Is it obvious I love alliteration? Here’s my bougie guide to playa packing for those going to Burning Man this week, from a 3-year playa princess (not to be confused with a sparkle pony). If you aren’t going to the festival… well, I am sorry you did not get a ticket.
- Playa boots – wedge heels if you want some height, otherwise flat and comfortable boots like those worn around London. Leather is great, so is pleather. I found a super comfy pair at Goodwill last year for $5 (don’t tell anyone). Found a pair of brand new, black thigh-high lace-up wedges with great tread for $35 at an upscale thrift store in Oakland this year. Already tested them out and my feet didn’t hurt at all after a night of dancing and drinking in SF. The drinking may have had something to do with it. But my thighs were killing me the next day. Guess it’s been a while since I’ve worn huge platform boots, I need to get in shape! I tend to like shoes without zippers as they get caught a lot. You can use an oil on the zipper with pliers to pull up/down easier, but I prefer a no-zip, no-tie, slip-on boot when possible.
- Fur jacket – The first year I went to Burning Man, Rachman forgot to mention that it would be super cold at night. So I drove from the East Coast in August with sandals, tank tops, etc., never having been to a desert in my life. Ok it gets COLD at night. Fur is essential. Monster fur jackets are popular but you could try something more original. Thrift stores have lots of vintage furs which you can further alter, rip apart or add new pieces to. My second year I found a sweet grey jacket with a military style collar. I customized the lining, added fur around the hood, put funky fabric around the sleeves, and more. This was my ultimate “Pearl has arrived” jacket. Unfortunately someone stole it from a club months after the burn. Always do coat check, folks. Last year I had a friend help me with another attempt at the Pearl jacket. This one feels more steampunk. It was a kimono style dress first, she helped me open it up and add snap closures as well as the gorgeous belt and back details. This year I found an AMAZING Adrienne Landau jacket on eBay for $100. It is so soft and beautiful. I am going to add extra lining because the fur isn’t super warm and a Chinese style closure at the top so it stays closer to my body at night.
- Tutu – for Tutu Tuesday, of course. You can make your own for cheap with tulle. There are lots of tutorials online and you’ll end up with something uniquely yours.
- Playa whites – still working on mine, this is a Burning Man tradition on Thursdays but looks good all the time. Wear all white, in any way you see fit.
- Leopard print – I hear there is a leopard gathering this year. Ok there are lots of theme days at Burning Man, you can look them up in the event guide or even create your own. So bring things that are fun and feel good to you. It’s all about self expression, remember?
- Utility belt, backpack, or other carrying device – you will use this everyday to carry around essentials, see below for my carrying pack contents. I am dying for a white leather utility belt. Maybe next year. I have a fun backpack that I got at Walgreen’s (love how back-to-school shopping is right in time for Burning Man) which is hot pink and says “Girls Rock” and flashes lights when you drop it on the ground. I also have a hot pink shoulder bag that I made much more comfortable by sewing an old Free People sweater around the strap. I need to do the same for the backpack so I can wear it during the day against bare skin without chaffing.
- Parasol – ordered mine on Amazon a while back, you can also find these in Chinatown, Japantown or craft stores. I have a purple one that has nice lacy cutouts and a plain white one.
- Goggles – I almost typed “googles.” Nothing techy about these, just your standard UV and dust protection which you will have with you all the time. There are some funky steampunk styles available. I went to Distractions on Haight St. and got a pair that folds up and has clear lenses. I like being able to see things sometimes. I probably won’t have time to modify them this year but would love to paint them white and add mirrors or rhinestones around the edges.
- Scarves – great for wrapping around your face when it gets dusty, essential in dust storms. Find them in your closet or at thrift stores for cheap, just be sure to wash them before putting on your face. You will be up close and personal with these scarves.
- Jewelry that suits your costumes and personality. The only thing I would steer away from is heavy earrings, as it’s very windy all the time they will get whipped around, caught in your hair, etc. Long feather earrings are fine as they are lightweight. I usually stick to either peacock feathers or pearl earrings. You’ll get a lot of things to wear around your neck so you don’t need to bring too many necklaces.
