Survival Guide to the Burning Man Festival: First Timer’s Edition

If you have never heard of the Burning Man Festival, one of the first things you need to know is that it is a festival held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Every year since its inception, thousands of people gather together in this temporary city to express themselves through the community, and through their art.

The festival takes place every year beginning with the last Sunday of August and runs through to the first Monday in September. Therefore, the festival can be quite short, or rather long all depending on how the days fall in any given year.

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An important thing to know about the Burning Man Festival is that it’s a community of like-minded people coming together to explore various types of expression. These forms of expression are created in celebration for the sole purpose of everyone’s enjoyment.

The festival gets its name from the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy, called “the man,” that usually happens on the Saturday evening of the event.

If you’re ready to experience the Burning Man Festival for the first time, click ‘Start Slideshow’ for the survival guide.

History of the Festival

The Burning Man Festival got its start when Jerry James, Larry Harvey, and a few of their friends started a bonfire ritual in 1986 during the summer solstice of that year. The group of friends met up at Baker Beach in San Francisco, California.

During the bonfire, they burned a 9-foot wooden man that Harvey described as a random act of self-expression. They continued this ritual for the next few years, with the wooden man growing to 15 feet in 1987, and to 40 feet in 1988. It was in 1988 that Harvey formally named the event as “Burning Man.”

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What happened to move them to the Black Rock Desert for the event? Keep reading to find out!

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In 1990, the police stationed at the beach interrupted the ritual burning telling them that they could no longer do it there. That same year, a group of people started a similar, but separate, event in Black Rock Desert. The two groups ended up combining their events, and chose to hold it in the Nevada desert.

The Burning Man event got a legal permit for the first time 1991. The event grew each year through word of mouth, which brought more and more people. By 1996, the festival had grown to over 8,000 attendees. All the cars and traffic this brought had become a safety hazard for all involved. They chose to restrict the event to pedestrians, bicyclists, and art cars only.

The festival still continues to this day, with the 2017 event taking place between August 27 and September 4, 2017.

What are the ten principles that guide the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out what they are.

Ten Principles of Burning Man

The Burning Man Festival’s co-founder wrote ten principles as guidelines, not as a way to dictate to everyone how to act, but as a way of communicating the culture and ethos of the festival. The first principle is that of inclusion. Everyone is welcome at the festival, and there is nothing that needs to be done to be able to participate.

One of the most essential principles is that of decommodification. They strive to stay away from any forms of commercialism for the festival. They don’t allow any sponsorships, advertising, or transactions to take place during the festival. The founders want to protect their culture from exploitation as much as possible.

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What are some of the other principles the festivals believe in? Keep reading to find out!

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Civic responsibility is another one of the principles for the festival. Community members are encouraged to organize events for others, but in doing so, they need to also assume the responsibility of public welfare. They also need to make sure their events are in accordance with local, state, and also federal laws.

Another important principle is that of participation. The community as a whole is committed to a participatory ethic. They believe that the festival can only truly be enjoyed when everyone actively participates, that we achieve only by doing.

Some of the other principles include: gifting, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, leaving no trace, and immediacy.

What are some things that you should bring for the duration of the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out!

Things You Should Bring

The festival’s location is quite remote, so you will need to bring a bunch of things that you may not necessarily think of. Here is a sampling of some of the things that you should bring with you to the festival. One of the most important things to bring is about one-and-a-half gallons of water for each person per day you are at the festival. You should also bring enough food and other beverages for each day that you are there.

Because of the location, you should also bring a particle/dust mask in case of dust storms that are likely to happen in the desert, as well as goggles to protect your eyes. An extensive first aid kit should also be brought, along with all needed prescriptions and contact lens supplies.

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What are some other essentials that you should bring to the festival? Keep reading to find out!

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Because the festival community is all about leaving no traces of the festival behind, you will also need to bring enough trash bags and recycling bags to help clean up your campsite. Along with that, you should bring portable ashtrays if you or anyone in your party smokes.

While not exactly essential, it is a good idea to also bring something to help you create some shade to break-up the mid-day sun. It is also smart to bring a portable cooking stove so that you can cook any food and boil water if needed. A bicycle is also a good idea to help you get around the festival grounds.

What are some essential things to know to be a good citizen at the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out!

Being a Good Festival Citizen

When it comes to being a good festival citizen, there are some things you can do to help yourself and others have a good time. Because the festival happens in the desert, there can sometimes be winds that get up to 75 mph. When this happens, everything can go hurtling around causing unnecessary damage. It is a good idea to tie everything down so that this won’t occur.

