Adam Smith

How To: Go to burning man

March, 2013

So you'd like to go to burning man? Awesome!

Burning man is one of my favorite things I've ever done. What follows is a take on what I would tell anyone coming with me to burning man for the first time.

There are many different ways to go to burning man. This is just how I do it.

Getting a ticket

It's best if you can get a ticket straight from Burning Man rather than through the secondary market. What it takes to get a ticket has been changing each year as they evolve their system.

If you don't get a ticket, buying one on the secondary market is, in my opinion, a good option. I've tracked the prices on the secondary market for the last two years. In short, once tickets sell out the price of a ticket on eBay spikes really high, and goes down over time, usually bottoming out one or two weeks before burning man. It's probably safe to assume you'll be able to get a ticket and delay buying one until you think the price has stabilized or you think market liquidity is drying up.

When to go

Burning man is a 7-8 day event. While I like to go for longer, I recommend for all first timers to leave San Francisco Wednesday morning, so you'll arrive Wednesday night, and to leave Burning Man Sunday at 6 or 7am, the morning after the man burns.

The RV

Burning man is in the desert, so it gets really hot during the day. The daytime is best for exploring, chilling with friends, and maybe some partying, but most partying happens at night. Typically everyone rolls out of camp to go adventuring around 10pm, and stays out until about 4:30 or 5. (There's so much to do and explore!)

So you get to sleep around 5. The sun comes up around 8. By 8:30 if you're in a tent it's 120 degrees in your tent. Thus the RV, and its main value proposition: air conditioning!

The next best alternative to an RV is a shade structure of some kind that is open so wind can blow through. Lots of people do this but at least for me I've found RV's to be best.

Typically our group has a few RV's. The most important thing about RV planning is it needs to be done early, as by the time July or August rolls around you're only going to find overpriced RV's that you have to pick up in Sacramento/elsewhere.

As a group we need to come up with better RV planning mechanisms, but because I try to get new people to come every year (so far), I try to manually coordinate one or two RV's each year.

Newbie action item: tell Adam you want a spot in an RV as early as possible!


Burning man is a big place. You'll want to have a bike to get around. (And you'll need a lock as well.)

You can either bring your own bike (RV's are helpful for driving bikes back and forth), or you can rent one. If you bring your own bike, know that it will come back with dust all over it.

To rent a bike, go to Hammer and Cyclery, and pay $200. ($100 is a deposit that will be refunded when you return your bike.) I recommend you do this ASAP as they often sell out. The $100 price to rent a bike is a bit on the high side, but it means you don't have to worry about anything other than picking up your bike when you first arrive at burning man, and the money goes to support the camp's free bike repair service that runs during all of burning man, which they offer to anyone including people who brought their own bike. (A nice thing to remember if you ever get a busted tire/etc as the playa can be harsh on bikes.)


Our tradition is that the RV stops at the Walmart in Reno, Nevada on the way up to burning man to pick up food and other last minute supplies. (Some RV's in our group may decide to do this the day before they depart so they can get to burning man faster once they head out.)

So basically all you need to know is you don't need to buy food beforehand, unless you have special dietary needs.

Burning man clothes / outfits

To understand how people dress at burning man, do a Google Image search for “burning man”, and peruse. You can buy costumes in advance online, but the best decor is a little more hippy than your stereotypical halloween outfits. I've found success (or I should probably say “my best” :) ) through a combination of halloween-esque costumes and buying random clothes from second-hand clothing store in San Francisco. If you're feeling especially yuppie, do a search on etsy for “burning man” a few months before the event.

Pretty much anything goes. Have fun with it! : )

You'll probably want a couple of different changes of clothes, but I've had years where I e.g. wore the same pants out every night.

First timers almost always underestimate how cold the desert can be at night. Err on the side of having too many layers / too many warm clothing items.

Other supplies / what to bring

Other than food, there are lots of supplies you'll need at burning man. Although people will help you fill in holes where they can, you're expected to bring everything you're going to need.

To do that, I buy supplies from Amazon in one big order. If you forgot anything you can pick it up at the Walmart on the drive up (though sometimes they sell out of things, e.g. sleeping bags), and your last fallback is your campmates.

This isn't exactly true, but basically anything you take to burning man (aside from things like cameras and ipads) generally you shouldn't expect to ever use them again outside of burning man, because it will get dirty. For example, instead of taking your suitcase you should consider just using trash bags to hold your stuff.

(If you take your own bicycle, some bike shops in SF offer burning man cleaning after you get back for around $40 or so.)

You can Google search for “burning man packing list” to see others' lists, but here's my packing list that I've curated for myself over the years:

  • burning man ticket (worst mistake is you leave this at home!)
  • bike + bike lock
  • Saline nasal spray (optional)
  • Vinegar (for getting dust hands and feet, optional)
  • Really warm clothes at night (e.g. leg warmers on legs and arms), more socks than you'd think
  • Shoes (NOT sandles! sandles are only useful for walking around camp ime)
  • Sunglasses
  • goggles (for dust storms)
  • dust mask(s) that are industrial grade, e.g. head straps that aren't cheap / won't snap (recommended: 3M 9211's, 1.5 per person per day)
  • backpack and camelbak bladders (when you go out to explore this will carry any stuff you need PLUS water; if you're a couple one person can carry water and other vodka redbull)
  • pack a baggy with clean clothes for the ride back (don't wear at bm)
  • sun shower (optional)
  • ear plugs (optional)
  • a warm hat for evening (not at all optional)
  • glow sticks, EL wire (for your body / bike at night; nothings worse than someone riding a bike at night not lit up; see “burning man” google image search for how people use lights at night for safety and decoration)
  • optional: the small velcro finger lights / "rave hands" -- NOT the finger lights with elastic bands (don't order from Amazon; misleading listings)
  • sandwich size plastic bags to keep electronics in when not in use
  • duct tape (optional)
  • Wet naps
  • of course burning man clothes / costumes
  • TONS of sunscreen (prefer the lotion kind v.s. spray on; can also buy this @ Walmart)
  • headlamp (for night time light when needed, and/or one for bike)
  • scissors (optional)
  • power splitters (optional)
  • hand lotion
  • MRE's (optional; just another source of food)
  • Briefs underwear (better than boxers ime for burning man)
  • Bedding (sleeping bag / pillow / etc)
  • Towel

Things to can buy at walmart on ride up (non-exhaustive):

  • (a lot of this stuff is per-RV not per-person)
  • dish soap
  • microwave popcorn
  • lawn chairs (if feeling ambitious)
  • gas containers (two 6 gallons) and corresponding gas (extra gas for RV air conditioner)
  • food that is reasonably healthy, does not need refrigeration (e.g. nuts, clif bars)
  • chili, chips, steak, etc
  • Odwalla Superfood, Gatorades, parents choice pediatric electrolyte drinks
  • Red bull, vodka, etc
  • a big, thick Sharpee
  • 1.5 gallons of water per person per day (plus water for sun shower)
  • trash bags
  • wet ones / wet naps


This feels like a lot of work so I don't want to put it all out there without ending with a summary of my pitch for going to burning man.

As I mentioned, burning man is one of the top things I've ever done in life. Of all of the trips you can do: go to the beach, to vegas, to the woods, skiing, to a foreign country, or to burning man, burning man has been the most distinct and enriching by a large margin.



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