Burning Man Packing List

Photo by AFlickion

I’m not headed to Black Rock City this year, but I’m enjoying hearing about others preparing. In lieu of Burning Man experiences to share this year, I thought I’d make a packing list post. The first year I went I looked at all sorts of packing lists and survival guides online and meshed all the info together. When I actually pack, my personal gear changes a bit each year, but I always start with a huge list and work my way down to what I actually end up taking. While there are some constants (water!), everyone’s packing will be different. Here are some of the things I think about when I pack for Burning Man (and wow, did this post get LONG!).

BRC Must Haves

If you’ve been camping before, a lot of things on this list are pretty basic. There are some things you need that are more specific to BRC, though. Like glow and/or blinkies. If you are going to be out at night (and you are) you need to be lit up. Just having a headlamp on your head won’t cut it. You need to be LIT UP. There are art cars and people on bikes and you do not want to be run over. Invest in some glow sticks, LED lights, or EL wire.

A regular backpack or fanny pack can work for your carrying around gear, but I think a hydration backpack is worth the money. A regular backpack is too big, a fanny pack is too small, and neither carries your water as efficiently as a hydration backpack. I recommend spending the money on a Camelbak. You don’t want a bladder that leaks. (A spare bladder isn’t a bad idea, either.)

Goggles! I recommend two or more pairs. I have sunglasses goggles and clear ones for nighttime.These things are a lifesaver when the dust is going crazy. I wouldn’t be without them.

You may need some kind of face mask. This can be anything from a fancy respirator to a simple bandana tied across your mouth and nose. You might not need it at all. But if there’s a dust storm and you need to get from here to there, you’ll probably want to be able to breathe along the way.

A bicycle is often listed as a BRC essential. I go back and forth about bicycles. My first year I went without one and loved it. My second year I went with it and realized what I’d been missing. My third year I took one and then hardly ever used it. I probably won’t take one next time. A bicycle on the playa can be incredibly useful when you’ve got places to go and people to see, but it also brings some irritations like how to transport it out there and locking and unlocking it all the time while you’re there.

Food and Water

The first year I went, I took someone’s recommendation of 2.5 gallons of water per person per day. For me, that was 20 gallons. I never use that much, though. I don’t use a lot of water for cooking, and I don’t really bathe. Now I take closer to 1.5 gallons a day.

Food is highly personal, so no one can tell you what to bring. In my experience, no one eats as much as they think they will while camping, and Burning Man is no exception. On the other hand, food is important on the playa. You need food that you like, that fills you up quickly, and that gives you the nutrients you need. My first year on the playa, I camped with a theme camp that did large-scale meals, a lot of which was too rich for me. Fettucini alfredo? Not appetizing on the playa. The second year I went, my theme camp was all vegan. I thought the food would bore me, but a pile of rice and veggies in a mild sauce turned out to be wonderful playa fuel.

My third year, I did all thermos meals, and that’s probably what I’ll do next time. They were so easy, quick to make, just the right amount, and plenty delicious. The idea behind thermos meals is that you pre-prepare little kits with all shelf stable foods – pasta, herbs, rice, bouillion, dehydrated veggies, parmesean cheese, couscous, bacon bits, instant potatoes, powdered cheese, packaged chicken or tuna, salsa, etc. Whenever you want a meal, you put the contents of the kit in a thermos, add a boiling cup of water, wait ten minutes, and then eat. I liked the idea of being able to throw the thermos in my backpack and take off, eating whenever. I didn’t actually ever do this, but I liked having the option. If you have no interest in making your own meal kits, an even simpler option is to buy microwave meal kits. I supplemented my meals last year with some microwavable Thai kits. Anything that you normally add water to and then microwave will work okay by adding boiling water and then letting it sit. If you’re interested in this kind of meal, I got all my ideas from Trail Cooking, and it looks like they’ve added a lot more recipes.

Besides whatever you do for your meals, don’t forget about snacking. You will need to eat more often than you will feel like having a whole meal. Cookies, crackers, snack bars, dried fruit, nuts, chips, etc, will come in handy. I have a small container to keep in my Camelbak for keeping a little snack on hand all the time.

Remember to leave at home as much packaging from your food stuffs as possible.

If you bring canned good, don’t forget a can opener!

Photo by Smoobs

Don’t forget coffee or sodas if you’re used to drinking them regularly the rest of the time. I know that they say you should limit your caffeine consumption on the playa, but it would be much worse to go without if you’re used to a daily dose.

Since I cook and eat light on the playa, I usually only take a scrub brush for cleaning and just clean my dishes with a bit of water. If you’re a little more sanitary than me, some biodegradable soap might do you well.

Tools and Equipment

I take a full kit of batteries, even if I don’t think I’ll need them. Batteries are a really nice gift to someone in need. So I take several of every kind from AAA to D.

