Burning Man, as Wikipedia puts it is “an annual event in the western United States at Black Rock City – a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, approximately 100 miles (160 km) north-northeast of Reno. The late summer event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy and leave no trace. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy (“The Man”) that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.”
Outdoor art installations, weird costumes, dust, altered consciousness, and the odd infestation of smelly bugs. Burning Man is a signal of the ending of summer. The festival runs the week leading up to Labor Day in the Black Rock Desert about 110 miles north of Reno.
But what does it cost to spend a week in the desert (the festival is 8 days long), frolicking with a bunch of artists and ravers? To put a short answer: It depends.
As per the official website, most tickets cost $475, You’ll also need to purchase a $140 vehicle pass for each car you drive in. Starting mid-March, pre-sale tickets become available at $1,400 each (Approx. 4,000 tickets) and kids 12 and under go for free. The Low Income Ticket Program offers over 4,500 tickets to qualifying applications at $210 each.
The group you’re with, the objects you’ll need to get, the food, your outfits all will affect the final budget. Which is why there’s always a starting budget to consider and we recommend considering a budget margin of minimum and maximum cost. Burning Man is quite “noncommercial” in it’s cultural aspect, which has caused a little conflict as the festival grew in popularity. But to put it simply, this is not a festival like any other.
You will not find vendors here, and there are no shops and restaurants like the types you might find at Tomorrowland for example. People offer food, drinks, massages…it’s the “sharing economy” in full swing. Everything happens within the concept of sharing (although it is not a requirement) and giving away, without the need for money at all.
Burning Man has been alive and well for over 30 years and its popularity is still expanding. While you can’t spend money at the festival itself, you’ll be certainly spending a good sum before going there. Below are the key elements to have to keep in mind if you’re planning on spending the week immersing yourself in art and music at one of our culture’s biggest social experiments.
A regular ticket for the full eight-day event ranged between $190 to $1,200 in 2018. In addition to having Vehicle passes for $80. You’ll have to add the 9% tax plus another few dollars in handling/delivery fees which will depend on how you’ll claim your tickets. Note that the $1200 tier doesn’t bring any kind of VIP perks. These ticket sales will bring extra money that will go as grants to the artists.
The sale of the tickets usually happens in a series of tiers, which occur around the month of March. The festival attendees, also called Burners, get the chance to pre-register with Burning Man online for the early sale of approximately 5,000 tickets every year.
In 2020, the festival provides different ticket options as per the official website:
• The Low Income Ticket Program offers over 4,500 tickets to people with qualifying applications at $210 each. They are also eligible to purchase a $140 vehicle pass at the same time if needed.
• FOMO Sale (formerly known as Pre-sale) costs $1,400 each, plus applicable fees and taxes. You can only purchase up to two (2) tickets and one (1) vehicle pass.
• MAIN Sale: 20,000 tickets at $475 each, and approximately 10,000 vehicle passes available at $140 each, plus applicable fees and taxes. You can buy a maximum of two (2) $475 tickets and one (1) $140 vehicle pass.
• Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP): Facilitates the safe return and resale of face-value tickets that have been purchased directly from Burning Man Project. This program provides a hassle-free, secure way of buying and returning tickets while avoiding scammers, counterfeits and scalpers, and keeps tickets circulating within the community.
The festival’s original location was in San Fransisco, but since 1991, the festival moved to it’s new and now current location in the Black Rock desert, 120 miles from Reno in Nevada. As previously mentioned, the festival takes place over Labor Day, which makes it important for “Burners” to plan on flights being priced more expensive that usual as the travel time peaks during the holiday. Attendees should also consider the same thing for car rentals, it is recommended to plan ahead and expect some high prices in addition to some logistical hassles.
