How to get my stuff to Burning Man?
August 8, 2023 6:19 AM   Subscribe

I’m going to Burning Man for the first time this year. I’m looking for advice on how to get all my stuff there. The specifics are: I’m coming from Toronto, flying to SF, staying there a few days, then taking the Burner Bus, and staying at a camp (The Lost Penguin) that provides a fair amount of infrastructure.

***** Some details

I plan to get a bike in SF and bring it to the Playa

I’m in SF for three nights (2.5 days). While I’m there I have a work meeting and a big event I want to go to. So part of the challenge is how to pack both for SF and the Burn

I’m new to Burning Man and also very inexperienced at camping, etc.

Some of the big things I need to bring: A tent and related camping stuff (sleeping stuff?). Food for snacks. Some things I do not need to bring: food for meals. My supply of drinking water. (these are provided by the camp)

I'm taking the Burner Express Bus, which has a limited luggage allowance: “two luggage items, and one carry-on. Each luggage item may not exceed a total of 62 linear inches (length + width + depth) or weigh more than 50 pounds”. You can add an option to bring a bike, but can’t add an option for more luggage. I don’t have a good sense of how hard/easy it is to get everything I need into those constraints.

Time/risk/reliability and worry-reduction are greater concerns for me than money. I don’t mind doing the more expensive option if that makes things run smoother. I’m a first-timer and a little nervous about it all, so want to do things that reduce worry.

***** Some questions

a) How much stuff to I bring with me from Toronto, how much do get in SF? : Part of me thinks I should pack most/all my stuff in Toronto, check a bag on the flight. Part of me thinks I should get most/all of my stuff in SF (ie: order camping gear etc off amazon and have it shipped there) and pack it when I get there.

If I bring stuff from here is means: Risk of the airline losing my checked bag(s), risk of border hassles, extra expense (not a big worry), some extra hassle of checking bags etc.

If I try and get things in SF and pack there it means: Short time window for figuring stuff out. I don’t have tons of time in SF so if things go wrong, it might be stressful. Most notably: I don’t have an intuition of how hard/easy it’ll be to get all my stuff into the packing constraints of the bus. I'm pretty busy my first 2 days in SF, so packing would mostly happen in a half-day right before the bus. If things go wrong, there's not much leeway.

b) What to do with stuff I want in SF but not Playa? There’s some things I’d want to bring to SF that I probably don’t want to bring to the Playa. I’m thinking mainly - my laptop, and maybe some nice clothes for the party I’m going to in SF. What to do here?

c) What kinds of bags? If I’m packing for a city I usually use, like, rolly-wheel airport luggage. But I assume I don’t want that for the playa? What are good bags?

d) Strategy for getting a bike there? What’s a good way to have a bike on the Playa? My best shot I think is to buy one in SF, and get it to the playa? Or is there some better way. I guess the tricky part is how to get the bike to the bus, when I’m also carrying all my stuff.

e) Other tips?: I welcome any other tips/suggestions/advice, things to watch for, and also always welcome “you’re asking the wrong question- you should be asking XYZ”


Thanks!!
posted by ManInSuit to Travel & Transportation around Pershing County, NV (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I have not been to burning man but I have camped in similar areas and flown with camping gear to other places.

If you haven't already been reminded a million times, remember that it gets cold at night in deserts like where BM happens.

You can fit basic camping stuff in a typical suitcase. Look for "backpacking" things rather than generic camping things. Tents marketed for backpacking will be lighter and smaller than your average tent. Also they are more likely to handle high wind. Same with sleeping bag and a sleeping pad and pillow. Probably a self inflating pad would be best (smaller) though a foam pad would also work (but bulkier/cheaper). A 3 season sleeping bag would work fine. Again, a "backpacking" sleeping bag will squish down into a small stuffsack while a generic walmart one might not. Sleeping bags come in two variants - down (basically feathers) or synthetic fibers. Down will pack smallest and lightest. Synthetic is cheaper but bulkier. consider an inflatable pillow as well, they pack really tiny but can massively increase comfort.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 7:25 AM on August 8, 2023 [3 favorites]


a) Go to MEC Toronto and have them help you pick out a hiker's backpack that meets the 62 linear inches requirement, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a tent, a flashlight, and whatever else they recommend for camping at Burning Man. Pack everything you need at Burning Man into the backpack. You can either check the backpack and its contents when you take your flight, or you can have it shipped to San Francisco ahead of time.

