10 Tips for the Burning Man Newbie
RootsRated August 25, 2016

Sweet. You’ve decided, for the first time, to go to Burning Man in late August with 69,999 of your closest friends. Now you get to plan for your virgin trip. Seasoned Burners have found plenty of ways to simplify their journey “home.” But if you’re venturing into the desert for the first time, there are some important things to know before you strike that bell at the entrance to Nevada’s Black Rock City.

The first is why. Why Burning Man? Why travel so far into the hot sun and dusty conditions to listen to music and cover yourself in raver glow sticks? Everyone will give you a different reason. In truth, it comes down to three things: art, music, and making new friends. You will have your mind blown by art on the Playa (two words: Art Cars) and by the generosity of strangers. And if you like to dance or play DJ, there’s no better to place to be. It’s a full week of music, and music is everywhere.

The best part are the friendships you forge. When societal walls come down, people can relate and form lifelong connections born from the shared dust. It really is like no other place on Earth. For one week, the Black Rock Desert becomes Nevada’s second largest city. And then it disappears just as quickly, but the connections and memories you make there can last forever.

A trip to Burning Man is not to be taken lightly, however. Burning Man isn’t a “throw stuff into the back of the car and go” kind of trip—although the more frequently you go, the better prepared you become. You’ll need to be prepared to make the most of it from start to finish, so here are some tips on how to rock your virgin Burn.

Get Your Tickets Early

The (infamous) Temple at Burning Man.

The (infamous) Temple at Burning Man.

Ian Norman

Pre-register and clear your schedule for the sale in March, as tickets sell out in minutes. Have room on your credit card? Then buy two tickets. There’s always someone you know who won’t get one. If you miss out on the first sale, try again through their resale program or start begging on Facebook.

Pick Your Camp Wisely

There’s no central website through which to pick the camp where you’ll stay at Burning Man. That’s done through personal connections before you go. But know that not all camps are the same. Some are huge and feed you twice a day, while some are small and offer a communal kitchen.

Problems can arise if you choose a camp that expects more from you than you can give. Examples include camps that a) charge a lot of money to stay with them, b) expect you to go early or stay late to help set up and/or clean up, or c) expect you to volunteer for their camp while you’re there. The latter could be anything from cooking a dinner or working a microphone to giving massages or washing burners’ hair.

To the extent that you can, try to determine who you’ll be camping with and what they’ll expect of your time once you get to the Playa. What kind of people will you be hanging out with, is the most important question. Will they be high maintenance sparkleponies? Will they be ill-prepared for the sun (by not having a shade structure for the camp)? Do they like to party all night or are they a camp that gets up early every day?

In general camps are safe, but the number one thing to do is communicate to your camp or close friend where you generally think you’ll be going for the day/night. It’s the Playa, plans change by the minute, but it’s a start. Same rules apply beyond that, that do anywhere else — whistle, mace, don’t accept drinks from strangers you don’t see pour them, don’t go out alone, etc. Every large festival crowd brings in predators, so as a community we help each other by looking out for suspicious behavior and stopping it or reporting it. There are Rangers there to help you if you need it, too.

Whichever camp you choose, you’ll come to rely on the people with whom you’ll be spending the long, hot week camping. If you choose the wrong camp it can have a big impact on your experience at Burning Man.

Plan Your Entrance and Escape

Beating the rush at Burning Man.

Beating the rush at Burning Man.

Ian Norman

The best time to enter Burning Man is right when the gates open on Sunday. If you miss that window, plan on sitting in line for eight hours. Yes, you read that correctly. The mass exodus out the following Sunday is even more brutal. So don’t rush. Instead, get some sleep and leave at 6am Monday morning.

Be a Gifter

At Burning Man it’s all about the gifting. Not just doling out stickers, bracelets, or trinkets, though. Give people your time, compassion, and support. Share your water, carry ice for strangers, invite neighbors over for dinner, and simply listen. Gifting comes in many forms at Burning Man. Lead with it.

Playa Bike

Bringing a bike is necessary at Burning Man.

Bringing a bike is necessary at Burning Man.

Ian Norman

Burning Man is a big space with lots of things to do. You’re going to need a bike, just not a nice bike. Between the fine dust getting into everything and the potholes that develop, any bike you use there is going to take a beating. Luckily, if it breaks, there are theme camps that fix bikes.


Be prepared to encounter dust at Burning Man.

Be prepared to encounter dust at Burning Man.

Ian Norman

Carry a face mask or a bandana to cover your mouth from dust, and make sure you have sunscreen, a hat, lip balm, plenty of clean socks, closed toe shoes, lots of wet wipes, extra bike tires, lights for your bike and body, money for ice or coffee, a good sense of humor, and the curiosity of a cat.

Water, Water, Water

It’s gonna be hot. You can’t escape that if you want to experience Burning Man to its fullest. So stay hydrated. They recommend a gallon and a half per day. Start with that. And bring your favorite treats and healthy food that’s easy to prepare. You’ll want comfort food.

Use Your Time Freely

Expect lots of shiny, firey objects at Burning Man.

Expect lots of shiny, firey objects at Burning Man.

Ian Norman

Plan to spend a lot of time just exploring. Every street has so much to offer at any given time, you’re never going to be at a loss for things to do. Embrace “Playa Time” and stay open to whatever presents itself.

Reno Sleepover

If you have the time, grab a room in the Grand Sierra Hotel in Reno the Monday night after Burning Man. It’s an extra night of partying with your new friends—all of whom will look (and smell) better after showering here. Plus the hotel has a pool and real beds to sleep in, two things you’ll dream about often on the Playa.


Burn the Man.

Burn the Man.

Ian Norman

Here are a few important words and phrases to know if you want to fit right in.

BRC: Black Rock City, where Burning Man takes place

Burner: Those who live by the 10 Principles of Burning Man, which are radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self reliance, radical self expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, participation, and immediacy.

Playa: Where the art lives.

Playa Name: The name given to you, usually by someone else at Burning Man.

Deep Playa: Beyond the art and blinky lights

Trash Fence: The perimeter of BRC

MOOP: Matter Out Of Place. If you see it, pick it up.

Sparkleponies: People who don’t contribute beyond wearing elaborate costumes.

Virgins: First timers at Burning Man.

Shirtcocking: Wearing a shirt? Yes. Pants? No.

Darkwad/Speedbump: People walking or biking at night without lights

For the full Burning Man lexicon, here’s a handy glossary.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is this: “The Playa provides.” You will hear this often out there because it’s true. The gifting attitude makes it possible that when you’re really in need of something—a sandwich, a hug, or a revelation—the playa will provide you with exactly what you need.

See you in the dust.

Originally written by RootsRated for Kelty.

Featured image provided by Ian Norman