A Few Things We Learned At Burning Man Festival

You know the drill: spend nothing, leave nothing. Here’s what happened when we went to the world’s most bonkers festival


by Alice Carder |
Published on

When it comes to the playa…

  1. The playa is essentially a dry lake. It is bigger than you can ever imagine. It is hot and it is dusty. Never walk away from your camp without these three things: goggles, dust mask, water.

  2. Whiteout dust storms can happen in a second. If you get caught in one, it’s difficult to see any further than your own hand. So long as you have the above three items (goggles, dust mask, water) this shouldn’t stand in the way of your fun.

  3. Sunset and sunrise on the playa are the most beautiful natural occurrences you will ever witness. It’s customary for people to gather, stop and watch together and applaud it.

  4. The playa has it’s own language. Including ‘sparkle pony’, which is basically a first timer who turns up with nothing but sparkly outfits and expects to be taken care of (not cool) and a ‘shirt cocker’ or a man who wears a shirt and no boxers. The feminine being ‘shirt twatter’… No explanation needed.

  5. ‘Black Rock City’ as the temporary residents of Burning Man are officially known, build an entire city from scratch before burning it down and taking it all away again, leaving absolutely no trace. That’s right, not one single spec of glitter or fleck of ash must be left on the playa floor and all camps carry out MOOP sweeps (matter out of place) after packing away.

  6. By night the playa is a playground of technicolor dreams. Make sure you have lights on yourself and on your bike or, at best, you’ll be called a ‘dark tart’ and at worst you’ll be run over.

When it comes to the art…

  1. Everything you see at Burning Man is art and is born from one of the 10 key principles of Burning Man ‘Radical Self-Expression’. Even the bikes are pimped out and fabulous. This serves two purposes: it allows you to identify your own bike when you decide it’s time to leave the dance camp or bar you’ve been raging at for six hours and cycle onwards to the next adventure, and secondly, it allows other people to identify that your bike is not their bike and will mean they are less likely to disappear into the desert riding it.

  2. Art cars are pretty awesome. They come in all shapes, sizes and species. You can ride them around the desert meeting new friends and dancing to their inbuilt sound-systems. I accidentally caught Skrillex and Major Lazer DJ-ing as a tag team on top of an art car one morning.

  3. The city even has a temple where participants place poems, photos, memorabilia and words commemorating and mourning those passed, letting go of unwanted memories and emotions, celebrating life or communicating a message to the world. Some people even get married there. The temple is one of the things which sets Burning Man apart from other festivals. It is a place for quiet, meaningful reflection and when the temple burns on the last night it does so in reverent silence.

  4. The Man is the centre piece of the whole festival. It is also one of the ways you navigate your surroundings. After it burns on the Saturday night you can no longer use it as a landmark to figure out which side of the playa you’re on and where your camp is. Let’s hope you’ve found your desert feet by then.

READ MORE: Life Lessons Learned From Secret Garden Party

When it comes to sleeping…

  1. Your body will automatically switch to ‘playa time’ once in the desert. This basically means you will sleep only when you absolutely cannot stand up and dance anymore. On average around four hours in every 24. Sleeping is not high on the agenda, but it’s a good idea to have somewhere relatively comfortable to hand when it happens.

  2. Hiring an RV, camper van or bus of some sort is handy as it means your transport to the festival also doubles as your bed. It also means you have plenty of space to bring important items like toy ponies to ride.

  3. Hexayurts are also a good option as they are insulated and tend to stay relatively warm at night and cool during the day, which lets face it, is probably when you’re going to do most of your passing out… I mean sleeping.

  4. If you don’t have the money for all that, then a simple tent will suffice, but make sure you pick up some rebar (long metal sticks you drive into the ground to stop your tent blowing away in a dust storm).

  5. And last, but by no means least, there’s always the nearest soft surface, usually a neighbouring theme camp (organised camps you can apply to join) with lots of pillows and shade. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself being spooned by a stranger.

When it comes to eating and drinking…

  1. One of the 10 key principles of Burning Man is ‘Radical Self Reliance’. In short, this refers to the fact that you are spending a week in a harsh desert climate that will suck your body of all it’s moisture and former glory. You must bring everything you personally need to survive including most importantly food and water.

  2. Another of the key 10 principles is ‘Gifting’: unconditionally giving to your fellow citizens. Money is not allowed at Burning Man (except to buy ice and coffee at centre camp). Instead you will be hollered down in the street or ushered into a camp for morning mimosas, snow cones, quesadillas, pancakes or a G&T. Don’t forget to bring a cup which you can attach to your person and whip out should you be offered an ice cold beverage.

  3. Participation is another of the key principles. The only way to gain the full transformative experience of Burning Man is through personal participation. Whether you bring 500 ice lollies and hand them out to strangers in the street or voluntarily massage the feet and shoulders of your fellow citizens when they begin to flag (other gifting options are available), decide what you’re gifting and give, give, give with all your heart.

READ MORE: Fun Game Time! How Much Have You Spent On Festivals Over Your Lifetime?

When it comes to what to wear…

  1. Burning Man has it’s own special dress code, fuelled partly by climate conditions (33.C plus by day and 13.C and lower at night) and partly by the earlier mentioned principle of ‘radical self-expression’.

  2. Essential apparel again includes dust goggles and mask. Hats are also a good idea.

  3. Faux fur at night is a good shout as it can be slung on over your day outfit when it’s dark and you’re scrabbling around in your tent trying to do the day to night switcheroo.

  4. Lights, lights and more lights. They’re pretty much the only thing you can see at night so if you want to look super cool and stay alive incorporate them into your costumes at every opportunity.

  5. Day time is your chance to show off, but don’t overpack as it’s likely you’ll wear the same sparkles and unicorn horn all week.

  6. If you’re feeling underdressed there’s always the free boutiques where you can get some new garms and leave old ones that were only weighing your backpack down anyway.

  7. Be warned: anything you bring to the playa will be covered in dust instantly and will not return to it’s former cleanliness. Ever.

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Follow Alice on Twitter @AliceCarder

Pictures: Reeve Jolliffe, Alice Carder

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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