A Practical Guide to Good Living at Burning Man

by Crow

created September 24, 1998
last update 01/09/2000

I was a first-time participant at Burning Man in 1998. Though I was new to Burning Man, I am not new to camping and outdoorsmanship, and there were a number of things I experienced which I did not feel were noted very clearly by the official Survival Guide or by other Burning Man web pages.

I will be going to back to Burning Man in 2000, so here are the results of much thinking and planning resulting from the distillation of my first visit and the upcoming one.

I cover only points I have not seen covered by other writers. This is not meant to be a substitute for reading the Burning Man Survival Guide.

Table of Contents

Foot Care

Other writers have noted the need for properly conditioned footwear and healthy feet. I second that motion. In Burning Man 98 my girlfriend's feet got ripped up royally. She could just barely hobble by the time we flew out of Reno. You absolutely must take care to avoid her fate.

Black Rock City is about three miles long end to end. If you manage to bring a bicycle (see below for more about that) you will not need to do quite so much walking, so conditioning in that case will not be so important. But if you do not bring a bicycle, I am guessing that you will be walking more than ten miles a day. For the average American, this is much more walking than they are accustomed to, on a surface with very uneven texture, and you may be wearing shoes that you do not normally wear. It all adds up to blisters.

As an experienced backpacker I recommend that you hike regularly for a few months before BM, in the boots and other shoes you intend to wear at Black Rock City. Try walking a few miles a week at first, and try to get your total mileage up as you approach BM. You will be glad you did.

The next advice I have then is, I believe, standard backpacking advice, but may be new to some BM participants. Buy lots of Dr. Scholls footcare products, particularly the moleskins. Use them.

Moleskins are adhesive pads which can be cut into a variety of shapes and stuck directly to the skin of your foot. You use them by checking your feet regularly (every couple of hours when you are doing your major walking) for areas of redness while doing intensive walking. Any red area is in great danger of getting blisters. And once those blisters form, you are pretty much guaranteed to have plenty of uncomfortable, unpleasant walking ahead of you.

Moleskins will adhere to those areas for hours, and provide a protective surface which will prevent most or all blisters.

The most important thing is that you must get them on your foot before actual blisters form. Once blisters form, you are much too late. At that point you must just bandage your feet and hope for the best. It is definitely going to detract from your experience.


If you plan to wear only sandles at BM, I think you are making a mistake. There are times when you will want sandles for around the camp, but other times you will want gymshoes, and yet elsewhere you will want hiking boots. I say bring all three, and more than one pair of gym shoes.

When it rains really seriously, as it did at least twice during BM98, the playa clay turns into a particularly sticky mud which adheres, in a thick, heavy layer, to the bottom of your footware. I believe only a boot can really comfortable navigate the uneven surface of the playa under those conditions. Even so my boot ended up with about a one and a half inch thick mud clod on the bottom. Use a screwdriver to force it off.

Also, in crowd and dance conditions such as the Burn itself boots will help protect your feet from trampling, also protect you from objects burning on the ground or other nasties, like broken glass.

When you are on a bike you will want gymshoes or sandles. And around your camp and "safe" (clear of sharp nasties) places you will probably want sandles. You will probably also want sandles for taking a solar shower or other times you may be standing or rolling around in isolated puddles of mud.

If the ground muddies up, you will want a change of shoes - a pair of shoes not already surrounded by a solid clod of mud. That's why a couple of pairs of gym shoes might be nice.


I strongly feel that your experience will be improved by having, and using, some kind of raingear. The drizzle and slow rain which can occur at night can make you really wet, cold and miserable if you are unprotected. In the day rain can be fun, but there is not much a fun factor at night. A raincoat or collapsible umbrella can fit into a fanny pack easily. Umbrellas are not going to handle the wind very well at all, but on windfree slow drizzle times they are more comfortable than raincoats.

