Flying to Burning Man: The Dog Lady Field Trip Series

lessons learned Burning Man

Flying to Burning Man: The Dog Lady Field Trip Series

Burning Man Part 2- The Preparation and Lessons Learned

My travel buddy and I flew into Reno for Burning Man.  Being virgin burners, there was a lot of room for error on our packing list.  So I thought I would share what we did and what we would do differently in the future.  There were a few points we considered when choosing what to bring.  Then I will tell you some fluffy stuff about my experience there.  Because heart emojis.

What if everything was sold out?

burning man art
He'll know what to bring
We had to arrive a day later than the event started due to work schedules and previous commitments.  Not knowing how everything was going to go down, this was a source of stress.  We had heard horror stories of stores being sold out of provisions and people not being able to get necessities.  Camping in the desert requires quite a bit if you want to be comfortable (relatively) for a week.  They recommended 1.5 gallons of water per person per day minimum.

It turns out the local Walmart just outside the airport was well stocked.  They were well prepared for the onslaught of burners, even the day after the event opened.  I would still bring your own tent and sleep system from home, but they had plenty of water, sunscreen, and whatnot.  We had packed a bunch of dehydrated backpacker meals due to the low weight.  We could have existed without them, food being available at the Walmart beforehand or readily around the playa, but they turned out to be quite convenient at times (although make sure to let them sit the full amount of time otherwise they are kind of crunchy.  Unless crunchy pasta is your thing.  Then by all means, do not follow the instructions on the bag).
Mountain Warehouse

Getting there.

We wondered how hard it would be to drive into our camp area a day after the event started.  Driving on the playa is a no-no unless you have a registered mutant vehicle or art car.  Most people used bicycles.  It turns out many people came in the day after...our wait time to get through the gate was about 3 hours (pack snacks in easily reachable places).  Some people even just come in for the weekend burn.  To get the full experience, I recommend doing the whole week though.  You do not get a full sense of the community purpose with just a weekend.

We did not have a way of packing bicycles in our airline luggage.  We also did not want to try to purchase bikes and then discard them afterward.  It seemed like a waste, although you can donate your bikes in many locations if you decide to go this route.  We decided to rent bikes for the week from Art Bike Relief.  They donate to charitable causes and reuse bikes, so it was a green, feel-good option....AND WE GOT TO SPRAY PAINT OUR BIKES.  Way fun.
Burning Man bicycle
My beautiful rendition of bike art...I taped a pillow to the seat.
I named it my Seuss-cycle.

Flying on an airline that allowed a BUNCH of luggage

We flew Southwest.  They allowed two checked bags up to 50 lbs each per person plus a carry-on and a personal item.  Other airlines would gauge you heinously for the same.  My sister-in-law gave me a luggage weighing strap device for my birthday and it came in super handy when packing.  I recommend investing in one.

Things we were glad we brought

Our own tents.  I read a blog account where a dude and his girlfriend waited until they landed in Reno to buy a tent and ended up with a kiddy tent.  They had to cut holes for their feet.  Cool story but probably not much fun at the time.  Walmart did have some tents when we got there but that is one thing I would prefer to pack along.  Besides you would not want to discard it afterwards...that is pretty wasteful unless you donate it.

Backpacker meals, utensils, etc.  While we probably could have survived without the dehydrated meals, they came in handy quite a few times, especially when we were craving a hot meal.  All you need is a way to boil water- kettle, backpacking pot, etc.  Remember to take the dry preserve pack out of them before you put the hot water in...but if you do not...meh.  Ten minute rule?

The backpacker pot can double as a dish for meals.  Remember your trusty spork.  Castille soap is nice for washing hands and dishes, but even though it is environmentally friendly, dispose of it in your grey water collection.  There are simply too many people on the playa to dump it, even if everyone was using biodegradable soap.  So pack it out or let it evaporate in a 5 gallon bucket.  We brought 2 and that was perfect.  Walmart had a supply of them, so we purchased them there after we came.  Checking a five gallon bucket seems like fun though? (sarcasm)

Mug on a carabiner WITH A LID.  Actually, carabiners in general are super useful.  The lid on the mug is essential because playa is salty and icky and not what you want coating your drinking vessel.  Or if you have pica, maybe you do.  I don't judge.

If you are female:

Yup.  The portas do get cleaned but in between cleanings they can be ripe.  Not sitting or hovering to pee= gold...just make sure it is secure otherwise your pants will be gold as well.

Tarps.  Along with this, paracord, bungees, and a knife.  If you have a good rain fly and a couple tarps, your tent will be relatively dust free.  We read about duct taping stuff down but it ended up being ineffectual and annoying.  That being said, duct tape came in handy for other applications such as fixing hydration packs and affixing pillows to bike seats.

