins, and cheese/peanut butter cracker packets, so these will definitely be included next year. Those cheese/peanut butter things don’t really taste very good, but they sure are convenient, and I like the salt.
Packing for next year begins early…
As soon as I get home, I wash, mend, and repack everything. If something has reached end of life, I toss it and immediately replace it so I don’t forget it next year. I remove all batteries before packing electronics (flashlights, bike lights, etc.) Next year, all I have to do is buy food and batteries, grab my gear, and go. I’m already packed.
Also, I make a list of items I forgot, such as a microwaveable cup, hairbrush, and hat, and be sure to add those to my bins before they go in storage.
I like using holiday-theme solar lights, so I wait until after a particular holiday (e.g., Halloween) and pick them up cheap, two for a buck. I need only six. I leave the little pull tabs over the batteries, and they’re usually fine when I need them nine months later.
I camp with a group of other people, and we have a container for our camp infrastructure, including a huge shade structure, carpets, furniture, a bar, a solar-powered freezer, a microwave, a shower, and more. I don’t need to worry about bringing any of these things because the storage container is dropped off at our camp site every year, and my campmates usually have everything set up by the time I arrive on Friday pre-event.
If you are thinking about going to Burning Man and you are not joining a camp, then you may want to think about your own shade structure and creature comforts. By 8:00 a.m., it’s already too hot for me to continue sleeping in my tent. By 9:00 a.m., it’s getting too hot to be in my tent at all. By 10:00 a.m., deodorant has already melted past the point of application, so if I haven’t already applied it, it’s too late.
On the other hand, if you don’t have a shade structure, there are plenty of camps at Burning Man that do, and most are happy to share. Just keep in mind that you are a guest in someone else’s camp, and please act appropriately. In other words, don’t wear out your welcome! Don’t be a chooch–pitch in and be helpful. Move on to another camp after a bit and share the gift of your company with other folks. Go do Burning Man and meet people! This is what I did my first Burning Man when I camped solo, and I was fine.