Going to Burning Man is a pain in the ass. Two of the biggest challenges are transportation and shelter. This is why the Recreational Vehicle is the king of Burning Man shelter, it’s the easiest way to go. Well, actually, the absolute easiest way to go to Burning Man is to have someone drive an RV to the playa for you, while you fly into BRC airport. Unless you actually own an RV, it’s also the most expensive, which is why it’s called “Rockstarring”.
To rent an RV, you can figure on costs starting at about $3000 and going up from there. That’s not including fuel and cleaning fees. Not everyone can afford that, but, there are other, less expensive ways to bring shelter with you to Burning Man. However, there are some very important requirements to meet for the perfect Burning Man shelter.
1. It must be able to withstand gale-force winds.
2. It should be able to be erected fairly easily and quickly by a small number of people. If you arrive after driving 10 hours straight (not recommended, BTW), you are going to want to get your shelter ready fast so that you can take a nap. Also, you don’t want to be struggling with it while the wind is blowing hard. The faster it goes up, the sooner you can hunker down if need be.
3. It should be dust-resistant. The dust at Burning Man is called playa dust. It has the texture of coarse talcum powder. It is also extremely corrosive and alkaline. It gets everywhere. You do not want to come in from the playa, looking forward to a little sleep and find your bed and everything in your tent covered with a thick layer of dust.
4. Roomier is better. Also, being able to stand up straight is a big plus. Imagine trying to get dressed while bent over.
5. You will need shade. Burning Man is a strenuous event. You are going to want to be able to get lots of rest when you need it. Let’s say you go out for the evening and return to your camp just before sunrise, which is also the coldest time of day on the playa. You crawl into bed in your tent at 6am. But, once the sun comes up, the temperature rises very quickly. Within a couple of hours, your tent goes from being a freezer to an oven…unless it’s under shade.
Here are some possibilities.
The tent is the shelter of choice for the 99% at Burning Man. It’s the cheapest, in terms of cost and transportation. But, you have to choose your tent wisely and take precautions. We have done tents at Burning Man several times. My first year, I brought a small, two-person tent. Not good. See requirements 3, 4 and 5. I ended up sleeping in my car (more on that later…).
When considering a tent, try to find one with no mesh panels. In 2012, I found the tent pictured above for an excellent price. It had a couple of mesh panel in the roof, so I sealed them with Gorilla tape and extra nylon fabric. That, combined with the rain fly, partial cover and protection from an adjacent RV made for a comfortable one-person Playa home..
When choosing a tent, you want to give yourself some headroom and floor space in the tent.
I STRONGLY suggest against using any kind of tent without shade.
Do not use the tent stakes that came with your tent. The wind will pull them out and send your tent flying. Get extra long, heavy duty metal ones. The best solution is to use reinforcing bar or rebar, for short. If you can find some with the bend at the top, or have some bent like a candy cane, that’s even better. Note: You will probably need to bring/borrow a sledge hammer to drive the rebar into the playa, and vise grips to pull them out. And something to put over tops so that people don’t trip on them and gouge there ankle, like tennis balls with slits cut in them. Oh yeah, bring work gloves, too. See what I mean? Pain in the ass.
One year, we struck upon what ended up being a great tent setup. We will probably use this solution this year.
First, the tent:
This Trek tent has a foot print of 10’ X 20’, which is why we lovingly call it the “Big Ass Tent”. You can find it online selling anywhere from $250 to $300. Here’s why this tent rocks:
1. Every window and door have both mesh closing and solid closings. That means, when it’s all zipped up, there is no way for dust to get in! But, if the weather is nice, you can open them up and get a breeze.
2. I can walk in standing straight up! (I’m 5’10”). And, I can remain standing in about 80% of the tent.
3. It has metal poles that won’t break in a high wind and lot’s of stake-down loops.
4. It has a full, reinforced floor with a threshold at the door.
5. It has 3 three rooms. There are room divider fabrics built in. Use one room for the bed, the middle room as a living area and the third room for storage.
6. Going to another multi-day festival or just camping? You are all set!
The only part missing is the shade, which is why we also borrowed a legendary Burning Man shelter, the Costco car canopy:
This car tent’s dimensions are…10’ X 20’! Put this tent up, then put the canopy over it. You get extra dust protection and plenty of shade. Air circulates between the canopy and the tent, so you can basically sleep in the middle of the day.
Yeah, I know, I look cranky. But look how cute Laura is in the mirror. You can look inside and see how dark it is in the middle of the day.