Rain: The Doomsday Scenario

We left BM98 on September 7th. Just minutes after we loaded our final gear into our GMC 2 wheel drive Jimmy, the rain started. We proceeded toward city center at 5 m.p.h., then dropped off some supplies, and then drove toward the exit. We made no other stops. In the amount of time it took to get to the exit the mud was already so bad that we began to slide across the road. Only luck and the grace of the Goddess kept us from getting stuck in the mud, only yards away from the paved road.

The rain that started on Monday continued the remainder of the week. People who did not leave on Monday found themselves in many cases stuck. Cleanup could not proceed until the rain stopped after mid-week.

Now let us suppose what might have happened. Suppose the rain had started on Sunday, the day of the Burn, and had been fairly heavy. Most people, either eager to witness the Burn or judgment-impaired, decide to stay despite the rain. Next day, thousands of people try to leave, only to find themselves stuck in mud. Motorhomes are sunk like anchors. The many without 4WD's find themselves stuck in mud on the main road, making the main road impassable. The rain continues . . .

It is not hard to imagine that if the rain had started only a little earlier, Black Rock City might not have cleared out on Monday. It might easily had taken another three or four days for the roads to be cleared and for people to be able to leave.

Without access to telephones there would be no way to inform family, jobs and airlines of the situation. It is easy to see the chaos which might ensue. And don't count on government agencies to bail you out.

Maybe doomsday is a little too harsh of a word, but for thousands of people with jobs, school and families waiting for them, maybe airline reservations as well, getting stuck for an extra half-week could be a real problem. That is why I strongly advise you come to BM in a 4WD vehicle. I also advise you read up on ways to deal with mud in your vehicle. There are ways for many vehicles to improve traction, find out about it and bring the necessary equipment.

One of the reasons to bring more food and water than you need, and donate your extras to BM volunteers only on the last day, is that you may in fact get stranded at a Burning Man and need the extra water and food for yourself.

You should also make plans with your friends, family and coworkers on what to do if you cannot get out of Black Rock City. Let people know of the slight risk, and how to get along without you for a few extra days if that should happen. Make plans for pets, children, jobs, etc. to be taken care of, and let people know that just because you are not back yet, you are not necessarily dead in a ditch.

I am guessing that if this happened, the Burning Man web page at http://www.burningman.com/ would have information posted about it, as well as local news media, so tell your family, friends and coworkers to check the web site and Nevada media web pages for information on why you may be back late.

Remember that the Black Rock Desert has always been an inhospitable and dangerous environment for human beings. When you go to Burning Man remember shit can happen and if you are unprepared that's your own bad luck.

Lightning Dangers

Others have said much about the high winds on the playa. I would like to focus on lightning. We did not have lightning directly at the playa in BM98, but we had it nearby. If you have tall metal structures nearby, you are in serious jeopardy during a lightning storm. I would take approaching lightning storms seriously, and return to my camp to a vehicle which can be closed and has only rubber tires touching the ground, and nothing running between the vehicle's frame and the ground.

When in the middle of a lightning storm, it is "No Business as Usual". A lightning strike can cause serious harm and death to anyone standing directly on the ground for many yards around the site of the strike.

Remember mylar balloons are lightning attractors.

Try to use plastic PVC pipe instead of metal conduit for building structures, to minimize the lightning rod effect. The PVC will have the added advantage of bending easier with the wind without breaking. (I had 1.5 cm metal conduit for a shelter bent in two by the winds at BM98, basically destroying my small shade shelter [fortunately total destruction waited for the last day of the event]).

Effects of the Dust

The playa dust is ubiquitous. You will have a hard or impossible time getting it out of your luggage, your radio, in fact much of your gear. If you have stuff you cannot bear to be imprinted by the white dust, don't bring it. You will probably never get the dust completely out of some of your stuff. Electronics and cameras should be double ziplocked and in some kind of plastic bag all the time, even when being used. Never take your camera out without a protective bag to stash it in nearby when the dust storms kick up.

