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Your Definitive Guide to Burning Man

BLACK ROCK CITY, NV - SEPT 2: First-time Burner Sonja Lercer of Whistler, B.C., Canada, dances on the LOVE installation at last week's 25th annual Burning Man festival.   (Photo by Keith Carlsen For the Washington Post)

Burning Man: What is it? When is it? Where is it?

Dreaming of living La Vie Boheme in the desert at Burning Man? We have everything you need to know before you drive out to enjoy one of the world’s most iconic music and art festivals.

Burning Man is more than just a festival, it is a community. Every year this community comes to Black Rock Desert in Nevada to live together and create together. Every attendee becomes an official resident of Black Rock City, the metropolis that this festival creates. Every Burning Man experience is different as it is shaped, year after year, by the various people from all corners of the world, from all walks of life who attend it.

Everyone participates and helps produce the uniquely outrageous Burning Man experience in Black Rock City. If you think you’re going to be standing there watching other people, then you’re not getting the full Burning Man experience. Make something, meet people, and produce interactions that will enrich and enliven the vibrant community of this temporary bohemian city.

This year, Burning Man will be from August 30 until September 7. This year’s art theme is the Carnival of Mirrors.

To better understand the goal of Burning Man, take a look at the history of this yearly bohemian community festival.

History of Burning Man: A Timeline

1986: The First Ever Burning Man happened on Baker Beach, San Francisco. Larry Harvey and Jerry James burn a wooden human figure by the beach to celebrate Summer Solstice. Want to witness the debut burning? Watch the video below.

1987-1989: From the initial crowd of 35 at the first burning on Baker Beach, numbers swelled up to 300 at 1989. It was at this point that this “little” gathering of bohemians and free spirits. It was also during this period that they formally named it, “Burning Man.”


1990: As the Golden Gate Park Police cracked down on the Baker Beach event, they were only able to erect the Burning Man installation and not set it ablaze as it was viewed to be a fire hazard. This led to the founders realizing the limits of the Burning Man in San Francisco, and the desire to expand it into a more immersive and intensive event. It was then that Burning Man moved to the remote and desolate area of Black Rock Desert, Nevada. This was the beginning of Burning Man as we know it today. It was more than just the burning of an effigy or coming together of bohemians and free spirits (like the Cacophony Society), it became a spiritual and physical journey. Burning Man now morphed into an involvement that required an escape from civilization and entrance into this society–in the middle of the desert.


1991: This year saw the first art car and the first time the Burning Man was lit by fire twirlers.


1992: As the crowd grew, there was a need for increased security. The Black Rock Rangers were born. This was also the year a plane landed upside down. Yes, you read that right.

1993: The first theme camp, “Christmas Camp,” was born.

1994: More central camp events, the 1st lamp posts appear.


1995: The first issue of Piss Clear, Black Rock City’s newspaper, was published. Internet posting and CNN coverage began. Burning Man themes began. This year’s theme was Good and Evil

1996-1998: Burning Man becomes a cultural phenomenon that piques worldwide interest and curiosity. Massive media coverage followed, of course. Attendance grew from 8,000 to 15,000 during these years. Themes and theme camps became a huge part of Burning Man. “No Spectators” came to prominence. This phrase encapsulated the philosophy of the whole Black Rock City community. Everyone is included and everyone has a responsibility to each other and to himself or herself to participate, explore, and entertain.


1999-2006: Mutant cars, more themed camps, temples, more variety in music. and a community large enough to be considered a bona fide city. Burning Man grew in epic proportions. The events, the ethos, and the experience became culturally significant, most often reflecting the zeitgeist of the time.

2007: This was the year that Burning Man went green. Going beyond being merely a theme, the community carried green initiatives within Black Rock City. From solar panels to biodiesel, Burning Man showed its support to the pro-environment political initiative. Al Gore even popped in, via video message, to thank the community for their green efforts.


2008-2009: Burning Man Regional Network goes global, with over 100 locations worldwide. It also further organized into the Burning Man Project supporting arts and green initiatives during the festival and beyond.

2010: It was this year that Burning Man recognized its status as the largest temporary city, and accordingly, how that can be a platform to get organized and integrate urban planning as well as be a space for a plethora of collaborative projects.

2011-2012: 2011 was the first time Burning Man tickets were completely sold out. 2012 was the implementation of the ticket lottery.

2013-2014: 2013 saw its peak in attendance with 69, 613 people in Black Rock City.


Ticket Information


There are a lot of ways to get tickets to Burning Man. Most of the options, i.e. Pre-Sale, Directed Group Sale, Individual Sale, are no longer available at this time. Burning Man also says true to its commitment to inclusivity by offering a Low Income Ticket Sales Program, and special tickets for kids. It is important to note that Directed Group Ticket Sales are reserved for specific groups selected by Burning Man.

First things first, in order to be purchase tickets, you need to be registered with a Burner Profile. Click this link to register.

Here are important dates to note for last-minute ticket purchases:


If you’re desperate for a ticket and are unable to get one through the registered ticket sale. Don’t resort to StubHub. Check Burning Man’s Secure Ticket Exchange Program a.k.a STEP, this is a safe way to purchase tickets and vehicle passes from resellers. Vehicle passes and tickets sold through STEP are directly purchased through Burning Man, and sold at face value. Avoid scalpers and scammers, only purchase resold tickets through STEP. Click this link for more information. If STEP doesn’t work out for you and buying from a third party is your only option, check Burning Man’s FAQ section for tips and information to ensure that you’re not buying fraudulent tickets.



