The Second Order Effect

Welcome Home — Rizwan’s Newbie Guide to Burning Man, Updated for 2011

by on Aug.21, 2011, under Uncategorized

A departure from the usual tech blog, tooth for a moment.

Here’s my updated braindump of Burning Man for newbies.

Note : I’m a preparedness guy. I’d rather be over-provisioned than under-provisioned, cheap because asking things of others because I didn’t prepare makes me feel like a mooch. This is both very in theme for the event – Radical Self-Reliance – but being emotionally open to relying upon others is also important. Find your middle ground; but items with a (#) are simply mandatory for anyone.

This may sound daunting — but this is an amazing experience if you allow it to be. Prepare as best as you need – trust the universe and your community to take care of you when you missed something; or in your ability to persevere without it. We are amazingly hardy and impressive creations – a week in the dust and heat is nothing; and our ancestors called that everyday. Remember that.

Attitude :

(#) Be who you aren’t usually; be your inner nature; explore something new – just don’t be what you are at home.

I’m a planner – learning to allow myself to accept and rely upon the gifts and kindness of others is a real challenge- and this is a great place for it.  I’d suggest this attitude for almost everyone. Center Camp is the best place to hang out if you’re feeling lost/lonely/overwhelmed. You can refund your center there.

When they talk about compression and decompression – they mean it. It takes a while to adjust to being there [try to get in the mindset on the drive up by reading materials that speak to you] — and it definitely takes effort to adapt back to the busy, clinic planned, monetary, expectation-oriented world of home. It takes a few days – and this is how it should be. Make space for it.

You won’t see everything. A Friend of a Friend, Kathi Fuentevilla, posted this on FB – wisest thing I’ve seen to a friend who was planning intently.
“we all did it.  We all marked the things we’d like to see and the things we absolutely had to see in the guide – I’ve done it for 6 years. I’ve never made it to a single one, but that doesn’t stop me from researching it & marking it all down.”
Time doesn’t operate usually out there. Most people don’t carry watches – and people leap into experiences when they’re exposed to them. Everyone is flaky about meeting up on time, events just don’t happen; and that’s just the way things are. Accept it and love it.

Burning Man is an excellent introduction into living in the Now. The environment is harsh enough that you can’t ignore it – so you’re always aware of it. The things happening around you are interesting enough that you can’t ignore it – so you’re always aware of it. This is beautiful. Take some time and just watch – and do nothing. You aren’t checking off a todo list, you’re living at it’s purest.

Leave your rational mind and judgement at home. There is a lot to be said about being a rational impartial observer – but do it after you’ve left. Empty your Cup.

But into the insanity, and reflect non-judgmentally on the drive home. You’ll never been the same.


This is unlike anything you’ve experienced, not just because of the culture but the environment. The environment is punishing for those that live in the first-world; large temperature fluctuations; dust storms of corrosive sand; and very little ‘indoors’ space.

The city changes from day to day – early in the week its far more spiritual, naked, and empty; later in the week it’s far more of a spectacle. Both are wonderful, but the longer you can stay and watch the city grow around you; the better. I’m told by those that go in pre-event that the week before the event starts in magical. Some year after your first, pick a camp; get involved; and try going early.

There are spectators and there are participants. One of the goals of the city is to be totally-participatory, but dressing in the clothes out of you closet, showering daily, watching events and photographing them rather than sharing in them; these are a spectator mindset. Become a participant as often as you can; dress like the locals, live like the locals. You’re not an anthropologist, and you’re not writing a academic paper when you get home.

When wandering the Playa – you don’t need a wallet, ID [unless you're likely to be carded at the bars], etc. Keep those things locked in your car. (#) Bring a Bike Lock. There is theft – it’s tragic, but it happens, and often. Keep anything expensive locked in your car.

Environment :

(#) Read the Survival Guide. Reading and know it. Grab the PDF of this years, and at least skim the Recommended Reading section.
Know the ten principals – they say a lot about our temporary city and it’s ideals.

The weather is flickle. We’ve had snow just before the event started; we’ve had rain on multiple occasions, and sudden bouts of wind that last anywhere from two minutes to two days are not uncommon. You don’t have to plan much for snow or rain, don’t worry, but keep in mind that weather is dynamic.

If you aren’t in a climate-controlled place [or an advanced shade structure/yurt] – don’t expect to sleep past 10am, regardless of what time you went to bed. It gets really hot; and tents get humid from water lost through the night. A shade structure over your tent will give you a few more hours.

