Destinations: North America

The Burning Man Edition: Newbie Orientation Tips & Tricks

April 28, 2014
2013 final web
Just four months away from popping my Burning Man cherry! Can you tell I’m excited? Along with the excitement and anticipation for this experience, I must admit I was beginning to feel a bit of angst. Where will I be camping? How do I prepare? What is this “gifting” business? How am I going to lug clothing, food, a bike, and other necessities to get me through an entire week in the desert?! As fate would have it, just as I was mulling over these questions an email popped into my inbox from the Jack Rabbit Speaks: Burning Man’s official Email Newsletter. This edition announced the Newbie Orientation and Participation Faire to “meet your fellow virgins and learn tips and tricks from veteran Burners!” What perfect timing!

As any newbie burner would do, I attended the orientation this past weekend. Not only did I get 
a lot of great hints and tricks–things you wouldn’t even think about unless you’re an experienced Burner, but I even received my very first Burning Man gift: A pink bracelet. It’s pretty f*#^ing awesome isn’t it? I’m sure ALL the other San Francisco newbie Burners attended this orientation. BUT if you happened to miss it, here’s a summary of everything I learned!

  • Don’t have a ticket? Don’t worry! Plan like you have a ticket. A lot of tickets go on sale right before the event in July/August.
  • Don’t buy tickets through third-party (i.e., Craigslist). Instead, use the Secured Ticket Exchange Program (STEP), an online system that facilitates resale of already-purchased tickets. Helps you avoid scams and people trying to upsell. You have to register via your Burner Profile.
  • There will also be 1,000 tickets released at 12pm (noon) PDT July 31st. You need to pre-register by creating a Burner Profile to be eligible for these tickets.
City Layout
  • You can think of Black Rock City as a clock with Center Camp located in the center by 06:00.
  • The man is in the middle of the clock.
  • The area between 10:00 and 02:00 is an open area for art and the Temple.
  • The inner-most “street” is the “Esplanade” where you’ll always find something going on!
  • From the Esplanade moving outwards the streets are named alphabetically from “A” to “L”.
  • For more information on 2013’s layout visit the Burning Man Survival Guide.
  • It’s dusty! You’ll get dust in every nook and cranny. Be prepared to get dirty!
  • It’s windy! Prepare for up to 80mph winds. 
  • It’s high altitude–3,848 feet! It’ll take you a day to adjust so try to take it easy on day 1.
  • RV: If you plan on renting an RV, do it soon. They sell out fast and prices increase exponentially. If you haven’t already rented your RV, do it NOW.
  • Tents:
    • Do not use a tent with mesh. You’ll have a dusty mess inside if you do.
    • Secure your tent from high winds with rebars. Buy 5 or 6 rebars (~12-18 inches) from Home Depot and ask them to bend it for you. 
    • Buy your rebars NOW! Home Depot will run out of them during the few weeks prior to Burning Man.
    • Cover your rebars. One of the #1 injuries is from tripping and landing on uncovered rebars.
  • Shade Cover: Depending on where you plan on camping, you’ll need to build your own shade cover. It’ll get hot and you’ll appreciate it!
  • Where to Camp: There are theme camps and open camping. 
  • Estimate ~1.5 gallons of water per person per day.
  • Your body will need more than just plain water to stay healthy and hydrated. Bring electrolytes and have at least one packet a day.
  • Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Better to have extra water than trying to ration out water during your last few days.
  • If you happen to run out of water ice is sold on the Playa for $3/bag. Leave the ice in the ice bag when using it to keep your cooler chilled. When it’s melted, voila! You have fresh, cold water to drink. 
  • Gray water disposal: You’ll have to lug it back out or invest in an evaporation pump for your camp–a worthwhile investment vs. lugging all this nasty water out!
  • You’ll eat less than you think so pack highly flavored salty foods that will provide you with necessary sustenance.
  • Pack enough food to share, but not waste.
  • Depending on what camp you stay at, there may be kitchens available for use.
  • Bring a cooler. Ice can be purchased.
  • Remove excess packaging on food before you get to Burning Man so you don’t have to haul it out after.
  • Leftover food and drink can be donated to the Burning Man Department of Public Works (DPW). They stay after to take down/clean the Playa and will appreciate your donations.
  • There is a recycling program that takes cans from 9-5 daily.
  • Do not wear anything with feathers, sequins, or loose bits that will fall off and shed on the Playa. You will get dirty looks because everything brought onto the Playa has to be cleaned and removed after. Feathers and sequins are not fun to clean from the desert sand!
  • Costumes are not a requirement. If you do want to costume up, check out thrift stores, the large sizes in kids section (for ladies), or ladies section (for men).
  • Costume from the ankles up, but wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be running around for the entire week. While stilettos might look cute, they aren’t desert friendly! Neither are sandals.
  • Layers will be your friend. It can get to 100°F during the day then drop to 30°F at night.
  • Wear clothing that combines utility, comfort, and expression.
  • Pack an Exodus outfit into a ziplock bag and DO NOT TOUCH IT! Leave it in your car. You’ll appreciate having clean clothes when you leave.
  • Don’t bring a good bike. There’s a high probability your bike will get messed up or lost.
  • Personalize your bike with decorations and lights. How else will you identify it among the 50,000 other bikes out there?
  • Have a lock for your bike. Combination locks work best because you’ll likely lose your keys unless you attach the keys onto your body at all times. Don’t use “BURN” as your combination. 
  • Get a bike with fat tires and bring spare tubes.
  • There will be green community bikes for use. They’re only for one-way use so don’t depend on just using these bikes. And don’t bring a green bike! People might mistake it for a community bike and “borrow” it.
  • DO NOT leave your bike on the Playa after Burning Man. Take it with you. Upon exiting, there will be a place for you to donate your bike.
Personal Safety
  • Buy LEDs from REI and light yourself front and back! There are no roads and minimal lights. You’ll want all the other bikers and walkers to see you!
  • Examine the “light signature” of your friends before you head out each night. Everyone will be lit and you’ll want to be able to ID your friends in the sea of lights!
  • Burning Man is equipped with basic medical services. They even have the capability to stitch you up if needed! If you end up with more severe injuries, you’ll be transported to the local hospital.
Emotional Health
  • Everyone will be experiencing HALT emotions (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) at some point due to the extreme conditions. Communication can become challenging. Keep that in mind.
  • Remember to get rest, go into shade, and take your electrolytes!
  • If you’re on medications/vitamin supplements at home, keep taking them on the Playa. This is not the time or place to experiment with not taking them!
Day Pack
  • When you leave your camp in the morning, it is likely you will not be coming back to your camp anytime soon. Keep a day pack with you!
  • Pack these essentials into your day pack:
    • Water
    • Goggles – Military surplus goggles are recommended to block sun, wind, and dust
    • Sunblock – spray cans in the highest SPF is recommended
    • Reusable cups, plates, utensils — many bars only serve you alcohol in your own cup
    • Dust mask/bandana
    • Snacks
    • Chapstick with SPF
    • Pen/Paper for leaving love notes!
    • MOOP bag
    • Headlamp
    • ID if you plan on drinking
Personal Hygiene
  • Bring baby wipes for “showers”.
  • Spray bottles (like insecticide bottles, though not filled with insecticide!) make for great “showers” when filled with water.
  • Non-rinse shampoos and body washes will be your friend!

