Hoping to help others and my future self, here is what going to Burning Man in 2023 after a decade break took: $3000 + 80 hrs of searching, thinking, building, prepping and packing.
If you want tickets for Burning Man, these are your options from most-likely to least likely:
- Connect with a camp
- Buy a FOMO ticket at 2-4x the cost
- Plan on going, do the sales, but ultimately get a ticket in the last two weeks off cragslist / Facebook group.
- Get a ticket through the Main or OMG Sale
- Get a ticket through STEP the Burning Man secondary ticket sales
Yes camps are the way most people get tickets. That is great because camps contribute a lot, but also feels a little like an exclusivity thing where if you know people you are more likely to get to attend which gets on my nerves. The people who have the least connections to Burning Man may benefit from it the most. Plus I know how to be self-reliant. I’m happy to pay for the camp’s contribution to Burning Man but I don’t need to be charged for food/water/whatever. $500-$3000 camp fees feel like I’m paying for an HOA. However, camps are nice way to provide support for new burners to onboard them to the event. However, they can also be nightmares if people don’t contribute or you don’t jive with someone. Anyways, I have mixed feelings about camps. Mostly because I don’t want to be told what to do.
I went in 2023 with a group of people whose priority was a low-stress, low-obligation unofficial camp (Cephalo-squad). Most people had been to several burns. Ultimately 50% of my group got tickets through the sales and 50% got them through second hand sales outside of STEP. I planned on going and just had faith with my network something would come up and got my ticket one month before the event. Three weeks before the event I got a ticket through STEP (which I canceled) and two weeks before the event tickets were plentiful. (however, this was the theme in 2023 while in 2022 tickets were very difficult to get)
Just a reminder, the official sales are more like you sign in at the designated time and then are chosen randomly from the queue. The main sale lasted four hours last year until all tickets were gone. STEP however, is FIFO so you should try to get on there fast. I signed up four hours after the start because I forgot but did get a ticket through it three weeks before the event.
I’ll admit, I was shocked when I did my tally for how much I spent on Burning Man this year. What most determines costs are your experience desert camping / going to festivals, your community’s experience and whether you are in a placed camp. (i.e. whether you already own, can borrow and how much you plan to contribute)
Since Burning Man is so iconic, there is a lot of click-bate and mis-representation out there. It’s pretty easy to spot these because they have almost no information, incorrectly list it as a barter economy or focus on images of hot people not wearing much.
It seems like $2000-$3000 is not uncommon if you are not starting from scratch or have an existing community of burners. If you are relying mostly on your community or are really thrifty it looks like you can get to around $1000.
To me, the main reason not to go last minute your first time or on a shoe-string budget is for the Radical Self Expression principal. This is your opportunity to be, act, play, build, create whatever you want. DIY is a big unsaid ethic of Burning Man and it’s a great opportunity to make something you’ve never done before.
This was my general breakdown. I think there is probably another $500 of unaccounted for cost here for transportation and other shared costs. I could have probably shaved off another $600 if I went more basic and didn’t do as much art. Everything red is something I wouldn’t bring next time, everything green worked out really well: Burner Costs
Environment / Camping
The environment of Black Rock City is quite intense. 100 ft wide dust devils can tear through the city and open-playa reducing visibility to 5 ft. These storms can rage for hours. It can get to 105 or it can drop down to where you want every layer you brought. It could even rain like in 2023 and make it difficult to walk since desert dust + water = thick slippery mud layer.
The general approach is one of these:
- RV (difficult to acquire)
- Uhaul (I’m assuming these boxes of metal get very hot)
- Van + canopy
- DIY Hexayurt or Shiftpod (possibly canopy)
- Any other kind of tent + canopy
We shifted last minute from a car top tent we always camp in with a reflective tarp on the rainfly to a tent + canopy and tarps for all the walls due to recommendations from experienced burner friends. Plus a tarp for our doorstep’s shoes. Seeing a canopy-apocalypse at Lightning in a Bottle in 2022 we realized we couldn’t just buy a basic canopy and have it survive (our friends got a basic canopy for Burning Man 2023 and they were destroyed). Also those canopies can injure your vehicle or person when they break. We quickly realized canopies all look the same but some cost thousands of dollars. Eventually we landed on a mid-range, steel, Extreme Canopy which worked really well and survived intact even with tarps attached to all sides. For the temperature it worked out pretty well, but also 2023 was a pretty easy year for heat. Yes it was hot and sweaty midday, but 96 is not hot for out here.
We packed most things in closable boxes which worked really well for organization. A dust sheet over the bed feels a little futile, but if someone is more sensitive to the dust it may offer some piece of mind. If it’s not your feet, it cannot go on playa. Any grey water or cooler water will have to go into one of your water containers or a kiddie pool you’ve secured to the playa to evaporate (we used a blow up pool + staked down net).
These are things I would consider next time:
- Recharge/replace all bike lights every 3 days
- Print ID on my cup (everyone asks for it because LE does underage busts)
- FYI: Need actual ID for Orgy Dome
- Consider bringing plastic bags for feet and poncho if rains
- Would have liked a dual-kickstand. Our bicycle-animal-heads broke because our bikes fell over.
