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Packing for Constellation, a Burning Man regional

As I am wont to do, after camping and various other trips, I take some packing notes. What worked well? What would I do differently? What are some specific variables and conditions to consider for this type of trip, or that type of event?

When I first attended Constellation Burn in the ever-so-lovely mountains outside of Elkins, West Virginia, I found myself a bit unprepared for the weather and conditions. And so I offer you these insights about the weather and recommendations of what you may wish to pack.

tl;dr

It can be wet and cold at night. Pack wool. Lots of it.

Weather at Constellation Burn

Hello, mountains

Constellation is held on in the hills of West Virginia. The nearby town of Elkins, West Virginia has an elevation of about 2,000 feet, and Constellation’s location is even higher up. As mountains do–has its own ecosystem — morning, afternoon, evening and night.

Also note: The weather data you’ll get from an app using Elkins WV as your location will not match exactly the weather you’ll experience at the event. I believe it’s a bit warmer and less windy there.

The nights are often cold, wet and misty

I’ve been to rather cold-weather Constellations. I’ve been to fairly reasonable-weather Constellations.

Still … weather it’s a warmer-weather year or a colder- one, the weather is almost certainly going to be misty, cold and wet at some point in the night. Or at least during some part of the weekend.

That cold mist, that dampness, can penetrate all your clothes, all your fabrics and even into dem  bones of yours.

I would not recommend you pack simply for “cold,” as in wintry conditions.

I do recommend you pack for conditions that will likely be cold and WET.

The days can be shockingly sunny, bright and cloudless

My first time attending Constellation, I weathered a rather cold, wet and misty night, woke to a cold,  wet and misty morning, and sighed heavily at the thought of a weekend without end of cold, wet and misty weather.

But then, later in morning, the fog burned away, the sun came out and suddenly it was bright, sunny and rather warm. Oh, joy of joys.

Then came the next punch. The skies were also cloudless. Someone explained to me that  something to do with the elevation of our location and being above the cloud line made this happen. IDK. I just know it can get bright, hot and shockingly sunny in the day. The kind of weather that might just fry you if you’re not prepared.

So, be prepared. Pack your sundresses, your shorts, and your light breezy clothes, too.

Quick shifts in temperature

Mountain = temperamental weather = shifts = be prepared, especially during the day hours.

When you leave camp at lunchtime to wander out, maybe bring a layer. The wind can uptick quickly. Or a cloud can roll in, and suddenly that hot bright sun that was warming is not so hot and not so  generously beaming heat anymore.

Also, just like at “the big burn,” once the sun starts to set, it’s time to consider heading back to camp. The temps drop quickly as the sun sets–and, as you know, the sun sets earlier in the day in October than it does at summer events. Sometimes it can get kinda cold and misty in the evening.

The late night can warm up a bit

It’s often a bit warmer later in the night than earlier in the evening. Go figure.

Recommendations

A#1 Tip: Pack Wool

I am an advocate, a proselytizer, a preacher and a broken record for good measure when it comes to recommending people bring wool for warmth. Wool is particularly magical in protecting you from the soft rain, from the damp and from conditions you’re likely to experience at Constellation.

Pack wool

Pack lots of wool.

Pack wool for ALL parts of your body — feet, legs, hands, wrists, arms, torso, head and neck.

Pack various weights of wool (you can wear light wool during the day, especially in the morning and with the wind and wet conditions) for layers, for options, for warmth.

Pack wool to share and gift. (Older sweaters, holy gloves, pieces that shrunk and no longer fit… bring it all.)

Put wool blankets on the floor of your tent

A good friend of mine who manages the camping section at one of the near-to-me REI stores says he and many others who camp go to army surplus stores and purchase the old wool blankets they sell. Then they use them to line the bottom floor area of their tents.

Personally, I mostly use wool-only afghans, but it’s the wool nature of the blanket, not the type that it is, that matters most here. I like to put a layer of wool blankets covering the entire floor of my tent. I find they provide comfort, warmth, coziness and cushioning.

