Burning Man is a soul-baring, life-changing, dust-ridden dreamland. You will smile more than you ever thought possible, dance until your body physically forces you to stop, and become completely present for eight days. I couldn’t have scripted a more fitting end to last year’s burn than to watch my luggage go up in flames on the road out of the playa. An electrical fire in our RV was temporarily terrifying and at the same time, absolutely perfect. I sifted through my charred belongings and laughed. Burning Man left me with nothing and everything.
As I pack for Burning Man 2016 I thought I would keep a running list of all of the supplies, clothing, accessories, food and other burner gear that I’ll be bringing with me to Black Rock City. If you’re a first-timer I hope this helps you get a head start on what to pack for Burning Man and gets you one step closer to home.
Clothing & Accessories
- Boots – Perhaps the most essential piece of your playa wardrobe is the right pair of shoes. For women, shoes on the playa range from five-inch tall goth-inspired platforms to running sneakers. Comfort is key so whatever you decide to wear, make sure you can stand dancing and biking in it for at least 24 hours. I have rocked the same pair of black knee-length wedge boots for the past two years and have been able to dance, bike and walk without ever getting a blister. They have about a 2.5” wedge heel and cost me less than $40. Make sure you don’t bring heeled boots – even a stacked heel. The desert floor will not support your heels and you will sink into the earth when you try to walk.
- Fur coat – You really only need one fur coat but make sure it’s warm. Temperatures drop below freezing at night. Hit your local vintage shops to find the perfect fur for a decent price.
- Bathing suits and leotards – Think of your bikinis as your base layer to which you can build the rest of your costume. I love wearing high-waisted bottoms, lots of straps, bright colors, and black.
- Sunglasses – You’ll wear sunglasses every day, so bring at least a couple of pairs. I prefer ones with side shields to keep dust from getting in.
- Goggles – You may or may not need goggles, depending on the frequency and intensity of dust storms, but definitely have a pair with you just in case. Last year even goggles, a face mask and a scarf couldn’t keep the dust from getting in eyes, nose, ears and mouth. At the very least your goggles will be a fashion accessory, and an easy way to hide the fact that you haven’t slept in two days.
- Tutu – There’s never an inappropriate time to wear a tutu on the playa, especially Tutu Tuesday when the tulle comes out in force, 70,000 strong. My go-to burning man tutu is compliments of my 7th grade dance recital.
- Scarves – You’ll use scarves to protect your face from the sun, the dust, and to keep your playa hair looking fierce.
- Fan – Staying cool is essential to your health and stamina at Burning Man. Bring a pocket fan, maybe two in case you lose one. Getting heat stroke on the playa is a real concern and not one you want to deal with.
- Hip bag – Whether it’s steampunk leather or holographic, a hip bag/shoulder holster will keep your stuff safe and your hands free for dancing…and hugging. Etsy has lots of really cool handmade leather bags.
- Hats – Top hats, blinged-out military hats, mohawks, headbands, turbans, furry animals…they are all fair game for your head. And when temperatures dip at night, you’ll want a plush panda keeping your head warm. Trust me.
- Temporary tattoos – Don’t waste your money on expensive Flash Tattoos. You can get similar metallic tattoos on Amazon for a fraction of the price.
- Lights – Add to the magic of nightfall on the playa by draping yourself in EL wire, glowing glasses, fiberoptic hats. Anything that illuminates. Lights are also a safety essential. If you are not lit, you cannot be seen by art cars and bikers.
- Gloves – Biker gloves (with the fingers cut) are fashionable and functional. Avoid blisters and cracked hands by keeping hands covered.
- Fishnet tights – Black fishnets have been a staple of my costume wardrobe for the past two years. They are great to wear under your briefs or bikini bottoms and not only make you feel a bit less exposed, but also give you an added layer of protection from the dust and sun.
- Face jewels – Bring a collection of bindis, glitter and face paint to give your burning man look the finishing touches.
- Socks – boots and fishnets can sometimes make for uncomfortable toes and feet. Layer a pair of socks in the middle to keep your feet cushioned.
- A post-playa outfit – Stash away a clean and comfortable outfit that you can pull out of a Ziploc bag and put on as you re-enter the default world.
Food & Drink
Depending on whether you are camping independently or with a camp that provides meals, this list will vary greatly. Typically camps that serve meals will serve two a day. Breakfast and dinner. Even if your camp does provide meals, make sure you bring a spork, a plate and a reusable drinking vessel. A few snacks that I always crave on the playa are:
- Salty nuts
- Wasabi peas
- Kind bars
- Bengal Spice tea
- Ice pops (if you have a way to keep them cold)
- Gum and mints
- Coconut water
Beauty & Health
- Medicine – Advil, Pepto Bismol, Vitamin C, 5-HTP, generic cold and flu medicine.