Bring some goggles for your eyes. I bought military tank goggles. Lots of other people used ski goggles. Goggles will allow you to see under the worst dust storm conditions. Also bring a scarf that you can wrap around your mouth and nose during the worst of it. Some people had Bedouin or Arab-style robes, which I envied because they appeared very comfortable and well-suited to the environment.

Keep some part of your tent closed much of the time, if you can. It is nice to have a dustfree zone to retreat to from time to time, or to put stuff which doesn't handle the dust well. And to put your clean clothes.

Prepare for Possibility of Cold Weather

Because of its location in the Nevada desert, people put a lot of energy into planning for the heat and dryness of the environment. In the evening, though, it is quite frequently pleasantly cool. In fact, it can on occasion get downright cold. In 1999 supposedly one night it was under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. That's pretty damn cool, so prepare for the possibility of Midwestern Fall-like temperatures some nights. Bring a warm coat, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, stuff like that. Keep it packed away just in case.

Bicycles and Theft

Like many other BM commentators I recommend you bring a bike for each person in your party. It is really hard to get around Black Rock City without one. But I would like to also recommend that you bring a bikelock. Bicycle theft was apparently the most common crime at BM98. Bicycles were "borrowed" for joyrides or what-have-you, and left somewhere else in BRC on the ground, where of course the original owner would have to spend all day looking to find it.

It may seem uptight but if you lock the bike tire to the frame, the bike "borrowers" will not steal it and you will not have to waste any time at BM looking for a stolen bike. So lock up your bike.

Remember to try to bring a beat-up older bike, don't bring your nice mountain bike. The alkali dust and mud will do bad things to your nice bike. Even though I would not bring an expensive mountain bike, I would bring a bike with fat trail-style tires. Don't use touring bike tires.

Other Crime

You will hear plenty of rumors of major crimes happening at Burning Man. I don't think theft is much of a problem at Burning Man, but it could conceivably happen that someone in an altered state might pick up something of yours thinking it was his, and then forget who he "borrowed" it from. Decide what goods and vehicles you could not leave BM without, and what stuff you could not live or survive without. Keep your valuables in your vehicle, and keep your vehicle locked up. If you have things at home which you would like to bring, try to bring the beat-up article instead of the nice one, if there is a choice.

There will be more than 20,000 people at BM2000 and subsequent events. You do not know these people, for the most part. Don't assume everyone is a nice team player. For sure some are assholes, like in any other community. Accept it and treat the asshole factor seriously. Small, prudent steps can protect your experience.

Liars, Rumors, and "Authority"

(or, Who to Trust?)

As in the outside world, don't trust anyone in Black Rock City unless you have to, or have thought through the consequences of that level of trust. Burning Man is a blizzard of rumors, there are pranksters everywhere telling outrageous lies just for the pleasure of it, and it is hard to find things out, since the event is so fluid and there is such a wide range of mental states at the event.

Rumors comprise part of the story-telling process at the event, and are fun, and are nearly useless as a source of real information. Nobody really has anything to lose by giving you incorrect information, so there is no system of checks and balances on validity. An example of a rumor that I heard on the last day of the event in 1998 was that if you left trash by a certain set of porta-potties, the trash would be picked up by the Burning Man organization. This was absolutely untrue, and very damaging to Leave No Trace efforts. It resulted in a big pile of garbage bags which unpaid Burning Man volunteers had to carry off with great personal effort.

Use your common sense with rumors. If a rumor challenges long-standing BM policy, such as Leave No Trace, don't believe it.

Another set of rumors usually are about undercover police officers everywhere, or hoards of National Guard units about to descend on BRC. My impression is that law enforcement has adopted a laissez faire attitude about the BM event, and leaves safety issues to Black Rock Rangers to intercept initially.

