What I Bring to Burning Man: Packing List
Now updated for Burning Man 2018!
It’s almost time for the best week of the year: Burning Man! Now that you have secured a camp, the excitement, planning, coordinating and packing begins. Over the last four years, I have learned what to bring and what not to bring. So….here it is, your must-have burning man packing list for virgin and veteran burners alike.
For virgin burners, let me paint you a little picture of what you might experience on the playa (veteran burners, feel free to skip this section and dive right into the packing list). Ok, so virgins, I want to give you a little context — something to chew on before you start asking yourself: “do I actually need that many lights” …
Burning Man is incredible and you will find magic in many places. However; you will be covered in dust most of the time, there will be sandstorms so strong that you can barely see in front of you (and they can last for hours), it will be HOT or it will be very cold, there is very little privacy, you will be hungry, you will be thirsty, and you will be totally exhausted. At night, it is VERY dark. It is so important that your bike and your person are lit up so that the art cars and other bikes on the playa don’t run you over — so YES, you DO need that many lights. Don’t be a darkling! Don’t be a sparkle pony! Get your Burning Man essentials now!
CamelBak 2016 Lobo: If you’re like me, you will likely spend most of your free days exploring the playa. There is so much to see, learn, interact with and experience — you want to be as mobile and free as possible. One of the biggest limitations to mobility is lack of water. Some first-timers try to get away with just a water bottle that they’re planning on carrying around with them. You’ll be upset with yourself if you do that. My recommendation is the CamelBak 2016 Lobo. It is lightweight and can carry 3L of water plus all of your other essentials (think: lip balm, sunscreen, gum, food, extra batteries, dust mask, goggles, playa gifts and much more). With this bag you’ll be mobile and untethered! This is what I’ve used for the last 4 years and can’t be beat. It also doubles as a vehicle for lights so that you can be seen from behind.
Energizer Vision HD LED Headlamp: Burning Man is very dark at night. Not showing up with lights is a common and very dangerous rookie mistake. Again, don’t be a darkling! A headlamp is not only a source of light alerting others to your presence, it is also a way for you to navigate without smashing into things (especially while riding a bike at night). The one I’ve been using is the Energizer Vision HD LED Headlamp. It’s super bright, light and fits comfortably. It can also last you the whole week without having to replace the batteries (although I definitely recommend packing replacement batteries just in case)!
Zitrades 5-pack: Hopefully you’ve already added a headlamp to your list, which will help you see and be seen at night. But that’s not enough! You also need lots of El Wire-enough to make sure that you are visible to art cars and other burners from all sides. Your bike, itself, should be lit up so that it’s not a darkling when it is locked up. I recommend at least 5 El Wire, so this pack is a great option. But, honestly, the more lights, the better. Just remember to bring enough batteries — each light requires 2 AA.
LED rope light: There are insanely light LED lights that change colors. They are much more powerful than El Wire, but more expensive and they have a bigger battery pack (3 AA vs 2 for El Wire). Buy some of these and people will be envious of your lights. Will also help your bike stand out, which is especially important when there are hundreds (or thousands) of bikes clustered together. You can also buy this USB version, but you’ll need to plug it in.
Solar-powered inflatable lanterns: You should bring at least 2 of these. One for your bike and one for your tent. They recharge during the day and are incredibly powerful. Plus they are easy to attach and can be flattened for packing.
UShake Bike Lock Cable: You’ll be biking at Burning Man. The first thing you’ll quickly realize is that the playa is much bigger (and more epic and magical) than you ever imagined. Having a bike is essential if you have any hope of exploring even a fraction of it. If you don’t lock up your bike, there’s a pretty good chance it’ll go missing — this has happened to many of my friends. Avoid this common pitfall by bringing (and using) a bike lock.
Pick one that uses a combination instead of a key, since keys can be lost. I highly recommend the UShake Bike Lock Cable as it’s inexpensive, easy to operate and will keep your bike from being accidentally “borrowed” during the week.
GV Eliminator Goggles: Whether you’re a multi-year Burning Man veteran or a virgin burner, you likely have mixed emotions about the sandstorms. If you fear them, it’s likely because the idea of being caught in a sandstorm sounds like a situation where it would be hard to breathe and see. But sandstorms at Burning Man can be amazing and epic.
Let’s say you’re dancing with a few other people on a makeshift pirate ship. Everyone is smiling and waving their arms around. Suddenly, you see that everyone is throwing on their goggles and pulling up their dust masks and you notice a sandstorm approaching over the backdrop of the ship’s sail. Do you have goggles? Do you have a dust mask? If not, you’re going to be pretty unhappy pretty quickly. If yes, you’re about to join the hundreds of thousands of burners that have danced and biked and sang and explored in the middle of a sandstorm.
