The ultimate guide to Burning Man

You’ve probably heard the buzz. The hum starts in late spring and keeps on humming through the summer until all those ‘Burners’ converge at Black Rock Desert for the iconic Burning Man festival.

But Burning Man is more than a festival. It’s an otherwordly experience that merges art, community, self-expression, and self-reliance in a one-of-a-kind manner.

This annual event attracts tens of thousands of people from around the globe who come together to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community and art. 

Whether you’re a first-time attendee or a seasoned Burner, this guide will help you navigate all the essentials for your Burning Man experience.

We’ll discuss RV camping at Burning Man, what to pack for the festival, how to get tickets, and more. 

Related Meet the families who are raising Burning Man’s next generation of burners

Table of Contents

What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is a week-long event that culminates in the burning of a large wooden effigy, known as “The Man,” on the penultimate night. 

Founded in 1986 by Larry Harvey and Jerry James on Baker Beach in San Francisco, it has since grown into a massive gathering that embodies principles such as radical self-expression, radical self-reliance, communal effort, and leaving no trace.

It has morphed from a small gathering of people to an annual pilgrimage that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the desert.

When and Where is Burning Man?

Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock Desert, about 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. It usually occurs in late August to early September, generally culminating over the Labor Day weekend.

Source: Dane Deaner via Unsplash

Burning Man History

The festival was founded in 1986 by Larry Harvey and Jerry James on Baker Beach in San Francisco. These two inspiring dudes decided to burn an 8-foot-tall sculpture on Baker Beach in San Francisco.

Harvey and James built the sculpture, a wooden figure of a man. They decided to burn it to celebrate the summer solstice and create a communal, participatory experience.

The act of burning the sculpture was intended to be a statement of radical self-expression and a form of artistic release. It was not pre-planned as the start of an annual event, but rather a one-time experiment in art and community.

The sculpture’s burning attracted a small crowd, who were captivated by the spectacle and the shared experience it created. This spontaneous gathering and the positive response it received planted the early seeds for the Burning Man Festival.

Here’s how Burning Man History has unfolded since then:

Late 1980s – Early 1990s

  • Increasing Popularity: The event gains popularity, attracting a few hundred participants.
  • Move to the Desert: In 1990, due to its growing size, the event relocated to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

1990s – Growth and Structuring

  • Rapid Expansion: The event sees rapid growth, with attendance reaching into the thousands.
  • Organizational Changes: By mid-1990s, a formal organization, the Black Rock City, LLC, is established to manage the event.
  • Core Principles: Larry Harvey articulates the Ten Principles of Burning Man, including Radical Inclusion, Self-Expression, and Decommodification.

Early 2000s – Maturation

  • Large-Scale Art: The focus shifts towards large-scale art installations, community participation, and interactive experiences.
  • Permitting and Regulations: The event formalizes relationships with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), ensuring environmental and safety regulations compliance.
  • City-Like Infrastructure: Black Rock City develops with mapped streets, centralized planning, and essential services like medical and emergency response teams.

2010s – Peak Popularity and Challenges

  • Record Attendance: Attendance peaks at over 70,000 participants.
  • Cultural Shifts: The event faces challenges such as commercialization pressures, with increasing concerns about “plug and play” camps that offer luxury experiences. These were the sorts of things that Burning Man wanted to push against, so these pressures represented a challenge to the primary ideal of the festival.
  • Environmental and Social Initiatives are introduced to reduce environmental impact and enhance social inclusion. The event becomes a significant influence on broader cultural and artistic movements.

Ongoing Influence

  • Global Reach: Regional Burns and affiliated events occur worldwide, spreading the ethos globally.
  • Cultural Impact: The festival continues to influence art, culture, and community-building practices beyond the event itself, inspiring similar gatherings and movements.
Source: Bry Ulrick via Unsplash

The Ten Principles of Burning Man

These are the principles set forth by Burning Man co-founder, Larry Harvey. They articulate the philosophy of this movement:

  1. Radical Inclusion: Everyone is welcome, and participation has no prerequisites.

  2. Gifting: The act of giving is unconditional and not contingent upon a return or exchange.

  3. Decommodification: In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, participants seek to avoid transactions and commercial sponsorships.