For clothing in the daytime, bring light, flowing clothing (or nothing at all.) Lots of sunscreen, no matter how dark you are. You can wear street clothes, safari clothes; but I personally think that dressing normally takes away from the experience.

For clothing at night, layers. The weather can dip into the 40s, and if there’s a solid wind, it gets even colder. If you need to wear street clothes here; this is the time; but preferably, have a few costumes. Scan the internet, or ask me for ideas — there’s a million creative ideas out there; and Goodwill + Halloween store is your friend.

The stories you’ve heard about the dust is for real. Think finer than talcum powder. It’s very hard to remove permanently from fabrics, particularly mattresses; so keep that in mind. The dust is alkali and somewhat corrosive; treat your hands and feet with a wash (1 vinegar:4 water) once a day to prevent ‘Playa Foot.’ Keep your feet out of playa as much as possible – socks are your friend. When the wind starts, the Playa hits the wind, and visibility and breathability of the air goes down dramatically. If the wind picks up, you end up with a white-out – visibility as little as 6 feet. For these reasons, (#) ALWAYS carry Eye Protection, A Breathing Mask, and Water. Eye Protection can range from fancy goggles to cheap googles; but have some. Breathing Masks are painters or surgeons masks; although a bandana covering your mouth works in a pinch.

(#) Water is it’s own special thing. Carry some with you ALWAYS – Camelbaks are exceedingly popular – it’s very easy to get dehydrated; and very easy not to notice it when you’re sweating constantly. You might also get trapped somewhere during a whiteout – having water is a life-saver.

Bring a GOOD LED Headlamp and Flashlight, and spare batteries.  Keep them with you at night at all times. They are required at night – if you’re walking in remote areas, bicyclists are libel to hit you if they can’t see you — we carry some extra glow sticks and zip-tie them to my backpacks.

Emergencies :

Communication off-playa, while improving these past years, is still sketchy. The best shot your family has for getting a hold of you in a catastrophe is to email with your exact camp location, and a Ranger will try to find you – but this is sketchy at best. Emergency Services also has a similar service –

There is wifi at Center Camp – it’s optimized for Skype traffic; but as the event progresses it gets sketchier and sketchier. It is not a reliable method; so don’t plan on it, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when it does work.

The Black Rock Rangers are your friends. They come off a bit gruff– but the responsibility for keeping everyone alive falls on them; and they take it seriously. If you’re simply overwhelmed – you’re feeling majorly ill, having a bad drug experience, having heat issues – find a ranger; and they’ll get you to the hospital, or to special places for helping people down from bad trips.

Supplies :

Once you leave Reno, you’re on your own. There’s a tiny store in Empire that’s usually overwhelmed; and there is no commerce on Playa. Get your supplies, substances, waters, everything beforehand. Carry a tiny bit of cash – Camp Arctica sells Ice every day, and Center Camp has Lemonade, Coffee, Hot Chocolate, etc. [No water.] Spending days without spending anything is a novel experience, and definitely one that changes your perspective when you get home.

Bring all your own water. You will eat less than you think; but bring your food. Involved cooking that requires many steps or lots of cleaning is far less likely to get done. It’s hard to cook when you can’t just discard of waste water easily — you can’t pour it on the Playa.

If you’re taking substances – hide them well on the drive. The police know what’s going on. If you’re trying them on Playa for the first time; have a trusted sitter.

I bring gifts. It’s a huge part of what I love about the event. Give wholeheartedly and whimsically – it’s good for the soul. If you bring gifts; avoid brining stuff that is MOOPy (read the Survival Guide), or easily discarded – we find either mementos or functional gifts are well received.

Pack street clothes for your drive home. Keep them sealed in a Ziploc bag and do not touch them until you’re WAY off Playa and have found a place to shower – there’s a truck stop in Sparks, NV that’s pretty popular for that.

From Richard :

Richard Becker, a friend of mine from Enigma, gave me this sage advice on 6/29/05. I agree with almost all of it, and have included it in it’s entirety.
(He’s also a far better writer than I.)

