(This originally appeared on my non-blog website but is reposted here to make it easy to find.)
This is a review and commentary of the supplies I took to Burning Man 2004 – 2008. I hope you
(and I) can benefit from it!
2004: I had my gear shipped out in a train container with Thesticknyc.org. Mad props! I slept in my own tent in my own camp on Neptune at about 5:20.
2005: I drove out from San Francisco (!!). Everything fit in my 1998 Chrysler Sebring, + a passenger and luggage from Reno to the playa. Again, I went "light". I ended up joining up with Barry’s Octopelvis crowd.
2006-2008: Drove out from San Francisco, hauling everything in my 1998 Chrysler
Sebring. In 2006 and 2007 Charlotte and I drove together, fitting everything in the car.
In 2008, we went in separate cars.
- Bike – It’s 1,800 feet from 6:00 & Sedna/Hysteria to center camp. 4,200 feet from 3:00 & Esplanade to 9:00 and Esplanade… in the hot hot burning sun. I felt my bike was essential. Consider making your bike into art. Big nobby tires are essential. In 2008 my bike had 1 1/2″ road tires and it often got bogged
down in rough patches :-(. Ways to get a bike there: Buy a $80 bike at Walmart in Reno. Buy it used and ship it out in a container (I did that one year). Participate in a bike borrowing or rental plan with one of the Burning Man groups. Rent a bike from a company in Reno. Stick it on the back of your car.
- Replacement bike tube (the most likely thing to break). I haven’t needed one yet .
- Bike Flashers – 1 for front, 1 for back. Sciplus.com "Safety Flasher" $3. Essential for night riding and finding your bike where you left it at night. I left both flashing in groovy pattern #6 of 8 all night most nights for a week and never ran the 2 AA batteries dead
- Bike pannier – I tried to travel around with a milk crate on the back of my bike but owing to the high winds and soft ground I’d often have to lie the bike down
and everything would fall out of the milk crate. Everything I generally needed for the day
fit in 1 cloth framed, zippered pannier just fine.
- Bike lock – for peace of mind, especially when going to big events "I can’t find my bike but I know it wasn’t stolen, :-)"
On My Person
- Head lamp– Essential at night. sciplus.com LED "Head Lamp" item 92190 $9 just as good as the $40 Petzel lamp. 3 AAA batteries kept me going all week. It’s built to slide off the head-mount and stick with a magnet as well but I glued it in place with a drop of glue. A non-LED light would give better color rendition but I’m so happy with how light, cheap, & long lasting this lamp is, I might never use my regular flashlight again. Another downside: the light can’t be focused so range is limited to about 30′.
- Respirator/dust mask – Bring at least three. I lost one and wore one out. I used a fancier respirator that I had lying around from my days worrying about the end of the world, post-9/11. A 3M 8511. It costs $6 at Home Depot for 1 or $19 for 10 at Uline.com. Buy 10. Paint them with magic markers and give them away to friends. It worked great except that the rubber straps broke several times (it had been sitting in my emergency drawer for 3 years). After 2 days + 1 dust storm, it was getting difficult to draw air through it. Even in a dust storm, it drew perfectly clean air. :-) Draw pretty pictures and funny noses on it! The super-cheap dust masks work ok but they don’t give a good seal on my big face so I have to hold it on for the most comfort.
- Sunglasses – I never use sunglasses… except in the desert at 3,900 feet. I wear prescription glasses so I got $12 spring loaded over-sunglasses from some nice Chinese lady at a rest stop on the NY Thruway. Worked great.
- Goggles – 40mph dust storm vs. eyes: Dust wins. The $1.75 ones from Sciplus.com didn’t cover my entire (large, eyeglass laden) face but were way better than nothing. Get goggles you like. You’ll meet lots of people while wearing them. $9 MSA safety goggles from Home Depot worked well enough. They fit over my glasses (I STILL haven’t found cool goggles that can go over glasses). I only noticed that they don’t seal when in high winds; pressing them to my face was a fine workaround.