Leave No Trace
  • The basic idea:  “leave the place you visit the same or better than you found it; leave no trace of your having been there”.
  • MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) includes wood/sawdust and cigarette butts.
  • For cigarette smokers: Carry around an Altoid tin to keep your cigarette butts.
  • DPW holds a daily MOOP pub crawl–it’s actually kind of fun!
  • You’ll be responsible for line-sweeping your camp.
  • Don’t be just a spectator! Participate! Whether it’s interacting with the interactive artwork or attending workshops / events: experience Burning Man!
  • Want to get more involved? Plenty of opportunities to volunteer. You can pre-signup to volunteer or just visit the V-Spot in Center Camp while at Burning Man. If you love being artsy crafty like me, there are numerous craft parties over the summer to create Center Camp decorations! Here’s the schedule: 
  • It’ll be loud. Bring ear plugs!
  • Be respectful of people, art, and porta potties. 
    • If someone says “don’t take a picture”, don’t take it. 
    • If artwork says “don’t touch”, don’t touch it. 
    • Porta potties will be used for an entire week and somebody has to clean it. Don’t throw anything into the porta potties except your human waste and toilet paper! Would you want to be the person unclogging a pork chop from the porta potty?
  • Ask permission before photographing individuals or entering someone’s private space.
Say Yes To
  • New friends and experiences 
  • While being sensitive to your morals, health, and well-being
  • And trying something outside of what you’d normally do. Push yourself and step out of your comfort zone!
  • Burning Man is NOT a commercial or trade/barter system.
  • Gifting is common, but not required.
  • Gifts do not have to be physical gifts. Oftentimes, non-physical gifts are the most meaningful (i.e., a hug, a love letter, etc.).
  • Cover all logos. If renting a U-Haul, cover the logo after you’ve parked. A great tip: Use Playa dust and water for great covering that is easily removable!
  • No product sampling permitted.
  • There are both funded and unfunded art.
  • During Burning Man, maps will be handed out and art tours will be available.
  • Some art will be interactive–play with it, but don’t break it.
Mutant Vehicles
  • Mutant Vehicles are modified motorized vehicles that show little resemblance to their original form. These are the only vehicles allowed to drive on the Playa.
  • Mutant Vehicles drive around with no particular destination or route.
  • Rides are one-way since you don’t know where the vehicle is headed. Hop on for a “choose your own adventure” experience!
  • For safety reasons, only get on when it’s NOT moving!
Law Enforcement
  • Black Rock Rangers are not law enforcement. They are there to mediate and can call law enforcement if necessary.
  • Law enforcement will be dressed up like participants and in art cars too–you won’t be able to tell who they are.
  • All Nevada laws apply on the Playa:
    • Medical marijuana cards are not legal.
    • Underage drinking and open container laws are in place. When you arrive, don’t open that can of beer until you are parked!
  • Cops will be wearing night vision goggles.
  • If something smells fishy at your camp, it gives cops the right to search your entire camp.
  • Do not obscure your license plate with your bike. This was one of the #1 reasons people got pulled over in 2013.
  • Know your rights! 

