This year’s installation in playa preparation is for the virgin burners. There are plenty of all-inclusive packing lists for surviving a week in the Black Rock Desert, but this is not one of them. I wanted to focus on a few key things that are often overlooked when packing for Burning Man.
- A Bike – This one is listed as a suggested item in the Survival Guide (required reading), but I’m upgrading it to required. Black Rock City is massive. The inner playa is nearly a mile in diameter and the city grid extends another half mile outward. A bike will make it much easier to explore the deep playa and more of the city than you could possibly see on foot. Make sure your bike has lights for nighttime adventures, and don’t forget to bring some spare inner tubes or a patch kit. Oh, and don’t bring your shiny new $3,000 custom bike out there. The alkali dust is corrosive and will wreak havoc on the metal components on your bike.
- Plenty of shade – Within a couple hours of daybreak your tent will become an oven. Even canvas tents and double walled tents fall prey to the greenhouse effect out in the hot desert. Shade-on-shade is key. Cover your tent with a shade structure, portable carport or a heavy tarp suspended a couple feet above your shelter. I have even seen people put their tent inside another larger tent. The outer shade will take the brunt of the sun’s abuse, keeping it cooler inside your tent.
- Clean socks for each day – No matter what kind of shoes you wear, playa dust will find its way inside. The alkali dust mixed with a little sweat becomes a nasty, clay-like muck inside your shoes. The next day – crust. A clean pair of socks for each day will alleviate this malady and your feet will thank you.
- Vinegar – OK, so this one may sound weird to the uninitiated, but any BM veteran will tell you that vinegar diluted in water is the best cure for playa foot and any other dry, cracking skin caused by caustic alkali dust. This is simple elementary school chemistry: the weak acid neutralizes the base. Don’t worry though, it won’t make your skin fizz like a science fair volcano.
- A cup – This is something you should never leave camp without. There are thousands of bars out there offering free libations of all varieties. The only condition is that you bring your own cup. Don’t drink? Carry a cup anyway. There are lots of cafes, tea houses, lemonade stands and other beverage purveyors in BRC. I carry a Fozzils fold-flat cup on a carabiner attached to my water bottle.
- A shower – This isn’t necessarily required, but nobody would be sorry that they packed one. If you do bring a portable shower, be sure to factor that into your water supply. Also make sure to catch your grey water on a tarp or evap pond to keep it off the playa. This is a Leave No Trace event and shampoo and soap may leave a stain or residue permanently.
- Personal lighting – A headlamp is a good start, but it’s not just about seeing at night – it’s about being seen. Mutant vehicles, bicycles, and other participants gallivanting around in the night can collide with you unexpectedly if you don’t make your presence known in the darkness. Adorn your evening wear with Electro Luminescent EL wire, blinky LEDs, battery powered strobes, or anything bright. Single use chemical glow sticks and necklaces are discouraged since they aren’t very bright for long and they tend to fall off the wearer, becoming litter that somebody else has to pick up.
- Gifts – Burning Man’s Gift Economy is one of the things that make the culture so unique. Gifting is about giving without expectation of receiving something in return. Some of the best gifts are very ordinary things that make somebody’s day – like a piece of watermelon on a hot afternoon, or an ice cold beer, or a handmade trinket, or even something intangible like a foot massage. One of the best gifts I ever received was a much-needed stick of lip balm. A gift can be anything really, just make sure you bring something to share with the community.