person at burning man
Get the most out of your experience with these Burning Man tips. Photo: Paige Shaw

Before, During, & After Burning Man: What You Should Know

If you are one of the lucky people to have scored a couple of tickets to this year’s Burning Man, I’m sure you have some burning questions.

Some of these questions probably have a lot to do with what it’s like to bring your RV into one of the most inhospitable deserts of North America. Should you even attempt to drive your rig into a seething mass of parties, pyres of fire, and dust storms?

Don’t worry—after more than a decade of attending the event with different camping rigs, I will provide you with the necessary information on how to prepare for it, as well as what to do before, during, and after your trip. 

About the Burning Man Festival

Out of the over 70,000 people who go to Burning Man, most of them bring some sort of camper or trailer. These rigs are your primary home within Black Rock City.

Built on a massive dry lakebed (called the playa) in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, Black Rock City is where the majority of participants set up camp for the week. It is actually a small city with town squares, streets with street signs, neighborhoods, and even medical facilities.

Outside of Black Rock City is where the Man, the Temple, hundreds of art exhibits, and even an airport are located. This makes up the rest of the Burning Man proper.

The city is set up like a giant clock with the shorter vertical streets labeled as 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, etc. The names of the longer horizontal streets are labeled A through K. They change every year with each Burning Man theme. An example of a Black Rock City address is “I live at the corner of 3:15 and Glimmer (G).” The main road at the front of the city is called the Esplanade.

Burning Man man with fire dancers
Photo: Christina Nellemann and Harry Thomas

Before you go

The Black Rock Desert at the end of summer can be a tough place to live. Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees during the day and drop into the 40s at night. Hours-long dust storms can blow up in a matter of minutes, and sneaky dust devils can quickly take out a trailer awning. There is very little shade, and sometimes afternoon thunderstorms can pop up and dump rain.

Making your home out there as comfortable as possible is key. Many people will build amazing structures that take advantage of the sun, breezes, and views. Taking a few tips from them can make your rig a wonderful camp within the wilds of Burning Man.

Be prepared

Getting your rig ready for the week is very important. When you are in Black Rock City, there are no Walmarts, RV maintenance stores, or even a dump station. You are on your own when it comes to something going wrong with your rig.

Do all the necessary maintenance weeks ahead of the event. Make sure you carry the necessary emergency equipment for both the trip out to the desert as well while you are at camp. You are not allowed to drive your tow vehicle or toad around Black Rock City, so make sure you regularly start your vehicle and check any batteries during the week to prevent them from going dead.

People on bikes in a dust storm
The dust is one of the notorious aspects of Burning Man. Kevin Sutton

To protect the interior of your camper from too much dust, seal up any skylights or gaps in the windows. Use masking tape and Reflectix to keep the sun and additional dust out of your living space. In fact, prepare to do a lot of your living and cooking outside to keep dust at bay. For this, make sure you have a shade shelter or awning or use your rig for shade.

As far as what to bring, there is a great forum on the Burning Man website on the best food, drinks, costumes, transportation, and gifts to bring out to the playa.

Location and orientation

Once you have arrived at the event and are searching around for a camp spot, location and orientation are something you should not overlook.

Some parts of the city seem to get hit harder by the winds than other locations. The prevailing winds usually come from the southwest and west. These winds tend to hit that part of the city the hardest. This is usually the 7:00 to 10:00 areas of the city and the I, J, and K streets. My favorite places to be in the city range from the 2:00 to 5:00 areas of the clock.

However, if a thunderstorm picks up the winds can come from anywhere and all bets are off.

Orientation is also important. Set up your rig to block as much wind and sun as possible. Parking your rig to make as much shade to the north is best. If you do put out your awning, be sure to pack it away every time you leave camp in case the winds do pick up.

burning man photo
A typical neighborhood in Black Rock City. Christina Nellemann

Is Burning Man safe?

Some people have asked me whether their rig and gear will be safe when they are away from camp. I can genuinely say that I have never had any issues with theft, invasion, or destruction of our camp by any person. In fact, we have left expensive solar panels and even wallets out in the open with no issues.

Colorful vintage trailer and camp
A creative camp with outdoor living space. Photo: Christina Nellemann

People look after each other in the city, and if you make friends with your neighbors, they will do the same for you. Most likely, the only damage will be from errant winds or a wayward tent that was not staked down properly.

If you do want to lock up your rig when you are away from camp, don’t take your keys with you while exploring. Thousands of keys are lost on the playa every year. Keep your keys in a safe place somewhere at your camp.

Coming back home and cleanup

When you finally make your escape from the Black Rock Desert back to what is referred to as “the Default World”, it will be tempting to wash your rig right away. Don’t do it.

While playa dust can be corrosive to paint and vehicle electronics, driving around for a few days will knock a lot of the dust off the exterior and will make clean up easier later on. To get dust out of your vehicle vents, open your windows and turn your AC fan on high. Then turn your heat on high. Alternate between heat and AC to blow out as much dust as possible.

Trojan horse at Burning Man
Burning Man is the ultimate adult playground. Just go with it. Photo: Christina Nellemann

When you are ready to clean, use an air compressor to blow as much dust off your exterior and engine as possible. Don’t spray water into your engine.

Then, wash your camper or vehicle with a bucket of water with some white vinegar and dish soap. You may have to do this several times to get most of the dust off. Your camper’s interior will need to be vacuumed and then cleaned with the same solution.

If you do bring your RV to Burning Man, keep in mind that the less you look like a product of “the Default World,” the better. Decorate your rig and keep it fun, lighthearted, and non-commercial. Hide or change up your rig’s logo, create fun camp markers, and bring gifts or food to share.

Last but not least, be sure to light up your camp at night with something recognizable. With so many RVs and other camps around, it’s easy (but sometimes kind of fun) to get lost while biking around at night looking for your camp.

Start planning your trip

For more Burning Man tips, visit their website. For all of your camping and trip planning needs, look no further than RV LIFE Campgrounds and RV LIFE Trip Wizard. Campground Reviews is a trusted source of campground and RV park reviews offered by camping and RV enthusiasts just like you. With its accompanying RV LIFE App, RV Trip Wizard gets you to your camping destinations utilizing RV-friendly routes specific to your RV and travel preferences.

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