Burning Man Survival Guide: Tips for Your First Time at Black Rock City

JULY, 2016
Going to the Burning Man festival for the first time? There’s a lot you should know before you head out into the desert. From basic Burning Man principles to how to get the most out of Black Rock City, Fantasy Luxe has the resources you need to have an awesome time at Burning Man!

General Things to Know About Burning Man

As a newbie, it’s important to understand the setting and culture of Burning Man before going.

  • What – A gathering away from the Default World (i.e., your regular life) that’s about self-expression and art, all culminating in the ritual burning of an effigy called “The Man”
  • Where – Black Rock City, a temporary community constructed in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, with main events taking place on the Playa (pronounced ply-uh)
  • When – The last Sunday in August through the first Monday in September
  • Who – Nearly 70,000 Burners, all of whom come from different walks of life
Burners riding bikes on The Playa
Just like riding a bike.

Burners adhere to the 10 Principles of Burning Man. These aren’t rules that have to be abided, but they are a reflection of the culture of Burning Man, so keep them in mind.

  1. Radical Inclusion – Welcome and respect strangers.
  2. Gifting – Share with your neighbors without expecting things in return.
  3. Decommodification – No sponsorships, no transactions, no advertising.
  4. Radical Self-Reliance – Discover and rely on your own resources.
  5. Radical Self-Expression – Embrace your unique talents and appreciate the talents of others.
  6. Communal Effort – Produce, promote, and protect community cooperation.
  7. Civic Responsibility – Assume responsibility for public welfare.
  8. Leaving No Trace – Clean up after yourself and leave things better than you found them.
  9. Participation – Work, play, and achieve experiences through doing.
  10. Immediacy – Overcome barriers and connect with the world around you.
In fact, the only things you can buy at Burning Man are coffee and ice.

Another thing to remember when going to Burning Man is supplies. Burners bring everything they need for the week because there’s nowhere to buy food, beverages, toiletries, etc. In fact, the only things you can buy at Burning Man are coffee and ice. Sure, some camps will have food and other items they’ll gift, but you don’t want to be the “Sparkle Pony” who shows up unprepared and relies on everyone else.

Check out the Burning Man Survival Checklist for items you must bring and items you should bring.

Black Rock Desert in Nevada

Prepare to get dusty.

Prepare for Lots of Dust

The Black Rock Desert is known for its alkali dust, and it gets everywhere and in everything. Seasoned Burners recommend covering bikes and cars to protect bearings and motors, as well as wearing scarfs, handkerchiefs, and goggles to shield your eyes, nose, and mouth during storms. Don’t be surprised if you blow your nose and see dirt and blood. Also, beware of playa foot. Walking around barefoot on the alkali dust is essentially like getting a chemical burn. It’s a good idea to wear closed-toed shoes or boots while wandering around. And bring some moisturizer just in case your feet dry out and crack!

See more advice from Must Know Burning Man Tips for Newbies.

Create the Right Nest

Camping in the middle of the desert for a week might not sound easy, but there are plenty of ways to make your stay at Burning Man fun and comfortable. Some Burners rent RVs for the week to have shelter from the heat and dust (though the dust still gets in). Others join established camps that come with perks like showers and meal plans. But if you ask most Burners, they’ll say the best way to experience Burning Man for the first time is to pitch your own tent, fashion a shade, and get dirty.

See more advice from Like a Virgin: How to Survive Your First Time at Burning Man.

Dress to Express

Wondering what to wear at Burning Man? You can go totally nude, you can wear costumes, or you can dress normally. It’s all about self-expression! When creating your Burning Man packing list, remember that the desert will be blazing during the day and freezing at night, so you’ll want lightweight clothes while the sun’s up and something heavier to keep you warm after sunset. Also, bring essentials like boots, a coat, and hats that block the sun. Beyond that, it’s whatever you want—tutus, bikinis, booty shorts, bodysuits, you name it!

See more advice from The Beginner’s Guide to Burning Man.

Embrace Your Dirty Hippie Side

Unless you stay in an RV or established camp where you can take showers, get used to being dirty and smelly. But don’t worry—everyone else around you will be dirty and smelly, too! If you’re worried about washing your hair, dread it. If you’re worried about keeping your *ahem* crevices clean, bring baby wipes. If you’re worried about your skin, keep sunscreen and moisturizer on hand. Just avoid going barefoot! Remember that gross and uncomfortable thing called “playa foot”?

See more advice from 7 Days in the Desert: A Burning Man Survival Guide.

Burners are encouraged to meditate, pray, pay tribute to loved ones who have passed, and purge negative emotions.

Surrender Yourself to Experiences

Burning Man is about participation. You shouldn’t sit in your nest the whole time. Get away from your friends for a while and spend time with new people. Be open and curious! There are hundreds of camps across the Playa where you can learn or try new things, from yoga and storytelling to belly-dancing and fire dodgeball (Yes, fire). But it’s okay to not experience everything. For one, Black Rock City is too large for you to visit every camp. And if staying up all night doing drugs and joining orgies isn’t your thing, no big deal. Leave the FOMO at home, and just enjoy yourself!

See more advice from An Emotional Survival Guide to Burning Man.

Don’t Cling to Technology

Experiences and beautiful moments—that’s what Burning Man can give you. Which is why Burners will tell you to leave your phone or camera at home (or at least back at your nest while you’re wandering). No doubt you’ll want to show off your cool-as-hell costumes that took forever to plan or those crazy art installations across Black Rock City on Instagram. But try to detach from the Default World and live in the moment as much as you can. Most photographers who visit say they set aside a few minutes a day to snap some photos, but then they go out and enjoy the Playa without technology.

See more advice from A Guide to Surviving Your First Burning Man.

statue at Burning Man

Visit the Temple

Watching “The Man” burn at the end of the week is one of the most incredible experiences of Burning Man. But newbies should definitely stop by the Temple, too. Burners are encouraged to meditate, pray, pay tribute to loved ones who have passed, and purge negative emotions. Inside the Temple, you can write down whatever feelings or thoughts you have that you want to get rid of and hang them up. Then, when the Temple is burned down, you’ll feel the release and be able to enjoy the Burning Man Exodus.

See more advice from Desert Hearts’ Burning Man Survival Guide.

Community Burn Garden sign at Burning Man

Leave No Trace

This is the only Burning Man principle that must be followed 100%. Because the Black Rock Desert is federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, there can be no trace of Burning Man left after the gathering is over. Literally nothing. Not crumbs, not a splash of water, not glitter, no MOOP (matter out of place) whatsoever. This means Burners have to control waste and take it with them when they go. Bring plenty of trash cans, bags, and containers to handle your garbage!

See more advice from Leave No Trace.

For the full rundown of everything you need to know about attending Burning Man for the first time, check out Burning Man’s First-Timer’s Guide, which covers safety, travel, events, and more!

Get Ready for Burning Man


Let down your guard, release the idea of who you think you should be and STEP INTO THE REALITY OF WHO YOU ARE!


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