Though I am not sure I, or anyone except for Nevada law enforcement, know the truth about the pervasiveness of local law enforcement at the event, I feel it is not as strong as the rumors continually suggest. I would use my common sense and exercise the same precautions with obeying laws that exist anywhere else in the state of Nevada. Fears about what might happen to you if you break local laws often manifest in overblown rumors. There is no way to ever be sure how much or in what way those local laws are going to be enforced in any given year.

So, as in real life, before you break the law, you need to decide whether the risks outweigh the benefits. Nobody is going to make that decision for you. One general rule is that open use of drugs is going to endanger your liberty. Being publicly wasted is okay (though I think Burning Man is a lot more fun sober). Getting that way by smoking, ingesting, or otherwise delivering illegal narcotics into your bloodstream in a public thoroughfare or area of high visibility will expose you to great risk from law enforcement.

Liars, pranksters, and artists challenging the notion of validity make the situation harder for those seeking reliable information. Another thing I encountered at BM 1998 was witnessing people trying to con other people out of drugs. A fellow, with a completely straight face, was going around on the last day of the event spreading the rumor that the National Guard was searching the cars of participants exiting the event for drugs. So, to save you, he would take your extra drugs before you left the event.

Be aware that if someone tells a story which involves transfer of your personal goods to that person, you should really suspect the story's truth.

A final topic I would like to cover is the notion of authority at Black Rock City. Who has authority? It is clear that paid staff members of the Burning Man organization could, probably, kick you out, so we could say they have authority. But there is a widespread sense that certain volunteers, particularly Black Rock Rangers, have authority.

At BM98 I witnessed a Ranger ask someone to move from the South sector, whose diesel generator the Ranger judged was a little too loud. He asked the individual to move to the North, where noise tolerance was a little greater. The individual with the offending generator was obviously angry, but moved. No attempt to argue the point was made. Nobody asked for mediation of the dispute.

That incident made me wonder: did that Ranger have the authority to make an individual move to another site? I am not questioning the Ranger's judgment - I agreed with him, and was glad the noisy-generator-owner moved. But the speed with which the individual moved seemed to me to imply authority which a single Ranger does not possess. I believe the owner of the generator could have asked for a second opinion, could have asked for mediation of the dispute, or could have conceivably complained about the Ranger.

I am not saying he should have - that is not the point; only that we should be skeptical about authority and the claims of authority, and our own perceptions of authority. Don't be too quick to accede to a demand from an individual just because he claims to be BRC staff or a Ranger.

Black Rock City is a community like any other, and like any other, must provide justice for individuals. If you disagree with another denizen of BRC, regardless of their claims of "authority", and are willing to face the consequences, you can do any of the following things in protest:

I do not believe Burning Man yet has explicit, thought-out dispute resolution mechanisms in place. The only clear authority I believe Rangers have is in the area of evictions. Rangers have the authority to evict, though that is used very, very rarely (such as in the case of the Capitalist Pigs in 1999). My understanding in this case is that Ranger decisions to evict are made at the very top of that organization, and any decision has to be seconded by another high-level Ranger.

Rangers also consider themselves empowered to prevent an individual from an immediate and obvious threat to his own life.

There is an entire gamut of human life and and potential disputes not handled here. But determined individuals can create structures to mediate and sidestep confrontation. I hope as the community matures that people step forward in the role of peacemakers. Your dispute, if managed intelligently, could be the basis for that evolving conflict resolution process.

Please use your common sense. If a Ranger is asking you to do something which is already plain Burning Man policy, such as the prohibition on open campfires, just do it. Also remember, if you made it to Burning Man, you probably have a great deal more in common with your fellow BM citizen than what seems to be in dispute. Keep an open mind, be able to really listen to what they have to say, and you should be able to work this out without a big to-do.

