BURNING MAN BEGINNERS GUIDE – THE OBSCURE STUFF
Ok. In the spirit of gifting, I would like to give a little something back for all the birgins that come after me.
As somebody who’d been trying/wanting to go to Burning Man for 15+ years, I probably knew more about it and the prep that goes into it than anybody who’d never actually burned. I’d scoured ePlaya for months leading up to the burn, reading everything I could about packing, transpo, how to deal with the heat and dust, food storage and cooking. Everything. There is a ton of information out there, and what you see below is a synthesis of some of the most important points i gleaned from ePlaya and my own experience as a birgin. This is NOT a comprehensive list. I’ve left off a lot of the obvious stuff that deals with transpo, camping, swamp coolers, etc. Rather, this is a compilation of the more esoteric aspects of prep that made a huge impact on my first burn.
- Get with an established camp if you can. It is important not only from an infrastructure and support perspective, but also in terms of your ability to contribute on your first burn. I was anxious to make sure I was able to experience and live up to the 10 Principles, and chief among my concerns was the ability to give something back while I was there. Getting with a camp gives you the chance to be part of a community. There are so many shared duties in a camp: cooking, cleaning, ice runs, moop sweeps. I found myself swelling with pride as I walked around giving out bags of ice I’d humped from Arctica right after the rain storm and nobody could get out. Let me be clear: getting with a camp is NOT a requirement, it just makes things a bit easier. I can’t tell you exactly how to get with a camp; everyone needs to find the right fit. Don’t rush into anything. Audition a lot of groups. Be honest about your intentions and how you think you can contribute to the community. (This past year I heard some horror stories about travelers from afar being ripped off by a guy promising placement in a camp with bikes and food and such. Don’t view a camp as a way to avoid being self-sufficient. It is a way to meet people and find fellowship.)
- Put your name on EVERYTHING. Find yourself some sturdy luggage tags (i used rubbery soft ones) and fill them out with your name, playa address (if known), real world address and phone number. Put one on your backpack, one of your bike, and one on each piece of luggage. Bike “borrowing” is definitely a thing, and if you rent a bike you could easily lose your deposit if the bike goes missing. It also makes retrieving lost items from Lost-and-Found a easier and faster.
- Camelbak. You’re probably already aware of this, but a Camelbak is the closest thing to required playa-wear as anything. What you probably don’t know is that you’ll be wanting to customize your pack and straps to keep things close at han,d so you don’t have to go digging for them in your pack. Chapstick, tools, goggles, your cup. All these things should be dangling from your straps via carabiners, velcro or zip ties. Bring lots of zip ties. You will find tons of uses for them.
- Lanyards. Just like all the custom rigging on your Camelback, lanyards can come in handy, too. I used one to hold my rental car keys along with yet another luggage tag with my name on it. As i was loading/unloading the car i kept the keys around my neck to avoid misplacing them. You do not want to get caught on the playa in a rental car without keys. That shit gets expensive.
- ID. Get a state issued ID card to supplement your driver’s license. As crazy as it seems, the camps on the playa serving booze will card you. Some of them will accept a photocopy of your ID as proof. Others will not. You don’t want to carry around you actual license (in case you lose it and are needing it to fly home, etc). Luckily the majority of the bars I went to accepted my photocopy (which was taped to my cup with packing tape). Those that didnt’ accept it i just didnt’ worry about. No biggie.
- Boots. I agonized over my choice of footwear for months. ePlaya was full of opinions about footwear. I knew boots were the safe way to go, both in terms of physical safety (kicking rebar tent stakes), and hygiene safety (avoiding playa foot). But I knew from camping and hiking experience that I would be miserable in the desert wearing anything remotely resembling a real boot. I really wanted to find a lightweight breathable boot. I tried all of the “desert” military boots, only to find them too heavy, too uncomfortable or simply too hot. Finally I found Palladium boots. Made in the UK, they have a very soft, lightweight boot called the Pallabrouse Baggy, which is I describe as a beefed up version of Converse All Stars. They have a capped toe, which is great for safety, and the footbed is crazy comfortable and supportive (which is not the case with Converse). I wore mine for nine days straight in the desert and didn’t get a single blister. Honestly, I forgot i was wearing them.
- Socks. You can have the best boots in the world, but if your socks suck you are going to be miserable. Again, heat was the big concern for me. I do all of my hiking in cool climates, and even then, wearing the right type of smart wool sock can make your feet a bit too warm. I auditioned several lightweight hiking socks, and the Thorlo Ultralight hiking socks won, hands down. At $15/pair, these socks aren’t cheap, but they kept my feet cool and dry. The combination of those with the Palladium boots was a win/win.