  4. Radical Self-reliance: Attendees rely on their own resources and inner strength.

  5. Radical Self-expression: Unique creativity is encouraged, with respect for the rights and liberties of others.

  6. Communal Effort: The community values creative cooperation and collaboration.

  7. Civic Responsibility: Participants act in accordance with local, state, and federal laws and uphold the welfare of the community.

  8. Leaving No Trace: Attendees respect the environment by cleaning up after themselves and leaving the desert as they found it.

  9. Participation: Transformative change occurs through deeply personal participation.

  10. Immediacy: Experience is valued over contemplation, and participants seek to overcome barriers that stand between them and a connection to their inner selves, others, and the world around them.

Preparing for Burning Man

The following tips will get you everything you need to prep for a great festival experience.

Burning Man Tickets

Getting a ticket to Burning Man requires advance planning and sometimes a bit of luck. The ticket sales process begins early in the year and includes several phases:

  • Pre-sale: Higher-priced tickets for those who want to contribute to Burning Man’s financial health.
  • Main Sale: The primary release of tickets, which sell out quickly.
  • OMG Sale: A final opportunity to buy tickets closer to the event date.
  • Low-Income Ticket Program: Aimed at ensuring that those who cannot afford the full price still have an opportunity to attend.
  • Other sales: Sales like the FOMO sale, BXB+ Sale, and kids tickets are a few examples of sales and packages that pop up for Burning Man.

One of the best ways to keep up to date on these sales and other Burning Man info is by subscribing to The Jackrabbit Speaks, Burning Man’s official newsletter. 

Personal Preparation

Physical Readiness: The desert environment is harsh. Ensure you are physically prepared for extreme temperatures, dust storms, and walking long distances.

Mental Readiness: Burning Man can be a deeply transformative and, at times, overwhelming experience. Be open to new experiences and prepared for moments of discomfort and introspection.

Emotional Preparedness: Prepare for the emotional rollercoaster with self-care practices like meditation and seeking support from friends and the community. Remember to prioritize your well-being.

What to pack for Burning Man

One of the key principles of Burning Man is self-sufficiency. That’s why you’ll want to focus heavily on what you pack for the festival. If you don’t, you might get suck without something you need and no way to get it in the remote desert. 


Burning man sculpture
Source: Daniel Lincoln via Unsplash

Getting to Burning Man

Black Rock City is one of the most remote settings in the U.S., so getting there requires careful planning. We happen to think that a road trip is one of the best ways to get there.

And with our new Autopilot™ road trip planning tool, you can answer just a few questions to have us plan a customizable Burning Man trip for you. Autopilot™ uses data from over 38 million real-life trips to create an itinerary with unforgettable stops along the way.

Once there, carpooling is encouraged to reduce the number of vehicles. Some use Burner Express, a shuttle service from San Francisco and Reno.

  • Vehicle Pass: Required for every vehicle entering Black Rock City.

  • Car Preparation: Ensure your vehicle is in good condition to withstand the desert environment.

  • RV Preparation: ‘Playa dust’ is a well-known malady at Burning Man. This uber-fine sand sneaks into all sorts of nooks and crannies. It’s known to wreak a special havoc on RVs. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring one — camping and community are vital to the experience. Tens of thousands of RVs go to Burning Man every year. Be prepared by properly sealing your RV, maintaining it on site, and giving it a thorough cleaning afterward. 

  • Supplies: Stock up on essentials in Reno or nearby towns, as there are no stores in Black Rock City.
Burning Man RV
Source: Linda Wartenweiler via Unsplash

RVing to Burning Man

RVing is the way to camp at Burning Man because you’ll tote a home on wheels to the middle of the action. Camping at Burning Man is generally first come first serve. There are no hookups so be ready to boondock.

Our Autopilot™ trip planning tool is RV friendly to help you roll on a route that’s free of low clearances and stocked with RV-friendly stops. Autopilot™ can plan the route for you, and then you can easily adjust it based on additional preferences you may have.

Related How to Prepare Your RV for Playa Dust at Burning Man

RV-Specific Pack and Prep List

When you bring your RV to Burning Man (or rent one for the event), it’s crucial that you prep it for some of the harsh realities. Here’s what RVing ‘Burners’ should pack:

Power and Electrical

  • Generator (with extra fuel): Ensure you have a reliable generator and sufficient fuel for the entire event.
  • Solar panels: For an eco-friendly power source.
  • Inverter: To convert DC power to AC for your devices.
  • Battery pack: For cell phones and other devices.
  • Extra batteries: For your RV and any other battery-powered devices.
  • Extension cords: Heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords for connecting power sources.