Regular Burning Man attendees warn others on several online forums and platforms that some car rental companies at the Reno airport, where many festival-goers arrive, prohibit off-roading. But in order to reach the location of the festival, you need to drive across an ancient desert lakebed which is definitely considered “Off-roading”. Regulars also say it’s common to be hit by a cleaning fee on these rentals, paying around an extra $100 or $150 since the location of the festival grounds is very dusty. Take all that in addition to the Burning Man parking pass fee of $80 which you will need if you’re coming in a vehicle.
On another hand, Burners will have to carry everything in and out of the festival: from your food, to snacks to your essential clothes, arts materials and of course a week’s supply of water for the whole event in the desert. Many attendees usually group together and split the cost of a moving truck or trailer which sounds like a better, more convenient idea. When researching online, some common numbers tend to run about $1000 although it can vary greatly depending on how far you will have to travel. Typically, there’s a fee that’s added “per mile” to the base rate of these (caravans or truck) rentals.
Another important element to consider is the possibility of having an RV. These are a popular option to consider but in addition to gas and rental, there will be a water and sewage-servicing fee to consider. One user on Quora said that the RV rental for the week cost them a total of about $4000 back in 2014. These days, it will surely cost a bit more than that.
The final alternative to all of this is the most expensive: chartering a flight from an airport in the area to the playa grounds. This can be done through Burner Express Air. It will cost around $499 each way to/from Reno. The catch here is that you’re limited to a carry-on bag with a 25-pound weight limit. Alternatively, and for several thousand dollars, you could book the whole plane which makes the baggage limit a bit more flexible. Consider it a reasonable price for the practicality and how much time can be saved. Keep in mind though that several attendees have confirmed that flight prices are not fixed and the price depended on when you purchased your ticket, with gradual increases as it got closer to the event.
Food and Accommodation
Unlike other festivals that can charge you $3 for a bottle of water and $12 for a beer, Burning Man has no inflated prices. As you might expect by now, there are no prices at all. The event, as we previously mentioned, is based on a sharing community and it is “commerce-free”. Regular attendees can only buy coffee and ice (the ice is for $3 a bag and is sold at specific designated areas) which is why attendees only bring their own mugs and follow the eco-friendliness attitude of leaving no trace behind.
For most attendees, the basics to bring with them are simple. A tent, water and provisions of nonperishable food are some of the main basics to have with you. But with the increasing popularity of the festival, it began attracting a different kind of audience. One that is accustomed to resorts than the rough landscape of the desert.
Some Burners recommend a few extra things to keep in mind when taking note of the tent and accommodation: A good thing to have is a ground sheet for your tent; make sure it doesn’t extend out from the sides. A good tent that is stable as much as possible is key. Keep a couple of plastic snap-top “shoeboxes” filled with various necessities. Pitch a second tent as a closet. Keep clothes in giant Tupperware-type bins so they don’t get all dusty. All of these items are important to consider, buy and bring with you to the festival grounds.
Basically, you’ll have to bring what you need with you to the festival. This includes food, water in addition to cooking equipment, shower and toilet items. For those who have much larger amounts of cash to “play with”, one article in Bloomberg described a private, walled camp that came to be in the 2014 festival within “Black Rock City” which is what the regulars at Burning Man call the desert area they take over. This area, created by a Bay Area venture capitalist, featured air-conditioned tents, showers, WiFi and attendants. But all of this will cost you around $16,500 for the week.
In an article at the Reno Gazette Journal in 2015, Tom Berman discusses where Burning Man should draw the line. Tom discusses a camp “featured a few scattered couches and a cordoned-off kitchen” and he continues “Dinner was in full swing, and the folks serving food were well-rested and dust-free. They wore polo shirts, matching beige caps and plastic gloves. They were friendly, but so insistent that it felt false. These weren’t festivalgoers. They were employees.” This is what has become known as a “turnkey” camp: “a pre-built luxury settlement that shoots for a Club Med vibe at the expense of Burning Man’s scrappy sense of fun”. But Burning Man, as Tom discusses, is made possible by the massive volunteer effort of thousands of people who offer up their time, money and physical safety because they care about the freewheeling culture that turnkey camps negate. There’s a huge problem that arises when the super wealthy create employee/customer relationships for the sake of posh service. And this is where Burning Man should draw the line as per Tom’s argument.