All vehicle passes cost the same, regardless of when it was purchased. For more information on Black Rock City traffic, read this blog. Link to vehicle passes FAQ here.

All of the information above are also available on the Burning Man Ticket Information page. If you have questions that aren’t answered on their page or FAQ section, contact via ticketsupport@burningman.org

IMPORTANT: Tickets will not be sold at the gate in Black Rock City. It will also not be sold through any walk-up outlets. Ticket sales are online. Most tickets will be shipped to you. If you have Will Call tickets, there’s an additional charge of $12 per order. For more information on associated ticketing fees, i.e. shipping and processing fees, check the Ticket Information on the Burning Man website.

How To Go With Friends

As outlined in the previous section, Burning Man has pretty strict ticket policies. If you are planning to go with friends, planning is key. The pre-sale is the best way to get a group of friends together for the Burning Man since this is the ticket period when you can purchase more than one vehicle pass. Since it’s the middle of the desert, cars or RVs are pretty much the only way to go. Burning Man is also strict with vehicles, and only those with passes can enter and reside in Black Rock City. After the pre-sale, I’m afraid group options are quite slim since you can only purchase 2 tickets and 1 vehicle pass per transaction. Plan it out with your friends, and stay in the loop. Follow Burning Man on Twitter or sign up for their newsletter, Jack Rabbit Speaks, to get up-to-date information on dates for registration etc.

But if you ask me, I would take the “No Spectator” philosophy of Burning Man to heart. Find your friends in Black Rock City. That is what this city, this community is all about anyway. Go with a friend or two and make more friends along the journey. Interact and open yourself up to possibilities and new friendships, that’s the true spirit of Burning Man so best get into it.


What to Bring

The top two things to bring is openness for what’s to come and sense of adventure.

Once you have that, your Burning Man experience is up to you. Playa Living can be difficult, but it can be a transformative experience. Your survival in Black Rock City is up to you. You are responsible for everything that goes into your day-to-day experience in this temporary city. It is important to remember that Burning Man has a LEAVE NO TRACE policy. There is no garbage collection and it is paramount that all MOOP or Matter Out of Place is removed from Black Rock City. Plan for this when packing for your journey to Nevada. Sustainability should be top of mind. Disposing of trash (yes, even water and other fluids) and waste management is your responsibility too. With this being said, you should pack materials for your own waste disposal as well materials to secure it and safely stow it in your vehicle for proper drop off. Click this link for more information on the Leave No Trace initiative.

Since you’re going to be living in a desert, prepare yourself for the extreme elements. Equip yourself with goggles for those white outs, jackets for cold temperatures, and sunblock, hats, and lots of water to prepare and hydrate your body for the heat. Recommended is 1.5 gallons per person per day, for use for drinking and hygiene. LED lamps or lighted gear is also essential for keeping safe at night in the Playa. Bring a first aid kit as well as food and beverages since Black Rock City does not provide any services. Again I reiterate, you are responsible for everything associated with your day-to-day living essentials.

For a more comprehensive packing checklist, go to this page.

You should also bring any art installations, costumes, or music instruments you prepared in anticipation of your participation within the Black Rock City community.


What to Wear/Costumes

Prepare clothing for extreme cold and extreme heat. Wear comfortable shoes always, and bring rain gear as well. Sunblock, sunglasses, a particle mask, and goggles is also essential for your protection. The link in the previous section has a specific packing checklist. The key to selecting what to wear is comfort, safety, and self-expression.

Costumes are very welcome, and even encouraged, at Burning Man. Feel free to dress up however you want. It’ll be even better if you can dress up according to this year’s theme. But again, comfort and safety should be take in consideration when creating and wearing costumes.

Get inspired by these Burning Man costumes of years past.



burningmancostume burningmancostume2 costumes-at-burning-man

Burning Man is a cauldron of fashion and gender Mutation.

Burning Man is a cauldron of fashion and gender Mutation.

Drugs at Burning Man

Drug use is not tolerated, encouraged, or condoned at Burning Man. If you are caught by Black Rock City authorities with drugs, you will either be arrested by local/federal authorities or sidelined to the medic tent. But given the free-spirited nature of the festival, drug use can and does happen. After all, it’s no east task to police a temporary city with 60,000+ inhabitants with their own private tents and/or vehicles.




Giving themes to each year’s Burning Man is a tradition that started in 1995. Here is a list of the themes since that year:

  • 1995: Good and Evil
  • 1996: Inferno
  • 1997: Fertility: The Living Land
  • 1998: Nebulous Entity
  • 1999: Wheel of Time
  • 2000: The Body
  • 2001: Seven Ages
  • 2002: The Floating World
  • 2003: Beyond Belief
  • 2004: The Vault of Heaven
  • 2005: Psyche: The Conscious, Subconscious & Unconscious
  • 2006: Hope and Fear: The Future
  • 2007: The Green Man
  • 2008: American Dream
  • 2009: Evolution: A Tangled Bank
  • 2010: Metropolis: The Life of Cities
  • 2011: Rites of Passage
  • 2012: Fertility 2.0
  • 2013: Cargo Cult
  • 2014: Caravansary
  • 2015: Carnival of Mirrors

Each year Burning Man wows the world with outrageous theme camps, wacky costumes, and downright otherworldly installations. I wonder what this year has in store. I know that I, along with the world, wait with bated breath at how this year’s biggest temporary city in Black Rock Desert turns out.

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