the basic essentials of burning man: a packing list

As of today, I have 14 days until I leave with Robin and Nathan for Burning Man 2012.

I am not even remotely prepared. I can't even pretend that I am remotely prepared. The two people I'm travelling with are two burn-virgins, too, so I am somehow the most experienced leader of our little pack in spite of being the one with the least resources to pull on to prepare. To help them, however, I've put together a pretty good basic packing list.

In order to properly survive Burning Man, you need:

A tent with serious tent pegs and a shade. A sleeping surface. Warm bedding. A bicycle with a basket and a headlight and a lock. A big cooler. A camelbak style hydration pack. High SPF spray-on sunscreen. A sun hat. A warm hat. A warm coat, the fluffier and bigger the better. El-wire, battery operated string lights, or other equivalent light sources to attach to your bicycle, your bag, and your self. Two headlamps. A dust mask. Goggles. A week of food. A week of water. A camp-stove and fuel. Boots that go past your ankle. A camp chair. A light for your tent. A hair-brush or comb. Wet-wipes. Vinegar. Duct-tape. Batteries. Zipties. A pocket belt with clips. A small tub or pot. A first aid kit. Wrist or pocket watch. Luggage tags to put on your tent, your bag, and your bicycle. Sunglasses. Ear plugs. Antiperspirant. Toiletries kit. Daytime summer clothes. Superglue. Scissors. Nighttime winter clothes. Anti-chafing powder or gel. A flashlight. A kilt or pants with pockets. A water bottle. Energy and vitamin drink-mix powder like Zip-fizz or equivalent. A travel mug. Toilet paper. Playa Friend Map. Bike tire repair kit. Bicycle chain lube.  Safety-pins. Lip-balm. Soap. Dry shampoo. Bungee cords. Ziplock bags. Cocoa butter. Sanitizer. Carabineer clips. A folding hand fan. A mirror. A cooking pot. A hammer. A good knife. Extra socks. Trash bags. A multitool like a leatherman. Raincoat. A sharpie. A set of silverware. A lighter. Condoms. A towel. Moisturizer. Make-up. Costumes, including a tutu for Tuesday.

If you wear glasses: Glasses repair kit, spare glasses, lens cloth.
If you wear contacts: Contacts, extra eye drops, spare glasses, lens cloth.

Anything on top of that is gravy. You should, of course, bring fun things – stuff to share, bucky domes, toys, bubble guns, musical instruments, flags, water guns, parasols, stilts, crazy art, fire dancing tools, stackable snap-top bins or plastic drawers to keep your stuff sorted, lanterns, shade structures, hammocks, gifts, or whatever sort of general fabulousness your creative fancy can conceive – but on the whole, those are your survival basics. You might get by without safety pins or scissors, but bring them anyway. Treat everything on the list as a requirement for your own safety. 

If you bring a camera: The playa is made of a corrosive alkaline dust. Use tape, like electrical tape, to seal every seam on your camera. (Underwater protection bags suck.) Bring a large memory card and a usb cable to dump your photos with, so you don't have to open your camera. Try to charge your battery through usb only. Keep any lens not attached to your camera in a heavy-duty ziplock bag. Also bring, if you can, a tripod or mini tripod and a remote flash.

Do Not Bring: Anything that sheds MOOP, Matter Out Of Place, like feather boas or chunky glitter or sequins. Bananas. Made-in-china style swag "gifts" to share. (Gifts should be beautiful/interesting/useful.) Red twizzlers. Seriously, just don't. 

Pre-playa preparedness: Car tune-up. Bicycle tune-up, including el-wire installation. Fill your prescriptions. Give the Burning Man Emergency contact link to appropriate parties. Read the Burning Man Survival Guide. Extra key for your vehicle, plus a magnetic thinger to stick it to your car with. Buy your water as close to Burning Man as possible. Water is heavy and will negatively effect your gas mileage. Seal one set of clean clothes in a zip-lock for your return trip. Double-check you have the appropriate accessories for everything you are bringing, such as batteries, a can opener, an air mattress repair kit or power-cords. (You may not have electricity or internet but other people will and if you ask nicely, some of them will let you use it. There is also internet at Center Camp.) Seal anything metal, like batteries, in a zip-lock. 

Edibles: I recommend vacuum sealing your week's worth of food and freezing the bags flat before putting them in your cooler so that each meal acts as an ice-pack. Try to put aside at least two favourite meals. If you can, have enough food to share. Try to give away your left-overs to save on possible spoilage. Also bring MRE's, meal-in-a-bottle drinks like Ensure, canned fruit, fruit cups, energy drinks, energy/protein bars, oranges, dried fruit, smushed fruit food like apple sauce, pickles, cheese, chocolate, summer sausage, pudding snacks, crackers, cookies, juice boxes, candy, and other assorted shelf-stable snacky things. You won't want to eat meals during the day, but you're constantly using more energy than usual, so you need a lot of small, quick hits of calories. Playa makes sugar taste better. Bringing extra alcohol is also good to offer to others. (Bailey's is especially appreciated by those that usually drink cream or milk in their morning coffee).

While on the playa: Leave all of your valuables locked in your vehicle, including your wallet, especially on the Burn Nights, Saturday and Sunday. Carry hydrating liquids, goggles, and a dust mask with you at all times. You may only intend to be gone five minutes, but you may not end up back for five hours. Even sober, the shiny things will distract you. Be visible at night or die. Remember your ticket is a waiver for death and act accordingly. Because the playa is alkaline, try to soak your feet in vinegar water at least once every two days to keep yourself from chemical burn and injury. Most people do so while eating breakfast to help beat the heat. Garbage, if burnable, should be put in a fire barrel. Large fire barrels are provided at each keyhole plaza at the end of the week for trash disposal.

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