- Gloves. While we’re on the subject of boots, here’s something invaluable I learned from ePlaya: wear gloves when you lace your boots. Seems like overkill to me, but at the end of a week my very robust mechanic’s gloves were shredded. Yes, I was also using them to secure tent lines and such, but I honestly think the majority of the wear came from the playa-impregnated laces on my boots. They take on the qualities of sandpaper. In fact, next year I’m bringing two new pair of mechanic’s gloves (Firm Grip with the rubberized fingers and palm. Pretty much the most expensive Firm Grip they make, but worth it because of how nimble the keep your fingers).
- Goggles. Since I wear prescription glasses for everything I do, my goggle situation had to accommodate them. I’ve worn over-the-glasses goggles for snow skiing, so I knew such things existed. But on the playa you also have to worry about dust. I ended up bringing three pair of goggles: a pair of clear prescription motorcycle goggles, a pair of over-glasses tinted goggles, and a pair of yellow over-glasses goggles for high contrast. In the end I only wore the yellow pair. They were perfect for day AND night. Putting them on over my sunglasses was not a problem with visibility. In fact, the yellow high-contrast lenses made things pop more in the dust. And at night they were fine over my regular prescription glasses (although there were rarely dust storms at night. Usually no later than dusk.) So, to sum up: get a pair of yellow hi-con goggles and quit worrying. No matter if you were prescription glasses or not: they will fit over your sunglasses during the day and can be worn by themselves at night.
- Port-o-lets. Make yourself a little “go” bag to take with your to the potties. I used a large fanny pack for mine. In it I carried: soft 1-ply toilet paper, baby wipes, clorox wipes and some spare disposable plastic bags (like the kind from the supermarket). You are NOT allowed to throw any kind of wipes in the potties, even if they are “flushable.” Don’t do it! What I did was use the Clorox wipes to clean the seat well, then wrapped up the wipe(s) in one of the plastic bags to be disposed of in camp. Cleaning the seat with the Clorox wipe made you less grossed out by the idea of planting you ass on it. If you want you can then use baby wipes and dispose of them in the same bag. Bring enough of the plastic bags for two a day.
- Zip-Locs. You can get HUGE bags made my Ziploc for storing stuff for the winter, etc. I bought the 24” x 24” variety. In it i stowed a couple changes of clothes I’d be wanting for my post-burn stay in Reno and airplane ride home. Glad I did this after a day-long dust storm covered absolutely everything else in my life with a fine layer of dust. I also used one of these to store my socks and underwear for the week.
- Bathing. Unless you have an RV, you can probably forget about having any type of shower you’d recognize as such from the default world. The big problem is capturing and disposing of grey water (runoff from the shower, dish washing, etc). Everyone is going to tell you that baby wipes are the your best friend for getting clean, but I found a better way… Go to Target or WalMart and buy yourself a couple packs of inexpensive hand towels or dish towels. Dip that sucker in your ice chest and start scrubbing away at all your dirty parts. It is amazing how much better you feel when you get to scour off all the accumulated layers of sunscreen and dust. When I was done with the rags I’d clip them to the top of my tent to dry out in the sun, then threw them in with my dirty clothes to take home. I really didn’t notice a problem with body odor from myself or my camp mates, even though baths were hard to come by. The environment is just so dry that sweat really doesn’t have a chance to get funky on your skin.
- Sarongs. Wow, those South Pacific islanders really had it right with the sarongs. Those things are worth their weight in gold. Make sure you get the good natural cotton ones and not the synthetics.
- Scarves. You’re gonna need these for dust storms and also as a head covering in the sun. Be careful of inexpensive versions of the arabic “shemagh” scarves. They might say “100% cotton” but I found some I bought to heavy and unbreathable, indicating they were probably blends. Generally the more expensive shemaghs are the lighter and more breathable variety.
- Outfits/Thrift Stores. Start thift store shopping EARLY. Hit them every month or so as their inventory turns over. Pay attention to the ladies’ section (even if you are a guy). That’s where the fun stuff is.
- Food. Think carefully about anything you are making that requires preparation or cleanup. Make sure you have the right implements (i.e. spatula for making eggs).
- Garbage. When you leave with your garbage bags you’re gonna want to get rid of those things quickly, especially if they are in your car (if you strap them to the room make sure you secure them WELL). The first couple of people along the highway around Gerlach are going to be charging top dollar to take those off your hands ($10 a bag). If you drive a few miles further you’ll find people charging $3-5/bag. Also, bring extra garbage bags and double-bag all bags you are taking out of camp in your vehicle. The last thing you want is some unidentifiable goop oozing from the bag while you’re lashing it to the roof rack (or heaven forbid, inside your car).
- Cameras. Be in the moment. Forget about your camera as much as you can. I know the impulse will be to snap pictures everywhere. But don’t. Just experience it. Anything you want to document will be documented by a score of other people on Tumblr or Flickr. Trust me on this one.
What I learned as a newbie.
by monkeyprolabs » Wed Apr 01, 2015 3:05 pm