    With tongue in cheek, I would use the following descending hierarchy to figure out the true ability of a Ranger or anyone else to seriously impact your environment at Burning Man:


  1. Larry Harvey - demigod
  2. Danger Ranger - top Ranger
  3. Ranger with radio, driving a car, SUV or truck - e.g. Baker18
  4. Any Burning Man organization paid staff;
  5. Ranger with radio and bicycle
  6. Ranger with radio and "alternative means of transportation"
  7. Ranger with radio on foot
  8. Ranger without radio on bike
  9. Ranger without radio on foot
  10. Burning Man organization volunteers
  11. Any other citizen of Burning Man
  12. Ranger unconscious or asleep

Rangers are not police and Burning Man is not trying to create an authority model based upon macro society's violence-based power structures. You are creating this environment, so get involved and make it the community you want it to be.

Barbecues - give it careful thought

Don't plan to barbecue using charcoal brickettes at Black Rock City. It is against the rules and may get you thrown out of BRC. The wind is just too intense and unpredictable, and will blow hot ash all over everything, possibly catching things on fire nearby.

Use a gas grill if you are going to barbecue. You will have no problem controlling a gas flame.

Car Pollution and Traffic Jams

There was an awesome traffic jam the Monday following the Burn in 1998. Do not plan to leave Black Rock City on Monday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. People who left at that time at BM98 ended up in over four hours of traffic just to get onto I-80. Is this the experience you want?

My recommendation is, spend a few hours volunteering to pick up trash, and have a leisurely time taking down your camp on Monday. Make Monday your day to contribute to the community, if you haven't already. By 6:00 p.m. the traffic will start to flow again, and you will have a pleasant drive back to mundane civilization. Don't make any plane reservations, etc. which require you to be in Reno before 7:00 p.m. on Monday unless you have plans to be on the road by 9:00 a.m. on Monday.

If you are stupid enough to end up in one of these jams, get out of traffic, park somewhere, and turn off your vehicle. Help clean up the City, don't just sit there in your box.

Light Pollution

BM lives pretty much at night. Your light sources at night should not be too bright. People lose their night vision when even just glancing indirectly at an excessively bright light source. This is part of the reason for the popularity of cyalume out there. Keep your very bright flashlights for around camp. Try to shield those bright Coleman lanterns from the road, so people walking along are not blinded by the camp light.

Don't shine flashlights directly at people's faces, and turn off your headmounted lights when you risk shining the light directly at people's faces.

When driving at night, turn your car's headlights on and off periodically, if you can. Do not keep headlights on continuously, especially when your car is just sitting there.

Noise Pollution and Electric Generators

Either invest in a quiet generator or make plans to build a shelter around it to deaden the noise. Noisy generators are grounds for being made to move, especially in the South side. Try to get information about how noisy a generator is before purchasing, particularly if it is used. Imagine having to sleep next to it, because there is a good chance someone will be trying to do just that.


It is really hard sometimes to find peoples' camps.

There are different ways of thinking about this. Putting a notice on the Find-a-Camp board and then having a recognizable camp flag should be enough.

Other people have made wooden signs that can be put near the road. Some luminescence is helpful. Signage should either be attached to rebar, or you can make a workhorse-shaped structure which can then be staked to the ground. Or do something else, so long as it is wind resistant (remember paper and cardboard signs are at risk to be destroyed by the weather, and end up as blowing trash).

But sign structures can be ugly and contribute to the feeling of clutter. So if you take this approach there should be some thought to how the final product will look.

Another suggestion: to find your own way back at night, and even during the day, some kind of flagpole structure is helpful. Fifteen feet high is good. Come up with banners, balloons, etc. At night use light sticks, strobes, whatever, to make a distinctive pattern which is visible from a distance.

The problem once again with this suggestion is that bright strobe lights or ugly luminescense of any kind can really interfere with other people's sanity. Light effects should be low-key and attractive. In 1998 one camp had a high intensity strobe light which it night could be seen from almost any vantage point, and really was annoying and classless.

