Intimidated by your first Burn? Great, you’ll probably do fine. The good news is that for many, the months of prepping for Burning Man is almost as fun and fulfilling as attending. There is a lot of quality info out there, and when on the playa, there are plenty of people prepared to help you if you tried, but didn’t get everything exactly right.
1. Come prepared, but don’t overspend. Read several packing/shopping lists and do your best to figure out which ones will meet your personal goals at Burning Man. Here’s our list. Here are our cost estimates for coming prepared. Note, we link to other people’s lists because the way we prepare is perfect for us…and probably no one else. So check several sources, and if anyone tells you one list is the only one you need, you’re getting bum advice.
Don’t bring any material object you can't bare to lose. You’re going to lose and break stuff. Buy cheap, cool sunglasses… I buy ten pair of $7 sunglasses. The first person to compliment them gets that pair and I pull out my backup for the day. A great gift, and people lose their sunglasses all the time. I leave my $50 pair at home.
Make a packing list, and pack weeks before the Burn. You’ll become more familiar where your gear is stored, and you will have time to reflect on what you are bringing. If you pack last minute or don’t have a packing list, you’re going to forget something or be unable to find it. And resist the temptation to spend much at the last minute thinking “oh, this might be nice….” Be intentional and well thought out. Don’t be impulsive.
Etsy is great… but not as good as going to Goodwill and making your own clothing and jewelry. Men: buy some women’s clothing. Women: buy a cool formal dress for $25. Then get together, scissors in hand, and modify them to be awesome on the playa. We love all of Halycon’s Hug Nation videos. His "costume” video is one of the best.
2a. Come mentally prepared. Be ready for everything to go wrong… Well, actually be prepared for everything to go 100% right, but very different than you expected. Some people who plan extensively have challenges because things don’t go as they had envisioned. Come with an attitude of deep acceptance that weather may suck, it may rain, your tent may get damaged on day one. Each of these can ruin the experience for those who are wed to an outcome. Those who are excited by everything, have great experiences every year. Rain? Two words: “Mud Orgy”. Lost your tent? Time to make new lifelong friends. Seriously, adversity will hit. Be ready to have mental challenges. And be ready to let go and move on.
2b. Don’t fight with loved-ones at the Burn. This is part of mental preparation - you need to commit to this before you leave for the playa. And it is a tricky one. Walk on to the Playa with an agreement that any conflict between you and you loved ones has a 30 minute time limit. After 30 minute, no matter what has happened, you will reconnect. If the issue you’ve encountered is big enough, it will still be there after you’ve gotten home and decompressed for a few days, an agree that any unresolved issues will be addressed… when you are home and well rested.
At the Burn
1b. Don’t get arrested or cited on the playa for drugs. It’s very easy to avoid: Don’t buy, sell, barter or gift drugs. If you are bringing drugs, bring only enough for yourself, and don’t offer anyone else anything illegal. Buying gets you a citation, selling gets you arrested. If you don’t have the skill to buy and bring drugs to BRC, you don’t have the skill to buy drugs on the playa. Remember, no Burner sells anything at the playa, so if someone is trying to get cash from you, reflect on the odds this is going to go poorly for you.
1b. Don’t get arrested or cited for being a jerk. Don’t get overly intoxicated and become a danger to yourself or others. You will not get arrested for being drunk or high. You will be arrested for doing dangerous things drunk or high. You’ll ruin yours or other’s experience by being out of control.
2. The Black Rock Rangers are your friend. They have your back. They aren’t the police, they don’t report most things to the police. If you are having a bad drug experience, they will get your psychiatric or medical assistance. Zendo Project is also your friend if you are using drugs. Learn about them and where they are. We volunteer each year for this organization, and please consider contributing resources or time if you can.
3. Lock bikes and generators. Every year people’s bikes disappear as someone decides they need a ride more than you do. It sucks. So decorate in a novel way, and lock it up. People also go to Burning Man to steal small portable generators. Lock them up more securely than you think. A long cable lock to your car is a start, but then add a computer lock with an alarm that goes off if it’s moved or cut. Professional thieves have good lock cutting tools, but aren’t going to bother with something that sounds an alarm. If you see someone with a lock cutter, confront them. When they tell you it’s to unlock the public Yellow Bikes, be suspicious. And don’t bring a lock cutter to Burning Man unless you want to be hassled, have your photo taken and generally be in for a challenge. We don’t need more people trying to liberate Yellow Bikes and giving thieves an excuse for carrying tools of their trade.
4. Don’t lose your bike. Add distinctive lighting and decoration and put your name and camp location on your bike. Consider adding a wireless doorbell (useless at loud venues, valuable everywhere else). Most importantly, no matter how intoxicated you are, take a moment to think about where your bike is relative to other, non-movable objects. Never chain your bike to anything that could possibly move. Be careful that your lock doesn’t accidentally lock someone else’s bike too.
5. Practice immediacy. Avoid making plans, especially to meet other people who you aren’t camping with. Be ready to change plans in a moment. This is a hard lesson for some to learn, but don’t worry, if you screw this one up your first year (we did!), you will have learned a great lesson, not only about Burning Man, but about life. Live in the moment!
6. Leave your FOMO at the door. Think about big picture things you want to do, not what events in the guide you want to attend or DJ’s you want to see. And then be flexible. The first year you probably will spend more time on the playa around the art than milling around the “back 40” (the streets furthest from the Esplanade). But on the first few days, explore Black Rock City, and just spend more time to whatever you’re drawn to. You may find hanging around some of the camps with open seating is more fun than dancing at sound camps. You may find riding in deep playa is how you want to spend every sunset. Go with an open mind, and no fear of missing out.
7. Be prepared on the last day…equal to the first day. Because people lose and break stuff, by Saturday night you’ll see people who are very unprepared for the Burn. One very common issue is people’s bikes are entirely dark because their wheel lights broke. Have some basic backups for lighting, sunglasses, etc. If you lose a safety item and don’t have a replacement, ask around. Someone will be genuinely joyous to help you out.
8. Don’t make life decisions at the Burn. You are exhausted, irritable, hungry, hot and generally a piece of crap to be around…at least once every Burn. Don’t hold this against yourself, don’t hold this against your loved ones. If you have insights at the Burn, sit on them for a few weeks before acting.