So pack wool blankets — BRING SEVERAL if you have them.

Wool protects you from the damp

Not only does wool clothing absorb and hold up to 40% of its weight in water, but it magically keeps you warm with your body heat trapped inside the your clothing, even when the wool is a bit wet. (Soaked is another story.)

Inevitably, especially at night, you’re going to have on  as you come in and out of your tent–sometimes just to grab something real quick. A wool blanket on the floor of your tent will not only make your tent cozier and warmer, but it will absorb any dampness you track into your tent from the boots or shoes you’re wearing. 

A wool blanket can be also used as a poncho, or as an extra blanket for warmth at night if you need it.

A word about fancy night-time outfits

Yeah, you might get lucky. Yeah, the weather might be unseasonably warm and uncharacteristically dry, but me? I wouldn’t show up at Constellation with visions of fancy and fabulous night outfits unless I had also figured out how I was going to keep warm. The weather is not a joke.

Maybe wearing some base layers of merino wool undergarments will do the trick. Maybe adding a hat to keep some body heat in you will do you good. Maybe you need to figure out how to get nice thick wool wrist warmers built into your outfit. And you might want to make your outfit work with shoes that will allow you to wear wool socks inside them.

A word about jeans, cotton

Y’all know the saying, right? Cotton kills.

It’s very, very likely to be wet and misty at some point, possibly raining (though the mist can be rain-like enough!).

It will never be sunny enough in October in West Virginia for those jeans you wore then sat down on a wet chair in to then fully dry in the day’s sun. It’ll never be hot enough in October in West Virginia for that one pair — and only one pair — of boots you brought to fully dry out.

… and shoes

I know many a person wear but one pair of shoes (typically hiking boots or something) for the entirety of the event. I recommend bringing a couple/few/several pairs of shoes:

  1. Definitely some sort of hiking boot/shoe for camp build and pack down, for “hiking” many “laps” around the event space over several days (and on rocky roads) — you want shoes that will give you support and foot padding in such conditions),
  2. A second pair of hiking, take-some-hits-for-you type of shoes (could be a pair of sneakers),
  3. Sunny-day shoes, but still ones with support and, personally, I’d still recommend covered toes as the grass in some areas can be a bit high and poke-y, and
  4. Shearling (such as Uggs and other brands) shoes or boots (omg, omg, omg … yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!).

I always pack shearling slippers or boots when I camp. Sometimes you just need your feet to be nice and toasty inside the warmth of shearling-lined boots.

I’d add to this list of shoes to bring, slips on. You just need slips on for when you’re zipping out of your tent for a sec, or doing something quick. Crocs, wedges, slip-ons. Whatevs. They’re useful. Bring ’em if you have ’em.

Socks

Wet feet inside of wet cotton socks inside of wet shoes sounds miserable to me. Doesn’t it sound rather miserable to you?

Bring several pairs, in several thicknesses, of wool socks because toasty feet inside of wool socks inside of damp shoes sounds much better to me.

Misk

Misk. That’s what our Aussie campmates at Burning Man said when referring to anything miscellaneous: misk.

Camping under trees?

There’s little shade at Constellation. If you do elect to camp under trees, you’re essentially camp in a night time ecosystem of rain. The trees will “rain” on your tent and camp area if it’s one of the mistier nights … and it’s quite often misty. It’s not a bad thing. Just be aware.

The ride in, a cherry on top

If you’re arriving from 70 heading west, and if you’re arriving or departing during daylight, I highly recommend taking the scenic route in. I did it the first time in a 16-foot box truck. (The route does have some hills up and some hills down and some hills going round and round.)

The scenic route adds about 20 minutes to the total ride. 

I love this burn!

I love this burn! I find Constellation super sweet, very well-organized and well-produced. I like the vibe of the people and the mix of folks who attend. I even love (well, appreciate) the weather extremes. There’s more and more art … and even an art car or two.