It’s like Mad Max meets Alice in Wonderland. Get 2 pairs of these GV Eliminator Goggles and make sure you always have one pair in your Camelbak or around your neck. Consider getting a pair that are tinted for daytime and a pair that are clear for those dark nights.
Buff Headband: During my first burn, I used a legit dust mask like the GVS Elipse Respirator. And while it is incredibly effective, it is rather bulky, heavy and I’ve realized over the years that what I prefer is a multi-purpose headscarf. I recommend the Buff Headband, which comes in 50 different textures. It is an effective dust mask, can be kept around your neck, easily absorbs moisture and has UV protection.
I recommend packing more than one headscarf — after a long day wearing one in the heat of the desert, it is nice to swap out your sweaty headscarf for a clean, dry one. I typically order a cheaper variety pack like this — which is a great giveaway if you run into someone trapped in a sandstorm with no dust mask!
No rinse bath wipes: This is the easiest and most efficient way to stay “clean” on the playa. I have almost entirely given up on showers on the playa - they are difficult, use a lot of water and you often end up more dusty if you are outside with wet skin. Instead, I use these bath wipes multiple times a day to wash off. You will be very happy to have them!
A Mug, Bowl & Utensils
Remember — Burning Man is all about radical self-reliance. If you plan on eating or drinking anything on the playa you need a cup, bowl and spork (at a minimum).
I recommend this lightweight, easy to pack collapsible bowl and this lightweight spork. The cup is a bit more of a personal choice, I have these camping cups and also a Hydroflask thermos, which will keep your beverages hot or cold all day. The key is to have something that can attach to your bag with carabiners.
Consider which option is best for you — you will likely be drinking a lot of different drinks from your cup (anything from: tea, coffee, liquor, beer, hot chocolate, smoothies, juice, etc.), you want something that you can easily clean out and that will work for a variety of drink options.
Don’t forget food. Many camps give away food, but the lines are usually long and you’ll be pretty hungry if you don’t bring enough.
You should plan on drinking 1.5 gallons (~6L) per person per day to make sure you stay hydrated. Bring even more if your camp has showers. Easiest thing to do is get your water in Reno or as part of the Burner Express package.
This is super important. If you don’t have a bike, it’s going to be really hard for you to get around. Burning Man (and the greater playa) are massive. You will have trouble getting around by foot, but it is possible thanks to the many art cars.
If it’s not super dusty, the sun might fry you…
This Gorilla Tape is useful for lots of things. Especially for attaching lights to your bike and bag. Duct tape can also save your tent and help you secure things to your campsite.
Collect your moop (matter out of place) and bring it out with you.
Camelbak replacement reservoir: if your main reservoir breaks, you won’t be able tocarry water. Not a good position to be in.
Camelbak replacement valve: This is kind of fragile and mine breaks quickly because I chew on it throughout the week.
Emergen-C: I add a pack of this to my water every time I fill up. Helps replacing your electrolytes and make sure you’re getting vitamins to keep you going through the heat.
Wristwatch: You’re given a schedule of all the planned events when you first arrive. Can be annoying not to have any idea what time it is.
Microfiber towel: Use these as you would any regular towel. They are super absorbent and won’t need to be cleaned while you’re there.
Portable charger: It used to be that cell phones didn’t work on the playa. Those days, for better or worse, are gone. Bring this is you’re planning on using your phone, camera, portable speakers, or anything else with a USB charger. It packs enough energy to recharge your phone ~10 times on a single charge and can be reloaded with any outlet.
Bluetooth speaker: Play music from your camp and bring it with you in your camelbak. This UE Roll is loud, ultra-portable, waterproof and shockproof. It’s my go-to portable speaker.
Nasal decongestant: Playa dust in your nose will dry it out and can be uncomfortable. Use this to clear out your sinuses and relieve discomfort. Nice-to-have.
Lip balm: You should have lip balm with SPF to protect your lips from the sun and from being destroyed by playa dust.
First aid kit: A core tenant of Burning Man is being self-reliant. You may not need this, but you’ll be happy you have it if you do. Can also help others in need.
Emergency thermal blankets: You probably won’t need these — but a couple years ago at Burning Man, thermal blankets pretty much saved my life when it dropped to the 30s one night while we were out dancing. Three of us huddled under one of these on a couch until the sun came up.
