Erowid Burning Man FAQ
v1.5 - Jan 30, 2003
minor updates Nov 2008, by Erowid
This FAQ is not regularly updated or maintained. It may include out-of-date information. Please check the version date to see when it was most recently revised. For current information, see Erowid's summary pages in the substance's main vault.
CreditsThis FAQ was created by Erowid in the spring of 1999. It was compiled from a collection of resources including the 1996 Burning Man email list FAQ, information from the official Burning Man site, and a collection of emails and conversations with participants.
Thanks to Bob Wallace, David Karner, Bryan@wlink.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Gregmck@aol.com, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Mol237@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, PENFOLD_of_Terra@prodigy.com, and email@example.com for bits and pieces of this FAQ.
If you find any errors or think something should be added to this FAQ...please let us know.
CopyrightThis FAQ can be copied and freely distributed as long as it remains fully intact, with the credit, copyright, and disclaimer information attached....and is not sold, but freely given.
DisclaimerWe do not take any responsibility for how the information in this FAQ is used. We do not suggest or encourage that anyone attend Burning Man. Each individual is responsible for their own actions, so evaluate the information you find for yourself and make your own decisions.
What is Burning Man?Burning Man is an event that has been held for the last ten years in the desolate salt flats of the Black Rock Desert, north of Reno Nevada. Burning Man is a rather difficult event to explain. Imagine, if you will, a bunch of people, many from the San Francisco Bay Area, getting together out in the middle of a vast expanse of desert and assmembling a sort of "temporary community." Anything and everything is possible. It is a PATICIPATORY event; if you come expecting to be entertained, you may very well be disappointed.
The event is based around one main event which is the burning of the man. The man is a 40-70 foot tall structure built of wood and neon. Up until 1998 the man was always burned on Sunday night. As of 1999, the burn has been moved to Saturday night in order to give people a chance to rest after the main event, as well as to ease the clean-up process and encourage people to do their share. There is now often a secondary burn of some sort (the temple burn) on Sunday night.
Each participant is responsible for cleaning up and carrying out everything they bring in with them. See the Clean-up section for details.
When is it?It is held each year over Labor Day weekend. It begins the Monday before labor day and ends on labor day. Aug 30 - Sept 6, 2004.
Where is it?The event is held in the middle of the 400 sq mile Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada. The exact physical location of the camp is decided a few weeks before most people arrive. A crew of people (the DPT, or Department of Public Works) volunteer to head out early and put in the hard work to map, layout, and organize the city.
Some wonder why people would choose to gather in the middle of a desert, but it's really quite a logical choice when you try to think of somwhere you can assemble multiple thousands of people, run around naked (if you wish), and burn forty-foot effigies down to the ground without getting arrested or being considered a riot.
How do I get there?If you buy a ticket, you will receive a package with the survival guide and instructions and a map explaining how to find the check-in point. This will come a few weeks before the event, so don't expect it with your tickets.
Other resourcesBurning Man Sites
Burning Man Images (95-03)
timeline showing the height of the man, the number of participants, and the location for each year since the event started in 1986.
Who started Burning Man?Larry Harvey has been credited with starting the whole thing. Many years ago, or so it seems, a handful of friends got together on a San Francisco beach and spontaneously burned an eight-foot man... without ever thinking about it, the event became an annual ritual and continued to grow and expand to what we have today (or will have next year).
Physical Mailing ListTo join the physical mailing list, call the Burning Man Hotline at (415) 985-7471. You'll receive updates about the event as well as some announcements of related smaller events throughout the year such as fundraisers and flambe lounges.
Email Announcement ListThis list, also known as "The Jack Rabbit Speaks" is a one way weekly announcement list (no discussions), run by Maid Marian. It's the best low traffic method of keeping up with the most important bits of information. To join, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the word "subscribe" in the body of the message.
Burning Man Email ListThis is a HIGH TRAFFIC list and receives between 30 and 80 messages a day. The list is administered by Eric Pouyoul and is open to anyone who can handle the traffic. It is frequently off-topic and can be pretty overwhelming due to the level of traffic, but if you want to immerse in Burning Man this is a good way to do it. To subscribe you can send a message to mailto:burnman-list-admin@diox.Eng.Sun.COM, with "subscribe" as the subject, and "subscribe" and your email address in the body.