As mentioned earlier, the festival community has prohibited the selling of any products or services at the festival. Because of this, you will need to make sure that you bring along everything that you will need for the duration of the event.

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What are some other important things to know to be a good citizen? Keep reading to find out!

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It may seem fun, or even silly, but try to resist the impulse to steal street signs. The emergency services that keep everyone safe rely on those street signs to get around to those people who need help. They also help participants find their ways around, especially when it is their first time there. If you see anyone taking a sign, say something.

While cameras and video cameras are allowed, they come with a lot of responsibilities. In order to take pictures or film at the festival, you have to promise to ask permission from others to take their picture or film them. Pictures from the event can not be used for any promotional, commercial, or editorial use. They can only be for personal use.

What are some dos and don’ts to be aware of before heading to the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out!

Dos and Don’t

An important thing to do is to make sure that you are only putting human waste into the porta-potties. You are not to use them to throw away garbage or gray water. You can use only 1-ply toilet paper. Anything larger than that is a big no-no. Anything more than that makes pumping them out nearly impossible.

The community has a good relationship with the neighboring communities that have been built up over the years. There have been complaints; however, from the communities about trash flying off of vehicles coming and going from the festival. Do your best to keep this from happening by securing everything to your vehicle so nothing flies off.

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What are some other things to keep in mind? Keep reading to find out these important facts!

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Sound in the desert can travel far and wide. It is best to keep this in mind, especially when it is time for you to sleep. Not everyone will want to sleep the same time as you, so bring ear plugs. Also, audio systems limited to a maximum power of 300 watts that generates 90 decibels up to 20 feet away. Speakers are required to have something large, such as a RV or truck, backing them to stop the sound from going backwards.

One very important thing to know is that the festival’s permit does not allow participants of the festival to use the local hot springs. They can be fatally hot, so don’t be tempted to jump into them.

What exactly is the Leave No Trace initiative? Click ‘Next’ to read more about it!

Leave No Trace

The Burning Man community believes in protecting our environment very strongly. This is why the Leave No Trace movement was started. They aim to leave the desert in the same condition as they left it.

Before you leave for the event there are a few things you can do to help your prepare to leave no trace behind. Simple things such as, removing any excess packaging from food supplies and tools will give you much less to throw away later. Don’t bring any glass containers as they can shatter and be hard to pick up. Don’t bring anything that can easily be blown away by heavy winds.

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What are some other ways to leave no trace behind? Keep reading to find out!

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Before you are ready to head back home, walk all the way around your campsite, and make sure to pick up everything. Use a magnet to rake over your site to pick up anything metal that may be left behind. You are also encouraged to help clean up any of the community areas. The community wants to make sure they leave nothing behind. Pack everything up carefully and securely, you don’t want to litter the highways.

On your way home, don’t leave your trash in any of the neighboring towns or communities. There are designated areas for you to leave your trash. You can find out about these by asking someone in charge at the festival. These places tend to change year to year.

What is the best way to get around the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out the answer!

Getting Around

The Black Rock City community is a walking and bike friendly place. When you arrive, you are required to park your vehicle at your campsite. You must leave it there during the duration of the festival. Non-mutated vehicles used only for recreational driving, such as large scooters and ATVs are not allowed and will be impounded upon entry. Anyone seen using a vehicle without a permit will receive a fine, and the vehicle will be impounded.

The speed limit within the community is only 5 mph. This is to keep everyone safe within the community. All pedestrians and bicyclists have the right away within the community, not the vehicles.

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What are some other ways of getting around the community? Keep reading to find out!

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Small single-person motorized scooters that aren’t street-legal, such as go-peds, are allowed to be driven in the community. However, drivers of these scooters are required to obey the same rules as motorized vehicles, such as the 5 mph speed limit. If your scooter is loud, you are encouraged to use a muffler.

If you arrive on a motorcycle and that is your only transportation, then your motorcycle is allowed but it must be parked at your campsite. However, if you bring a motorcycle along with your car, then it is not allowed. You will be asked to turn around at the Gate.

Are kids and pets allowed to be at the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out the answer!

Family Fun

Yes, kids are allowed at the Burning Man Festival; however, pets of any kind are not allowed. There is too much noise and things going on that might upset a dog or a cat. Kids 12 and under get in free, but you are required to get a kid’s ticket for them. Kids 13 and over need a regular ticket. Anyone 17-years-old or younger needs to have a parent with them at the festival.

When deciding if you should bring your child along, you need to ask yourself some important questions. The festival is always bustling and there is some kind of sound 24/7. Will your kids be able to sleep with this much noise and stimulation? Also, will they be okay with the harsh conditions of the desert life? If the answer is no, it may be best to leave your kids at home with a babysitter.

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What else should be kept in mind when bringing kids to the festival? Keep reading to find out!

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It is important to remember that at the time of the festival the temperature in the desert can easily exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Kids need water much more than adults do. Make sure to keep them as hydrated as possible. Keep them drinking no matter if they are thirsty or not.

Also, it is important to keep putting lotion and sunscreen on their delicate skin when the sun is constantly beating down on them. You should also prepare them for the experience of the burning that will happen at the end of the festival that why they aren’t shocked, and will know what to expect.

What can be done to keep you safe during the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out the details!


It is important when going to such an event to keep your safety in mind at all times. The Burning Man Festival, as well as the community in general, can have an erotically charged atmosphere that not many are used to experiencing. Know and express your boundaries as much as you can. If sexual harassment or assault occurs then contact one of the Black Rock Rangers. You should also ask and accept the boundaries of others.

Secure all of your valuables when you are away from your camp, especially on Burn night. It would be a good idea to lock any valuables in your car. You should also take a lot of pictures of all your valuables, record their serial numbers, and most importantly, report them missing immediately if they are stolen. The police can’t easily investigate otherwise.

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What are some other tips to keep you safe? Keep reading to find out!

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Always keep your well-being in mind throughout the entirety of the festival. Always keep yourself hydrated, and make sure to get enough electrolytes. Get enough sleep, and make sure to eat enough nutritious food.

The Burning Man Festival is not immune to the possibilities of drugs and alcohol. If you think that you were dosed with something without your knowledge, make sure to seek out help immediately. If you see anyone who appears to be intoxicated, or possibly needs help, make sure that they are okay. Get help for them immediately if necessary.

What are the best ways to participate at the festival? Click ‘Next’ to find out!

Ways to Participate

People who are new to the Burning Man experience often think that it is similar to a regular festival where everything about the event is planned by the event planners. All attendees have to do is just come and enjoy the party.

The exact opposite is true in regards to the Burning Man Festival. The people are not just passive party-goers, but rather active participants. They are encouraged to help create the city, and all the art and performances. They are essential to creating their own experience.

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What kinds of things can be done to create an experience? Keep reading to find out!

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One of the best things you can do is simply make something and display it. Create a themed camp, or even make up your own performance. You can also volunteer to help in someone else’s project.
You can also just immerse yourself in everything everyone else is doing. You can participate by just being an audience member for someone else’s performance. You can help by letting them know that what they are doing matters to someone.

What are some ways of surviving the extreme conditions of the desert? Click ‘Next’ to find out!

Surviving the Weather

Daytime temperatures in the desert often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is often extremely low. Sunscreen, lotion, and lip balm will be necessary for your comfort. This area is nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, and because of this, you will burn that much faster and even more severely than if you were at a lower elevation.

It takes most people a day or two to get used to the climate in the desert. Don’t be surprised if you spend your first day cranky and nauseous. Begin increasing your water intake before you leave for the desert to help you adjust.

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What are other ways to survive the climate? Keep reading to find out!

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It is a good idea to eat salty foods to help prevent an electrolyte imbalance. When you consume caffeine, alcohol, or other types of drugs it increases your risk of dehydration. Keep yourself as well-hydrated as possible, you don’t want to get sick.

This area of the desert is prone to sudden bursts of extreme and unpredictable weather. If this happens, seek shelter immediately and stay there. If you are far away from any type of shelter, it is best to sit down, pull your shirt over your face, and wait for the storm to pass. You should carry a dust mask with you everywhere you go.

What are some important travel reminders? Click ‘Next’ to find out!

Traffic and More

One of the biggest challenges facing anyone going to the festival is traffic. So many cars and other vehicles coming in all at once that it can be chaotic. You should try to arrive at non-peak times, such as between midnight and 6 am.

Also, when coming in, don’t believe your GPS on directions. Don’t take any side roads when going to Burning Man. They can be dangerous, and your GPS won’t know that. This is especially true for Jungle Road. Many vehicles have been damaged trying to go down this road.

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What are things should I keep in mind? Keep reading to find out!

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Remember that there can be a lot of wildlife in the area, and they will not walk in and around the roads. Keep an eye out for them. Cattle, especially, will often park themselves right on the road during the nighttime.

It is a good idea to load up on gas before entering the event, it is much easier than attempting to get it on the way out. Obey all traffic rules and regulations to help keep you and all other travelers safe.

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