Because of the sheer space requirement for the event, Burningman has to be held in a fairly remote place, and that remote place is the Black Rock Desert. Not only is it one of the flattest places on earth, it is also very undeveloped. The nearest store is a small, old fashioned IGA with some basics that is 15 miles from Black Rock City in the town of Empire which is south of Gerlach, the closest town to the event. After that store the nearest regular-sized store is over 100 miles away.
The Black Rock desert is a beautiful, but dangerous place. The dry lake bed is hot, dry and dusty most of the year and when the lake bed fills with water, the alkaline mud conditions are hazardous. When people first settled the west, they avoided this area due to the rough conditions It was not fully explored until John C. Fremont mapped it out in 1843.
Because of these conditions, it is important to be properly equipped for the journey. A prepared Burningman participant is a happy Burningman participant. It is important to know that the town of Gerlach has four bars that also serve food, one post office, one motel, one gas station and a school in Gerlach. That's it. If you get to the Jalisco Club, try the margaritas, they are excellent.
So when 15,000 other people start to descend on Gerlach, it is a good idea to make absolutely sure that you have everything you are going to need before you leave Alturas, California to the north or Wadsworth, Nevada to the south. I highly encourage you to spend money in Gerlach and Empire. The more money you spend the happier the proprietors are going to be, and the better they will warm up to 15,000 tourists choking their roads.
Here are just a few items that you will kick yourself if you fail to bring them to the event. Before you start driving on Highway 447 be sure you have:
Water - bring at least 2 gallons a day for drinking for each day, plus 2 gallons a day for showers, cooking, cleaning, etc. There are no showers or water on site.
If you plan to stay for 5 days, you should have around 20 gallons per person. I know this sounds like quite a bit, but it is better to leave a few gallons in Black Rock City for the clean-up crews than to debate whether or not you can shower.
Food - Bring non-perishable food items that will not go bad in the heat. Just add water pancake mix is good, canned food like SPAM, powdered drink mixes like Gatorade, pre-made soups, fruits, things of this nature.
Coolers - At least one or two coolers in good condition. 60 quart style, not the kind that chills a six pack. Even though they sell ice at the event, it runs out quickly, so plan accordingly. Consider bringing a cooler packed with nothing but ice to use to store ice until you need it.
A shade structure. You need something that can keep you out of the sun when it is 118 degrees. Think of a structure that is easy to set up, can take the wind (imagine sustained gusts of 30 miles an hour), and big enough for all of your coolers, people and other items you are bringing. A single blue tarp and a pole is really going to be useless.
Tent stakes for your shade structure. 24" - 36" lengths of 1/2" or 5/8" rebar is about the minimum you need. A good gust will pull a 4" plastic stake out of the ground and send your tent sprawling all the way back to Reno. You will also need a good hammer to hammer the rebar into the ground. You will also need a rebar cap or something to cover the rebar after you hammer it into the ground.
Water. No really, you are going to need more than what you have in your mind.
A bike. The frontage road at Burningman is about 2 miles long. The space is big enough to accommodate the tents, cars and art projects of 25,000 people.
a bike pump & repair kit. Trust me, tires go flat.
Warm clothes. It gets cold at night.
Sun screen - Bring plenty of SPF 25-40 is what you should shoot for as your basic protection. An 8 oz. tube will go fast. If you burn easy, bring a higher SPF rating.
Water. No really, one or two showers a day can be really refreshing.
Lip balm. Bring plenty of it. Not only will the dry heat dry your lips, but the alkali soil will dry them out as well.
Sunglasses. Consider bringing two pairs so when you lose one pair you do not go blind. Uvex makes a set of safety glasses called "Bandit" that are great for backup sunglasses and they are only $6.00 a pair.
Caffeine. If you have coffee in the morning you better have a french press or some Melita style filters plastic holder for your cup. Are you in a camp? Bring extra coffee for other people who will forget theirs. Be sure to bring the water for the coffee. Drinking water does not count.
Soda. Yeah, caffeine is a diuretic, but if you are slug down two cans of Coke a day, you better bring an extra case or two.
Water. All that caffeine will dehydrate you even faster than you will guess. If you are drinking coffee, sodas or alcohol you need to compensate for the dehydrating effects.
A wide brimmed hat. Pick up a straw hat if you do not have one. I highly recommend one with a leash or you will be chasing you hat down the esplanade.
A tent. Some place to stow your stuff and sleep at night. You should plan to have a shade structure that covers the tent.
Unscented Baby wipes. These work wonders for cleaning your hands and face, and they are usually moisturized. You can simply buy the refill packs.
A pillow and air mattress. Something besides sleeping on that hard Playa mud. Consider bringing a camp bed that elevates you off the ground when you try and sleep during the heat of the day.
Water. Really, 20 gallons seems like way too much until you are out there for the 3rd day and are running out. Remember, when you flush a toilet you consume 1.5-3 gallons per flush.
Toilet paper. Burningman supplies portable toilets, but it only takes one joker to drop the toilet paper rolls in the hole and sadly, it happens.
A spray bottle. Fill it with water and mist yourself and your friends down in the heat of the day. It is really refreshing. Be sure to bring water for the spray bottle.
A squirt gun. A super soaker is not only a great weapon, but it can be used to drench people in the hot sun which feels wonderful. Be sure to bring extra water for the super soaker.
A folding chair. Some place to sit and rest your feet. Costco has some lovely camp chairs for under $14.00.
Camera with extra film and batteries. Bring at least 10 rolls of film. That is 240 exposures which doesn't seem like very much when you consider there will be far more camps than that number, and many of them are worth 20-30 shots each. If you do not use it all someone else will but it from you.
A solar shower. Very nice for the morning shower or the mid day shower. Be sure to being extra water for the shower. Plan on one gallon a day, per shower. In comparison, your shower at home, if it is designed to save water, discharges 3 gallons per minute.
Lanterns. You need something to illuminate your camp at night. Bring enough fuel to burn it for 6-8 hours a night. Test the lantern before you leave your house or the store.
Flashlights. Bring 3 really powerful lights, plus batteries for each night.
Zip lock bags. Store shirts, toiletries, film, anything you do not want covered in dust. EVERYTHING ELSE WILL BE COVERED IN DUST NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.
Water. I am not kidding, our campsite brought several hundred gallons and we ran out. Plan accordingly. You need water to wash dishes, disinfect and to rinse. You need water to cook, you need water to drink, you need water for showers, water to wash your feet. If you have a camp with 20 people you can easily use 200 gallons for non-drinking purposes. If you end up with extra water on Monday you can leave any sealed 1 gallon containers at center camp. Dropping off 20 gallons of pure artesian water is considered a really nice thing to do.
This list is by no means complete. You still need to bring items to help you participate. Costumes, body paints, artistic items, things to trade, you name it, anything to make the event better. The vent relies on your participation to make it a reality.