Who can go?Burning Man is an event that is open to the public. The main criteria is that there are NO SPECTATORS allowed. Everyone must participate. Participation can mean just about anything, but don't expect to show up and simply walk around looking at all the creativity and work other people put into the event. Do / Bring / Be Something. If you don't know what to do, a good way to participate is simply to be an active participant. Many people create elaborate projects for burning man with the hope that others will enjoy them. Interact with the wonderful projects created by others.
How much are tickets?As of 2004, ticket prices range from $145-250. In 1999, ticket prices ranged from $65-105.
Where do I buy a ticket?Tickets can be purchased through the Burning Man website.
Black Rock City is made entirely from what participants bring with them...towers, tents, domes, sculptures, art, toys, games, music, several radio stations, neighborhood bars, trampolines, and lots of flaming things. Anything you can image and more will be there. Porta potties are provided by the organizers and paid for by the entrance fee....they're kept in reasonably good shape for such an event.
NoiseThe event is pretty noisy. There's a lot of people doing a lot of weird and creative things...many of which turn out to be LOUD. Since most activity happens at night, this means it's especially loud at night. Don't expect anyone to turn anything down for you...this is not a place for rules and regulations. If you want it to be quieter..move your tent further away from the noise. Bring ear plugs.
Day and NightMost of the activities at Burning Man take place in the evening and night, primarily because it is no longer too hot to move. People would be well-advised to create a cool place to relax during the midday hours. (Just relax, drink water and read a book.) The traditional siesta makes good sense in hot climates. It's very interesting to watch the city transform as the day progresses. The effect of being in the middle of the playa with 15,000 people is stunning in the middle of the night when all you can see are the lights of the city. Distances appear very different at night.
WeatherTemperatures are generally cool at night (50s - 60s), but it can get COLD. Make sure to bring enough warm clothing including hat, gloves, long pants and a jacket. During the day temperatures range from tolerably hot (80s & 90s) - to intolerably hot (100+). Some suggestions for dealing with the uncomfortable heat are:
- Stay up late enjoying the coolness and sleep as late as possible in the morning. It only gets hotter. You can pass some of the hours of the day by staying in bed until it's too hot to possibly sleep any longer.
- Lightly wet a sheet and wear it around you. The breeze will keep you quite cool as long as the sheet is damp.
- Occasionally wet your hair...keeping your head cool will make you feel cooler.
- Sleep naked in the shade during the day.
If you're planning on renting an RV, reserve it long ahead of time. The RVs in Reno are generally reserved months ahead of time with none to spare. Many RV rental places won't rent to those who say they are going to Burning Man. Many of the rentable RVs are owned by individuals who let rental places rent them out to make a little money. Car rental places also rent RVs, but they can be very expensive. Some people suggest making up little "please rent to me" papers and slipping them under the wipers of any RVs you see on the street. RVs cost somewhere on the order of $800-$1200 for a week for one that sleeps 6 or 8. You generally need to make several deposits including a cleaning deposit. Plan to spend some time scrubbing it down at a car wash before returning it if you want to get that back.
Driving a huge vehicle long distances can be tricky. Careful on the last stretch of road after Gerlach and before the playa. The transition to the off-road section can be harrowing. Also realize that while most RVs will have a generator...generators make noise. Make sure you plan with those around you when it's ok, or best to be noisy...probably sometime in the afternoons. Be considerate. Try to park with the generator pointed away from the nearest tents, perhaps block the worst of it with a couple of cars.
- Moving Trucks
Many groups rent trucks to carry projects out to the playa. In 2003, at least one rental company cancelled all truck rentals during Burning Man without notifying those who had reserved vehicles. If you rent a truck, call ahead to make sure your reservation is still good.
Likewise, don't panic and drink too much water. You don't need to be obsessive. Each year there are those who drink too much water and end up requiring first aid. Even in very hot weather you don't need to drink more than a gallon of water in a day unless you're doing heavy physical labor.