b) Contact a shipping company in San Francisco (eg, Navis Pack and Ship) and arrange for them to ship the items to Toronto that you don't need at Burning Man.

c) Use your regular luggage for the trip to San Francisco. Use your hiker's backpack for your trip to Burning Man. You can wear your hiker's backpack and roll your luggage at the airport.

d) Buy a bike in San Francisco (also talk the the sales person about items needed if you get a flat tire). Alternatively, you could buy a bike in Toronto and have it shipped to San Francisco, but, among other things, you'd have to remove the front wheel, the pedals and the handlebars in order to ship it, and then you'd have to reinstall them. Uber has bike rack service; take Uber to the Burner Express Bus. You'll be wearing your hiker's backpack, so your hands will be free.
posted by SageTrail at 7:29 AM on August 8, 2023 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Shipping stuff from TO to SF sounds great! If feels high-risk to me (because customs) but maybe I am over-worrying this?
posted by ManInSuit at 7:39 AM on August 8, 2023


REI and maybe some other outdoor retailers will rent a lot of camping gear, but their stuff might be all booked up at this point from stores in SF. But that could potentially cover your tent, backpack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. If there's a similar place in Toronto, you could rent stuff there instead of buying.
posted by LionIndex at 7:40 AM on August 8, 2023 [2 favorites]


REI in the Bay Area, Sacramento area, and Reno will specifically ask if you're renting for Burning Man and will not let you rent camping equipment for that event because it destroys the equipment and makes it un-rentable. Please don't lie, they'll just notice upon return and charge you the purchase price.

I'd try to buy a beater bike on Craigslist when you get to SF. The Playa will also wreak destruction upon bike parts, so I wouldn't spend more than absolutely necessary on it.

Shipping your stuff across the border is pretty easy, but don't ship your laptop unless you absolutely have to. Its battery may cause a slow-down through customs. If you do ship it, let your shipper know so they can do the correct paperwork and labeling.
posted by komlord at 9:05 AM on August 8, 2023 [7 favorites]


Get in touch the Toronto regional contacts and ask if there's a community truck going to Burning Man. If there is, the truck organizers may have a standard package (like a footlocker and/or bike box) they'll expect you to use to make their job easier.

There will definitely be community trucks leaving from the Bay Area, but it's possible they will have left before you arrive there. The Bay Area is divided into multiple regions, so you might want to figure out which is most convenient for you and ask the same question of the RCs there. I'd regard this as a backup plan.

What to bring to Burning Man and how to pack it is an endlessly deep rabbit hole. A common piece of advice is "don't bring anything to Burning Man that you can't afford to lose." The playa dust gets into everything, the winds can reach 70 mph, the temperatures can range from near-freezing to 40°C (high desert). But it's a dry heat! You say you're inexperienced at camping—you are jumping in to the deep end here. The Event Preparation section of the eplaya forums may help.

A footlocker (something like this) is a good option for transporting your stuff and will just fit the Burner Express dimensional restrictions. If you can find a footlocker with decent-sized built in wheels, that might be a good option, or get a dolly that collapses for travel and will fit in a footlocker. You may need to move your stuff some distance once you're on playa.

Get a bunch of 1-gallon (very big) ziplock bags and pack every day's outfit in a separate bag; also pack a spare outfit to wear when you get off-playa and out of the best shower you've taken in your life. Bring extra socks. Bring boots that you know are comfortable (don't experiment with new equipment). Even with a bike, you will do a lot of walking. Have a hydration pack that can carry all the stuff you'll need for a day's adventures (sunblock, dust mask, goggles, lights, etc)—be prepared to stay away from camp for long periods at a stretch.

Make up a small ziplock bag filled with paper towels soaked in vinegar and mint oil. Wipe your feet down with these, and anything else that needs it. The playa dust is alkaline and the acidic vinegar neutralizes it; the mint oil is cooling and feels good.

