Burning Man 1996 — Our lavish camp: some shade and a few vans.

For my impending return to the playa this year, for the post-pandemic "un-burn", I’m reading social media posts of many who are overwhelmed by the pre-event packing. Perhaps a voice of experience (and my own packing list, below) might take away some of the pain.

My first year at Burning Man, 1996, was a bit disorganized. (Photo above, illustrates.) Much of the event was rummaging through one or more vans, looking for something that someone was pretty sure had been packed. Not a major win in the searing midday sun.

Because of my extensive mountaineering search-and-rescue experience, it wasn’t long before I had everything playa-bound sorted by use and stored in separate bags. It was an improvement, to be sure, but there was the annual improvements, figuring out what to leave behind and how better to pack that which was making trip with me.

A few more years, and the purchase of a Jeep with a roof-rack, and I’d settled on bins. Each transparent, flip-top bin had a huge label inside (written with a heavy marker on a sheet of notebook paper), was dedicated to one purpose. In addition to being packed year-round, and completely removing any pre-event packing panic, the bin system also meant that leave-taking consisted of tossing the bins on top of the Jeep and tying them down. All that’s needed each year is a refresh of the consumables: batteries, sunscreen, stove fuel, etc. and charging of the ham / FRS radios.

Makes going camping at other times trivially easy too.

I’ve learned to separate things by domain. There’s a bin for

  • homestead: tent, shade, stove, etc. There’s few better joys than being able to roll onto the playa and set up quickly, with no muss or fuss, and without any searching.
  • clothes and costumes: everything but the shoes.
  • comms and medical: radios, batteries, medical kit, etc.

And most importantly, pre-pack the daypack too. I have one heavy-duty baggie for each use case.

  • night: headlamp, other lights, etc.
  • day: sunglasses, sunscreen, etc.

This way I get to the playa and have everything I need in one place, ready to go. No digging through all the boxes looking for sunglasses whilst I squint through the morning glare. Everything to be comfortable in the environment is easily at hand.

Playa Packing List


  • legal ID
  • tickets, passes, permits
  • cash
  • credit/debit card(s)
  • personal meds (in two locations, in case a bag goes missing)
  • birth control, lube, etc.


  • 3- to 2-prong adapter
  • power strip
  • phone battery charger
  • power brick(s)
  • AA and AAA batteries
  • baggie for spent batteries


  • headlamp
  • flashlight
  • clothing lights, glows ticks, etc.


  • sun hat
  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • sunglasses
  • dust mask, dust goggles
  • COVID-19 masks
  • hydration backpack, bottles, etc.
  • coffee mug

Personal Emergency Kit

  • non-latex gloves
  • artificial respiration barrier
  • neosporin
  • band-aids

Clothes Closet

  • walking shoes, boots
  • comfortable camp shoes, flip-flops
  • socks
  • costume(s)
  • underwear
  • shorts, skirts
  • tank tops, short- & long-sleeve shirts
  • long pants
  • sweatshirt & sweatpants
  • gloves & scarf


  • tent
  • tarp (under)
  • survival tarp (above)
  • tent solar lights
  • Aluminet
  • all the stakes
  • mini-sledgehammer
  • camp chair(s)
  • misting bottle(s), swamp cooler
  • FM solar radio

Bathroom/Medicine Cabinet

  • toothbrush & toothpaste, floss, picks
  • vinegar
  • towel
  • soap, shampoo, creams
  • disposable shaver, mirror


  • cooler
  • utensils
  • [disposable] plate(s) & bowl(s)
  • napkins
  • camp stove & fuel
  • coffee pot, skillet, pot(s)
  • trash bags (to pack it all out}


  • notebook
  • pen(s)
  • clipboard
  • laminate & lanyard
  • hat
  • logo’d clothing
  • patrol backpack
  • work gloves
  • multi-tool
  • knife
  • GPS


  • ham radios
  • radio battery chargers
  • manuals
  • vest holster


  • GPS


  • water
  • all the foods fit to pack:
    • hummus
    • doritos
    • cold cuts
    • coconut water (various flavors)
    • meats to be grilled

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