Radio - Motorola Talkabouts

The little Motorola Talkabout radios are an excellent way for you and other people in your camp keeping in touch. The three AA batteries which they take will keep one of these lit all day, and I was able to use the same three batteries for over three days. They have lots of programmable channels, so if they start to become popular at Black Rock City interference should not be a major problem.

Without radios it is easy to lose members of your party permanently, or until time to crash, when I suppose they will inevitably return to camp.

The problem with Motorola Talkabouts is their cost. Two of them will run you over $250. But with their range (I got the two-mile units) I was able to get more than half-way across Black Rock city and still talk to my girlfriend. Conditions for the use of these radios are excellent, since the Playa is so flat and structures are not generally that tall.

Burning Man Radio

Bring some kind of general FM radio. We found that the official BM Radio station had loads of useful information, particularly on scheduling of events.

My only criticism of BM Radio was that I would have liked to have heard more news and less music. I would have liked a regular schedule of broadcasts on the following subjects:

I would have liked to have seen these done in regular reports every hour, so I would not have to listen randomly to pick up the info. It is hard at BM to stick around camp just to listen to the radio. But I know that lots of people would find this a drag and prefer music over talk.

And I know, if I want this, why don't I do it. Well, maybe I will some day, but my days of being a radio enthusiast are a little past and I really don't know how to set up a FM transmitter.

Finally, I know it's weird, but I like the option to hear about what is happening in the outside world on occasion while I am at Burning Man. I intend therefore to bring a shortwave radio in 2000. An okay shortwave radio can be had for under $50.

Educate the Clueless

We had an unpleasant experience with some friends who came to Burning Man without really finding out what the event was about, and then blaming us when things did not turn out the way they planned. They ended up aborting their trip and leaving before the Burn.

Educate the weenies you drag along to BM about survival, weather extremes, and community ethics. Do not expect them to find out the hard way. It is inconsiderate to other informed BM participants to subject them to ill-informed people who end up becoming assholes because of their cluelessness. It is not your fault that these zeroes did not take the time to read anything, but do your best to make sure they learn. If you can, keep them home if they are not willing to be educated, particularly about the need to pick up their own trash, and the need to respect other people's rights in a city where people live shoulder to shoulder.


I guarantee that you will have a better BM experience if you volunteer and help make the City a better place. The less you are a Spectator, the better the time you will have. I volunteered for Ranger duty at BM98, and got to help during the Burn. It was a great experience.

If you plan to help other people in any kind of physical capacity, buy some nice leather workgloves at your hardware store and bring them. Your hands will thank you. Some ranger duties in particular involve potential rescue of people from fire situations, and gloves will help protect you. Not many people seem to think about bringing work gloves.


Following the recommendation of other BM participants, we stayed at the Travelodge in Reno, near the airport. The rooms were very nice and we were less than ten minutes from the airport. It is easy to get to the hotel from I-80 (you basically take I-80 to 395 South, get off at the Mill Street exit, go right on Mill, next left is Louise, go left on Louise, look for the hotel straight ahead).

Because it is a cheaper hotel there is no fancy lobby to walk through to get to your room; you don't have to be embarassed by the effects your odor and grime may have on others. Their number is 702-786-2500. Rooms were about $55 a night. Be aware that as of September 1998 the sign on the hotel was not Travelodge, but rather "Rodeway Inn." They were just bought out by Travelodge so there may be a new sign by 1999.

Supply Stores

In our case we completed our supplies and provisions outside of Las Vegas (in fact bought quite a bit at the excellent camping store at Grand Canyon National Park, which we visited on our way to BM), and really had no critical camping supplies to purchase after we left Chicago area. But I did do some research into camping and survival supplies available in the Reno area before I left, and I will share my research with you. I found the following outdoor supply stores in Reno as of the summer 1998:

"Sleeping" for Tent-Dwellers

It is hard to ever get a good night's sleep at BM when you sleep in a tent. The major events occur beginning around 7:00 p.m. and there is usually quite a bit happening until 2:00 a.m. on most nights. Add to socializing, odd parties, and the time it takes to get around, and you will be lucky to get to bed by 3:30 a.m. I liked to be in bed by 4:00 a.m. If you don't do this routine, and don't stay up late, you are going to miss many of the most interesting events at BM.