- Furries / rave wear – include lots of light-up stuff, but avoid buying glowsticks as they only last for one night and the plastic connectors always come off, creating lots of MOOP. If someone gives them to you, of course wear them, but be on the lookout for ones that have dropped and do your part by picking it up and sticking it on the outside of your bag or in your hair. I order furries from Amazon or Yandy, a good site for rave costumes but you will definitely see other people wearing the same thing so try to only order one or two pieces and create your own look rather than using an off-the-shelf product. You can also make your own furries as well as furrify any other part of your costume with some hot glue and strips of fabric from Mendel’s or other craft stores. Look for the “remnants” piles to get good deals on smaller fabric pieces.
- Ballet slippers or actual slippers for running to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or for hanging around camp when you don’t feel like putting your shoes on. It offers a little more protection for the bottom of your feet but they will definitely get dusty.
- Comfy pajamas / lounge wear. Yoga pants are nice. They are also good if you want to actually do yoga either before, during, or after the Burn.
- Corsets, pretty bras, pasties. Wear just a bra or an under-bust corset on the playa with pasties or bare breasts. Wear your birthday suit or go topless if comfort is more your thing.
- Lots of underwear. I hate feeling dirty down there for the wrong reasons. Bring fun undies that you can make into an integral part of your look. Hint from the burlesque world: wear your “safety panties” such as a nude thong, then put some fishnets or nylons over them, top with a sparkly, lacy, or frilly pair of booty shorts. You can add thigh-highs on top of your fishnets to prevent bulge.
- Lots of socks, including lots of high socks for wearing with boots. Snowboard socks work well because they are thin yet moisture-wicking. You can never have enough clean socks out there.
- Bathing suit for lounging or as part of an outfit. There are no pools, baths, or other sanitary bodies of water at Burning Man. People will sometimes jump in evaporation pools or in the puddles following the water trucks. I do not recommend it.
- Face wipes and baby wipes galore. Like, a 12 pack. You want to be clean, right?
- Lotions, cosmetics, medications including glittery eye makeup, false eyelashes, nasal spray, hand sanitizer. I could give you my whole list but it would be a post unto itself.
- Hair care including a wide-tooth comb, bobby pins, hair clips, and maybe a little styling serum or oil. Do not plan to blow dry or in any way “do” your hair once on the playa. Just do it once before you leave and then put it in braids or something creative when it starts to get crazy. The playa dust is its own kind of hair spray / sculpting product and unless you shower every day, you’re just going to deal with playa hair.
- Small travel shampoo / conditioner / body wash in case you run into a camp shower or are fortunate enough to be with a large theme camp that has one. Or bring a camp shower and set it up for your camp, they will love you. They are like $100 at Walmart. Be sure to have proper greywater collection.
- Empty gelcaps, to make your own vitamins of course.
- Herbal tinctures, essential oils, incense / candles, and other nice things to soothe you. It’s a harsh environment so things that make you feel at home and calm are very good to have.
PACK INSIDE CAR
- Small cooler for perishables, drinks, and water. No alcohol until your car is parked at camp!
- Snacks. The lines are long. Bring enough to share especially during Exodus when the phenomenon of one-hour neighborhoods happens.
- Utensils if needed. One year I packed a yogurt specifically for Exodus and all of the spoons were tucked away somewhere, so I ate it with my tongue.
- Fuzzy pillows for snoozing while your sweetie drives.
BACKPACK / UTILITY BELT STUFF
- D-ring carabiner connections for cups etc.
- Satin ribbons for tying things around your neck, backback, belt, etc.
- Bathroom essentials – hand sanitizer and small flashlight on a keychain, or make a small pack which includes a medium sized wad of toilet paper and any feminine care products you need as well as a ziplock bag for disposal. Headlamps work well in the bathroom as well, you can wear it on your neck so it will face down. If you’re a lady you can use it to strategically direct people’s eyes to your breasts as you travel on into the night following your porta pottie run. Pretend you’re not doing it on purpose.
- Travel cup for receiving drinks from bars and other Burners. Good to have one that clips on to things. Try to get one that’s lightweight. Bonus if it does hot and cold.
- Bike stuff – bike itself, bike rack, bike lock, bike lights. Don’t be a dark-wad. Also maybe leave your name on your bike somewhere with your camp address.
- Batteries – you’ll need tiny watch batteries for certain light-up accessories like earrings, rings, and the little pin-on ones if you want them to work all week. You’ll probably replace these once each. You’ll need AAA for most El-wire. AA for small electronics. D for flashlights, lanterns, and larger electronics.