Hand warmers: Throw a couple of these into your sleeping bag before you head out for the night and thank yourself when you come home.
Hand sanitizer: The porta potties have hand sanitizer stations, but they sometimes run out — especially at night.
Single-ply toilet paper: Keep a roll with you in your Camelbak. You won’t need it most of the time, but it saves the day if the potty runs out. Also doubles as tissues. The porta potties are maintained brilliantly and are surprisingly nice. Some are even decorated or have music in them. Please don’t dispose of trash or gray water in here as it breaks the cleaning system.
Condoms: These are a good idea to bring with you regardless of whether you are planning on having sex. You can also consider giving them away as gifts.
Foot bath container: Use vinegar to neutralize the alkaline playa dust, which can destroy your feet if you go barefoot or in sandals. Your campmates will love you if you have one of these and the accompanying vinegar.
Vinegar: You can use vinegar on your whole body to cure yourself from the effects of playa dust. Especially useful on your feet.
Cheap polarized sunglasses: If it’s not dusty during the day, it’s sunny…
Disposable gloves: You might want to consider using these if you wear contacts.
Cooler: You can buy ice (and coffee) at Burning Man and use a cooler to keep things cold. This one is collapsable, so it’s very convenient for packing.
Disposable camera: It can be fun to snap pics at Burning Man. Remember, always ask people for permission before you take their picture! And playa dust isn’t kind to fancy cameras, so leave yours at home. You can also write your address on these and give them away. I’ve done this for a few years and you get to see some crazy pics when people send them back to you!
If you are camping in a Tent, don’t forget…
Sleeping bag: It can get really cold at night. This will keep you warm as you sleep.
Rollable air mattress: This will save your hip and back if you’re sleeping in a tent. The playa is very hard. It’s like sleeping on concrete.
Inflatable pillow: Alternatively, you can use a sweatshirt under your head. This is great because it deflates and doesn’t take up space when you’re packing.
Instant Tent (4 person): This is really easy to set up. The last thing you want is to arrive at night and spend the first few hours setting up your tent. This is ideal for 1 or 2 people max. You have a lot of stuff that will take up the rest of the space.
Tarp: Put this underneath your tent. It’s rare, but it might rain. You’ll be happy when all your stuff stays dry because of this tarp.
Tent Stakes: It can be very windy at Burning Man. Keep your tent from blowing away. These glow-in-the-dark, so people won’t get hurt hitting them at night.
Zip Ties: Has many uses, like securing your tent to your poles and attaching lights to things.
Folding chair: This is a nice-to-have. Pretty nice to have somewhere to sit around camp that is not inside your tent.
Earplugs: It can be loud… really loud. At all hours of the night depending on where your camp is. You’ll be a hero if you have extras to give to campmates if you happen to be camped near a sound camp (near 2:00 or 10:00, especially if close to Esplanade).
Other items you should pack
Closed-toe shoes: Playa dust will rock your feet if you try to wear sandals (unless you use a daily vinegar foot bath).
Several 1.5L water bottles: Useful for collecting and storing greywater (dirty water), which you need to take with you when you leave. Please don’t dump greywater onto the playa!
Costumes: People will be in costume every day, all day. Make sure you have a warm jacket for night as it can get very cold. Places I’ve found my costumes include 1. Burning Man stores in San Francisco or NYC, 2. Etsy, 3. Thrift Stores / Goodwill / Salvation Army.
Tutu: You need a tutu for Tutu Tuesday. Pick whatever color you want and just bring one. You’ll be happy you did.
Normal toiletries: You should still practice regular hygiene, like brushing your teeth, while at Burning Man.
Clean outfit in a ziplock bag: When the man and temple have burned and it’s time to return to default life, you’ll be happy to have a clean outfit waiting for you. Put this on once you’ve taken that first glorious shower in a Reno (or middle of nowhere) hotel.
Gifts: Part of the magic of Burning Man is giving things away. These can be things you make (like necklaces, bracelets, etc) as long as it isn’t moopy (stuff likely to drop onto the ground). But gifts can also be you giving a helping hand to someone or giving hugs to people that need them. The key to a gift is that you’re giving it of yourself and expecting nothing in return. Imagine a place where tens of thousands of strangers spend a week trying to figure out ways to give each other gifts… that’s Burning Man. We’re excited to have you!
Disclosure: This article contains Amazon Affiliate links. I make a small percentage of anything you buy through those, but you aren’t charged more.
Am I missing stuff you consider essential? Let me know and I’ll add it!