The problem with this schedule, if you are a tent-dweller, is that the sun is hot enough by 9:00 a.m. to drive you out of your tent. If you have a shade structure with a wall facing east - southeast, you can sleep outside your tent maybe until 10:30 a.m. Getting extra sleep in the AM is one of the big reasons to have a good shade structure with such a solid wall.

For 2000 we intend to bring our tent, but to build a larger shade structure which the tent will sit inside. Inside the tent we will have potential protection from rain but we will sleep more under the shade structure just outside of the tent. The shade structure will be geodesic dome with openings along the north and south ends for air movement. The geodesic frame will be covered with agricultural netting. The southern most panels will have a "wall" suspended inside of reflective materials. We have seen this house insulation material called, I think, "Reflectix", which is sold in large panels which look ideal. I have also heard suggestions of using space blankets (silver mylar) or silver lame fabric for the same effect. Then, position your cots or sleeping mats right under this southern wall for maximum blocking of the sun's rays.

If you intend to sleep under your shade, make sure your south and north ends are open for wind movement. Being comfortable in the shelter depends on breezes, and a solid wall in the dead south will cut off your air. Put your solar blocking wall in the southerly area but leave a big gap open for the wind to flow through.

Soaking a T-shirt and putting it on while you are napping will keep you much cooler and more comfortable. Having a spray bottle with you can make it much easier to keep your clothes wet. Buying a bag of ice and segregating it from smelly food can give you a good source of very cool morning water.

You will need really good earplugs to shut out the morning noise, because no matter what time it is in Black Rock City, someone is generating noise. I also think those dorky eyeshades to cut out the sunlight are very handy to fool the body into sleeping later.

When you start to become fatigued, and you are going the clean route, you are going to be sorry if you don't have some either instant or regular coffee around. At nighttime you may find that a stimulant such as Ma Huang, which is easily available at health food stores, will keep you awake better than coffee (watch how much you take, the jury is out on whether it is safe for everyone, particularly if you have any kind of heart problem or a family history of heart disease).

With all that being said, I would not trade tent-living for a motorhome for anything. Motorhomes, in my opinion, put too much barrier between you and the city, and are harder to customize and turn into a cool environment. There is not much romance in living in a little metal box.

Alternatives to Rebar

As you know, Burning Man official survival guides tell you to use rebar stake to secure your shelter. They tell you that normal tent stakes are not necessarily strong or long enough to secure a shelter against the winds of the playa. Well, I have tried normal tent stakes and they seemed to work okay for me. But they were the quality 9"+ stakes and I used alot of them.

If you want an alternative to rebar but something still a little longer and heavier than tent stakes, try the following: heavy-duty screw-in ground anchors (normally used to anchor trees and vine trellises). These should be easier to apply and remove, and less likely to cause foot injury. Search category "Vineyard Products & Supplies" or "Tree Service Equipment & Supplies" at www.superpages.com or the Yellow Pages; also try:

Cameron & Cameron Inc
1175 River Road, Fulton, CA 95439
(707) 546-7706 (800) 546-7706
(Vineyard supply yard near Santa Rosa.)

Getting Ice

If you have room in your vehicle, try to bring ice with you to last the first couple of days. It can be hassle to have to go into City Center for ice. If you have a quality cooler with excellent insulation, and keep that wrapped in towels and in the shade, the ice you bring at the beginning can last for days. When you actually buy ice at City Center, you may only make one or two trips during your stay at Burning Man instead of daily trips. Only open your cooler when necessary. Keep your cooler off the ground - the air is a better insulator than the dirt.