- Glasses wipes – I normally just wash my glasses in a sink but these things are great after a dust storm or whatnot on my glasses and goggles.
- Good Camera kept in a plastic bag – Some years I take 400 pictures. One year I took 24 (my good camera was stolen before I got to the event, leaving me with just my disposable). Bring a camera. Keep it in a plastic bag or the dust will kill your camera dead in a matter of hours.
- Disposable Camera – Take it out to photograph dust storms and crazy things..
- Personal Cards. It’s an easy way to hand someone your phone number and email address in the default world.
- Lip balm – I didn’t need it much as long as I kept hydrated. Helpful though.
- Compass. A friend told me a story where she was stuck in a dust storm white-out in the middle of the playa (imagine you’re 1,000 feet from any landmarks and visibility is 5 feet!). She found her way back home with the help of another friend with a compass. Every time I’ve been stuck in a dust storm, 3 hours one time,
I’ve just waited it out. Still, it sounds like a good idea to have one in the bottom of your bag.
- Presents – If you see someone you appreciate, you might want to give something of yourself to them. Make it personal. Put your contact information on your
presents! It’s nice getting presents. It’s even nicer knowing who gave them to you. I have many gifts
that I’d love to be able to track down the giver. But then, I suppose that’s part of the fun…
- Some say you should take a mug with you but my mug got all playa-muddy after just one use :-(.
- Skip the FRS radios – Marah’s snazzy "5 mile" 1 watt Motorola FRS radios only had range from Center Camp to 7:30 & Delirium…. about 1/2 mile. :-((. That’s not nearly
enough coverage to make them useful.
- Watch – Without cell phones, we have to rely on that old standard, "I’ll meet you back here at n o’clock.". Wear a watch!!
- Important phone numbers & calling card number on paper, not in your PDA or cell phone. Just in case.
- Hat – essential! I quickly fell in love with my old Stetson all over again. Large brim essential to keep the sun off, a cord so the wind doesn’t carry it away. At night, I sometimes used a winter hat to keep me warm.
- Good sneakers / footwear & socks. If playa-foot is 1/2 as bad as the cracked and painful playa-hands I got, I would have really suffered! If it had rained, I would have wanted the second pair of shoes that I had packed
- Playa-wear – That’s anything from a giant neo-octo-bunny costume to just a jar of paint.
- Cold weather gear. IE one night it was 60 degrees at midnight and 45 degrees at 4am. Another night didn’t fall below 70.
- Rain gear. It didn’t rain when I was there but it COULD be 45 and raining, which TOTALLY SUCKS if you’re only wearing a tank top.
- Sunscreen. Trust me on the sunscreen.
- Blinky lights to be seen at night. The playa is lovely, dark and deep and you don’t want to be run over by a bike or art car.
- Gloves in a Bottle – It’s this weird stuff that goes on like hand moisturizer… then it goes away and protects your skin pretty well from playa-fication for about 4 hours. At the end of each event, my hands are still a bit beat-up but it really helped keep the playa out. "Invisible Gloves" is a similar product.
For 2009, maybe I’ll get some No Rinse Shampoo. Tacoboy says it’s available at
drugstores and works well.
- Hudson Sprayer 1 liter or so. $7 at Home Depot. I could take a "perfectly adequate" shower with under 1 1/2 liters of water. Evaporation pond? Ha! During a full shower, I just relocated about 4 times so I wouldn’t be standing in mud. By the end of the shower, the mud in the first position was already dry. It probably wouldn’t do as adequate a job if I had long hair. I had to wait until the day warmed up (11 or noon) before showering because the water in it didn’t warm up even when I set it on top of my black jacket. Warning: don’t shower after sundown. It gets COOOOLD quick! BRRRR! Also, a Hudson Sprayer makes an excellent water pistol, shooting about 20 feet. I gave well appreciated drive-by spritzes on the playa on the hot day. The mister is also excellent. I gave many mistings to pedestrians and several people commented on how pleasant the gentle mist was compared to other misters they’ve had on them.