Waste Management

Climate Control

Comfort and Convenience

Water and Plumbing

Dust Protection

Lighting and Navigation


  • Spare parts and tools: For any unexpected repairs (fuses, bulbs, wrenches).
  • Bike rack: If you’re bringing bikes for easier transport around the event.
  • Shade structure: Additional canopy or awning for extra shade.

These items will help ensure that your RV experience at Burning Man is as comfortable, safe, and enjoyable as possible.

Source: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Renting an RV for Burning Man

Don’t have an RV of your own? No problem. RV Share is a platform allowing you to rent various types of campers directly from owners.

Renting an RV for Burning Man is a terrific option even if you have one of your own but would rather avoid taking it on a long road trip. Many RV Share owners offer airport pickup so you can fly into a nearby airport and drive the camper the rest of the way.

Some owners even offer delivery to get the camper of your choice dropped off at or near the festival. 

Find Burning Man RV rentals here

Burning Man Survival Guide

Setting Up Camp

Upon arrival, you’ll set up your camp. Choose your spot thoughtfully, considering the things you do and don’t want to be close to. Some camping spots are closer to noisier areas, others to art installations, and others to zen zones. Select the environment you want beforehand for best results at Burning Man.

Many participants join theme camps, which are organized groups that provide shared resources, art installations, and communal spaces.

Participation and Community

Burning Man thrives on active participation and fostering a sense of community among its participants. Here’s how you can get involved:

Volunteering Opportunities

Volunteering is a cornerstone of the Burning Man experience. Whether it’s helping with setup, assisting at an art installation, or participating in community service projects, there are countless ways to contribute your time and skills.

Creating and Joining Theme Camps

Theme camps are micro-communities within Burning Man that offer a wide range of experiences, from music and art to workshops and communal meals. Consider joining an existing camp or creating your own to share your passions with fellow Burners.

Art and Performance Contributions

Art is everywhere at Burning Man, and you’re encouraged to add to the creative tapestry. Whether you’re a visual artist, musician, performer, or something else entirely, sharing your creativity adds to the vibrant atmosphere of the event.

Interacting with Other Burners

One of the most enriching aspects of Burning Man is the opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life. Strike up conversations, attend workshops, and participate in spontaneous gatherings to make meaningful connections with your fellow Burners.

Principles of Gifting and Barter Economy

At Burning Man, the economy operates on principles of gifting and bartering rather than traditional commerce. Share what you have to offer, whether it’s food, drinks, trinkets, or skills, and embrace the spirit of generosity that permeates the event.

Burning Man Map

Years ago, Burning Man grew so big that the event planners had to become city planners as well.

As a result, Black Rock City is laid out in a semi-circular grid, with radial streets named after clock positions and concentric streets named alphabetically. 

Each year, the Burning Man Map is published online. Get to know it in advance so you can get around easily once you arrive. 

Survival Tips

This is no joke because you’ll literally be surviving in the desert. The whole idea of Burning Man is to create an environment where people support each other in a self-contained environment. 

Purchases are often made by barter, using goods or services to exchange for items you need. 

That said, these are the vital matters to take into your own hands at Black Rock City:

  • Stay Hydrated: Constantly drink water to avoid dehydration.
  • Eat Regularly: Maintain your energy levels with regular meals.
  • Protect Yourself: Wear sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing.
  • Rest: Ensure you get enough sleep to enjoy the event fully.

Burning Man Art

Revolutionary art installations make the world go round at Burning Man. In addition to established art displays, thousands of event participants will showcase their own art. 

Engage with the art, attend workshops, participate in performances, and contribute to this artistic community in any way you can.

Events and Activities

The event schedule is packed with activities ranging from yoga classes and lectures to dance parties and fire performances. Make sure to check out the Temple, a space for reflection and remembrance, which is burned on the final night.

Source: Peter Fitzpatrick via Unsplash

The Man and The Temple

The burning of The Man is the climax of the event, symbolizing release and renewal. This is the festival’s namesake event and not something to be missed.

