Burning Man — How to Get, Where to Live, What to Eat, How to Hang Out

Step-by-Step guide for responsible use

12 min readMar 16, 2016


Burning Man Overview by Steve Jurvetson

Every year hundreds of festivals take place in the world — musical, theatrical, art, gastronomical… Suited to every fancy. Now we are going to tell you about a very special annual event dreamed about by men and women from all over the world. Anyway, our friends persistently ask themselves a question: “Shouldn’t we go to Burning Man next year?”

Yes, Burning Man is one of the frontrunners in our list of must-see places. We tried to collect as much useful information as possible in this article — from the very first preparation steps till the days of the festival. It is nearly a step-by-step guide: after reading this, you just have to buy tickets and prepare for Burning Man 2016!

A Bit of History

Like many great stories, Burning Man appeared spontaneously. Larry Harvey, one of the Burning Man co-founders, tells: “I woke up and it was the solstice, and I thought “I’m tired of this.” So I called up a friend and I said “Let’s… let’s burn a man, Jerry.”

Two years before, Larry parted with his girlfriend and was seriously distressed with it. He remembered them celebrating the solstice together. Something pagan was in this beach action. They burned a sofa with two fully dressed dummies to the strains of shamanic music.

Larry Harvey and Jerry James built a man’s figure from useless wooden pieces about 2.5 m high and burned it on one of the San Francisco beaches in presence of 12 friends. To set the figure on fire, they used petrol, therefore the flame was great and bright. This drew an attention of people being around. So the first “festival” was attended by 35 people. This was in 1986.

Next year, Larry and Jerry decided to repeat the burning. In 1988, they seriously got down to business and released flyers and T-shirts. So, the history of Burning Man has started. Every year, not only the wooden mannequin heightened (from 2.5 up to 32 m), the number of spectators also rose (from 35 to 65,000). This is not just a festival. This is a special culture and philosophy.

Larry Harvey — Burning Man 1991
Re-creation of the First Burn http://burningman.org/timeline/#!/1986

10 main principles are declared:

  • Radical Inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical Self-reliance
  • Radical Self-expression
  • Communal Effort
  • Civic Responsibility
  • Leaving No Trace
  • Participation
  • Immediacy


Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)
  1. Burning Man is created by its participants. The organizers urge to be real participants, not just spectators. Only taking part in the festival can lead to obtaining new real experience in your life.
  2. No rubbish. Everything you brought with yourself should go out with yourself. “If it wasn’t inside you, don’t put it in the pot,” the organizers say on the Burning Man website.
  3. Nothing is bought and nothing is sold on Burning Man — reciprocation only! Two exceptions: Center Camp Cafe to buy coffee and Arctica to buy ice.
  4. Burning Man is made for pedestrians and cyclists. Only several representatives of public offices, service providers and persons who got accredited by the Department of Mutant Vehicles can drive cars there.
  5. Personal security is the responsibility of every participant. Particulars will follow.
  6. Don’t make noise. Treat your neighbors with respect. People whose installations contemplate the mounting of the sound systems should obey the festival regulations. They have to locate in special areas — Sound Art Zones.
  7. The visitors under 18 should be accompanied by parents or guardians. Children up to 12 visit the festival for free, from 12 to 18 — for full price.
  8. Pitching tents is allowed in special areas only.

How to become a good Burning Man citizen

These are the main rules. Obeying them is a prerequisite of having a good time side to side with thousands of other burners.

Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)
  1. Your tent should be pitched thoroughly and reliably. The night wind could be up to 120 km per hour, so everything which can tear off and fly away should be mounted well, otherwise it will tear off and fly away and can do some harm.
  2. If you want to spend your time with comfort, you can arrive in your pickup camper. There is a special zone for them.
  3. It is strictly prohibited to sell anything on the Burning Man festival. With and without benevolent intentions.
  4. Logos and advertising are also prohibited. Even if you arrived by a rented car you should paste over all logos of renting companies. So are the rules. Rules are for everyone.
  5. Pets are not allowed on the Burning Man festival. This is made both for the security of the participants and for the animals’ health. Burning Man is a noisy place, and your pet will likely be stressed seriously.
  6. Do not steal road signs. As obvious as this could seem, the initiators claim that lately the signs are stolen right after the opening. Meanwhile, not only visitors, but rescue services also need them.

