How to prepare for Burning Man in just 24 hours

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Just yesterday a friend of mine called me up all excited, having just purchased a ticket to Burning Man. She had great energy and enthusiasm and had been dreaming about going to the Burn for months. She was at a point in her life where she felt ready to find a new perspective and ponder some upcoming moves in her career. She raved about the art she was excited to see, people to meet, and music to dance to. But beyond the excitement, she admitted to needing some help figuring out how to survive the harsh environment of the desert. And time wasn’t on her side, she was hoping to leave in as little as 24 hours.

As you might be aware, Burning Man isn’t like other festivals. In fact, I cringe a little when people compare it to festivals like Coachella or EDC. To me, Burning Man is actually a city that lives in the desert for just a week every year, but the nuances of that analogy could be a whole other blog post. The point I’m making is that the burn requires some very real survival and prep that other campouts popular among millennials just don’t. It’s for this reason that many virgins devour blog posts and Youtube videos that “explain” Burning Man like they were getting excited for freshman orientation. While it’s probably better prepared to overprepared than under the ground, over-preparing to the extreme can steal some of the magic of the playa.

I actually believe 24 hours is an ideal amount of time to prepare for Burning Man, provided you know what you’re doing and follow some good advice. For some background on me, I’ll be heading to my 7th burn this year. It’ll be my 15th trip to the playa as I perennially attend the anti-event known as Fourth of Juplaya. I’ve camped on the 3 o’clock side and I’ve camped over at 9 o’clock. I helped found the camp known as Airpusher, served as the mechanic for the art car for two years and captain of the 40+ person theme camp for one year. I’ve been to the burn while single, while in an monogamous relationship, and while in an open relationship. While I have been fortunate to have seen many sides of Burning Man, I am nowhere even close to having seen it all. I’ve barely even scratched the surface. And that’s what keeps me coming back! But all those years of experience have given me one thing veteran burners tend to have in abundance, and that is strong opinions about Burning Man. I shall dispense those opinions now :)

Without further ado, here’s how to prepare for Burning Man in 24 hours and have the best burn of your life:

  1. Get excited! As a first time burner your enthusiasm and excitement is the greatest gift you can bring to the playa. Don’t worry about bringing gifts for other people — with such little time to prepare, you need to make sure you’ve got all your survival basics prepared so you can stay safe out there. Also, keep in mind that the greatest gift anyone can give on the playa (and in life) is a big smile, a warm hug, words of affirmation and enthusiasm for other’s projects. I recommend checking out this video by Halcyon on gifting at Burning Man to get in the spirit:
  2. Bring water at 1.5 gallons per person per day. Not to be too dramatic but without water, you literally die. That’s going to make your burn not fun real quick. So remember the basics and make sure you are bringing enough water out that you are bringing some extra back home. Under no circumstances should you be leaving Burning Man without some water. It is common to get delayed on the journey home and you’ll need water in your vehicle to stay hydrated. Or maybe you’re having such a fun time that you want to stay an extra day or two. Maybe you’ll want to shower. Maybe you’ll get into a squirt gun fight with a rhinoceros. Who knows, this is Burning Man! Be prepared.
  3. Food. You have only 24hrs to prepare so this is a tricky one and almost as important as water. The good news is that, unlike water, there are many people gifting food (sometimes really good food!) on the playa. However, practically speaking, there are not enough people gifting food that you can show up without your own food . And perhaps more importantly one of Burning Man’s principles is to be self-reliant, so bring your own sustenance. But how to do a not-horrible job at packing food when you have only 24hrs to prepare? First off, the basics: bring enough food (2000kcal/day or more), make sure it is palatable, easy to prepare, and non-perishable. Easy to prepare and non-perishable are important for any Burner, but especially for the person packing at the last minute. Ice does not last long in a cooler at Burning Man and you don’t want to lose half your food supply just because you went out for a couple days and forgot to make an ice run. Easy to prepare will be essential because, as a last minute packer, you probably won’t have much of a kitchen set up ready. Bring something that is palatable. I’ve seen newbies come to the Burn thinking its all about “roughing it” and bring only MREs, power bars, and soylent. If your body doesn’t like that food in the default world, it definitely won’t like it on the playa. You’re going to want to strike a balance between all these considerations: palatable, non-perishable, easy to prepare. Here’s my recommendation: Go to REI. Buy a jetboil so you can boil water. Also, buy a couple Backpacker’s Pantry meals per day. These are dehydrated meals that require only boiling water to prepare, so they’re super easy and are pretty palatable to my 30-something male body. Also bring protein powder. Eating enough protein is important so your body can recover from all the walking and dancing you’re going to do. Without protein, you’ll find yourself getting pretty sore a few days in. I recommend swinging by the grocery store and buying the kind of protein powder weightlifters use. Pick up some almond milk. It doesn’t go bad in the heat (until after its been opened) and makes the protein shakes much tastier. Buy some tortillas. You can put just about anything into a tortilla and now you have a burrito. Someone gifts you eggs? Turn it into a breakfast burrito. Also, stock up on fresh fruits so you can eat them over the first few days. Apples are really easy, don’t go bad, and make you feel great. Once you have all the essential nutrition covered, buy some snacks. Cliff bars, protein bars, chips, anything that you love to snack on in the default world bring it with you.
  4. Shelter. With only 24hrs, you need something fast, easy, reliable, and compact. You need a tent. During your REI trip, buy a tent. I’ve done 3 burns sleeping in a cheap 4-man Coleman tent I bought on Amazon and they were some of my favorite burns. You really don’t need a yurt, RV, or all those creature comforts people rave about. See item 1, your positive attitude is the key to having a great time. Time permitting, I recommend buying some aluminet to put over your tent as that will greatly increase the comfort (if Amazon Prime can get it to you in time). Also, pick up a sleeping bag and sleeping pad at REI. A 30-deg rated sleeping bag will be fine, and I recommend buying a cheap one because it will get dusty. For sleeping pad, you can buy one of those backpacker-style ones, but I personally prefer an air mattress. Sleep and rest is important at Burning Man. Can you imagine going a week in the default world without sleep? It would be pretty uncomfortable. The same is true at Burning Man. That said, don’t stress too much about this one because there are a lot of communal shelters at Burning Man. If you’re too hot in your tent during the day, go to center camp and take a nap on one of the pillow piles they have. Or make friends with someone who brought an RV and enjoy it. Just bring your smile, be considerate, and everyone will have a good time.
  5. Clothing. There are a few basics with clothing at Burning Man that are important for comfort, and a lot of frivolous stuff that helps with the fun. The basics are simple: bring 1 skimpy outfit to wear during the hot day. Bring 1 warmer outfit to wear at night. Bring 1 heavy coat to wear when it gets cold at later night. If that’s all you brought, you’d be fine. Your clothes will get a little smelly but after a couple days in the dust no one will notice, least of all you. Also, there’s some magic quality of playa dust that keeps odors down. Or so it seems to me at least. So there’s your basics, bring that stuff. After that, I do strongly recommend bringing some frivolous costumes. All I can say here is to dig deep, find your inner child who couldn’t wait for halloween, and challenge yourself. Bring clothes you would never wear in the default world. There’s a chance someone may gift you costume bits, but don’t be a mooch and plan on it. Bringing costumes does wonders for getting you into the spirit and having an experience you couldn’t have at Coachella. That’s why you’re coming to Burning Man in the first place, right?
  6. Gear. Bring a good pair of dark sunglasses and a hat to keep the sun off your head. Pack goggles, a handkerchief, and dust mask for the inevitable dust storms we will experience. Bring extra sunscreen, others will definitely want you to gift them some! While you’re at REI, buy a small camping cup you can bring with you everywhere. People gift alcohol to those of legal age but there are no disposable cups. Also, bring a camelback or water bottle. You’ll need to bring water with you everywhere you go. It’s essential to your survival and enjoyment. Finally, having a small fanny pack or bag to bring this stuff with you while you’re out exploring ties it all together.
  7. Alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. People at Burning Man are generous and love to share, but they do it out of the kindness of their hearts and don’t like to be pushed or begged. If you like to drink, smoke, or do any other substances for fun, make sure you are bringing enough of your own supply to have the experience you are looking to have. Do not rely on the supply of others for this. There is heavy police presence at Burning Man and they are specifically looking for people who possess illegal drugs or are sharing those drugs. If anyone you don’t know approaches you asking about drugs, they are probably police. Therefore, if you approach anyone else asking about drugs, that person will assume you too are with the police. Some say it never hurts to ask, but asking strangers about drugs at Burning Man is one of those things that does hurt to ask about. Don’t do that. Also finally, if you are taking medications for medical reasons, make sure you pack everything you need and then some extra. There are no pharmacies at Burning Man and you won’t be able to refill your prescription, so be prepared.
  8. Don’t leave home with a full bag.This is one of my personal rules of travel and I think it applies even moreso to Burning Man. Don’t leave home with a full bag, both literally and figuratively. Literally, leave a little extra space in your bag when you leave home. Then you can pick up a few items on your way and you’ll have space to bring home some gifts with you. But also figuratively, don’t leave home with a full bag. This means not leaving home with a full heart, a full mind, a full spirit. Leave some space inside for others to fill when you get to the playa. Leave room in your heart for new friends, new experiences, new joys that you couldn’t anticipate. Read blogs and watch YouTubes for info on how to not die in the desert and how to maybe be a little comfortable from time to time, but don’t watch them as a guide on how to burn. Leave room to define Burning Man for yourself. And most importantly, leave room in your emotional baggage to bring some happiness home with you.
  9. Relax. I know this can be a lot to take in, but take a few deep breaths, relax, and imagine yourself out there on that beautiful playa surrounded by art, music, and the most loving, fascinating city of adventurers that you’ll ever meet in your life. Burning Man is the perfect introduction to a whole new world and you are about to take the first step! You’ve gotten your golden ticket, now scurry out, rustle up the essentials, and get your butt over to the playa to have a great time! See you in the dust!

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