Blocks of ice last longer than bags of ice cubes. Sometimes ice is sold on the playa, at designated times throughout the week, by the local school sports teams...but don't count on it. If you plant to be there for more than a couple of days, dry ice is a good solution. If kept in an insulated cooler it can last up to a week. It can be purchased at bait and tackle shops, dry ice companies, ice cream stores and liquor stores. Call around.
Everyone's different, but we find that light foods are best. Many people find that in the heat they aren't hungry for full hot meals, but rather lighter snacking foods. Trail mixes, sandwiches, fresh fruit and vegetables (carrots), dried fruit, salad.
Keeping your kegged beer cold - One option would be a jocky box. The idea is that you don't bother to keep the actual keg cold, but instead chill on delivery. Use a standard CO2 setup to tap the keg. Use food-grade clear tubing for delivery, but get a lot of it. Take a large ice chest, drill a hole in the back large enough for the tube to enter the ice chest. Coil the tubing around in the ice chest and have it exit through another hole drilled in the front of the box. Attach a standard spigot to the front. Fill the chest with ice. Now, when you pull the level on the front, the beer will come out of the keg warm, go into the ice chest, and cool as it coils around in the tubing, resulting in ice-cold beer coming out of the tap. Works like a charm and is a damn handy thing to have around the house, not just at BM.
A cooking stove if you expect to heat food or liquid.
Remember when setting up your tent that the playa gets heavy wind. To make sure your tent will be there when you get back, get a dome tent and spike it down deep with 12-15 inch long stakes minimum. A huge 3-4 person tent spiked down with those yellow tent spikes from G&M Camping, approx. 12- 15 inches long, never fell once. I was really surprised since it was tall enough to stand in, and really bent in the wind. Hammer the stakes all the way into the ground -- the tent had nylon loops that sit almost flush to the tent, so there wasn't a few feet of low-lying line with accompanying rebar waiting to inflict injury. That is, the stakes were about 2 inches away from the edges of the tent, and not protruding significantly from ground to cause rebar-shin. Also line the sides with your heavy gear -- coolers, rolled sleeping bags, boxes of whatever. This makes them accessible while also providing a base to the tent that wind can't get under very well.
Can be great for providing shade, primarily because they're so big. White parachutes let a lot of light through, so if it's intended as your primary shade they work better if doubled up with some other material. Parachutes can be draped over just about anything including domes, tents, vehicles, poles, etc.
In the mid-90s many people had shade structures made out of PVC piping. The problem with these is that, unless designed well, the wind can simply bend them to the ground. Thus came geodesic domes made out of metal conduit. These can be made by hand ($100-200) or purchased (pricey!). Instructions for designing and building can be found on the web. There are also a couple of places selling nicely designed pvc domes now.
- Big Nets
Most army/navy surplus or camping stores will sell all sorts of gear that's useful for Burning Man. Military, civilian, gadgets, clothing, shelters, tools, first-aid kits, and NATO issue CAMO NETTING.
- Mobile Shade
Umbrellas, parasols, hats; something to break the midday sun while walking around. You'll be glad you did!
- Ground Cloths
Ground cloths, carpets, tarps. The ground gets dusty and it gets muddy. People are sitting around all day waiting for the heat to go away. It's nice to have something on the ground to lounge on. Old carpets can often be picked up from dumpsters behind carpet sales/installation companies. We call around each year and ask permission to grab some of their garbage carpet. Most places don't mind the idea as long as you promise to bring it to the dump when you're done.
- Rebar, Stakes
COVER ALL TENT SPIKES/STAKES - Remember to cover all your spikes with some padding. Some people suggest using short pieces of PVC pipe to cover any spike ends. Other good solutions include water bottles or tennis balls. Many people are wandering around in the dark loopy. A lot of injuries result each year from people running in to untreated tent spikes.
- Better Spikes - A few extra bucks for 'form stakes' is a cheap investment in your 'comfort level' on the playa. We are talking about fierce winds and a 'laminar air-flow' unlike anything you've ever experienced. Form stakes are drilled to accept wires, nails or whatever. If you want to keep it, ya gotta' pin it down.