If you agree with these principles, it’s time to go to the next step.

How to buy tickets to Burning Man

The tickets to BM are sold in several steps. But it is really hard to buy them. 20,000 tickets are sold in 20 minutes.

Strange as it may seem, the most expensive tickets go on advanced sale. They are intended for those who, amongst other things, want to help to reduce prices for discount tickets. Burning Man has its special Low Income Ticket Program.

Katya Vinnikova

Regional contact for Burning Man in Russia

Shares important dates for taking part in Burning Man.

— Up to November 30 — application for art grant.

— February 10 — application for ticket pre-sale to BM — 990 USD and 1200 USD per ticket

— February 25 — application for collective tickets (for yearly participants invited by BM)

— March 16 — main sale — application for individual tickets — 390 USD per ticket (signing in is compulsory)

— April 13 — application for those who didn’t manage to buy tickets during the main sale (STEP)

— July 27 — OMG sale application — 1000 additional tickets — 390 USD per ticket

— August 28–September 5 — Burning Man 2016!

More information about the tickets on the official website of the festival.


Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Tickets are bought. Now let’s check whether we have everything to “survive” on the festival with some comfort.

  1. Water, food and tent. You should have everything with you. You may be not allowed to visit the area if you would not comply with minimal claims for provision of your own security.
  2. Don’t forget ear plugs if you are going to sleep.
  3. Bicycle (with a lamp!) is an ideal vehicle for the area.
  4. 6 liters of water per person for a day — to drink and wash yourself.
  5. Water flask
  6. Medikit. The more the better.
  7. Everything for sun protection: cream, sunglasses, hat.
  8. Warm clothing. It could be really cold at nights — it is a desert, after all.
  9. Waste sacks and everything which helps you leave no trace at the place.
  10. Glasses and mask for dust protection.
  11. Flashlight (for instance, to fix on the forehead) and batteries.
  12. Reflector signs. For bicycles and clothes.
  13. Fire extinguishers, especially if your installation would burn or set fire.
  14. Good humor and funny bone. If you forget anything from the list, only other participants would help you, for nothing could be purchased on place.

Read here to see a full list of things you might need and to get to know how to return from the desert safe and sound.

Andrey Koval

Non-media director in the advertising agency Traffic Isobar

What should be taken with you as a must.

The best way to plan your luggage is to Google «burning man packing list», read it carefully, erase any outright bullshit like “axes” or “artificial trees” and buy or lend all the other elements.

The special attention should be paid to any light-emissive sources: flashlight in hand, on the forehead, on the bicycle, to hang near a tent. Everything is necessary.

At my first Burning Man, I made a mistake: in San Francisco I moved my belongings from the trolley to the huge backpack which weighed nearly 40 kg taking into account water and food. It was terribly unpleasant to go down the desert at +40ºC.

Burning Man has a strong soil everywhere. This is not Sahara or Gobi with their huge and unfixed barkhans. So it is absolutely OK to ride the bicycle and even wheel a heavy trolley.

How To Get To Burning Man

Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Burning Man locates at the desert of Black Rock, NV. If you are not from the USA, prepare for a long trip. Whencever you are going to Burning Man, there are three main hubs.

Reno-Tahoe international airport

From Reno airport, you need to get to Black Rock where Burning Man takes place. You can rent a car (from $200 per week). Or take a bus. Bus routes are organized from Reno airport to Black Rock City.

Information taken from the official website (2015) http://burningman.org
Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

San Francisco international airport

The distance between San Francisco airport and Black Rock is about 566 km. You can rent a car for approximately the same price (from $200 per week).

Also, you can reach your destination by bus organized by Burning Man:

Information taken from the official website (2015) http://burningman.org

Black Rock Municipal Airport

Another airport is situated nearly in 4 km from the Burning Man location. You can get here by a private plane. There is a list of companies which cooperate with Burning Man and have all the necessary licenses.

Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

The planes will suit every taste and budget. You may even find an option to split all expenses between all passengers (and sometimes a pilot, too!).

For a more detailed information, click this link.

How to take part in Burning Man

Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

The correct words are “to take part”. Not just “to be a visitor”. Your participation is a keystone of Burning Man. This is your gift for the community which would certainly return with good.