Air mattress.  Everyone moaned about how unreliable their air mattresses were online, but mine was fine.  I got the 20 dollar Walmart special and it held up great.  I blew it up a bit before I went to bed at night and voila.  Happy sleeping.  I did bring my Thermarest foam core self-inflating backpacking mattress as a backup just in case the air mattress was a total fail.  It was nice to have a backup option even if I did not end up using it.

Warm clothes.  A lot of people ran around nude.  During the day it was hot.  I get it.  Use lots of sunscreen.  But it was cold at night.  Fuzzy sweaters and cute jackets= happy campers.

lights Burning Man
Or tutus...this dude was totally fashionable at Burning Man

Things we would ditch for next time

Temple Burning Man
Here is The Temple

Collapsible water containers.  We were able to get plenty of 5 gallon boxes of water at Walmart without the cumbersome gelatinous cube containers.  Being our first year, we were not sure and wanted to have a way to transport water if everything was sold out, but it turned out we were over-prepared.

Temple on fire
Here is the Temple on fire.  Burners like to burn things.
Rebar.  Most people stake their tents down to the playa with rebar.  It is hard to get in and out.  Our camp mate showed us a waaaaay easier way- a drill and 3/8 x 12" lag screws.  He had 1/2 x 16" but said it was overkill.  His way was super easy compared to our mallet-rebar-pounding-fest.

Wish list (aka the daydream list)

Yurts...those looked amazing.  Some even had air conditioners.  Shiftpod has some that look airline checkable.  For every 20 they sell, they donate one to a family in need.  If you are more DIY check out Hexayurts on how to make your own yurt.

Some people shipped things ahead in containers.  If you do not have an art installation or something large like that, it seems like overkill.  But to each their own.  Other people rented UHauls and used those as makeshift campers.

Extra hydration bladder.  I killed mine.  Then I put it in a dry bag.  Then I killed the dry bag.  So then I put all three in a Ziploc bag.  It was annoying.

More lights.  The light-ier the better.  This includes camp lanterns (solar is a good way to go or battery powered) as well as personal lighting.  You also need loads of lights for your bike.

Maybe a bell or horn for your bike.  You can get those at the local Walmart as well.  Riding on the playa is nice because there are not a ton of restrictions and rules.  But it helps to have a noise maker to get someone's attention if they are about to smash into you.  There is a ton of pretty, shiny distractions to look at.

A giant stuffed dog.  Because I missed my dog.  No dogs besides the K-9 police are allowed on the playa.  I might do a stuffed dog obedience class the next time I go.  It would be a riot.

Camping with an established camp.

I am really glad we did this.  We made some awesome friends and it was nice to have an immediate tribe.  Our camp had a shower structure for BYOS (bring your own solar-shower) and a kitchen with propane stoves, coolers, community snacks, etc.  Coffee...I do not function in the morning without it and their were saints there with coffee...yes.  Sainthood is determined by coffee making.  I am certain of it.  If you did not camp with a camp, you would want to have a cooler, maybe a kiddie pool if you wanted to dry to bath somehow without hurting the playa, and a camp stove.  The size of the camp stove (two burner or backpacker) would depend on what you can fit in your luggage.  There was plenty of propane available for sale in cannot pack propane on a flight.

An established camp also gives you an infrastructure to give back.  Gifting is one of the main Burning Man principles. We camped with Burning Sky (you have to apply and have at least 200 skydives on the books for this camp) but there are many other camps out there for which you can apply.  As part of our camp dues, we were given two "firefly" airplane ride tickets, one to use and one to gift.  Out on the playa one day I struck up a conversation with a woman who had had a terrible experience with a molesting tandem skydive instructor about a decade ago and she never went back.  I told her about the strides we have made in the sport, especially with more women skydivers than ever before.  I gifted her my firefly ticket because I wanted her to see first hand the progress we have made and how awesome/friendly the community is now.  I could not let her impression stand as it was.  Because I was a part of this amazing community, I was able to give her a new experience.  It felt awesome.  Thanks for the opportunity, Burning Sky.

It would not be Burning Man if one did not engage in some esoteric self-finding or whatnot.  I would say of all the lessons I learned, it was to not underestimate the generosity of other people.  I fully expected people to be cliquey at best, rude at the worst, and I was totally wrong in my assumption.  In this environment, where we can escape the demands and structure of everyday society, it felt easier to break barriers, to give, and to be free of judgement.  Sure, people in large groups can be unreliable and experiences vary.  But I found it refreshing to overhear conversations on the environment, art, and love rather than gossip, image related crap, and petty intrigue.  It was a nice vacation from regular society.

I hope you get to experience this phenomenal culture as well.

Sammy the Dog Trainer


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