- Maybe a better fan+mister system for tent
- Need a dedicated privacy structure if bringing shower or compost toilet (porta potties were generally pretty clean)
- Tinted goggles for daytime dust storms
- Don’t overdue gifting. Bring 10 things that are unique.
This is our whole pack list. Red I wouldn’t bring again. Green worked very well.
Having a hydration strategy is very important, my partner’s was one gaterade a day. Mine was one frozen Pedialyte pop a day. Similarly, some energy pick me up for caffeine is also important. My partner took one caffeine drink a day for a moral/energy pick-me-up. I took tea, but no one wants a hot drink so only ever used a caffeine pill in a bind.
There are a few food strategies:
- Backpacking Meals
- Buy and freeze food from restaurants
- Buy and freeze food you prep
- A little cooking
- Cooking full or special meals
Due to advice from friends we did a bunch of cook prep focused on burrito dinners of which we made two per person / per day. We packed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks but ultimately brought probably 40% more food than we needed. Having no-cook options were really helpful for getting some nutrition with minimal effort. Even though my partner normally prioritizes food in these festival experiences, we probably only ate 1.5 meals a day. The quinoa salad did not work out. The daal was nice but I would have only brought one.
We froze everything before leaving and had one cooler we opened once a day and one cooler with food / drinks we opened throughout the day. It worked really well. Everything stayed fresh but we did get ice every other day. It seemed getting ice at 5pm at 9&K always never had a line.
Things I would change:
- If not cooking or planning on showering. 1gal / person / day instead of 1.5.
- 3 cold drinks / person / day
- Don’t bring lunch or many snacks
This is our whole pack list. Red I wouldn’t bring again. Green worked very well.
- READ THE SURVIVAL GUIDE
- Lean into the Ten Principals
- At all times always have: 1L of water, goggles, face mask, cup, ID and either sunglasses+hat or a light
- Be prepared to be challenged, be open, put consent first and leave your judgement at home.
- If new, try to find someone who is experienced to help you prepare and acclimate.
There is a reason why the average age in 2022 was 37. Its the first week of university classes so college students often don’t attend, but also it takes a lot of maturity to manage sleep, over stimulation, drug usage, boundaries and the variety of experience where everything can be on the table for a week.
All that hype around Law Enforcement is real. BLM Rangers are often around, they will roll up to an art car party on the playa and walk through the crowd. I have been pulled over and pressured into exiting my vehicle with the windows down when magically a drug sniffing dog shows up and puts its head in all my windows. People are arrested, cited and fined. Weed is illegal, use a vape not a joint. Be discrete about drug use.
It is really hard to know what to expect at Burning Man your first time. Is everyone going to spank me? Is that orgy dome thing real? Are people having sex everywhere? I don’t know if I can go on a drug bender for seven days…
I say the same thing to everyone. I was completely sober (no alcohol, weed, drugs or tobacco) my first year and had a blast. Burning Man is what you make of it. Yes partying is a big thing, but there is so much art and interactive experiences out there you could even skip that whole scene (although it will be hard if not in-sync with your crew. Ex: they are all party-party, sleep all day and you want to bicycle around).
One thing I was nervous about my first time was being pushed into experiences outside my boundaries. However, I will say as a large-cis-white-man, my boundaries were always respected. Everything was always opt-in and my conscent regarding any touching was always respected. You will however, see a lot of nudity and it is a very sexual place. If you keep an open mind, you will quickly get used to this since its not pushed on you, its just people expressing themselves how they want to and having a little fun with it. You will not see any sex unless you are in a place meant for that… because leud behavior is illegal in the public in Nevada and there are kids at the event.
I like to suggest someone bring one thing they don’t think they’d be comfortable wearing so if they feel like it, they can try it out. It is a very judgement free place so its a great opportunity to experiment.
My advice is don’t try to plan your burn, but try to highlight some experiences you would like to have while expecting they might not happen because: you were caught up in something else, it was a prank, people hosting the experience are not there, you need self-care instead, someone wants to do something else. I had fun reading through a bunch of the camps prior to the event to get me in the headspace, scrolling through all the music artists to see if I knew someone and typed keywords into the event list to favorite anything interesting. I only committed to a couple things that I really wanted to prioritize.
How do I know the what, where and when before the event?
- Rockstar Librarian comes out with a music list on the Tuesday before the burn. It is available as PDF and also in the “Time to Burn” app.
- “Time to Burn” app updates 7 days before the event and is the only app that includes the Rockstar Librarian Music Guide. However, it requires you to unlock the location information when gates open, if you go in early you won’t have the code and the app is useless. So personally, I hate it because my favoriting in there was useless.
- “iBurn” is the app to use. I was able to have a decent list of things favorited and it tells you good information about when stuff starts and how long it goes on. The “nearby” feature is a great way to be a part of something spontaneously nearby instead of biking across the city.
Finally, if you are not a part of a placed camp. Think about how you can contribute through a small art project, a center camp experience, some sort of interaction you will offer or some great self expression that contributes to the community event. For me it was going all into my bike, making a small silly art project and volunteering with the Zendo Sanctuary services.