Before You Leave Home
  • Be well-rested. It’ll be a long trip.
  • Secure and check your load on your car. 
  • “Ticket On Forehead” policy: Before you take off, have everyone stick their ticket on their forehead to make sure nobody forgot their ticket! Sounds silly, but your entire car will be turned away if even one person doesn’t have their ticket.
  • Make sure your car is happy and not dripping! If your car is dripping you will need to bring something to catch it.
Travel Options
  • RVs: Book them ASAP!
  • Rideshare/Carpool: Search the database to carpool.
  • Fly into Reno Airport.
  • Burner Express – Buses will be available from Reno and San Francisco. There will be a luggage allowance so this option is best for people that have others transporting all the necessities for them.
Driving on Highway 447
  • This is a 2-lane road on Native American Land. Speed limits are taken seriously and you will be pulled over for going 27mph on the 25mph road!
  • Beware the suicidal jackrabbits! They’ll run in front of your car, but don’t swerve to avoid them and jeopardize your own safety. It’s not worth it. Just hit them.
  • Indian Tacos are delicious. Stop for some.
  • Don’t buy fireworks. They’re not allowed on the Playa.
Arrival at the Gate
  • Speed limit is 10mph. Obey it!
  • Upon arriving at gate you will be asked to show ticket and your vehicle may be searched. Do not get out of car unless asked to do so.
  • Stay in right-most lane for Will Call ticket pickup.
  • After going through Gate you will pass by Greeters who will give you welcome hugs and event information! Stay in car and don’t crack open a beer just yet!
  • No early arrivals. You’ll be placed in a waiting zone if you do and it will end up taking you longer to get in.
  • Listen to BMIR (Burning Man radio station) at 94.5 FM for updates on traffic.
  • Stay well rested and sober.
  • Secure and check load — trash on the highway is not cool!
  • Keep plenty of food and water in car.
  • Change into clean clothes (remember the ones you packed away in a Ziplock bag?) at the last pulsing point.
  • Have a DD just for exodus (it’ll be long and exhausting), then switch to someone else to be DD post-exodus.

  • When applying sunblock, put it ALL OVER. Even under that skirt. Sun reflects off the sand!
  • Take a picture of your name, email, and what camp you’re staying at. Store this as the first picture on your phone or the screen lock picture. It’ll help to track you down when your phone is found!
  • Bring spare headlamps, batteries, and bike locks. You’ll likely lose at least one.
  • Attach anything you don’t want to lose on yourself. Carabiners will be your friend!
  • Bring watertight protective bags for cameras and electronic gear. Don’t bring anything you aren’t afraid to lose/get dusty.
  • Mark your camp with something distinctive. You’ll appreciate it when you stumble home late at night!
  • Bring duct tape. You’ll find some use for it!
  • Make a copy of your ID and tape it to your reusable cup. Keep your actual ID at your camp. This way you won’t lose your ID and will have it readily available when purchasing drinks!
  • Last, but not least, do yourself a favor and sign up for the Jack Rabbit Speaks. It’s a great way to keep on top of the latest Burning Man happenings!

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1 Comment

  • Reply AJ January 21, 2015 at 2:31 am

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    Reading this post reminds me of my good old room
    mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him.

    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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