Burning Man should put more work and effort to protect its culture. Most of the turnkey campers miss the point of their desert trip entirely. The truth is that Black Rock City has never been about the party – it’s about the work. With every passing year, as Burners keep coming back to the desert, they contribute a little more. For the 99% of the people, they manage to come tome together with friends and groups of people who will split the costs and responsibilities. This either happens by being part of a small organized camp group or “village”. While on site, these people will contribute a few hundred bucks to the groups and of course some much needed physical work that comes with it. The site PlayaBikeRepair.com has an exhaustive list of expenses to factor into your budget.
Some people mention that they spent about $1,600 to attend the festival in 2014, although they noted that they already owned camping gear and had a $300 membership in a camp that provided water and food. Of course the camp required that they pitch in as well with work and chores. Another Burner put a cost between $6,400 and $6,900 although the cost included buying some camping gear, RV rental and a few nights’ stay on the way to and from the festival.
Burning Man is filled with art and free-spirited people. So attendees are expected to work their look as well. Regular attendees look down on people who buy their looks like normal consumers. Many people will resort to buying costumes and retailers have caught on in a big way. The Times noted that the stores in San Francisco push Halloween-worthy costumes that start at less than $100. You can always spend much more and create an extravagant look that will get you much more attention. Regulars talk about accessories like a dust mask to cover the nose and mouth as well as goggles for the eyes. These come as part of the esthetics of the look, they’re not really necessary.
Don’t want to be mocked as a poseur? There’s always a handmade costume that you can grab from Etsy, even if it’s not your creation. A booming cottage industry of DIY entrepreneurs proposing butterfly wings ($185), unicorn headdresses ($229), florescent tie-dye faux fur coats ($350), light-up fuzzy legwarmers ($70) and more flower crowns than you can shake a glow stick at. Or if you want to be a renegade and go au natural in the desert, there’s always body paint ($115).
If you were too busy to create a full-blown costume that will create an impact, just like the ones you see online, it doesn’t matter! There’s always a way to do it quickly. Go to a thrift shop and look for anything fun that takes your look to a higher level. Sequin jacket? Grab it! Bright orange jump suit? Grab it too! Someone’s old wedding dress that looks fun? Why not go for that as well? Amazon’s great for shiny lycra items as well, and lights. Make sure you’ve got good shoes and are comfortable and you’ll be set in no time! In the end, it’s all about you feeling comfortable in yourself and being your own self in full. So wear what makes you happy. Lots of people will be in jeans and a shirt, but those usually are not the ones you’ll see in the pictures online.
A major addition to your look can also be a temporary tattoo. Not only are these cheap and affordable gifts to give people, it’s a fantastic and easy way to take your Burning Man outfits to the next level. It’s all about attention to detail. You can find a lot of options around the web. They’re so comfortable you will forget you’re wearing them. You can add as many accessories as you like, from yoga pants to glowing sticks and fake fur coats. But logically, you’ll have to consider the increasing price.
On another hand, regardless what your costume will be, one of the most important things on the playa is staying hydrated, and there’s no easier way to do that then bringing a top-notch Camelback. There are some options which are more expensive than others but there are a lot of more budget-friendly options which only cost $20-30. These, after quite a bit of research, don’t work as well and the material isn’t always great. On another hand, take into consideration as well having a fanny pack. These are cool again, and they’re the perfect Burning Man/music festival accessory, and the easiest way to carry around all your precious belongings.
Don’t forget to get yourself some protection from the sun: have some aloe gel (for sunburn) and bungees (for shade structure). A lip balm will come in handy as well. But more importantly, no matter what you bring, make sure you keep the principles of Leave No Trace in mind.
No matter the outfit or budget, you now have a clear estimation and understanding of what you will need to consider when thinking of attending one of the biggest and fastest growing festivals in the world.