Anyway, you could use a smaller tent and/or different shade solution. But, trust me, if you are doing a tent, you need shade.
I don’t suggest living out of your vehicle unless it was made for camping. This is a picture of me the first year at Burning Man, 2002. I was going to sleep in the tent on the right, but after the first morning, I switched to the car. Someone gave me reflective material to put over the windows to help with the sun. I slept in the car and put my stuff in the tent.
Let’s say that you take something bigger that a car, like a van. A van is great because it takes care of shelter and transportation, you can carry all of your stuff in it. But, you can basically only sleep in it. You are constantly getting in and out of the van, so it’s going to get a lot of playa dust in it. If you rented the van, the rental company is probably going to ream you for extra cleaning costs, even if you try to clean it yourself first.
You know how you aren’t supposed to leave dogs in a car with the windows closed on a sunny day. If you sleep in your vehicle, you are that dog, unless you have shade. If you added a Costco canopy to the mix, that would help with shade, but I still don’t think camping like that is ideal.
Campers and Trailers
Campers and trailers make for great Burning Man shelter because that’s what they were designed for. If you don’t own one, see if some kind friend or family member will let you borrow their’s for the week (Just be prepared to spend a couple of additional days cleaning it up when you get home.)
If you are thinking about using a pop-up camper, make sure that it can be sealed off from the dust. They have a tendency to use a lot of mesh windows.
The main down side to campers and trailers is getting them to the playa. You will be using much more fuel towing the camper, the trip will take longer and you will be stressing the towing vehicle much more. But, if that’s not a problem, then rock on!
A yurt is kind of like a tent, but with solid sides. Most yurts you see at Burning Man are hexayurts; small six-sided shelters built with rigid insulation. The Hexayurt can be made from about $300 of materials from Home Depot, plus about $100-150 of mail-ordered tape. Depending on the construction technique, it takes about 8 hours to prepare at home and 0.5-4 hours of assembly on the playa. I’ve never camped in a hexayurt, but I have seen them and helped assemble one at Burning Man.
The upside of a yurt is that they are COOL, as in keeps the cool air inside. By just spraying mist in the air, you can drop the temperature down 10 degrees. They also require no shade. And they look cool, in geeky kind of way.
Two challenges to using a hexayurt are the construction and assembly. Unless I had someone helping me who had put one together before, I’m pretty sure that I would be frustrated trying to put one together at Burning Man. Because of the size of the pieces, they need to be transported in a larger vehicle. Lastly, unless you build a tall (and way more susceptible to wind) hexayurt, you will have to bend over every time you go in or out. And, once you are in, you will only be able to stand up in a circular area in the middle off the hexayurt.
So, if you are handy, have a truck available for transport and want to make sure you are a cool as a cucumber, try a hexayurt. Here’s link to get you started. Appropedia.org
Last year, Laura and I decided to go to Burning Man three days before we left! We drove up with our friend Rich, who was towing a 6 X 12 U-Haul trailer for the camp. We had brought with us a tent that I had used the year before (the one with the lights pictured above) at Burning Man. It wasn’t bad, but I was concerned about the amount of space for two people. After we arrived and unpacked the camp, we looked inside the trailer and thought to ourselves, “Hmm, that’s a lot of room in there…”
Since the trailer wasn’t set to be used that week, we moved in and used the tent as extra storage. It actually worked quite well. After figuring out how to insulate ourselves from the cold floor at night, we found that we could sleep in as late as we wanted. We could close the doors almost completely when the dust blew. It was oddly romantic.
I know a couple of people who flew in to San Francisco from London, rented a U-Haul truck, went to thrift stores and got a cheap sofa, bed and other stuff. They then drove to the playa and had their own hotel room on wheels in the back of the truck!
Of course, if you don’t want to rent a U-Haul to just sleep in it, consider offering to take other people’s stuff for a fee, or the stuff for your camp for reimbursement. Another option.
If you have ever visited a construction site, you’ve probably seen one of these portable offices. Sani-Hut is a company which supplies all sorts of temporary buildings for construction and events. They also contract a lot of work with Burning Man. But here’s the deal; You can call them up and reserve an office like the one above. They will then deliver it to you on the playa! For cheaper than an RV! Oh, did I mention the AIR CONDITIONING?
So why did I leave this until the end? Because it’s already too late to get one for this year’s Burning Man. They are already sold out. But, there is always next year…
Have you been to Burning Man? What are your experiences with shelter? What advice would you give to virgin burners? And if you are a virgin, what do you want to know? Take it to the comments!
Thanks for the read. See you on the Playa.