Surviving Burning Man
Are you headed to Burning Man for the first time?
If so, then this book, “Surviving Burning Man: A Packing List for First-Tiimers” is a must read! Author Jessie Newburn not only recommends WHAT to bring to Burning Man but WHY to bring it.
In her essential guide to packing for Burning Man, she offers stories, insights and a thorough list of what to bring, sorted and organized by categories such as Tent Setup, Footwear, Lights, Transportation, Day Clothes, Night Clothes, Body Care, Sleeping and much more.
Tips for Organizing your Tent and Gear
Shelves are a pro tip. No question about it. You absolutely need places 1) to put stuff quickly and 2) to find stuff quickly. Shelves are one of the best solutions. I place mine right by the opening door of my tent.
I like the easy-setup 3-tier shelves from Origami. It’s an all-in-one system, and there isn’t a single small critical “something you need to put up your shelf” that you can lose. They’re brilliant and perfect for Burning Man and camping.
Trust me on this one. Bring shelves.
Open baskets or small bins
For your shelves to be even that much more functional, bring a half dozen or so small bowls, baskets or bins. (Make sure these all stack for easy packing.) Use these bowls to store items on your shelves. Clump like with like, e.g. quick-access lights and blinkies (including your headlamp) in one bowl; some admin items such as a small notepad, pens, sharpies and scissors in another bowl; hard candies or quick-grab snacks in another bowl; maybe even a bowl just for small miscellaneous items that you have no idea where to put… whatever works for you. I cannot overemphasize how much you will appreciate having these open baskets for dropping “like” items into.
A small nightstand with drawers
Again, my tent is my home for at least 10 days when I’m at the playa. Often longer when I come in for build week, and, oh, do I ever love build week. A small plastic 2-drawer unit will make a world of difference in finding things. Having a nightstand and a place to put things “by your bed” and a “misk” (miscellaneous) drawer below where you throw all the little things that you don’t know where to put can make a huge difference in your experience.
Many a burner can attest that looking for things you know you have—but have no idea as to where they are—can be rather frustrating. It’s one thing to look for a pair of earrings you’d like to wear. It’s another thing to look for your eye drop solution that you need because your eyes are fried after being out in a dust storm.
Having a semblance of order in your tent can help balance out the wildness and expansion of the open playa. Personally, I really like a small nightstand both for the table surface and for storing smaller personal items by my bed area.
A place to put admin items
Pick an area in your tent, preferably one out of the way of your everyday activities, and have some sort of container and place to put important items such as your car keys, cash, drivers license and meds. Do this right away when you set up your tent. You really don’t want to be searching for your car keys on packdown day.
Drawers and containers
Most people pack their bags and suitcases rather tightly when they are preparing for Burning Man. So what happens when you get there? You open your suitcase or bin and go digging through all that tightly packed gear for an item or two. You take a few things out of your bins to look for that item you know is down at the bottom of your bin. Well, you’re pretty sure it’s there. Before you know it, your stuff seems to have exploded and is all over the place.
Unless you drove in and miraculously packed all your gear in exact containers from which you’ll be accessing your stuff, you’re going to need to re-sort your gear once you set up your tent. You need places to put the things you’re re-sorting and organizing. I know you already have shelves and bins because you followed the Pro Tip above, but what else can you do?
Some people bring drawers, like the plastic two- or three-drawer units. Some people use a lot of large, XL, XXL and Ziploc brand bags. Whatever your vision is, you need a plan. You need to have places to put the things you crammed into your bins and suitcases. You need containers: bags, bins, shelves, drawers… whatever makes sense to you.
I usually sort like things with like. All my socks together, all my warm sleeping garments in a bag, all my light linen tops together, all my lights together, all my dried or canned food in one container, et cetera, but I can only do that if I have containers to put things into. Lots of containers.
I used to rely more on large ziploc bags, and I’m not against them (and I still use them); however, I’m moving more toward cloth bags and, actually, mesh bags. I can see through and into the mesh bags better than I can see through the ziplock bags. And then, once sorted, I put those bags inside my shipping bins and suitcases to keep the dust off of them.