- I have a 3 man, 3 season Eureka tent and ground sheet. It performed just peachy though one of the mounts snapped during a (really) windy day. I’m glad it was tied down and had 5 other mounts.
- 18" rebar tent stakes. I tried using 8" plastic tent stakes as an experiment & they were pulled out by the wind in 5 minutes flat!
- 8′ x 10′ silver tarp from tarps.com to cover the tent. (gemplers.com is another seller) This kept the sun off the tent, making it much more livable for late morning rising and afternoon naps. I was lazy the first day of 2005 and was reminded forcefully at 9am Tuesday morning that I had neglected this crucial piece of equipment. Have you
ever tried to camp on the surface of the sun? BLAH!
- I used the SUV we rented in 2004 to shield the tent from wind, which worked pretty well.
- Someone had recommended mylar emergency blankets as a sun shield but there is NO WAY that these paper thin blankets would survive the wind. Using them as sleeping blanket is a bad idea as well because they don’t breathe… it’d get very clammy. Use a tarp instead!
- Elastic tie downs to hold the tarp in place. They look like a loop of bungee cord with a big ball for you to hook them on. Get some 3", some 12".
- Sleeping bag. 4am temperatures might be in the 70’s or the 30’s.
- Aerobed :-). The air mattress part is terrific but I sweated a bit sleeping on this big plastic bag-thing in 2004, even with a blanket under me. In 2005-2008 I justed used a camping mattress pad and was fine. Your milage may vary.
- Thick cotton blanket (non-itchy) (goes between me and Aerobed to prevent sweating against the plastic). Thanks to Marah for lending it to me!
- Pillow (comfort from home. Cover it with the sleeping bag during the day to reduce dust)
- Aerobed repair kit (didn’t need to use it :-)
- 50′ extension cord (for Aerobed)
- Power inverter (for Aerobed)
- Fold-up captain’s chair (those snazzy $15 carbon fiber and fabric ones are great)
- On-the-ground camping chair. It was only useful inside the tent because the ground is too uncomfortably dusty. It could have been useful if I was stuck in my tent due to rain or dust. It’s also an OK sleeping pad.
- Shade structure. My 10′ x 20′ tarp-covering-the-car-and-me was torn by constant 30 mph winds on one day in 2004. You can do better than I did but you’ll need a lot of rebar and rope!
- 75′ thin rope to mount structures and strap things to other things, including tying down your garbage to your car on the way out. Twine is too thin.
- Mallet to pound the rebar stakes. Minimum 5 lb head, not a rubber mallet (they just ‘boing’ off the rebar and don’t drive them in any more) and not a regular 1 lb wood claw hammer because they don’t have enough force behind them.
- Tennis balls or something to put on top of tent stakes, preventing leg injuries.
- Single ply toilet paper in case the potties run out, 1 roll of the cheap stuff.
“Good” TP shouldn’t be used in the porta-johns because it clogs up the works. I’ve had to use
my own TP a couple times and was glad to have it!
- Condoms, lube & rubber gloves. There is now some woman’s bike held together partially with rubber gloves. Bring lube even if you don’t normally b/c the super-low humidity can dry everything out.
- Soap & Shampoo – I used up only part of a travel soap b/c I was showering with the hudson sprayer. My hair was pretty yucky by the end, but I always wore a hat. Heck, call it "Playa hair" and it’s a fashion statement!
- Toiletries – toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush, razor, nail clippers, small mirror.
- Blindfold & earplugs for sleeping – My camp was quiet at night but the theme camps (and potentially anywhere on the playa) blast loud music and light shows all night (ask me about my sunrise raver pictures)
- 30 Plastic baggies – 1 gallon size. For putting dust intolerant items in (like cameras), keeping camp organized (in the tent I had a little garbage bag and a little take-home bag), bringing souvenirs home (like playa dust). I went through 4 baggies for my camera for the week.
- Packing Tape – I used most of a roll to repack my 8 boxes taking 37 cubic feet back into the Container in 2004. It’s also a first aid supply.