The Temple burn, a quieter and more solemn event, provides an opportunity for reflection and letting go, a perfect way to wrap on the journey before you go. 

Leaving No Trace: Responsible waste management on The Playa

At Burning Man, embracing the “Leave No Trace” philosophy is essential to preserving the integrity of the desert environment.

Follow these tips to Leave No Trace at Burning Man:

  • Bring reusable containers.
  • Minimize single-use items to reduce waste.
  • Set up a designated waste area at your camp with separate bins for recyclables, compostables, and landfill waste.
  • Use heavy-duty trash bags and seal them tightly to avoid leaks.
  • Use portable ashtrays for cigarette butts.
  • Pack a small container for micro-trash like bottle caps and food wrappers.
  • For gray water, use evaporation systems or bring it back with you in sealed containers.
  • When you roll, do a thorough sweep of your camp area before departing, ensuring you leave the Playa as pristine as you found it.
  • Observe MOOP (Matter Out of Place): Pick up any trash, no matter how small.

After Burning Man

Burning Man festival transports attendees to another world where the rules we know are radically shifted. The experience is enlightening, but can also create jarring moments upon return to the real world. 

Here’s how to handle that:


Returning to regular life after Burning Man can be challenging. Give yourself time to process the experience, reconnect with the Burner community through decompression events, and integrate the insights and changes from the event into your daily life.

Staying Connected

Stay involved with the Burning Man community year-round through regional events, local Burner groups, and online forums. This helps keep the spirit of Burning Man alive and fosters ongoing personal and communal growth.

Burning Man FAQs

What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is an annual event that brings together a community of participants for a week-long experience focused on art, self-expression, and self-reliance. It culminates in the burning of a large wooden effigy, known as “The Man.”

When and where does Burning Man take place?

Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock Desert, about 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. It usually occurs in late August to early September, culminating over the Labor Day weekend.

How do you get tickets to Burning Man?

Tickets are typically sold in several phases, including a general sale, a directed group sale, and a low-income ticket program. Participants must pre-register for the sales and follow the guidelines provided by the organizers.

What is the cost of attending Burning Man?

The cost can vary, but tickets usually range from around $425 to $1,400, depending on the sale phase and type of ticket. Additionally, attendees must consider the costs of travel, supplies, and preparations.

What should you bring to Burning Man?

Essentials include enough food, water, and shelter for the duration of the event, clothing for extreme weather conditions, and supplies for personal hygiene. Participants are also encouraged to bring items for gifting, as the event operates on a gift economy.

What is the principle of “Leave No Trace”?

“Leave No Trace” is a core principle of Burning Man, emphasizing that participants should leave the desert as they found it. This means packing out all trash, minimizing environmental impact, and ensuring no trace of their presence remains.

How does the gifting economy work?

At Burning Man, there is no buying or selling (with a few exceptions like ice and coffee). Participants give gifts to one another without expecting anything in return, fostering a sense of community and generosity.

What kind of art and activities can you expect at Burning Man?

The event features a wide range of art installations, performances, workshops, and interactive experiences. Many of these are created and organized by the participants themselves, showcasing diverse talents and creativity.

What is the significance of burning “The Man”?

Burning “The Man” is a symbolic ritual that represents the culmination of the event. It is a moment of catharsis and reflection, signifying the impermanence of the experience and the community’s collective spirit.

Is Burning Man safe?

While the event is generally safe, participants must be prepared for harsh desert conditions, including extreme temperatures, dust storms, and limited access to medical facilities. Safety guidelines and resources are provided by the organizers to help attendees prepare and stay safe.

How does one become a “Burner”?

Anyone who attends and embraces the principles and culture of Burning Man can consider themselves a “Burner.” The community is inclusive and welcomes people from all walks of life who share a common respect for its values.

Burning Man is a unique and transformative experience that requires thorough preparation, open-mindedness, and a willingness to embrace community and self-expression.

You can make the most of this extraordinary event by understanding the principles, preparing adequately, and participating fully.

Whether you’re drawn to the art, the community, the personal transformation, or the sheer adventure, Burning Man offers something profound for everyone. Embrace the journey, contribute to the community, and carry the spirit of Burning Man with you long after the event ends.