- Make them ahead of Time - If you're going with rebar tent stakes anyway, then take the time to prep them beforehand. the lighter gauges (and why use the thick stuff?) can be bent in a vise - make a simple 'C' shape on one end, two 90 degree bends. when in use, the cut ends of the rebar will be pointed groundward, so fewer people will have calf tattoos from your camp, and the 'C' will give you a better tie point, plus be something to grab onto when its time to pull 'em all out.
- Removing Stakes - A quick way to loosen any size stake in the dry playa is to pour a bit of water on it. The can still be a bitch to remove, but a lot easier than trying it dry. Have a plan and do whatever it takes to remove them...PLEASE don't leave them in the ground for someone else to deal with.
Cords, ropes, bungies, hooks, grommets.
If you ever need to wear a hat to keep from burning...you'll need one here.
Light slip-on canvas, sandals, or none. (Sunscreen your feet!) Boots are good for night walking to protect your feet and for hiking out into the playa.
Stuff to wear to help you get into whatever space you want to get into. Dress up, dress down, no dress at all, but think about your clothes.
- Body paint: black, white, red. Sheer see-through material over.
- Tiny lights, or
- Chemo-lume sticks sticking out of head a la Statue of Liberty.
- Oversized, weird genetalia, perhaps not your usual variety.
- Bedding - warm sleeping bags
- Folding chairs or camp stools.
- Bicycles - mountain bikes with fat tires are best
- Sunscreen / sunblock - enough to redose several times each day.
- Lighting for your living space
- First Aid Kit.
- Spare Batteries
- Ear Plugs - If you want to sleep you may need ear plugs. It depends on where you're camped and who's camped near you, but many people are making a lot of noise day and night so earplugs are a grand idea. Earplugs!! Other people can be very noisy, Rave Camp can be very loud. There are no 'hours' at BM, so when you want to sleep, you may find that others are not.
- Garbage bags
- Contacts / Eyewear - Wear some form of eyegear if you have contacts in. Sunglasses are fine so are googles, etc. The last thing we want is a scratched cornea. Or, call up your local lens shop and inquire about daily wear contacts. As long as you don't have a tricky prescription (ie: astigmatic) you should be able to get a free 1 week trial of disposable contacts. Just slap them in in the morning and throw them away at night (pack them out actually...or sacarfice them to The Man...whatever...). This way you avoid the pain of having to deal with your regular lenses and the gear that comes with.
- If you are bringing delicate musical or electrical instruments, put them in plastic bags for dust protection while not in use.
Photos and Camera Equipment
- Ask permission before taking photos
- As of 2003, all video cameras had to be registered.
- If you're filming naked people, it's polite to strip first yourself. We've seen some inconsiderate camera-people who refused to strip even when it was requested by those they were filming. The irritated crowd chose to retaliate by lobbing mud at the cameramen, ruining some very expensive equipment...so it's not only polite, but practical to be nude if shooting nudes.
- Mount on a stick/monopod so you can shoot over crowds. If you intend to pack light, just bring the tripod. You can double it as a monopod, just don't spread the legs. If you go hiking with your camera, there are a number of camping outfitters that sell great hiking staffs that can be used as monopods.
- Make an investment in UV/Haze filters for your camera(s). If you have multiple lenses for your 35mm SLR (like I have) get a filter for *each* lens. Not only do these filters cut down on glare in the finished product, they also provide a secondary means of protecting the lens itself in case of an accident. A UV/Haze filter is far cheaper (about $10 each) to replace than an expensive camera lens. A filter is also easier to clean, given the dusty environment of the playa, and it keeps the lens itself clean. Would you rather clean the flat surface of an inexpensive filter or the curved surface of expensive coated optics with spit and a paper towel?
- Dust and Water are the bane of all photo equipment. I use some plain old ziplock storage bags to keep my 18 year old 35mm in, if I know the location may be hostile or inclement. A nice side benefit is that you can still operate the camera through the plastic. I cut a hole in one side of the bag for the lens and attach it to my camera with the UV/Haze filter. If your equipment is too large, a dry cleaning bag works just as well, but be careful, the plastic is much thinner.
- For Video and still photos, bring extra batteries with you and the means to charge them.
- Steel Wool
Try: 0000 steel wool, attached to a string with a wire (or make a little cage out of wire and attach this to the end of the string), light it on fire, and spun around one's head. Do not do this near anything flameable...you need 20 yards between you and anything else.