- Hand and Foot moisturizer – After showering, I’d get my feet soggy with moisturizer just before putting my socks on. I had happy feet all week. My hands got badly cracked despite my moisturizing efforts. Next year I might try Invisible Glove.
- Honda Generator – I had no power in my camp but if I did, it would be one of the Honda generators. They are much much much quieter than any other generator I saw or HEARD. They’re worth the extra cost. The Hondas are as loud as an in-wall air conditioner, every other one except for the industrial 10,000 watt+ generators sounded like a
chain saw on idle, or worse.
- Or going solar is popular! Every year a good friend takes the panels off his roof,
a small charge controller and inverter and does quite well for electric lighting. He dusts them off after big
dust storms and does peachy.
- LED lighting can work well. I built this LED light with some LEDs and resistors and a 12 volt battery
that keeps my tent well lit enough all week. Though such lighting can get expensive.
- Garbage bags – for garbage, duh. Bring more than you think you need. I brought about 5 and used 3.
- Portable radio – Several radio stations are in BRC. I lived on 5:15 and Neptune in 2004 so it was pretty quiet. The radio kept me feeling more in touch when I went back for lunch and such.
- Nasal spray – to keep your sinuses moist. My first 2 days in 2004, I had hard blood boogers (yuck!). I used my tried and true trick of inhaling water into my nose carefully, which helped. I didn’t have any more trouble after that, probably because I drank so much water (1 gallon/day). In 2005 I brought Nasovisc (saline with extra moisture-goop for your nose). It worked well.
- Extra car keys – losing your keys on the playa would SUCK!
- First aid kit – moleskin, antibacterial wipes, band-aids, small sharp knife, large sterile pads, triple antibiotic ointment, sticky tape. Common issues: foot blisters, scrapes, cracked and bleeding hands and feet, lacerations from walking into rebar tent stakes at night.
- Butane powered soldering iron – I am such a geek. Iron from Radio Shack, with a lighter taped to the cap because their sparker thing is so wimpy. Some extra wire, electrical tape, a Leatherman and some solder rounds out that list.
I’ve tried bringing my camp stove but I’m just not into cooking out there. I’ve been very happy
bringing food that didn’t need cooking. I just want to eat and get back out there. I’ve never lit my stove. I might if it gets cold, rainy, and not too windy to cook.
Food Packing Misc:
- Can opener
- Utensils – Lexan or metal or whatever.
- Plastic bowl – no plate, too much hassle for me.
- Baby wipes – good for washing the dish, cleaning utensils, hands, & face
- A mesh garbage bag – All yucky wet waste goes in the bag, on the playa. In two days, my banana peels and empty tuna cans were perfectly dried (instead of stinking up the place!)
- Coleman collapsible 5 gallon water containers, $4 each at ??. 15 gallons per person. So far I’ve always had extra water at the end but it’s better to have extra than to DIE OF
DEHYDRATION. I note that in 2005 1 of my collapsable water containers sprung a leak after 2 years and very little use :-(.
Food I packed and liked:
- Cytomax sport drink. I am a convert! After a few hours in the sun on the first day, I was feeling woozy, even after drinking water. 5 min after a big swig of this and I was really noticeably refreshed. Whatever magic is in it really works. It’s good that it’s a mixable power and not liquid. Downside: when I drank too much, I got really gassy. It’s expensive: I drank 1/2 of a $20 container in a week. The usual recommendation is to have 2 bottles, 1 with water, 1 with Cytomax. Drink from whichever you feel like, taste-wise and energy-wise. Excellent stuff!
- Goobers Peanut Butter and Jelly together – Yummy taste from home. Actually, Goobers isn’t my favorite but the label doesn’t say that it requires refrigeration (I don’t really want to know how they got the jelly to keep at room temperature). I ate 1 1/3 jars of the stuff.
- Trader Joes Instant Mashed Potatoes. You don’t need to boil them, just pour water on, mix and wait 2 minutes. Sure, the mashed potatoes will be cold but, sheesh, it’s hot enough already out there!