But after some time has elapsed, if you are staying the full week, you will probably need to pick up ice at the City Center. It can be easier picking up and transporting ice if you buy one of those flexible, collapsible coolers with a shoulder strap. It is hard carrying those bags for any distance otherwise, particularly on a bike. Having an extra small cooler just to pick up ice will mean you can leave your main cooler packed with food.

Another tip related to ice: at BM98 ice pickup was at odd times, and seemed to vary from day to day. As soon as you arrive in Black Rock City go immediately to the city center and inquire at the ice pickup point when the next ice pickup will probably be. And check every day.

A Few Words About Water and Food

You should bring one or two gallons per person per day. One gallon is a minimum; that is how much water you should be drinking, period. If you bring two gallons, you will have enough left over for some solar showers during the week, washing well, and cleaning dishes.

Always bring more water than you believe you would need. Plastic water containers can spring leaks very easily, and you could lose much of what you have.

If you have extra food and water at the end of BM, you can always give it to the volunteers who stay afterward to break down the city and clean up. They appreciate and need the stores.

Don't skimp on food. There is a life-threatening condition which can occur when you drink enough water but fail to keep up your food intake. Eating very little, but getting hot and exerting yourself under that circumstance can throw off your electrolyte balance. So bring more food than you need, particularly foods which can be eaten on the go with no cooking. We brought granola bars, cookies, some Power Bars, and lots of fruit. Military MREs can also be very handy.

Eating apples and oranges is one of the best ways to hydrate yourself and keep your electrolyte balance. Don't go to BM without bring plenty of fruit.

Some people believe that it can help to increase your salt intake. I saved the following snippet from an email I received in the distant past, and have since forgotten the author. (If you are the author, please write me for attribution):

One thing most experienced desert campers know is that it helps to match any quantity of water consumed with a quantity of salt. Otherwise, the body has a tendency to rid itself of excess moisture, that you might actually need.

Miso paste is available at most health food stores. I like it at about one tablespoon for one and a half cups of water. It is less expensive at Jaapanese health food stores.

The first year I went to Burning Man, I didn't acclimate at all. I felt like crap every day and basically shut down emotionally. My relationships all suffered, though I had a good time.

Last year, I had miso every day, and I felt normal within about a day and stayed that way through the end of the festival.

And remember my section on the Rain Doomsday Scenario. If it rains, you could be stranded for a half-week or longer before you will be able to exit the playa. You will need that "excess" water and food for yourself.

Post-BM: Clean your gear!

One of the important but mundane things I learned after the 1998 event was the importance of cleaning playa dust off your equipment as soon as possible after returning home. I have metal poles I brought back from the event and thoughtlessly stored away right after the event. I brought out that equipment a few months afterward, and found the parts of the poles with dried on alkali playa mud were completely corroded. Those poles had to be thrown out.

If you value your gear you will clean the worst of the dust and mud off your gear right away. Your metal poles and metal objects should be your top priority. Your boots and footgear need to be cleaned right away. Electronics and stuff like that should also be cleaned early too.

Other Survival/Practical/Shelter/BM Technology Links

Have Fun!

And after all that I hope you don't think I didn't have fun. Burning Man changed my life in some ways I find hard to define. I love the event and just enjoy helping people with the practical aspects. I hope that nothing I wrote made you think that Burning Man is an ordeal. It most certainly is not, but that is partly because I know how to make it an enjoyable experience. And part of that is treating the environment and reality of the desert with respect.

Contacting the Author

Crow is a Chicago-area BM participant. Let him know what you thought about his advice. He can be emailed at BurningMan@ebenner.com


Thanks go to curtmc@edge.net (Curt Mcclain), Robert (the sheik) Brownstein (brownstein@stellarsoft.com), M Normal (m@netmeme.com), all who took the time to read the page and to suggest revisions to my suggestions, which I duly made. If you have any suggestions on how to improve my page, write me!, and you too can be added to this roster.

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This page last updated: 01/09/2000

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