It is really difficult to invent and mount your own installation. It’s all about time and money. An original costume is also a good choice. But if you have decided to go to a desert for a week, it is probably worth to go nuts a bit more than usually. You can then tell something to your grandchildren. Or vice versa, take the secret to your grave :-)

Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

So. How to become a full-fledged Burning Man participant?

  1. Enlist as a volunteer. Let’s put it straight: this won’t give you a free ticket to BM. It’s just an opportunity to help and get an intimate glimpse to Burning Man. To become a witness of the event from the start to the very finish. Only years of volunteer work, when you get involved in complicated processes and become, for instance, a team leader, would provide you with a free ticket. But this would happen only when you are so absorbed with the community that a free ticket is the last thing you are thinking about.
  2. Make an art installation, a themed camping, a mutant vehicle, a performance. Only your own imagination and security regulations can stop you here. The Burning Man website contains a lot of advice — for instance, how to fir your camping or to get a license for an art vehicle.
Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Survival code

Pavel Vardishvili

Society column editor in Interview Russia

About tested lifehacks

— Sleep, sleep and sleep. Any free time. You never know when you can take a nap the next time. Usually, I allocated 5–6 hours for a sleep at night (because at dawn all important performers and Djs begin their sets), 3 hours at afternoon and an hour or two between my wanderings in the desert.

— Drink a lot of tea. Tea tents are distributed on the whole Burning Man area. Hundreds of sorts are poured out by competent people who can prompt which sort to drink (judging from your condition) and, as usual, cheer you up.

— Use numerous retreats and relaxation rooms. They are copious on each destination of the desert.

— Do not try to drink all alcohol possible. It consumes a lot of time and energy which would rather be spent for new discoveries.

— Choose poultry, not meat. It digests better and takes much more energy.

— If you are tired to walk or ride the bicycle, hop on the art cars passing by: usually they give you a lift, give something to drink and amuse.

How to hang out at Burning Man

Kirill Chekharin

Club event manager, CEO & Founder — HIGH

About Burning Man as a unique party place.

The most popular and well-known moveable dance floor is ROBOT HEART. We followed the heart of a robot for a long time and finally found it. When we got close by and saw that our friend Jamie Jones is operating ones and twos we decided to go inside the bus, say hello and observe this huge field of the beautiful people in the most different images and costumes from the platform. At the door there stood a tall guy — 2 meters probably. We came close, said hello and told him that we want upstairs, and one of us is NIKITA, the president of Kazantip! Offhandedly, he got down on his knees and repeating NIKITA let us pass. It was a real jumble and quite uncomfortable to stay for a long time, the music was also nearly not heard.

Photos from the personal archive of Kirill Chekharin

The next day, we had a “summit”. We were invited by Katya Vinnikova, the Burning Man regional contact in Russia. There was an undress brunch with Midsummer Night’s Dream organizers — Russian guys who created an installation “The Cradle of the World”, and the BM team, including its founder Larry Harvey. Nikita awarded him a medal, Melik and me were interpreters in their communication. But we can’t uncover the details because we have signed a non-disclosure paper.

Useful links for those who decided to participate:

Mutant Vehicles — rules and application

Event Camp — how to organize your themed camp: pieces of advice

Art-Performance — ideas and prompts for your performance

Volunteering — everything about Burning Man volunteering

SPARK — space to find like-minded people for creating your own project

The Jackrabbit Speaks — subscribe to the newsletter to be aware

Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Burning Man for 30 years of its existence has become something very large and multi-facetted. If you read stories written by people who were lucky to be there… I’m sure you don’t get to know anything. Someone writes about nude people, someone is shocked by collective masturbation sessions. Other people tell about an outstanding creative atmosphere and pieces of art.

Some experienced burners claim that Burning Man is past prime — we know this rhetoric, don’t we? It is too commercial. It became one more leisure area for wealthy office people. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Elon Mask were already seen there.

Photo by Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

It seems to me, for some reason, that such powerful cultural formations as Burning Man are already beyond the control of their creators. As banal as it may seem, they belong to everybody and nobody. So Burning Man is a must-see event — at least once in a time, but in earnest: with all these costumes, mutant cars, installations and sessions of collective… Well, we’ll see!

Author: Valeriy Bespalov




Adaptive Travel Guides with in-car integration. New standard for virtual guidance and storytelling.