There are Burning Man bike-rental companies. You might want to check them out. You'll still need to transport the bike between Reno or SF and the playa.
posted by adamrice at 9:07 AM on August 8, 2023 [6 favorites]


The playa dust is destructive as shit (tiny sharp particles, alkaline, lots of wind). Anything you take is going to be thrashed, so don't spend $$ on nice looking gear or new gear (get your bike at Goodwill and leave it on the playa is the typical playbook). You will not be able to rent gear from any camping store within 6 states of the burn and return it in August/Sept; they will know where it's been and charge you full price or a heavy cleaning fee. (on preview, jinx komlord!)
posted by holyrood at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2023 [3 favorites]


holyrood: " leave it on the playa is the typical playbook"

Don't do that. Don't leave anything on the playa.
posted by adamrice at 9:10 AM on August 8, 2023 [29 favorites]


To me this looks something like "how can i get my Burning Man stuff to someone who can take it out to the playa and back?" Maybe you buy a cheapy folding bike and strap it to a trunk and give it to someone in Toronto who can carry it for you.

Personally, I wouldn't try to 'suit up' for the burn in 3 days in SF. It will be too chaotic and challenging. You're going to want to minimize all hassles around having your gear out there sorted before you get there.

Given the logistics of this, you're going to have to rough it, meaning one camping tent, plus your personal gear + one trunk for shipment. It's doable if you plan ahead and realize there's going to be some discomfort involved. Pack a tent and pack a shade sail with poles for shading the tent so you have someplace to sit and your tent doesn't sit directly in the sun. Pack a small camp stool, pack comfort items to last a week (skin cream, sunblock, chapstick). Bring a bit floppy sun hat and long sleeves. You're not going to be out partying all the time. Bring dust masks for those swirly moments. Bring goggles for being in a dust devil.

Bring a set of warm, wind proof gear for late night playa sojourns. It can get cold out there and windy at night.

Bring some vinegar in a spray bottle to counteract the alkaline dust. Bring chain oil for your bike. Bring some clean wipes for your body and for your stuff. Bring bags for disposing your crap properly.
posted by diode at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2023 [1 favorite]


I'd highly recommend packing everything in TO. It's a pain to run around to a gazillion stores before you head to playa, especially in a new city, etc. Also considering that you're also going to have to haul your gear from the BXB stop to camp, I'd make sure that everything fits in your two suitcases before you leave.

Some other notes:

--

Juust in case you're planning this - do not go straight to the airport from playa on your way back. Stay at a hotel for a night, take a shower, do laundry. All of your clothes / bags will be wrecked, and you'll just be dusty all the way back home. Ask me how I know this...

--

You should also ask on /r/burningman - it's snarkier there, but you'll get more help.

--

"leave it on the playa is the typical playbook"

Well, you shouldn't leave anything on the playa, but every year there are people who will take container-loads of donated bikes on playa at the end of the event.

--

Everything that adamrice recommends is spot on, especially the ziploc bags and spare outfit. This might sound like overkill, but it's not. Personally I like witch hazel more than vinegar out there; it smells better.

Definitely pack earplugs / eye mask. Sleep is crucial out there. I use Mack's silicone earplugs to drown out the intense music noise that's everywhere.

Also, bring nasal spray / nasal gel / vaseline / eyedrops / q tips / lotion / lip balm with spf / multiple types of sunscreen. It's super dry and your sinuses/skin/everything will get dried out. I know this sounds like overkill, but it's really not.

Your cuticles can get wrecked. I actually regularly apply superglue (!) or liquid bandage to my cuticles there; it looks a little gross, but it keeps my cuticles feeling healthy.

Get alpine sunglasses with side shades. At least for me, normal sunglasses will give me headaches because they don't block the intense sun coming in from the sides. I love, love, love alpine sunglasses in the desert. Also make sure to get both tinted and clear goggles for dust; tinted for the day, clear goggles for night. Bring a few masks for dust storms / whiteouts.

Make sure you pack warm for sleeping at night, too. It gets cold out there. I bring a pair of my thickest long underwear. Some years I've brought winter coats.

More than anything though, the playa will provide, and you'll figure it out. You don't get the burn you want; you get the burn you need!
posted by many more sunsets at 12:49 PM on August 8, 2023 [2 favorites]


Thirding the suggestions to pack each complete outfit in 2 gallon ziploc bags. The last thing you want to be doing on playa is figuring out where the parts of your outfits are. For me personally, I tended to repeat wear the clothes I brought, and brought a lot of crazy costumey outfits that I ended up not wearing and wore the same four outifits the whole time. I still overpacked every time, but I didn't need most of the clothes I brought.