- Chargers for your car. Nice to be able to make phone calls before and after playa, as well as having some portable music, air mattress blow-up, etc. Bring the charging cables for all of your devices as well as a small unit that plugs into your cigarette lighter and lets you plug in things to AC outlets.
- Tent stuff including tent itself, shade structure, tarp, zip ties, rebar, air mattress, pillows, sheets, sleeping bags or quilt, etc. Lots of resources for how to pitch a tent at Burning Man on Google.
- Heavy duty garbage bags. The super industrial strength ones. You don’t want stuff leaking during the week or in your car on the way home.
- Camp cook stove or Jetboil and extra propane.
- 1-ply toilet paper. Lots of it. I bring a pack of 12 or so. Better to have more than less, you can always share with friends when the supply is running low at the end of the week. Or bring a whole roll and leave it in the potty. Someone will be grateful.
- Paper towels, other cleanup supplies.
- Lollipops, gum, hard candies to enjoy & share. They last well in the heat. Anything with chocolate will melt, so you’ll have to keep it in your cooler or camp fridge. I could do a complete food packing list but I’ll leave that for another time. Make sure you have small snacks on hand, and bring extra of anything you’d be willing to share.
- Gifts that you make, or buy but with some personal meaning attached to it.
- Postcards, stamps, addresses. You can send mail from the playa!
- Notebook and pen. Write in it each day. You’ll forget all that you experienced a week later unless you jot some things down about people you met, camps you visited, parties you attended, things you learned. It’s also a good way to get e-mail addresses and reconnect after Burning Man with people who you want to stay in touch with in the default world. Some people bring business cards printed specifically for Burning Man with their playa name and perhaps an email and an inspiring phrase.
Okay, this is not exactly part of a packing list, but as a proper playa princess, here are some things you need to do before indulging in festival festivities:
- Upload a “Gone to Burning Man” facebook cover photo.
- Setup Out of Office replies for your day job.
- Print your Burner Map to find default-world friends on the playa instead of asking “where are you camped this year?” 100 times. Also good when wandering into new camps for events, so you can ask around. I usually try to find my besties to give them a hug but also remember to leave some things to chance. One year I traveled across the playa on foot to find my friends camp and after a few hours of looking, got to the right spot but they had left for the night. I left them a note with my camp address (which I didn’t know before leaving for playa) and some love. They ended up finding me the next day but even if they hadn’t, it was nice to know we all made it and that we were thinking of each other.
- Get your hair done in a new funky style, add some yarn dreds, or skip this step and get it done on the playa. Or wear hats and head coverings during the day and wigs at night, as I do. What do you mean is my hair real?? Don’t forget your wig caps.
- Hair removal, anyone? Get a bikini wax, or laser hair removal at least a week before playa. Be sure to bring aloe, anti-itch or other creams as well as sunscreen for these areas. If you’re a guy, having your lady shave your pubic area can be an intimacy-building experience 🙂
- Get a mani and pedi, or give yourself one. Nail art is fun. It’s also nice to look down at your dirty toes and know that once you clean off the dust, your feet are super stylin.
- Whiten your teeth so you look good in photos and in real life.
- Do normal vacation prep things like turning down the temperature of your fridge, freezer, and thermostat while you’re away to save $, pay rent, take out the trash and compost, and call the post office to hold your mail so they don’t start returning things to sender.
- Go to the ATM and get at least $20 cash out for ice on the playa as well as incidentals leading up to the desert. It’s nice to offer gas money if you are getting a ride, for example.
Get lots of clear zippered storage containers. Bed sheets, curtain packaging, makeup / cosmetics cases, and clear travel pouches work well. You will be able to see things and quickly identify what needs to be opened without exposing everything to dust all the time. It also helps keep things organized as you throw pouches around you tent / living area. People also tend to bring those giant plastic bins. In an ideal world I’d bring a few clear stackable storage bins with drawers. For now I’m stuck with opaque bins. I also like how a suitcase compartmentalizes things but they require a lot of room to open / close. I have brought one and just kept it open the whole time but that exposes everything to dust inside the tent as well as taking up a lot of floor space.
WHEW! I’m tired from thinking about all of this. Time to go pack.