A compass is recommended in case you end up in a white out on the open playa and need to get back to the city. You probably won’t need it, but if you own a compass, it can be a nice thing to take along. Be sure to know what direction Center Camp is before the need comes up!

You’ll need a hammer or mallet for tent stakes and rebar.

I love to take along several carabiners of different sizes. They come in handy for all kinds of things, especially hanging things off your backpack or belt and hanging things up in your tent.

I always bring rope and twine for who-knows-what. You might not need it for anything, but there are all kinds of things that could come up that a little rope or twine will fix. Also bungie cords.

Rubber bands and safety pins are little items that don’t take up much room but could really come in handy.

Gloves may be essential, especially if you’re going to be working with rebar.

Take a full collection of spare bags – Ziplocs of different sizes, grocery bags, trash bags, etc.

I like to take a 5 gallon bucket to use as a trash can. If you’re going to compost some trash, a mesh bag like oranges come in are nice to put the trash in to lay out for drying. Use paper bags for burnable trash that you can add to the burn platforms at the end of the week.

I’ve previously taken a small dust brush and pan along before, but I never end up using it. My playa philosophy involves becoming one with the dust, but your mileage may vary.

You can never have too many flashlights, I think. All of my flashlights are headlamps. Worn on my head, carried in my hand, attached to my bike, hanging from the top of the tent, etc. They come in very, very handy.

I always bring some battery powered decorative lanterns, too. These are very nice hung around the tent for soft lighting and look kind of cool to carry around, too.

Consider your first aid supplies. Don’t buy a pre-made first aid kit. It’s likely to be heavy on bandaids and light on other useful stuff. Plus, there may be things in there you don’t know how to use or be missing items you consider essential. Get a box of some sort and fill it with things you want and know how to use.

Some items to consider for first aid:

  • Pain relief – Think headaches, muscle cramps, menstrual cramps, etc, and bring the variety you need. I keep aspirin in a first aid kit for its blood thinning properties.
  • Bandaids, gauze and tape
  • Thermometer
  • Blood pressure cuff (this is just me. I have wonky blood pressure and pulse sometimes, and I like to be able to monitor that.)
  • Super glue for cuts (I could write a whole post on how useful super glue is for first aid).
  • Alcohol swabs.
  • Antihistamine – since there aren’t any bugs on the playa or poison ivy and I don’t have allergies, this isn’t very useful in BRC, but it’s part of my usual first aid kit
  • Aloe – for sunburn. Seriously. If you get a bad sunburn, regular application of lots of alow will help cool your skin, reduce recovery time, and reduce peeling
  • Cough drops.
  • Tweezers, nail clippers, a razor – for digging out splinters or glass in your skin
  • First aid instructions. I have a little book – link – with first aid basics. This isn’t going to help you in a real crisis moment, but it can really help with basic info like how to treat a burn, so that you don’t have to remember every detail in the moment.


I pack all my clothes individually in ziploc baggies. I get used to the dust pretty quickly, but it’s still nice to be able to start with clean clothes every day. Be sure to label the bags, especially if you’re like me and most of your clothes are the same color.

Put this on the list of things to do before you go: Break in your shoes. Spend some time walking around your house in any new clothes or costumes. If it doesn’t work in your living room, it might not work on the playa. Also, consider bringing along extra shoelaces. The playa environment is so dry, things that you don’t normally think of as breakable are known to break. I’ve had bootlaces get brittle and just snap off, so I take along extras.

Everyone advises you to take a hat. I hate wearing hats, but my first year, the advice was so strong that I took a hat. I never wore it. It’s good to read up and be prepared for the ways in which the environment is different, but you’re still you.

Don’t forget warm clothes. Yes, it’s the desert, but it can get VERY cold at night. Long underwear, jackets, pants, arm/leg warmers, playa coat – whatever your cold-weather clothing style, be sure to bring it or you’ll spend some nights walking around in your sleeping bag.

Camp Basics

You’ll probably want a tent. Check it out at home, even if it’s brand new. Make sure all the parts are there and you know how to put it up.

I’ve used rebar for tent stakes and also the 18 inch stakes from Wal-Mart. You get to make the call on whether you need rebar or not. For most tent situations, heavy duty stakes will work just fine. Chances are, if stakes won’t cut it, your tent isn’t going to hold up anyway. If you’re staking down anything bigger than a regular car-camping tent, though, you’re going to need rebar.

You’ll want something to mark and cover your tent stakes and guy lines. Use plastic bottles, tennis balls, whatever, to cover the tops of your stakes. Mark the guy lines with bright tape, ribbons, rope, or whatever. This isn’t just for random drunk people. You’re at risk for tripping over your own stuff, too!

For bedding, there’s the air mattress, pump, batteries, and patch kit. The patch kits really work, so they’re an awesome thing to have on hand if you camp a lot. Sleeping bag with compression straps. Blankets. Pillows. I take bedding to cover both hot and cold conditions. I have a sleeping bag good to 20 degrees, plus I take a couple of light sheets.

