Where Should I Camp at Burning Man?

So many choices…there are 50,000 or more people at Burning Man each year.  Some stay in tents, some in RV’s and some in innovative, self-made housing that defies description.  Despite the seemingly endless array of choices about where to camp, there are really only two types of camping to consider:  camping on your own or camping with a theme camp.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are good and logical reasons to choose either individual camping or participating in a theme camp, so it seems best to begin by review the pluses and minuses of the two choices.

Camping on your own.  You can have the luxury of peace and quiet by choosing a site far from Center Camp.  Individual campsites are all located further away from the action than are theme camps.  But remember that you’re completely on your own without a ready-made community.  If you’re camping alone, make doubly sure that you have all the supplies you need so that you won’t need to rely on others.  It’s not that people are unfriendly and won’t help you if you have a problem, but camping on your own implies that you want a high degree of independence and you’re willing to prepare yourselves for all contingencies.

Many people like being away from the action near center camp because it’s much easier to get a good night’s sleep.  Nearer to the action and inside large theme camps, there are activities day and night, and disco-blasting art cars tend to roam nearby.  Farther out on the individual camping areas, the mood is tranquil and sleep tends to come easier.

My first year — tent camping with the Lamplighters

Theme camping.  When you become part of a theme camp you are joining a (usually) collegial group of Burners who share some common interests.  Theme camps often provide for meals (each person contributes a share of the food and takes a shift or two in the kitchen), and also provide a focus for your activities.  The “theme” is often a gift to the Burner community that you must participate in.  Sometimes its entertainment, sometimes therapeutics such as massage, sometimes some whimsical idea such as giving compliments to people walking near the camp.  Whatever the theme, you’ll be expected to “work” a certain number of hours supporting it during your stay at Burning Man.

If you’re going to join a theme camp, check out what is required of you first.  You’ll surely be asked to contribute supplies such as food, liquor and even furniture.  You might even be asked to pay a fee to join certain theme camps.  It’s up to you to decide if you want to join a theme camp with a fee or find one that just requires normal contributions of supplies.

As an example of theme camps, I stay with Lamplighters.  Lamplighters’ prime directive is to “Light the City Nightly” with a world-class collection of approximately 1,000 kerosene lanterns that are hung from stanchions placed strategically along major thoroughfares including the Esplanade, the main “keyholes” at 3 and 9 o’clock, Center Camp, the Man and the Temple and routes to those landmarks.

The lanterns are set out in a nightly ceremony that’s a true celebration of the spirit of Burning Man and requires volunteers from among the Black Rock citizenry.  To help recruit volunteers, the 200 or so full-time Lamplighters hold two of BRC’s largest party’s of the Festival – the Sangria Soiree on Monday and the Bloody Mary Brunch on Wednesday.  Open to all, these parties are marked by free-flowing libations served by Lamplighters who remind all attendees to come out at least once during Burning Man to volunteer as a “carrier”, “lifter” or “support” during the lighting ceremony at 4 p.m. each evening.  Many regular burners wouldn’t miss the opportunity of playing a role in “lighting the city” and following the cry of the Luminaries (leaders) “Make Way for the Lamplighters,” and the return call from BRC citizens “Thank you, Lamplighters.”

(An expanded description of Lamplighters as well as many other aspects of Burning Man can be found at Kit O’Connell’s A Burner’s Lexicon (http://kitoconnell.com/writing/lexicon/), an excellent reference site for all things Burning Man.)

I’d love to hear from others about their experiences at camping on your own, picking a theme camp, and dealing with the pluses and minuses of both ways of experiencing Burning Man.