On-Playa Tips

By now you’ve probably gathered that this Burning Man thing isn’t as easy as it looks. So many things to bring, remember and purchase. How’s a body to cope with all this intense preparation?

Fear not. Below is a compilation of some handy-dandy tips gleaned from the wisdom of seasoned Burners. Heed their advice, and your playa experience will go much more smoothly.

Better Living

I LOVE my inflatable mattress. A double-size mattress fills the tent perfectly, with room left at the foot for unscented baby wipes, lotion, some clothing and miscellany. Keep a couple of plastic snap-top “shoeboxes” filled with various necessities (flashlights, batteries, walkman, camera, film, hard candy, etc. in one, sunscreen, 1st aid kit, lip balm, etc. in the other) under my tent’s vestibule with my boots, a couple of bottles of water, mug…

Pitch a second tent, aka closet, for everything else. AND keep clothes in giant Tupperware-type bins so they don’t get all dusty. Make everything easy to find by throwing undies & socks in ziplocks. Hell, throw nearly everything in giant ziplocks. There is nothing worse that grabbing your “clean” towel and finding it covered in playa dust.

Another good thing to have is a ground sheet for your tent; make sure it doesn’t extend out from the sides and act as a water collection device, though. Chez Heloise stayed dry during the downpours in 1998.

And tent stakes… DO NOT FORGET to cover any rebar used as stakes with rebar caps, empty plastic bottles, stuffed animals, SOMETHING. Be careful while doing that; a good friend sustained a major gash on his shin while in the process of covering his rebar.

For a no-mud, no-mess playa shower, Pepper Mouser suggests:

Bring a shallow crate (like a painting would be shipped in) about three feet square. Line it with slit open garbage bags so it will hold water and used it as a pan/pad under the solar shower. It caught the shower water that then evaporated during the day. No muddy spot in camp. No soapy water (gray water) dumped on the playa. The crate somehow later caught fire.

This year I plan to bring a larger one that I can also drain the coolers in. (I know some people talk about recycling their cooler water but mine always seems so dirty and slimy.)

List of good things to have:

  • Camelback or similar (for portable hydration)
  • dust mask (for storms)
  • aloe gel (for sunburn)
  • gloves and shovel/rake (for cleanup)
  • bungees (for shade structure)
  • duct tape (for everything!)
  • flag for camp
  • breezy cot or chaise for day
  • lantern
  • ziplock bags, ziplock bags, ziplock bags (I only wish they made them in a 5-gallon size)
  • every camp should have a full-length mirror

Food and Coolers:

  • Elevate your ice chest above the ground a few inches, even if it’s in the shade
  • 2 smaller coolers work better than the 104-qt. monstrosity
  • make tabouli and other re-hydratable foods in a ziplock bag instead of bowl
  • milk crates used as stacking storage — keeps things from flying around; put cutting board on top for work surface


  • wonderful colored plastic wineglass instead of disposable; makes it easier to find your drink and creates zero trash
  • pitcher for mixing margaritas
  • cocktail shaker
  • wash basin
  • mesh bag for drying dishes
  • more ziplock bags
  • A reusable mug or cup for coffee and beverages at the Center Camp Café

Food tip o’ the day: hard-boiled eggs. Nutritious and compact; cook ’em and peel ’em before you go and throw them in some Tupperware, and you have a great meal with no mess! And Miso soup to keep the salt content in the body up.


Health & Wellbeing

Start hydrating now! Practice for the desert! Your body and skin will thank you.

Heloise has become a pedicure enthusiast. Getting a good one before you hit the playa makes it much easier to maintain your feet. And there is nothing better than starting the day with your Personal Playa Partner for mutual foot massage with lotion and clean socks. Really. The Body Shop makes a peppermint foot lotion that rocks my world.

Playa Foot
(From Greg Rodenberg)

Going barefoot on the playa is not a good idea. But it happens, and often, the result is “Playa Foot,” a painful drying, cracking, rash caused by prolonged contact with the alkali lakebed.

Nothing seems to better prevent, or relieve, Playa Foot better than a liberal coating of Dr. Bronner’s Soap. Use it straight from the bottle; once a day to prevent Playa Foot or several times daily to cure it. Most cases heal up within a day or two after treatment begins.

Contact Lens
(From Wally Glenn)

Bring a back-up pair. Then bring a back-up pair for the back-up pair. You can get extended wear disposables for a reasonable price from your eye doctor, or if you have a recent prescription, walk into Costco and buy disposables.

Bring a bottle or two of rewetting drops. Try Similsan, a homeopathic allergen-free product from Switzerland found at many eye docs or drug stores. Unlike Visine, it doesn’t constrict the blood vessels which ends up making the problem of red eyes even worse. Similsan can really help with the dust build up. Then again, so does rinsing your eyes with solution. The Playa creates some nasty eye boogers.

Bring a full bottle of lens solution and a back-up bottle of lens solution just in case one leaks or gets misplaced.


Clothing and Miscellany

Heloise LOVES skirts. Especially men in skirts (And particularly bearded redheads in kilts, but that’s another webpage…) Gentlemen, come over to the breeze side. Loose cotton skirts, sarongs, simple fabric wrapped at will. Super comfy and air-friendly.

Long beautiful lengths of fabric can be worn as saris, sarongs, turbans and scarves.

Pajamas are comfy and provide great protection from the sun, both tops and bottoms. And there are all kinds! Go to your local Asian center or Chinatown for silk lusciousness, cotton comfort or satin gleam vivid colors. Hit the thrifts and vintage stores for old cotton or satin.

And then there’s lingerie. Yum. Great colors, fabrics that flow with the breeze and tons of fun. Who said that peignoirs had to remain in the honeymoon suite? Dead sexy.

Find your local “Chinatown” for fabulous outfits, fabric, umbrellas, hats, etc. Clothing hints — some of Heloise’s Favorite Things:

  • rubber Birkenstock clogs/shoes that won’t get trashed by the alkali
  • several pairs of cotton bike-style shorts
  • small long-strapped bag instead of fanny pack
  • sarongs; skirt, dress, turban, Interplanetary towel
  • hiking boots (light ones just don’t have enough support)
  • long sleeve cotton PJs (provide great protection from sun)
  • comfy, loose shorts
  • warm tops & sweatshirts for night
  • cotton bras
  • long-sleeved lightweight shirts (100% cotton SPF)
  • Chinese PJ’s in bright colors
  • Chippewa steel-toe boots
  • clean socks & undies (stored in ziplock bags)
  • bandana square-dance skirt with the “Seven Year Itch” movement whenever the wind blows
  • The Big-Assed Shade Hat
  • parasols

Leave the turkey feather boas at home this year and go for marabou! (Picking those damned feathers out of the playa at clean-up is a major pain.)

More playa necessities!!

  • lip balm-on-a-string (just put an “O” screw in the top)
  • water bottle holder
  • goggles
  • respirator or particle/dust mask
  • headlamp flashlight
  • clean towels (sealed in ziplocks)
  • AA batteries, lots of ’em
  • rig some kind of basket on your bike

Decorate EVERYTHING but keep the principles of Leave No Trace in mind when choosing your adhesive so you’re not spending all your time picking up that trail of googly-eyes that have fallen off your one-of-a-kind parasol.