How Burning Man Works

Want to Go?

Everyone is welcome at Black Rock City, but "radical inclusion" isn't free. The not-for-profit Burning Man festival does charge for its experience, and in 2011, the festival sold out for the first time [source: Jones].

Tickets may be available "at the door," but they're first-come first-served, so it's a risk. Party-goers may also sell extra tickets at the event, and they may be cheaper than face value, but counting on that is a risk as well. Those who go that route may be driving hours into the remote Nevada desert only to be turned away.

In 2013, low-income tickets ran $190, and standard ones $380. Early buyers pay much more -- $650 in 2012 [source: Burning Man]. Ticket sales start in December with the more-expensive early sale and continue until will call closes.

A few other things to know before you go:

  • Black Rock City is in the desert. Burning Man's setting is hot, dry and at a high elevation, and dehydration is always a risk. Burning Man does not provide water. Burners should bring, at minimum, 1 gallon (4 liters) of drinking water per person per day, and another half-gallon (2 liters) per day for bathing and washing dishes and clothes. The city features portable toilets. Some sort of shade structure for homes is a good idea, too, along with a whole lot of sunscreen.
  • The desert gets cold at night. While days are hot, temperatures can drop significantly when the sun goes down, so warmer clothing (and sleep setups) will be needed at night.
  • The playa is dark. Aside from the festival's ritual lanterns and light provided by art installations or stuff burning, lighting the dark to avoid injury and collision (art installations can be small and hard to see at night) is up to the Burners. Headlamps for venturing out and LED string lights for living structures are encouraged.

Finally, and perhaps most important (except for the water -- that's more important), is the Burning Man commandment: Know thy ability to adapt. First-timers should put some thought into which Burning Man experience is right for him or her. And be realistic. The festival is not for the meek, and one week may be a bit much for an introduction. Some discomfort is normal and to be expected -- it may even be good. But starting small (staying just a few days is fine) can help make the festival experience a positive one for those who aren't entirely sure they're the Burner type. Whatever that is.

Radical self-expression can take some practice. The city will spring up again next summer.

Author's Note: How Burning Man Works

It can be difficult to approach a subject objectively when you have prior information, and I know some Burners. The ones I know are dedicated to the festival and the experiment. They bring art. They create theme camps. They tell stories of the beauty that is Burning Man.

I was reminded, however, on sharing my research discoveries with my husband, that our friends' devotion to the social experiment may have been held by almost all Burners in the festival's early days, but as with all things revolutionary, time and hype can dilute. I focused here on the ideal that is Burning Man, and it's important to note that with an attendance that has grown to 50,000 people, some of them are going to care not at all about such things as Radical Self-reliance and Community Service. For some on the playa, it's just about sex and drugs -- something to be aware of lest disillusionment set in on day one.

Related Articles


  • Burning Man. "First-Timer's Guide." (Jan. 8, 2013)
  • Burning Man. "Survival Guide." (Jan. 9, 2013)
  • Burning Man. "What is Burning Man?" (Jan. 8, 2013)
  • Epstein, Emily Anne and Beth Stebner. "Burning Man lives up to its name! Revelers at week-long festival ignite 50-foot statue in spectacular pyrotechnic display." The Daily Mail. Sept. 2, 2012. (Jan. 12, 2013)
  • Jones, Steven T. "Burning Man tickets sell out for the first time." SFGate/The San Francisco Chronicle. July 25, 2011.
  • Moze. "Spirituality and Community: The Process and Intention of bringing a Temple to Black Rock City." Burning Blog. Jan. 3, 2013. (Jan. 8, 2013)
  • Pisillo, Jenny. "The homes at Burning Man." SFGate. Sept. 2, 2011. (Jan. 8, 2013)
  • SFGate/The San Francisco Chronicle. "Burning Man." (Jan. 8, 2012)
  • Taylor, Alan. "In Focus: Burning Man 2012." The Atlantic. Sept. 2012. (Jan. 12, 2013)