- Fire Breathers
95% ethanol, sprayed out of the mouth over a candle. Do not do this if you don't know what you're doing. There's a lot of people out there knowledgable about correct technique. Find them and learn before you try.
- Fire Juggling / Poi
There are a lot of methods out there for this. Fire Chains, Fire Sticks (A Pair, or one lit at both ends), Actual Juggling, Fire Breathing. Wicks can be purchased at specialty stores. Do a web search for more info.
- GlowSticks - Glow sticks only last a few hours at full brightness, though a dim glow will be seen for some time. They also leave a lot of garbage behind. They are an option, and usually cheap, but there's better re-useable lighting out there that's more fun.
- Small battery lights - A whole industry has grown up around Burning Man providing interesting, fun, and cheap battery operated lights. You can also make 'em yourself. Get a large battery, like a lantern battery. Note the voltage. Divide thevoltage by 1.5 or so, and the answer gives you how many LED's are needed to have the right voltage drop. Twist together the leads on some led's, and connect them to the terminals of the battery. This should last quite a while. You have a choice of green, yellow and red, with blue being possible but expensive.
- EL Wire / Phosphor Wire - Available from places like coolneon.com.
- Torches - Torches (open flame) are not allowed in camp because of a few unfortunate accidents where tents have been set on fire.
All participants are expected to participate in cleanup on Sunday. Regardless of when you leave, you are required to clean up and remove everything you brought with you, including ashes from anything you burn, all trash, firewood, rocks, plant life, cigarette butts and each little piece of paper that you dropped during your visit. Leave no debris behind, PICK UP EVERYTHING. This means after you get everything packed in your vehicle, you'll all need to spend an hour pacing back and forth over the space you occupied, carrying a trash bag, picking up ever little teeny bit of moop you see (glitter, twigs, bits of carpet, etc). In recent years each participant has been asked to spend at least one additional hour doing general cleanup...outside their own camp...before leaving.
It's a good idea to keep your trash closely contained during your stay to help make the cleanup process easier. It frequently gets windy and gusty and anything not tied down will blow around, including garbage, water bottles, coolers, and tents.
- Hot Springs
There are many hot springs around the area where Burning Man is held. A number of years ago a dog named Spike had the very unpleasant and fatal experience of jumping into one of the hottest springs. It underlines the importance of the great care necessary when messing around with the hot springs. When all your skin sloughs off, there is no second chance. One guy burned his feet at Fly in 1991. Dermabrasion at Washoe Medical Center--imagine someone taking a grinding wheel to remove dead skin.
"Probably the most dangerous hot springs is Double Hot, which is north of Black Rock about 10 miles. Great camping spot and really nice tubs, even a real bathtub at one location. The *usable* tubs are a hundred feet or so away from where the hot water comes up out of the ground and begins flowing downhill in a boiling hot stream. The tubs are holes dug to the side of the stream, and water is redirected according to the users' comfort requirements."
"The place where the hot water comes out of the ground is called the maw. There are actually two of them and they are incredibly beautiful, deep blue water and you can see down into the sweltering bowels of the earth several fathoms. The water is about 200 degrees. IF YOU FALL INTO THE MAW YOU WILL DIE. In 1994 I witnessed a family from Reno out on a little tour fail to exercise care around the maw. (They were not there for B-Man.) Their beautiful golden retriever--the family dog obviously for many years--thought she would go for a swim. I became aware of the disaster when the screaming began. The whole family was crying horribly as the father stuck his hands in the boiling water to pull out their pet. The little boy and the little girl were absolutely devastated and that is where my friend Louis directed his marvelous efforts to calm them down by telling them distracting stories, away from the scene. I helped the father who was cursing himself and crying uncontrollably. The dog went almost immediately into shock, as her skin began to slough off in patches about as big as my hand. Eventually most of the fur was gone. The family bundled their pet into a blanket and slowly made their way back to Reno. I am sure the father had second and perhaps even third, degree burns on his arms."
Dogs should be on leashes around the hot springs!
"The first time I went to Double Hot I did not know about the maw. I arrived at night, and after quite a bit of tequila, took to my mountain bike and rode under the silvery moon. The maw is just two holes in the ground--there is NO BARRIER around it. I still have nightmares about riding into the maw."