The other thing I did which I can recommend was ordered bunches of stuff I needed online and had them delivered to the hotel I was staying at before the burn in Reno (Grand Sierra, they handled this very well for the most part). I ran a camp, so I was usually in Reno for at least 3-4 days before build week, and had ample time to collect the deliveries, though most were there waiting for me at least a week before I arrived. Double check with the hotel you're staying in (if you are) if you can do this. Also, I haven't tried this, but some hotels may let you leave luggage there for the duration of BM week if you are also staying there after the burn.

Honestly, used bikes are great, and I went that route when I could, but a lot of people got the cheap bikes from walmart. By the time you get to SF there may not be any used bikes left, and I know in Reno at least they super stock up in all the walmarts on all stuff used for burning man, including bikes, so there is an ample supply.

You're using the absolute best way to get the playa; the burner bus, and since you can pay a surcharge to bring the bike I suggest doing that. There is a group that picks up all the abandoned bikes on playa, so while I don't recommend leaving anything at all behind, this is a (maybe not totally accepted as okay) thing that happens with bikes there.

I am also one of those people that didn't like showering on playa, so most days I survived by using gobs of wet wipes. I brought lots of wet wipes with me.

If possible, get a tent that you can stand up in, and find out if the camp you're staying at will have shade for you to put your tent under. If not, I strongly recommend some type of shade sail for over your tent, and remember, the dinky little stakes that come with the tents are no match for playa winds if they kick up.

Make sure you pack at least one very warm coat for nighttime. I did vintage furs for night time.

Don't forget your cup. Ideally on a lanyard or something so you can carry it around your neck.

Do not pack anything that you want to keep nice. The dust gets into absolutely everything

If you haven't already, the forums on eplaya are a good place to get info or ask questions.
.
posted by newpotato at 2:21 PM on August 8, 2023 [2 favorites]


I don’t have a good sense of how hard/easy it is to get everything I need into those constraints.

You'll be fine but you'll have to pack tightly. Your biggest constraints will be the sleeping pad/tent/sleeping bag. The combination of the 3 take up pretty much all of my large suitcase. I've slept in the ultralight sleeping bags out there and definitely prefer a larger one with padding. But you can fit plenty of clothes and personal items in the remaining large suitcase and carryon.

How much stuff to I bring with me from Toronto, how much do get in SF? ... I'm pretty busy my first 2 days in SF, so packing would mostly happen in a half-day right before the bus. If things go wrong, there's not much leeway.

Bring from Toronto. A half-day is not enough time for a first timer without a local support network. And an advantage of having pretty much everything prepacked is that if it fits on a plane, it fits on the bus (unless they've changed it since I took it in 2017, all the big luggage goes in on a box truck, not the bus itself).

What to do with stuff I want in SF but not Playa? There’s some things I’d want to bring to SF that I probably don’t want to bring to the Playa. I’m thinking mainly - my laptop, and maybe some nice clothes for the party I’m going to in SF. What to do here?

Are you meeting up with anyone local in SF who's part of The Lost Penguin who might be willing to store your stuff for the week at their place? Or a local coworker/storage space at the local office?

If you must bring the nice stuff, double seal them in ziplocks because the dust will get everywhere.

What kinds of bags? If I’m packing for a city I usually use, like, rolly-wheel airport luggage. But I assume I don’t want that for the playa? What are good bags?

My preferred container is tubs with a snap-on lid, but I have a storage unit that my luggage lives in during the burn. This is both because, again, the dust will get everywhere and having something airtight helps keep it reasonably clean and to protect the luggage itself. Odds are that you'll have a least one whiteout during the week which will fill the inside of your tent with dust and it's virtually impossible to get dust completely out.

Without the tub option, I'd go to the local thrift store and look for something that seems to be in reasonable shape that you wouldn't care if it's slightly off-colored for the rest of its life. I would go with something that rolls, because you will have to carry it some distance from the bus to camp (though you have a decent chance of being able to flag a friendly art car to give you a ride, at least on the way in).

Strategy for getting a bike there? What’s a good way to have a bike on the Playa? My best shot I think is to buy one in SF, and get it to the playa? Or is there some better way. I guess the tricky part is how to get the bike to the bus, when I’m also carrying all my stuff.