Don’t forget your camp chairs. Even if you’re going to be spending a lot of time socializing elsewhere, it’s nice to have a place to plop down in your own camp.

You have to have something for shade that’s not inside your tent. If you’re camping with a theme camp that provides shade, great. Otherwise, you should at least take a pop-up with you. You could always get your daytime shade from public places like Center Camp or the temple, but you’re almost guaranteed to have some times where you’ll want to be “home” rather than in public and your tent will be too hot during the day.

Personal Care

The potties are usually pretty well stocked, but it’s nice to have your own toilet paper to be 100% sure. Here’s what I do for toilet paper for burns: At home, when you get near the end of a toilet paper roll, save it. Smash it flat, and it will fit in a snack size ziploc bag. I stick a few of these in my Camelbak. They make great little gifts for other people when the potties are out, and it’s awesome to never be without yourself. Of course, this only works if you use one-ply at home, because only one-ply goes in port-o-potties!

For comfort in the heat, a misting bottle and small fan go a long way. I don’t always need these, but when I do I really, really do. The first year I went, I had one day where I had a slight fever and spent the day trying to rest in my tent. The spray bottle and fan were a lifesaver.

Don’t forget sunscreen! And don’t forget to put it on! A lot! I’ve found that after about Wednesday, I don’t really need sunscreen. I get such a layer of dust on my skin that it works as a sunscreen. I don’t bathe, though, remember, and I don’t burn that easily to begin with. Don’t gamble with this. Bring lots of sunscreen! I take several pairs of sunglasses, too.

Personal moisture items are high on my list of Burning Man essentials: lip balm, eye drops, lotion, nasal spray.

Even if your period isn’t due, bring stuff for that. Since I use a cup, it’s no trouble to pack it, but whatever you use, have some with you. You don’t want to be trying to hunt down pads on the playa.

I spend a lot of time barefoot on the playa. If you like going barefoot, the playa is the perfect place for it. It’s flat and there are no rocks and the temperature of the surface is foot-friendly. I’ve heard about the dreaded playa foot, though, so I always prepare to take care of my feet. At least a couple of times a week, I take 20 minutes to sit down, wash my feet, soak them in vinegar, and then give myself a foot rub with lotion. This helps keep playa foot away and is a nice decadent break.

Don’t forget condoms and lube, if you’re into that sort of thing. I like the little individual packets of lube so they’re easy to take along.

Whatever your usual medications are, bring them and bring extras. Consider storing them in more than one place so that if one stash of medicine gets lost or ruined you aren’t completely fucked. Another reason for extras is the ability to help out others. I’ve heard more than one story of someone’s shitty trip being saved by someone else’s inhaler or leftover prescription cough medicine.

I like to take a book. I almost never end up reading while on playa, but if you are laid up in your tent for a day or just need a mental breather, disappearing into a book for a couple of hours can be a real treat.

Consider bringing a notebook and pens. Take notes. Write down the names and numbers of new friends. Record your dreams. Whatever. I always have paper and pen in my backpack just in case.

I consider the loud, chaotic, constant background music one of the highlights of living in Black Rock City and it helps lull me to sleep at night. If that doesn’t describe you, you need to take earplugs.

Photo by Focal Intent

And the first commandment of camping personal care: Baby wipes, baby wipes, baby wipes.

Segmented Packing

To some extent, I pack by throwing everything in bins. It’s going to get messed up and scattered when I get there anyway, so I don’t pay too much attention to organization. There are three exceptions, though.

The Do Not Touch Kit – This is a bag that I do not touch until I’m off the playa again. This includes a spare ID and would include a spare key if I were driving. Also, whether you’re flying or driving, you’ll appreciate having clean clothes for the trip home. Pack these in an airtight bag and don’t touch it until you’re off the playa and have had a shower. If I’m taking my laptop for Reno downtime after Burning Man, this goes into the bag, sealed in plastic. Cell phone, too.

Travel Bag – However you’re travelling, have your ticket on your person. Don’t put it in a container that’s just in the car somewhere or buried on the trailer. Don’t put it in checked luggage. On Your Person. Other things in the travel bag: ID, credit card, cash, insurance info, etc.

Camelbak – I am serious about how I pack my Camelbak. When I’m in Black Rock City, I want to be able to go anywhere at any time and not worry about when I get back to home base. This means that at all times, I have in my Camelbak toilet paper, a snack, paper and pen, meds, condoms/lube, arm warmers or a thin long sleeve shirt, extra socks, lip balm, lotion, spare sunglasses, goggles, bandanna, spare lighter, etc. When I’m flying, this is my carry on bag (at least the stuff that’s allowed), so that even if all my gear was lost, I’d have the bare minimum of stuff with me. This came in handy last year when my stuff arrived on-playa 12 hours after I did.

What about you?

Any odd items on your Burning Man packing list? Any questions you have about what to pack for living in Black Rock City?