Burning Man is an institution. It's also destitution. Yes, it's destitute in the original sense of the word: In Black Rock City, where Burning Man is held, nothing lives--no plants, no animals, nothing. Why? Because it's held on an ancient, alkaline lakebed. The alkalinity makes it an unsupportive environment for life.
Except for one week a year, when 75,000 people converge to create a city out of nothing.
You're about to be part of something entirely original, utterly bizarre, intensely transformative, and unbelievably raucous, and you'd better be prepared to survive. Here are seven things you are going to need on the playa:
1. A good facemask
Ever heard of a whiteout? It's when dust on the playa kicks up in a storm that completely obliterates vision. You can barely see a few feet in front of you; it feels like you're on Mars.
You want to protect your lungs from the dust as much as possible. If not, you could get what Burners call "playa lung," which can manifest as anything from a cough to a cold to losing your voice.
Burners have lots of opinions about facemasks, and the more prepared ones get quality urban dust masks. The most important thing is just that you have something for the dust storms.
Pro tip: If you're in a hurry, just pick up a mask at a hardware store (the kind people who work with fiberglass use).
2. Really good wipes
Again, the dust gets everywhere, including where the sun don't shine. Especially at night, when you're going to sleep, you want it off your skin.
You can't just use water, though. In order to cut the alkalinity, you need your wipes to either be combined with vinegar (I brought a bottle of white vinegar that I kept in my tent) or witch hazel. Pay particular attention to getting dust off your feet, or you could get "playa foot" (sensing a theme here?).
Pro tip: These wipes come in a pack of 25 for about $5, include witch hazel, and are 7" across.
When there's a massive dust storm you can either just close your eyes and pray, or put on your goggles.
I recommend the latter.
Pro tip: Dirt bike goggles tend to be good, since they're made for wide vision and are often anti-fog. These are under $17.99 and are also scratch-resistant.
4. Closed-toed shoes
Do not, do not, do not wear flip-flops at Burning Man. Even though it'll be exceedingly hot during the day, you still need to protect your feet. "Playa foot" is real--it's a chemical burn that can happen from prolonged exposure to the alkali dust--and it can kill your vibe because it'll start to hurt to walk.
Pro tip: Use oversized Ziplock bags to pack for Burning Man (plastic keeps the dust out), and keep several pairs of socks in at least three separate bags, so you can have virgin ones ready. Use wipes with vinegar before putting socks on at night.
5. A bike
My first time at Burning Man, I thought, "Do I really need a bike? Maybe I'll just get to know things the first year and then go from there."
My friends were adamant about me having one. I'm glad.
Do everything in your power to bring a bike. Pay someone, beg, borrow, do whatever it takes. The inner playa alone is almost a mile in diameter; to truly explore Burning Man, you need a bike. Plus, biking at night is one of the most magical parts of Burning Man; it's like floating around a giant sea of colorful, chaotic, brilliant insanity, set to a soundscape you couldn't make up if you tried.
Pro tip: Alkali dust corrodes metal. Don't bring a nice bike.
6. A good hydration system
We're talking about a CamelBak-type thing plus a water bottle.
Why both? Because to stay hydrated at Burning Man, you need to drink roughly a gallon of water a day. That's right--a whole gallon. (If you haven't yet read my fun story about getting heat stroke at Burning Man, perhaps review that, too.)
You're going to be spending hours away from camp and sometimes your bike, so you're going to want something that stays on your person with pure water (a CamelBak), plus a water bottle that you can fill with electrolyte powder.
Pro tip: You don't need to go name-brand for quality. This one is less than $25 and is still great.
7. Electrolyte powder
Again, safety first. You need both water and electrolytes to survive and you won't be bringing gallons of Gatorade in; powdered electrolytes are more efficient.
Pro tip: Packets are easiest. These are $11.49 for 50 packets, which means you can take them with you out onto the playa.
While you can be as physically prepared as possible, nothing can emotionally prepare you for Burning Man. Oh, sure, you can read all the lists and talk to all your friends and get ready as best as you can. But until you're actually out there in that insane, enchanted land of fine-white dust and fairy absurdity, you can't really know. You can't predict the synchronicities that will align on your path, nor the ways the playa will challenge your spirit.
It will just happen.
Good luck, my fellow traveler. May the odds be ever in your favor.