If you can find a reputable rental place (the ones that cater to burners and handle delivery and pickup, not like generic REI rentals) that still has inventory, that's the simplest thing to do. You'll find people who have bikes for sale for burners too but don't forget you have to do something to get rid of a bought junk bike after the event. As others have pointed out, the playa trashes bikes so they're harder to sell to anyone outside the community.

Other tips?: I welcome any other tips/suggestions/advice, things to watch for, and also always welcome “you’re asking the wrong question- you should be asking XYZ”

In addition to the tubs, I also seal clean clothes in giant ziplock bags (e.g. one bag of day shirts, one bag shorts, one bag of night shirts, etc.) because I'm mercurial and will change up what I feel like wearing with what. You also want some kind of laundry bag to gather worn stuff. For cleaning it, add some lemon juice to help wash out the dust. Do not bring any clothes that you really love, as the dust can permanently stain things, particularly socks.

I'm assuming from your name that you're male - wide neck Gatorade bottles are very popular with guys to avoid having to leave the tent in the middle of the night. I also recommend some kind of slipon footwear in case you do need to hit the portapotties after waking up in the middle of the night. TP and handsan cannot be assumed at all times so bring some with you just in case if you're going to need it. The camp is usually in one of the more trafficked areas and the portapotties can get pretty ripe. If that sounds horrible, scope out the ones further out and time your visits. You really do not want to have to poop near the rave camps if you can at all avoid it.

You probably want one of the unofficial burning man apps like Time To Burn on your phone (bring a cheap used one if you don't want to expose your full time one). They make scheduling and navigating so much easier. Some people keep theirs in ziplocks or dive bags.

Keep in mind that timed events out there are often aspirational. If you read a description of something that really catches your eye, consider swinging by the host camp a day or two before and confirm that it is actually happening and when. If you're into classical, check out the symphony Tuesday night. It's a big todo out there.

Always carry some kind of drinking vessel, goggles, mask, earplugs, and a flashlight and/or headlamp. Even when you think that you're just running to the portapotties and back, adventures can break out at any time and being without those as a minimum can get you into trouble. And pack redundantly for the critical items, as stuff gets lost or broken all the time.

Lots of the bars there card due to the local law enforcement shaking down camps but will accept a photocopy as long as you aren't obviously close to 21. A lot of people glue suck a photocopy to their primary drinking vessel. You might also write the name of the camp on it as well so that if something happens to you, people can get you back to camp. In 2018, it hit 119 and many people had heat issues.

There are thieves out there, particularly on burn night. If you find a trustworthy person in camp with a locked vehicle, leaving your wallet, keys, and laptop in it is a good idea, as long as you're sure they're not going to drive off without returning them.

Keep in mind that pot is legal in Nevada but not on federal land and there are both uniformed and undercover LE around.

Is camp providing rebar to stake down your tent? It's something my camp considers part of the shared logistics but not all of them do.

For your set of clean clothes to wear on the trip out, have clean shoes if possible. Your cab/rideshare driver will appreciate not having dust ground into their floor. And tip generously - they're still going to have to do some level of cleaning.

consider an inflatable pillow as well

Or, wasteful as it is, buy one in SF and toss it after the event. I sleep sooooo much better with a real pillow.

talk the the sales person about items needed if you get a flat tire

There are a good number of bike repair shops on playa, so you don't need to overprepare for this, but a bike multitool isn't a bad personal item to have.

pack a shade sail with poles for shading the tent so you have someplace to sit and your tent doesn't sit directly in the sun. Pack a small camp stool

The Lost Penguin has a huge lounge/seating area so I wouldn't worry about that when facing space constraints. If you do try to have a shade sail, again, make sure it's very thoroughly staked down with rebar. I personally witnessed this.
posted by Candleman at 3:39 PM on August 8, 2023 [1 favorite]


Oh, also, always lock your bike if it's going to be out of your sight. The 12th principle is radical self entitlement and leaving a bike unsecured for even a minute can lead to not having a bike for the rest of the week. It doesn't have to be a good lock, just enough to keep lazy hippies from grabbing it. Don't chain it to anything, just make sure that someone can't jump on and start riding.

And on the subject of bikes, make sure it's visible at night. I'd recommend a light for the front, a blinker for the back, and something like spoke lights to make sure you're visible from the sides. In addition to making sure people don't run into you or vice versa, having distinctive identifiers will help make it easier to find your bike.
posted by Candleman at 6:42 AM on August 9, 2023 [1 favorite]


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