If you’ve yet to go to The Thing in the Desert, you cannot comprehend how same-same the dust makes everything appear… even items inside your tent! Say you’re an experienced camper. You’ve done all sorts of festivals or outdoor adventures. You know how to provision and set up your tent, but have you done this setup in an environment where everything starts to look the same? Where distinguishing items and finding your supplies becomes oddly more challenging because all your stuff has the same tinge of playa dust color on it? The dust coats everything, and even the contents of a ziplock bag are harder to see because of the dust on the outside of the bag. Be prepared for the dust, and your time on playa will go more smoothly.
Drawers can be helpful. Or bins. Or XL Ziplocs. Whatever you use, is your call, of course. Just make sure to bring a bunch of containers of different sizes so that you can reorganize your stuff once you’ve arrived.
This came as a suggestion from someone who saw my list. I have yet to use this approach, but I like it and probably will use it in the future. Make sure you get a tackle box that closes really, really well.
Small open basket by your bed
I pack a fair amount of personal care and toiletry items. This makes me happy and it helps me feel more prepared. I also take a few minutes to pull out my multiple-times-a-day toiletries from my extensive-care toiletries. I keep what I need for brushing my teeth plus eye drops, nasal spray and Q-Tips (for cleaning my eyes and ears) accessible in a small bin by my nightstand. Easier to find; easier to use. All my other toiletries and personal care items I put in a drawer or container and store them there.
Dirty clothes hamper
Get a pop-up mesh hamper and use it to put your dirty (and often sweaty) clothes in. Hampers can also be helpful for hanging items to air dry inside your tent. You may want to wear some items again, so you want them to dry out but not be mixed back in with your clean clothes. You may not be ready to commit these clothes to the dirty clothes pile. A mesh hamper works well for these cases.
Clothes rack and hangers
Having a place to hang a few clothing items, especially night-time items you wear again and again, and a bar to throw a few items on is very helpful. It also helps get some items up off the floor to be more visible. Anything replicating home living in terms of organization can be surprisingly helpful when everything you’ve packed is covered in dust. Having hanging space might be overkill for you, and I don’t bring a clothes rack every year, but I often do.
Small trash can
It’s helpful (order-making) to have a small trash can in your tent, not a plastic bag, but an actual trash can. It needn’t be big. Line it with used plastic shopping bags.
Many people bring stadium chairs. If you’re flying in, a chair is a hard thing to bring, though a relatively inexpensive item to purchase. If you’re driving in, it’s an easy enough item to pack in a car. Your camp may have them already. (They tend to accumulate.) Ask around.
I like to cover my suitcases and bins with a cloth when I’m not accessing them, so I pack a few sheets and some light-weight cloth for that purpose. I’m not zipping my suitcase back to perfect closure after accessing one thing, and my stuff gets strewn around a bit. I don’t have false visions of dust-free clothes and gear, but the extra layer of cloth protection helps keep things a bit less dusty.
“Even if you don’t like being told what to do, and I don’t, this book is so matter of fact and informative you’ll find yourself going along with almost all of the suggestions. And, if you don’t plan to ever go to Burning Man, you still might read all of it because reading it feels like you are there, but without the dust.”
– Annemarie H.
“I loved reading this book. I read it cover to cover in one afternoon, as I was getting super excited about my first burn – my 50th birthday present to myself! I definitely think I will travel lighter than Jessie, but I appreciated that when I read her chapters, I was asked to consider all of the things she found useful, and then I could make an informed decision about whether or not I might want/need that thing. I found plenty of useful things I would not have thought about – folding shelves & bins, and Slovenian Salt for example! For anyone going to the burn for the first time, I highly recommend spending a couple of hours with this book, and deciding for yourself how much of it to incorporate into your burn.”
“So helpful!! I downloaded this about a week before my virgin burn and it was incredibly valuable. There were so many gems I never would have known about. Vinegar for my feet! Hammer and Cyclery! Peaches in syrup! This book helped me stay healthy, comfortable (as much as one can be in 105F in the desert), and happy. Most importantly, it kept me from being an unprepared mooch on my campmates. I strongly recommend this surprisingly well written book for anyone headed to Black Rock City for the first time. Jessie Newburn is a talented writer and a true hero of Burning Man.”
– Frankie A.