- Natures Path Optimum Power cereal. It’s this organic cereal from Sam’s Club. It looks like twigs and rocks but the mouth-feel and taste are just great. It’s my favorite cereal at home so having it on the playa is a touchstone.
- Better Than Milk – Powered soy. It dissolves in water quicker than other soy milks, indefinite shelf life, good. I think it’s better than milk.
- PowerBars – some people like ’em, some don’t. They were moderately goopy in the sun but recovered when cool.
- GenSoy bars – The chocolate coating got really yucky in the sun but they recovered when cool.
- Tiger Bars – Yummy! Yummie. They even take the heat pretty well.
- Canned tuna – if you like it straight out of the can, it’s easy and nutritious. I put the can in my bowl to catch the potentially yucky tuna water.
- Bananas – I had them for 3 days… They kept just fine in the heat.
- Bread – The temperature was moderate so it kept for 4 days while I finished it with…
- Raisins – in the little Sun Maid boxes. Yum.
- Instant mashed potatoes – I hope this doesn’t gross you out but I just mix warm water
with it and eat. It tastes great. I like the garlic and onion variety.
- Tasty Bites – Those indian meals in a packet. Yum
- Canned vegetables and soups like corn, peas, chicken soup, refried beans,
minestrone… all that good stuff is Mmm mmm good
Food I packed and didn’t use (probably would have been good)
- Matzo – This was going to sub for bread but I never needed to resort to it.
- Couscous and Raisins – I was going to cook it but never cooked.
- Instant Pasta dish – One of those "just add boiling water and stir" deals.
Food I packed and didn’t like:
- Nature Valley Granola bars – It’s a dry granola bar. I felt like I was eating playa dust. I’ll be wary of bringing totally dry food in the future.
- All-nut bars – various brands. All of the bars that are mostly nuts are held together with sugar and/or honey. They get totally totally gooey on the playa and pretty much stay that way.
- Entenmann’s Donut Holes – I dunno, sweet, fat & greasy donuts on the playa just don’t work for me.
- Entenmann’s Brownies – Like the Donut Holes, they just didn’t taste good on the playa.
- In 2004, I stayed at Circus Circus inbound $80 Saturday, $30 Sunday. Outbound, stayed at the Golden Phoenix. The Burner vibe was much more present at the Golden Phoenix so I’ll be staying there inbound and outbound next time. The midway in Circus Circus is moderately fun though. Real circus acts every 1/2 hr all day and night. In 2005, Golden Phoenix all the way. Their wireless high speed internet is worthless. The burner vibe was only barely there in 2005… Who’da thought…
- But water at Simply Water in Reno. I’m glad we did. It tastes better than the tap water. To me, the tap water tastes "dusty". $11 for 30 gallons.
- The Circus Circus Sunday Brunch is awful and expensive.
- Victoria Station Buffet near the Silver Legacy is AWFUL and EXPENSIVE. $20 and I honestly couldn’t find a single good thing on their menu.
- Pneumatic Diner – I think it might be the only good food in Reno. I ate there 3 times in the 4 days I spent in Reno. Veggie, friendly, great vibe. Nuff said.
- Truckee River – They made the river into a (class 0.75) kayaking park downtown. The water sounds and feels great after the desert.
- Before leaving home, I printed a list of all camps and locations (of course, I forgot it at home too….)
- Liquor for gifts at bars (if you’re into going to bars on the playa) – try to get it in plastic
- beer (if that’s your thing) – Cans, not bottles!
- Pack your "survival bag" before you hit they playa, you will be ready to go the instant you get there!
- Clothing – optional
I spent 35,000 Continental Onepass miles to fly round-trip from Newark, NJ to Reno, with a layover in Detroit. I ordered my tickets on 7-11-04 for travel on August 28th and September 8th. I had to pad my trip by 2 days on both ends in order to keep the pricetag down to 35,000 miles. (The cheapest flights are 25,000 miles round-trip). The extra 10,000 miles bought me a 1st class ticket on the way home.
Some of my sources: