Festivals

Ultimate Guide to Burning Man Festival

Written by Town & Tourist

Burning Man is arguably one of the greatest music festivals in the World! Black Rock Desert gets transformed every year into an apocalyptic community called Black Rock City.

Black Rock city is an improvised desert town, which looks like something out of the Mad Max Movies. Each year this becomes the home to 80,000 wild characters “Burners”, unique art sculptures and some epic music!

Burning mans Philosophy is about connecting people through self expression, and carefree attitudes.

Burning Man Festival Characters 2019

Burning Man Festival 2019. Source: Joris van Velzen

Burning Man on a Budget?

In this article, we will answer all your curiosities about this hedonistic festival that is burning man. From Are People having sex everywhere? to Do I need to Bring something to trade?  and most importantly How do I get tickets on the cheap??

One of the large myths surrounding burning man is that it’s really expensive & costs thousands of dollars! Well this may be the case for the majority, there are many ways to save Money and experience this life changing festival…on a budget! 

Burning Man Festival 2020

Burning Man Festival is an experience like no other! Photo by @dinkyjr_ | Lord Snort, the interactive piece by artist-sculptor Bryan Tedrick.

The Normal Tickets for burning man costs $470 & thats if your lucky enough to get one! However, there is a LOW INCOME TICKET Scheme where you can get tickets for very cheap! See at the bottom of this post for details! 

Burning Man History:

The First Burning Man:

The first Burning Man Festival was held in 1986, the founder, Larry Harvey brought together a few friends to Baker Beach in San Francisco. There he set fire to an 8 foot tall Man, made of wood! This was the Inception of Burning Man!

Each year, many more people showed up to watch the “Burning man” and it became a gathering of like minded free spirits. As you might have guessed, the Fire Marshalls also showed up! They ordered Larry & his crew to disband and stop the gathering.

Burning Man Festival

Burning Man Festival: Source: Reuters/Jim Urquhart

This is when Larry partnered with San Franciscos Cacophony Society, “a network of Free Spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.”

This group made up of hippies, free spirits and revolutionaries helped to fight the corner of the gathering and move it to a new location in Black Rock Desert in 1990.

Burning Man at Black Rock Desert:

From the 1990s the Burning Man Festival was at Black Rock Desert, it was a small scale    3 day festival which attracted around 1,700 people, over the labor day weekend!

The crowd during these early days were artistic hippies, free spirits and those of the hedonistic community.  The New Yorks Times called it a “Spiritual Mystical Experience” and an “Excuse to Party in the Desert”.  The wooden Burning Man Statue got bigger and was now 40 feet tall, equip with bright neon lights.

Aerial Shot of Black Rock Desert

Aerial Shot of Black Rock City, Burning Man Festival

Popularity Grew & Exclusiveness Came:

In the early 2000’s over 25,000 “Burners” came to Black from U.S and even Europe.

By the early 2000s, more than 25,000 people made the trek to Black Rock, many of them from the San Francisco Bay Area and even Europe.

In 2011, tickets sold out for the first time! Then came the billionaires, tech moguls, models and celebrities!

The Burning Man Experience:

As you walk around Burning Man, with the desert sands under your feet and swirling around apocalyptic sculptures, you will truly feel as though you are out of this world!

The whole experience is a sensory overload of breath taking visuals & soul exciting music.

Burning Man Characters:

The unique characters at Burning Man Festival will astonish & leave you in awe. From leather cladded Hedonistic Models to some of the biggest ravers in world!

A character I met while there was named “Nude Marty” , he was an official black rock ranger and stated:

If ain’t too cold and I ain’t working, I’m naked.”

This is the officials, so you can guess how carefree the real “Burners” are!

A saw another guy who was called “Waterboy” he had a fish bowl on his head, filled with water and a snorkel to breath! Burning Man admires creativity & a carefree attitude over anything else.

WaterBoy stays wet on the playa

WaterBoy stays wet on the playa. Source: Burning Man festival

Oral Sex while DJ’ing:

This year DJ flume was on a late set looking completely mangled and in the zone. His then rumoured girlfriend came on stage and he then proceeded to go down on her live on stage!  Many called Flume a “Legend”.

Unfortunately for DJ flume, someone recorded this and it wen’t viral briefly! Many felt recording this was against the free spirited essence of the festival. The Burner community scorned the person which recorded it and it was taken down!

The “Gift” Community:

Burning Man is based on a giving economy, where nothing bought or sold except coffee and ice. At Burning Man everyone must give something to help the community, in a sense you create the Burning Man Community. Gifts are given without an immediate gift expected back in return.

Gifts can be anything you think may help people or people may enjoy. For example, my friend brought with her a suitcase full of Lolly Pops & candy!

Be Careful at the Airport:

Upon traveling through LAX airport her bag was pulled over and she was hilariously interrogated on why she had a suitcase full of lolly pop, a load of battery powered LED lights and a host of weird leather outfits.

Other Friends have brought Toilet Rolls & extra water (Always Needed!).

 

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A post shared by Burning Man Project (@burningman) on

Giving a Service:

You can also just give a service instead of a gift, for example helping people to setup their tents, giving Massages, teaching a class, tarot reading etc. A friend of my was giving “Relationship Advice” in a booth!

Phone to God?

One of the quirkiest things I saw there was the “Phone to God” , this is when you pick up one of pay phones all over the festival and “Call God”…for advice, guidance or just some inspiration! This is really crazy, when you’ve not slept for 24 hours!

Talk to God Phone at Burning Man festival

Talk to God Phone at Burning Man festival. Source: Talk to God Phone Booth FB

Surprise, Surprise at the other end of the phone is not god…I think he’s busy. But other Burners, we wan’t to help out. Even you can pick up to phone and “Be God” giving be advice, tips or just giving them the push to go wild.

Sex Slave Auction??

Probably the craziest thing I saw there was an Auction of People! Now as I said earlier about providing “Services” as you gift, some of these can be brought via mad max style auction!

One crazy lot, I saw two stunning models in leather, spike & chain outfits stand on stage. The winner of the bid gets to have them for the day as personal assistants, to just party with, help clean up mess, collect water and I even saw some sex acts! (must be consensual!)

Burning_Man_Outfits

Burning_Man_Outfits

Many men, were bidding for these girls but to my delight the bidding was actually won by dominant lesbian couple who look to also have similar style.

Then walked up on stage with there leather high heeled boots and clipped a dog style leash onto the spikey collars of girls, and matched them off!

Camping Setup:

Black Rock City is a community laid out like a giant clock face. It is set out with different themes each year for example the year i was there it had street signs themed on the solar system. Mars road to of course Uranus (Thats wear I was camped!) .

Friends of mine previous years were at the campsite, where it was themed on the human body. With sections such as knee Lane and sex drive.

 

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Photo by @rpk0_ | From dust to dust. | #burningman #blackrockcity #brc

A post shared by Burning Man Project (@burningman) on

Burning Man Unique Art Works:

Burning Man also is a widely popular festival for creative art works. Whether by professionals or just by fellow “Burners” such as yourself. This is a community where you can really be creative without judgment, whether by creating your own outfit, to your own art sculpture.

The artistic theme this year was Metamorphoses, which included sculptures such as a fishing village to a 20 foot floating staircase.

27 Stones Floating Staircase:

 

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27 Stones #benjaminlangholz

A post shared by Bjarke ingels (@bjarkeingels) on

 “Sacred Grounds” Art:

 

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Sacred Grounds by Michael Benisty 🙌🏼 #burningman2019 #sacredgrounds #michaelbenisty

A post shared by David (@davidohin) on

Lost Nomads of Vulcania:

Burning Man Mutant Vehicles:

Burning Mans cars are world renowned for the uniqueness, creativity and complete craziness! From Fire Breathing Robots, to Spiked Apocalyptic Buggies and even Missile shaped  bat mobiles!

Burning Octopus – Mutant Car:

Burning Man Fire Robot car

This wild mechanical octopus is called El Pulpo Mecanico and is a real favourite of the festival! It was built entirely from reclaimed scrap metal over the chassis of a 1973 Ford 250. Source: Flickr.

Who Designed it?

The Talented Artist Duane Flatmo his mechanical octopus as an art-installation on wheels

Wild Tracked Mutant Car:

Burning Man Mutant cars 1

Burning Man Mutant cars 1. Source: CNN/Scott London

Dream Cycle: 

Dreamcycle Burning Man

Dreamcycle Burning Man. Source: CNN/Scott London

Who Designed the Dream Cycle?

Artist Randall Gates designed this incredible machine!

Budget Packing List for Burning Man Festival:

To help keep those costs low I have provided a budget packing list for burning man festival. The necessities you need are of course:

  • Water (at least 2 gallons per person per day)

  • Clothing/Outfits 
  • Shelter (Tent with Camp chairs, Cooler and Shade or RV).

  • Food (Enough to stop yourself going hungry for 1 week)
  • Bike (Optional)

1. How much water do I need?

Black Rock City is on a dried out lake bed in Black Rock Desert. The temperatures are high and the humidity is low so water evaporates fast!

A good rule of thumb is to think you will drink at least double the normal amount of water you would consume.

A nearby Walmart is a popular option where you can purchase about seven 2.5 Gallon Water bottles. This should last you the week. Bring extra if you want to trade some or just as a back up.

Sunset over burning man set

It can get hot partying all day at burning man festival. Distrikt Sunset, photo by Photo by @morahan_ IG.

2. What to Wear to Burning Man Festival?

Weather on the playa can be unpredictable, the majority of the time it’s hot and dry. However, be aware for DUST STORMS which are very common, possible rain and cold temperatures at night.

My advice is to bring clothes suitable for the desert and possible dust storms.

Clothes:

  • Goggles
  • Scarf
  • Dust Mask
  • Light Cotton clothing
  • Backpack (With Water Tank/Hydration Bladder)
  • High quality Umbrellas (These help block sun and also can be decorated!)
  • Comfy shoes, (Which you don’t mind getting wrecked!)
  • Some Creative OUTFITS! (This is where you can have some fun!)
burningman Outfits

Be as creative & as wild as you can when designing your Burning man Outfit

Insider Tip: 

Bring a backpack with a hydration sack built in! This is a great way to carry some water with & all your essentials such as snacks, goggles and dust masks. CamelBak is a brand which offers some high quality versions of these.

3. Shelter (Camping, Lodge or RV)

The most affordable and often considered the most fun way to do Burning Man festival is by camping. I would suggest a good quality tent and a shade cover/canopy. 

As the Sun Rises over Black Rock Desert at 6AM-7AM, your tent will begin to heat up and you will cook like a chicken! Thats why it’s best to mount a shade covering over your tent. 

Insider Tip:

Make sure both your tent and shade covering are well secure and protected from the dust storms! I saw a few tents heading to the festival without permission!

RV’s at Burning Man:

RV’s can be used but are loved & hated by the burning man community due to excess noise, complications, isolation and expense. Although they do provide great shelter from sand storms! For more info, check out this link: RV guide.

Iced Cooler  – Burning Man essential:

Another Burning Man essential is a Cooler filled with ICE. Depending on the number of people traveling the medium size cooler (10.5 Gallons/42 Quart) is a good option as a minimum.

Insider Tip:

Purchase Ice Cubes from Wall Mart, or create your own Ice bricks in your freezer using Tupperware! According to science the larger each piece of ice the longer it will take to melt. Then seal these in the cooler till you get to the festival. Using this tip you won’t have to stock up again until later in the week!

4. Do I need a Bike a Burning Man?

This is a widely asked question about Burning Man, the answer is NO you don’t NEED one but it is recommended. Black Rock City is several miles ride so walking in the heat can be a challenge.

Option 1: Bring Your Own Bike

Bringing your own bike is a great option, I would recommended bringing an old/Vintage style bike and not your expensive rally racer, as it could get damaged by the dust.

Insider Tip:

Like everything in Burning Man, the key word is DECORATE! Decorate your Bike, your RV and of course yourself! The wilder and more creative the better!

Burning Man Bike

Riding a bike at Burning Man will make your life a whole lot easier! Source: Reno Gazette.

Option 2: Bike Share Program

There is a bike share program at Burning Man festival. Where various “Green bikes” are placed all over Black Rock City.

You can hop on and off these bikes whenever you like. However, be aware that when you get of the community green bike, someone else is free to hop on them so i would not say this is a great solution for regular transport.

How to get Cheap Tickets for Burning Man?

As Burning Man has increased so much in popularity over recent years, tickets have become very expensive and high demand! When I wen’t to the festival I saw many people just showing up to the gate and trying to get in! Believe me the place a few mile perimeter and is like a fortress so don’t even bother.

The Normal ticket costs $425, then you add on booking & delivery fees and you end up paying $470! 

Now this price may be “ok” for some people, but for me it was way too expensive, I could not justify spending such an amount but I really wanted to go!

However, with Burning Man keeping with it’s “Inclusive”  community philosophy has a LOW INCOME TICKET PROGRAM! Wohoooo!

The Burning man offers a few thousand tickets for just $210, which is a standard festival ticket price for a festival which is far from standard!

The low income ticket program requires you to fill out an application form and provide proof of your “low income” finances, for more info see this link.

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About the author

Town & Tourist

A travel resource guide that has been carefully crafted and curated by travel bloggers to help you find the best places to travel to in the USA.