"Please, I beg of you, do not die this way. Or do it some other weekend when I'm not there. Thank you."
- Tent Spikes
Many injuries each year from people tripping over unprotected tent spikes. Scraped and gouged shins aren't a fun thing. Cover your tent spikes & rebar!
There's a lot of fire at burningman. Inevitably, people will be burned. More than one person has died as a result of fire at Burning Man. Some intentional, some not. If you see someone running and jumping over a large fire (usually in an inebriated state)...please do everyone a favor and try to convince them not to.
To care for a burn, there are generally a few goals:
- Stop the burning process and prevent further injury.
- Cover the burned area with a dry, sterile dressing to decrease heat loss and decrease risk of infection.
- Support patient's vital functions as necessary.
- Transport to a center capable of handling the burn.
Some things to remember:
- If the skin or clothing is still hot, immerse the patient in cool water or cover them with a wet towel; this will relieve pain and stop the burning process. However, do not immerse the burned area for any longer than ten minutes.
- The greatest risk of danger with a burn is infection.
- An extensive burn can result in hypothermia. Cool the patient enough to stop the burning process and then keep them warm.
- Never put anything on the burn except dry, sterile dressings.
Each year many people end up in the first aid camp from dehydration. The best way to make sure you're getting enough water is to make sure you're peeing. If you find yourself not having to pee...you're not drinking enough. Carry a water bottle with you at all times, especially if you go for a hike out on the playa or out to explore the city.
A couple of people have died in car accidents on the road approaching Burning Man. People are often driving it at night, there's wildlife, and the road is narrow. Drive carefully. This is also the reason cars aren't allowed to drive around during the festival. In 1996, a man (M. Fury) died before the event started. He had been riding his motorcycle at night, reportedly playing chicken with a van driving in the desert. A much more tragic accident that same year involved two people who were seriously injured after a vehicle drove over their tent. One woman died in 2003 after jumping from an art car and falling under its wheels.
Story by Anonymous Participant - "Last year was my first B'Man, and I brought my then 7-year old daughter, an old hand at camping, heat and general mayhem. She adores any chance to exercise her usually-barely-contained spontineity... she grasped immediately that she could do as she liked, ................as long as she wore sunscreen.
She sculpted mud and looked for trains and chased Harrod's VW across the playa under the lightning. She tried to give away our chairs, and bartered for a tent pole we needed. She found a kite after the windstorm, and tied hairibbons together to fly it.
She danced the night away to Polkacide and the Chicken Dance. Her favorite event was the Seemen, after the man burned. My favorite image of her at B'Man: Monday morning, still nearly cool, clear in light and color, trudging across the playa in her pink footie-jammie, TP in hand, heading for the pottie through the melange of camps.
It was a great time for us, a great place to be with your kid. She's planning our trip this year, she's going to bring her trumpet. She's storing up flags and ribbons, and bought a new straw hat at the thrift store last week, reminding me that she'd need a new one for B'Man, and she wanted to start finding decorations for it."
- Big Groups
My advice for people who want to organize larger groups (15 or more) is a). don't. But if you must, b). split it up into more manageable groups (4 or 5) and have these subgroups be responsible for themselves. You can still do things like community shelters and the like, but, as I found out in '94, being responsible for that large a group can seriously wreck your BM experience. It just takes one asshole, and on my trip I had several (but don't worry, they were sufficiently psychically dissed during the ceremony!).
I would strongly advise against taking people on at the last minute (the last minute in this case being a week or two before the event). In my experience these folk are ALWAYS unprepared, and there's no bigger downer than arriving at someone's house to pick them up, and have them emerge a half hour later with just a backpack and a jug of water. If this happens to you - LEAVE THEM HOME! I am dead serious about this. You will end up taking care of them for the entire trip, you will hate them, and you will have a great urge to leave them on the playa when you go home.
1.5 - Jan 30, 2003, by Erowid
1.51 - 2004, minor edits
1.52 - Nov 1, 2008, by Erowid, changed 2 gallons to 1 gallon on suggestion from Dan. Thanks Dan for pointing out the problem!