5 excellent tips for camping in the desert for Burning Man

Burning Man
The Burning Man still stands. Photo: Courtesy of Forty2/Flickr
Next month (Aug. 28 to Sept. 5), more than 60,000 people from around the world will congregate in desert Nevada to create the temporary metropolis of creative expression, Burning Man.

But one does not simply arrive in Black Rock City if that one is smart. Burning Man is outside and in an environment few people ever experience. Whether joining a band of other misfit creatives or going it alone, these five tips will ensure you’re ready to survive and celebrate.

The necessities

Burning Man
An aerial view shows the temporary desert Black Rock City, home to Burning Man. Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Harmon
The only thing you buy is the ticket to get into Burning Man. Once inside you’re on your own … sort of. For example, no vendors exist to purchase or restock supplies so pack like you’re camping in the desert, which you very much are.

Nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the Black Rock Desert is a land of extremes. A flat, prehistoric lake bed, composed of a hardpan alkali, its daytime temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime lows dipping in the 40s. Pack as if you’re going skiing and to the beach in one week. Meaning heavy coat and a bikini.

Have some shade for your camp and lay low during the hottest part of the day. Apply sunscreen every morning and repeat as needed.

The air, where humidity is extremely low, sucks your moisture as though every pore is a straw. For water, the Burning Man website recommends 1.5 gallons of water per person per day, which should cover drinking and cooking needs for most people.

Other standard needs for camping include sunscreen, tent, flashlight, and be sure bring goggles and a dust mask for whiteouts.

The extras

Burning Man
The unicorn parade celebrates Burning Man 2010. Photo: Courtesy of brownose/Flickr
Sunglasses and sun hats will be your best friends as will lip balm and salves for the cracks sure to come to your lips, hands and feet in the dry climate.

And what’s Burning Man without a costume? Maybe a wig, some spray paint, plywood, a unicorn horn, glitter and endless imagination?

Some survival tips

Go only with people you know and trust and have traveled with before. For when things gets rough (and they will, guaranteed, at some point), you don’t want to be a crew that lets you down (or no crew at all).

If you bring a tent, throw away your tent stakes and get rebar: lots and lots of rebar.

Tie your stuff down, and when you think it’s good and safe, add more rope. Flying tents turn into weapons in the storms (and there will certainly be storms).

Remember Mad Max? Whiteouts are just as serious in real life and a possibility at Burning Man. Visibility and light/shadow contrast reduce to nothing from diffused light caused by blizzards or sand storms. Horizon lines and shadows disappear, reference points are gone. People can become disoriented in their backyards, let alone on over 4,000 acres.

Seek immediate shelter and stay there. Now’s the time to use the goggles and dust mask you brought. If you’re far from shelter, sit down, cover your face with your shirt and wait. Look for moving vehicles. If you’re the one driving, stop and wait for the air to clear.

Outside etiquette

Burning Man is more than a celebration of artistic freedom, it’s an ethic to live by for the sake of the planet. Live it, love it and clean it. That means everything you bring with you leaves with you.

If you’re unsure what constitutes your trace, the official Burning Man website has an acronym to help you out. Called MOOP (Matter Out of Place) is anything not originally of the land where Burning Man takes place.

Examples of MOOP include rebar, tent stakes, abandoned art, abandoned camps and any other abandoned stuff. Then there’s greywater and blackwater, which is water used for cooking, cleaning, washing, urine, anything you can thinking of using water for.

Boxes and cardboard, splinters, bark, palettes, sawdust, paper, all of these count because, while often considered “organic,” wood like this is not native to Black Rock City.

Dunes are also particularly interesting because while they may look natural in “Lawrence of Arabia,” their existence in Black Rock City is anything but.

The Black Rock Desert is known to be one of the flattest stretches of land on Earth. Dunes form when windblown dust bounces off stationary objects and piles on the ground. Even a pen can start a dune. Once begun, they’re unstoppable, except by us. Caught early, tools like a landscape rake can stop dunes.

How to clean

Rakes, magnets, push brooms, shovels and vice grips will be your best friend. Partner up with your entire camp. Burning Man, from start to finish, is not a solo event and every person counts — especially during cleanup. Make a game of it.

Finally, celebrate. You came, you saw, you survived and you contributed to a celebration of love, art and the Earth.

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The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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