1. Bring plenty of water.
2. Drink plenty of water, especially when you’re not thirsty.
3. You’ll never see everything, so read the maps and lists of things and pick what you really want to see.
4. If you see something cool going on while you’re on your way to your planned site/event at BM, GO TO THE THING YOU SEE RIGHT NOW. It may never happen again. It may be better than where you were going. Don’t miss the good thing you can see right now in favor of the thing you read about!
5. Wear sunscreen.
6. Bring canned, dried, pickled foods, and eat them straight out of the container with the one or two utensils you bring with you and wash after each meal.
7. Bring goggles and a cloth to wrap around your face.  There are dustclouds and duststorms every year, without fail.  You will face them.
8. Bring warm clothing for the nighttime.  It can get quite cold.  The weather can also turn.
9. Watch the skies.  I’ve seen some very weird things.  Things that don’t require any drugs or alcohol, because they’re real.  Things your friends will doubt.  You might see them too.
10. The Black Rock Desert is not made of sand.  It is made of dust — talcum powder, to be specific.  It will be in your food, drink, washing water, clothing, everything.  Get used to it.
11. The gender ratio is 2/3 male to 1/3 female.  This will affect your experience somewhat, particularly depending on your gender orientation.  If you prefer females, you should anticipate that you will not meet one on the Playa.  If you want a woman to be there for you at BM, plan ahead and bring one.
12. Bring colorful clothing and wild costuming.  That, or skin, is the normal garb for BM.
13. Wear comfortable boots with everything.  If you have costume shoes that you’ve *got* to wear, fine. Otherwise, don’t bother with any other footgear.
14. Bring a bicycle that you don’t mind messing up. It will get you around everywhere.  But — BUT — make SURE you have a VERY comfortable seat, such as a gel seat, for it.  And good shocks, if it’s built with shocks.  And excellent tires.  And make sure it’s visible at night.
15. Do not partake of any illegal substance in public, ever.  What you do in privacy is your business.  If anyone did take anything illegal at the Burn, I’d advise them to make sure they trusted the person giving it to them just as they should do so anywhere else.
16. Art cars are there to be seen and ridden on.  Do this.  But beware of them at night.
17. Your ticket to Burning Man says words to the effect of, “You could DIE if you go to BM.”  Guess what: It’s true.  Several people die every year at the Burn.  *Take danger seriously.*  You are at risk. But on the other hand, don’t be a worrier.  Live smart and have fun at the Burn.
18. Don’t miss the burning of the Man on Saturday night.
19. Don’t miss the burning of the Temple on Sunday night.
20. Bring things to give as gifts to strangers — trinkets, doo-dads, cool little things.  Only trade with people who insist on it.  BM isn’t supposed to be a barter economy, it’s supposed to be a gift economy. Don’t encourage the trend to barter.
21. To barter, though, make sure you bring cigarettes, liquor, and drink mixers.
22. There will be a lot of nudity.  It’s normal at the Burn, and it’s not intended sexually — it’s freedom. Just get used to it; before you know it, you’ll not even notice it.
23. Be kind to others.
24. Be generous to others.
25. Clean up your campsite and truck your own garbage out of the Playa — and take as much of other people’s trash with you as you can.
25. To coin the cliche: “What happens at Burning Man, stays at Burning Man.”  Wherever you think your friends and companions do or act out something that is a different aspect of themselves, and shows a (possibly startling) new facet of their personality, if it does no harm — let it be.  And let them be. Don’t publicize what is meant to be their free expression.  And rely on others not to publicize yours.

There’s certainly much more to say:  Take siestas by day, don’t overdo it, bring a foam pad to sleep on if you camp in a tent, bring a shade structure to keep cool, etc.

But ultimately, enjoy the Burn.

From Hollee :

My friend put it beautifully this evening for a virgin we were talking to.

You’re brain fills in new experiences with old information, every time you eat a sandwich, every time you drive to work, you brain is constantly filling in all the familiar things from memory so it does less work.  The first time you experience this its going to be it’s most vivid and interesting and intense, bask in that.  This is going to be the newest thing you’ve done in years, take in every sight and smell, and taste and voice because it’ll mean more this year than every other time.

Burning man is an Arts festival, pack what you need to survive, but make sure you enjoy what everyone has come there to contribute.
Things might be silly, you should be silly, this is a place for self expression in all it’s outlets, pick your vices and respect others’.

Some things that might be in the guides but are worth mentioning twice:
Baby Wipes are a god send, you can even pack a separate set and pour vinegar into them as an appendage remedy,
Make spare keys, not being able to drive home and waiting for an $8 an mile tow truck from reno is a crappy way to end your trip

As an alternative for a sleeping foam pad, the 99 cent store pool mattresses are great too.

Leave a Reply

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Visit our friends!

A few highly recommended friends...