We live in the mountains during the winter so we can ski. Winter conditions can be harsh. You have to prepare. We have a closet full of ski wear, including thermal underwear, warm ski outer clothing, gloves that keep our fingers from freezing, skis and boots. It’s similar for Burning Man. We bring goggles and dust masks to protect us from the frequent dust storms, a large supply of water and sports drinks to keep us hydrated, clothing to stay cool during the day and warm at night, and bikes. The point is, when you have the right clothing and equipment, you can overcome even the harshest conditions.
So how do you find the gear you’ll need for Burning Man? Dusty Depot is a fantastic site run by experienced Burners. It shows numerous types of dust masks, goggles, playa-appropriate clothing and other needed paraphernalia. I like the site because it doesn’t actually sell anything, but instead links to a variety of retailers such as Amazon and Costco.
There are great ideas and suggestions on Dusty Depot, but everything they describe comes with a price – a high price. We’ve never spent anything close to those retail prices. However, Dusty Depot is a good starting point for your preparation because it lists everything you’ll need to equip yourself for the harsh Playa environment.
We prefer to re-purpose existing gear. Ski goggles that you may already own can protect your eyes as well as an expensive set of new goggles. A kerchief can be turned into a dust mask. We purchase used bikes on Craigslist or at flea markets and plan to use them for around three Burns before replacing them. If you bring a fresh new bike, it’s more likely to be appropriated by another Burner than a crappy looking old bike that works okay. I personally prefer to be able to shift gears as I bike through mini-dunes that the wind piles up, but I’ve successfully navigated the Playa with gearless bikes (the loaners provided by Burning Man don’t have gears).
Our big expenditures are on lights, batteries, bottled water, and sports drinks. Maintenance on our vintage RV (mid-1990s era) can cost a lot. One year the dust invaded our generator and it stopped working. That meant no AC. Fortunately, TPP (The Playa Provides) occurred and we soon had three loaned generators at our disposal. But fixing our generator when we got home was pricey. By the way, if you decide to rent an RV, you’ll have to pay double the normal cost because of the wear and tear of a trip to Burning Man. Some people don’t tell the rental agency where they’re going and meticulously clean up their RVs before returning them. My recommendation would be to negotiate a deal where the rental company agrees to reduce the penalty fee if the condition of the RV is satisfactory upon return. If you’re going to rent, you’ll need to make arrangements early because there are a limited number of RVs available around Labor Day.
As I’ve noted before, lighting yourself and your bike is an absolute necessity if you want to be safe. Headlamps are particularly useful for both biking and walking. But you have to remember to turn them off whenever you’re in a face-to-face conversation with another person. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing one of those LED headlamps bobbing up and shooting directly into your eyes as you’re talking to someone. You’ll find plenty of suggestions for lights at Dusty Depot. Start there, then shop around.
If this is your first year, spend minimally on Burning Man-specific items. Once you’ve decided you’re coming back, you might want to spend a little more on items you know you’ll need. Good shopping!
Some of my friends have wondered why I didn’t write a personal note about Larry Harvey’s passing. I felt that Marian’s letter was far better than anything I could say. While I had met Larry a couple of times, read about him in Burning Man books and stories, and seen him interviewed in numerous films about BRC, I did not have the kind of close relationship that gave Marian the insights she expressed in her letter. I’m saddened by his loss. He contributed an idea to the world that has resonated with hundreds of thousands of people. But that idea will carry on beyond his lifetime. Can any of us ask for more out of our short time on the planet?