- Coconut oil – Your skin will have never felt dryer than after a few days on the playa. Coconut oil helps hydrate your skin better than anything else I’ve come across.
- Sunscreen – I’ve been getting bronze this summer in Coola‘s SPF 30 organic sun care. It will absolutely be coming with me to the playa.
- Eye drops – The dust and sunlight wreak havoc on your eyes. I pack several bottles of Rhoto Eye drops and use them every few hours.
- Hand sanitizer – There are hand sanitizer stations at every porter potty location, but just in case, pack your own bottle that can clip on to your bike or go in your hip bag.
- Toilet paper – I usually keep an extra roll in my bike for emergencies.
- Travel-size tissue packs — to handle your playa dust snot rockets.
- Mouth wash – I’ll be honest, there was a stretch of at least 36 hours where I didn’t brush my teeth, wash my face, or shower. I’m probably underestimating. It might have been 48 hours. Bringing a travel-sized mouth wash with you on your adventures will make you feel human (sort of).
- Spirit gum — Ben Nye makes a matte body adhesive called Spirit Gum that’s strong enough to adhere all of your face jewels and accessories but easily washes off with a bit of soap or a wet wipe.
- Wet wipes – You can never have enough. You will use them to bathe, to wipe, to cool off and to give out to people who are over-heated. Running out of wet wipes on the playa is a bad thing. Pack more than you think you need.
- Tampons – getting your period at Burning Man sucks. There’s no other way to say it. Make sure you bring enough tampons to last you the whole week!
- Bug wipes – After the great Burning Man plague of 2015 when biting bugs attracted to bright lights infested the playa, bug repellant has been added to the packing list. Personally, I haven’t needed it at all in the past two years. But just in case.
- Dust mask – I’ve forgotten to pack disposable dust masks for the past two years and have had kind burners gift me one each year. You can buy a box of 50 dust masks on Amazon.com for under $10.
- Ear plugs – especially if you are staying at or near a sound camp.
- Bike – Last year I got mine at K-Mart in Reno. You can also rent them directly on the playa at Hammer & Cyclery or Playa Bike Repair.
- Two drinking vessels – One for water. One for cocktails or other beverages.
- Copy of your ID – As of Burning Man 2015, bars on the playa are asking to see ID before they will serve you. To avoid bringing your actual ID out and run the risk of it getting lost, I’ve seen many people make a photo copy of their ID and tape it to their drinking vessel.
- Headlamp – the brighter the better. Get one that has long-lasting batteries and extra bright LED lights.
- EL wire – I slacked on this my first year and nearly got run down several times on my bike because I wasn’t sufficiently illuminated. Buy EL in addition to normal bike lights and drape your bike and your body in it.
- Palo santo – I bring this every year and use it all throughout the day – in my tent/RV, at parties, to gift to people. The smell is intoxicating!
- Batteries & Extension Cords – to keep your lights and cooling sources charged up. Check with your specific camp to see what the requirements are.
- Gifts – I have saved every gift I’ve ever received on the playa, from a feather to a fur coat. The power of the gifting mentality is huge. Contribute to it with any gift, big or small, and you will not regret it.
- Ziploc bags – Dust gets everywhere. Ziploc bags are a first line of defense in keeping items dust free. I usually separate my costumes in to different plastic bags to keep things somewhat organized.
- Downloaded music – You could be stuck for 72 hours in a queue to get in to Burning Man. For the majority of that trip you won’t have service to stream your fave playlists from Spotify or Soundcloud. Make sure you have offline access to many hours of music. You’ll enjoy listening to it on the way in and out of the burn as well as in your tent or RV.
- Insulated bike bag – Keeps your drinks cool and provides extra storage for deep playa missions.
- Full length mirror – To make sure your costume is on point.
- Bike swag – Decorate your bike with lights and other colorful accessories to make it stand out. When there are 10,000 bikes parked together and a dust storm rolls through as you’re trying to find yours, you’ll be happy that you went the extra mile to oufit your wheels with some swag.
- Bike lights – Headlight, brake light and spoke lights.
- Carabiners – Easily clip your water bottle to your bike or body.
- Safety Pins – Your costumes will tear and fall apart.
- Tool Kit – whether you’re fixing your bike or helping out a campmate whose tent blew away, a tool kit will come in handy.
What are your Burning Man essentials?
Please add them to the list in the comments so we can help other newbies pack the right stuff!
)'( See you in the dust )'(