As mentioned in the What Is Burning Man? portion of this guide, everyone camps at Burning Man. There are no hotels or Airbnb’s close by. That said, there are a large variety of camping options available. We detail many of these below.
Open Camping vs. Theme Camps
In deciding how you want to camp at Burning Man, the first thing you need to decide is whether you want to camp in Open Camping or in a Theme Camp.
Open Camping is area set aside on the outer edges of Black Rock City where anyone with a ticket can camp on a first-come, first-serve basis. It comes in two varieties – open camping and walk-in camping. Really, the only difference between the two is that with open camping you can drive your car to your campsite and leave it parked there during the event, and with walk-in camping, you must park your car elsewhere and walk to your campsite, bringing your gear with you on foot.
Open camping tends to fill up quickly, making it hard to find an acceptable spot if you’re picky about where you camp. Reserving space for others is prohibited. So, putting together a camp for more than just a few people arriving at different times can be difficult. Being unable to scale up a camp in size very easily means open camping is really only a good choice more for experienced, independent folks who are comfortable handling everything involved in camping in the desert themselves – food, water, shade, wind-resistant shelter, and the like. Because of this experience component, Burning Man does not recommend people going to Burning Man for the first time camp in open camping.
Instead, Burning Man recommends that new burners camp in Theme Camps. Theme Camps are camps that register with Burning Man and are assigned a camping spot for the event. They can range in size from just a few people to several hundred. In return for providing a reserved camping spot, Burning Man asks that these camps provide interactivity to the rest of the event – music, visual art, mutant vehicles, food, drink, fun activities, or services like bike repair. These offering vary wildly. If you can think of it, you’re likely able to find it somewhere at a Burning Man in a theme camp.
Theme camps typically ask their campers to pay dues, and they pool this money together to provide shared infrastructure. Each camper is asked to help build, operate, and tear down the camp, and many hands make for light work.
For example, dues for our sponsor Houston Art Collective’s Houston-based theme camp Houpla are $295 per camper, $50 of which is a deposit campers earn back by helping with the camp. In return for dues and helping out, campers get:
- A reserved spot to pitch your tent under Houpla’s robust shade structure
- Access to Houpla’s fully-geared kitchen
- As much water as you need from Houpla’s extensive water stores
- Access to Houpla’s shower
- A common area with couches, tables, rugs, music, and LED lighting
- Access to the camp generator for charging and running personal electronic devices
- Access to Houpla’s art car which leaves camp multiple times each day for fun and errands
- Daily coordinated ice runs to keep coolers serviced
- Access to Houpla’s community truck, which transports gear from Houston to Burning Man and back (for an additional fee)
- A Houpla mentor to make sure you’re grounded in the Burning Man Ten Principles, properly geared out, and assisted with any problems that might arise
- A ready-made group of friends to explore the event with together
Houpla’s interactivity in 2018 was to offer breakfast tacos each morning, as well as carnival games with easy to win prizes that included 3D-printed necklaces made by the camp.
By way of comparison, Houpla is an average-sized camp of approximately 50 people. Its dues are on the low side of the $300-500 average for theme camps, and it offers a bit higher than average amount of infrastructure and interactivity. Every theme camp is different, and they range from bare-boned to elaborate glamping experiences with professional chefs, luxurious bathrooms and showers, and dedicated personal assistants. Whatever your budget or desired comfort level, theme camps can provide an important foundation of safety and support for your desert camping experience.
Tents vs. Yurts vs. RV’s
Once you’ve chosen your style of camping, it’s time to pick your type of shelter. The three most common options are tent, yurt, or RV. However, you’re really only limited by your imagination.
Tents are the cheapest option, with serviceable tents available at discount stores like Walmart for less than $40. Provided you purchase a tent that can handle significant wind gusts and doesn’t have a lot of open mesh that lets in dust, tents are often all you need for a great, comfortable burn. If you plan to sleep past dawn into the middle or late morning, it is important, though, to pair tents with a shade structure to provide an added layer of sun protection. Otherwise, your tent will heat up quickly under direct sunlight.
Yurts are a step up in cost and complexity. You typically will need to build your yurt yourself and assembly on playa often requires at least two people. Building one generally costs $400-600 in materials. Done correctly, yurts are very sturdy in wind and are great at keeping cool without no shade structure needed. When paired with a swamp cooler, they are especially comfortable.
Recreational vehicles, or R/V’s, are a BIG step-up in cost, but with built-in showers, toilets, air conditioning and kitchens, they can also be a big step-up in comfort. R/V’s should be rented from a reputable company and must driven into and out of Burning Man by you or someone else staying in the R/V using standard vehicle pass.
The costs to rent R/V’s for Burning Man can be extreme, $5,000 and up for a week, plus fees for addons like cleaning and generators. You should rent early rental R/V’s book up early. You also need to think about pumping wastewater from your R/V, replacement potable water, and replacement generator fuel. All of these can be purchased from outside services venders at Burning Man for a (steep) fee.
Our Recommendation for New Burners
If it’s not already clear from above, our strong recommendation for new burners is to buy an inexpensive but sturdy tent and camp with a theme camp under their shade structure. With more experience, you can then decide later if you want to spend more money to upgrade your living arrangement for subsequent burns.
For those concerned about temperature, we strongly recommend building the swamp cooler linked above in the yurt section and connect it to rechargeable batteries (ideally by solar power).
With your camping situation thought through, it’s now time to think about how you’re going to get yourself and your gear to Burning Man. Our Transportation article in this guide addresses this topic in detail.
(Background photo courtesy of Trancentral)