This is the most common question I get about Burning Man! There really is no simple answer to this question, there are a lot of factors to consider. Over the years I have camped with lots of first-time burners. Some of the people I expected to thrive in Black Rock City didn’t really enjoy it, and some of the people I expected to have trouble at Burning Man immediately dove into the wild environment of Black Rock City, Nevada. So, today I’m going to try to help you answer this question for yourself: Should I go to Burning Man?
How self reliant can you be?
Burning Man is a social experiment in temporary community. Temporary is the key word here. Black Rock City (the city Burning Man takes place in) is built and destroyed over just a few weeks every summer. In order to live in Black Rock City for a week you will need to create a living space for yourself, and pack it out completely at the end of the event.
There are no trash cans at Burning Man, you are expected to collect your own garbage, and carry all of it out with you at the end of the week. This is called “leave no trace”, and Burning Man is the largest leave no trace event in the world. The idea of leaving no trace is essential to Black Rock City. It helps every participant take personal responsibility for the upkeep of the city. It is a principle that sets Burning Man apart from any other festival, and the community takes leave no trace very seriously.
You cannot buy anything at Burning Man (besides ice for your cooler). Every Burning Man participant is expected to bring enough food and water to last them a week in the Black Rock Desert. If you have experience camping in harsh environments you should have no trouble deciding your food and water needs (Pro tip: bring more water than you think you will need)! If you don’t have much camping experience you will need to do some research to figure out how to feed yourself for a week in the desert. (For help with determining your survival needs be sure to read the official Burning Man survival guide)
If all this sounds like a worthwhile challenge then Black Rock City, Nevada may be just the place for you!
How well do you tolerate loud noises?
Burning Man is a huge mix of cultures, sounds, and activities. There are areas of Black Rock City where you will find tranquil, isolated stretches of beautiful desert scenery. There are also plenty of areas where the sounds of the city create a cacophony of noise that will prevent even the soundest sleepers from getting any rest (think 24 hour loud music, flame throwers shooting off fire, and pranksters yelling into megaphones).
If you hate loud noises Burning Man may be challenging for you. While it’s possible to camp in quieter areas of the city, you will certainly encounter plenty of loud noise when you are out exploring. (Pro tip: Walk-in camping is located at the back of Black Rock City, and allows for a quiet, tranquil camping experience)
Still with me? Great!
Are you open to changing your perspective?
You may be surprised to learn that the median age of a Burning Man attendee is 34 years old. You may also be surprised to learn that there are plenty of young children at Burning Man, along with plenty of elderly adults.
While Youtube videos may present Black Rock City as a nonstop rave for beautiful 20-somethings, that is actually only a tiny portion of the population at Burning Man. Really.
People of all ages and types visit Black Rock City from all over the world. I’ve met ministers, toddlers, robotic engineers, and everything in between at Burning Man. For one week each year Black Rock City becomes the third largest city in the state of Nevada, with a population of 70,000 people. Like any other city you will find people from all walks of life and with many different world views.
There are 10 principles that help guide Burning Man’s participants. One of the 10 principles is radical inclusion. Radical inclusion basically means accepting and including your fellow participants without judgement. Radical inclusion creates an environment where participants can wear what they want, say what they want, and do what they want (as long as these things don’t hurt others) without fear of judgement. This makes Black Rock City a very special, almost magical, place.
Radical inclusion is SO different from most people’s regular lives that it requires many of us to change our perspective, to adopt a different world view while we live in Black Rock City (and you may just find that this new perspective follows you back into the default world….).
How well do you adjust to discomfort?
Burning Man takes place on a painfully dry, desert lakebed called the Black Rock Desert Playa. The air on the playa is so dry that water evaporates nearly instantly off of your skin. This means that your sweat evaporates as your body creates it, and you have to drink an unbelievable amount of water to stay safely hydrated in Black Rock City.
Then there’s the dust.
As I mentioned, the playa is a dry lakebed, and the ground is covered in a layer of dust that is similar in consistency to baby powder. The wind that regularly whips across the playa picks up this dust and blows it everywhere. Since it is the consistency of baby powder, playa dust will get through any vent, any crack, any opening. This means that as soon as you set foot in Black Rock City you will find yourself covered in a thin layer of playa dust, and you will remain that way for the entire week.
Sure, you can clean yourself off with baby wipes, or a camping solar shower (be sure you have a container to collect that dirty shower water in, you have to pack that out as trash as well). But 5 minutes after cleaning yourself you will once again find yourself covered in dust. That is the reality of Black Rock City, you will be dusty, there is no way to avoid it.
Occasionally the wind will blow hard enough to create a full-on dust storm, which means that the air will fill with so much dust that you literally cannot see 5 feet in front of you. This is why you need to have a dust mask and goggles with you at all times. Dust storms form quickly and without warning, so you need to be able to protect your eyes and lungs no matter how far you are from your camp.
And finally, there are the porta potties. Many years ago the porta potties at Burning Man were some of the cleanest, nicest potties you would find at a festival. I remember some of them decorated with lights and art (a gift from participants). Sadly, over the last few years, the porta potties at Burning Man have devolved into typical festival potties- dirty and disrespected. You cannot urinate outside at Burning Man, you have to use a potty, this is part of the leave no trace rule. This means that you will want to plan for the potties. A small ziploc bag with extra toilet paper and cleansing wipes is a great idea, just make sure it’s 1-ply paper and you will need to pack the wipes out with you.
Are you ready to experience one of the most unique places on earth?
Okay, after all that if you’re still with me you should probably go to Burning Man.
Visiting Black Rock City feels like you’ve been dropped onto another planet. Take your bike out for a daytime ride and you may run into a 40 foot tall statue of a woman with animatronics that allow her to breathe in rhythm. Bike a little farther and you may cross the paths of ultra-marathon runners in tutus (give these crazy kids some water for god’s sake)! A little farther along have a go at the bike camp obstacle course (but remember, there is no guarantee of safety at Burning Man, the back of your ticket literally warns you that you could die in Black Rock City).
When the sun sets be prepared to hear 70,000 voices howling like wolves to signify the start of the nighttime festivities. Once darkness falls the city becomes even more visually stunning. Hundreds of giant art installations come alive with multicolored lights, lasers, and sounds. Participants light themselves in LEDs, fire art begins shooting flames all over the playa, and the music gets turned up even louder.
There is nowhere on Earth quite like Black Rock City, Nevada. It’s so unique that it truly cannot be described, it must be experienced. If you’ve read this far I think you have answered your own question: Should I go to Burning Man? Yep, you should.
Need help planning? Check out our step by step guide to Burning Man preparation. Have more questions about what it feels like to visit Black Rock City? Read about my virgin Burning Man experience (I went all by myself)! Need help pimping your ride for the playa? Read our tips for decorating your Burning Man bicycle. Concerned about budgeting for the playa? It's possible to do Burning Man on a shoestring budget!
Finally, if you’d like to get a dusty hug from us on the playa, or if you have more detailed questions about Burning Man contact us here! See you in the dust :)
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