Burning Man Skills




Introduction: Burning Man Skills

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of www.zcorp.com, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

Gilligan and the Skipper had to build a "cozy island nest" for the stranded crew of the s.s. Minnow.
If they'd been at Burning Man, it would have been much harder, because there's nothing there but flat blowing alkali dust, hot sun in the day, and cold at night.
What follows are some of the ways people have found to thrive in this very difficult environment.

The [www.burningman.org Burning Man] festival is held each year at the end of August for the week of the labor Day weekend. It's in Black Rock Desert of Nevada, which is a totally flat alkali dry lake.

This photo gives a good sense of what the surface is like. Now imagine a hundred square miles of just that. Now have fifty thousand people set up camp with gigantic artworks and lots of loud music. Do any possible problems occur to you?
This photo illustrates some solutions. It's a tent peg for holding up a shade structure.
There were 60 mph winds this year. Very few structures blew down due to good use of rebar (reinforcing rod manufactured for cement work) tent stakes.
This rebar tent stake is put through a rubber foot to make it more visible and entertaining. There's an orange mushroom rebar cap on the end so someone doesn't get impaled by falling on it. The guy line to the tent is tied with a tautline hitch so it can be easily tightened. The guy line is ornamented with christmas lights and yellow caution tape so someone doesn't trip on it. A very competent and decorative installation.

Step 1: Traditional Desert Shelter

This is a Berber tent from Morocco. It's woven from goat hair, reinforced by cotton straps and wooden pegs. The people camping in it are very happy with it. Inside is carpeting and cushions just like you would find in a nomad tent in Morocco.

The cloth is a fairly loose weave that filters out the dust but allows airflow in dust storms.
It's much cooler inside than you would expect from the dark color of the cloth.
Apparently the heated cloth induces a convection current of air up and out of the tent.
There are removeable wall panels that can be put up in dust storms. The side walls on the southern side are always left up.

Step 2: Desert Garb

Tetranitrate and Stasterisk in their evening wear.
They are all dusty from helping build the [www.mechabolic.org "Mechabolic"] which is a giant vehicle powered by burning garbage.

They are both wearing kefiyyeh. Learn to tie one here. You can't beat the Arab Kefiyyeh for day or night wear in the desert. Soak it in water and it'll keep you nice and cool from evaporation. It works great as a dust mask, especially when it's wet.
At night it keeps you nice and warm. It's even good in sub-zero conditions, as I learned in Minnesota.
Stasterisk is wearing a "Camelback" waterbag with a drinking hose to stay well hydrated.

The white rods are at the front of the bikes are toy lightsabers from a huge 10,000 lightsaber battle held on the playa. They are illuminated by colored LEDs. Now they function as marker lights to prevent collisions. They are lashed onto the bicycles with old bicycle innertubes.

Stasterisk carries a lock at the front of her bike. There isn't much theft at burningman, but there are a huge number of bicycles and some disoriented people who don't remember what their bike looks like.

Step 3: Desert Windsurfing

We camped right next to "Black Rock Yacht Club".
They taught the public how to windsurf on skateboards.
Tetranitrate and Stasterisk rip it up.

Step 4: My Getup

I'm wearing a Keffiyeh, hat with brim, sunglasses, waterbag, and some SPF 90 sunscreen I made by accident. I broke a bottle of SPF 30 sunscreen and it dried out into some really thick sunscreen goop.
SPF 30 just means I burn in 30 minutes instead of 1 minute.
I'm wearing a long shirt my sister-in-law brought back from India. When I soak all my textiles with water, that keeps me cool and comfortable for at least an hour.

I need this sun protection stuff cuz my ancestors never got exposed to sunlight and evolved pale skin like translucent cave fish. People who can be exposed to sunlight without getting sick don't have to make up stories about being the master race.

Step 5: Bike Wagon

A bike wagon is a great thing to have at burning man. I'm getting a ride in a particularly nice one. I can't find my notes as to who built it.

This is a pretty slick wagon. It's just a chair with a couple of bicycle forks bolted to the sides.
Notice the lightsticks woven into the spokes. It's pretty important to be illuminated, there are alot of bicycle collisions, and the hospital is a long way away.

In 2005 I made a much simpler one by lashing some sticks to an axle with innertubes and spent a lot of time taxiing people around.
People would get in a pedestrian mood and walk and walk. They'd get tired and turn around to realize it's just as far to walk back. They'd get a really slumped and despairing look. I'd ride up and ask if they wanted a ride. Amazing gratitude! After a few yards I'd ask if they'd like to pedal, swich places, and they'd give me a ride to wherever they were going. So I got strangers to pedal me all over the playa, and saw a bunch of places I would have missed otherwise. A bunch of people told me it was their best burningman experience.

Step 6: Tall Bikes

Not just tall bikes, not just cargo stretch bikes, here's a pair of doubledecker stretch tallbikes.

Piloted by a couple of guitarists - hey what's your band called?

Step 7: Camp Structure

People band together to set up a nice camp.
This photo illustrates most of the elements of a good camp.

Common area with high quality shade.
Mailbox for visitors to leave notes for people - cellphones don't work here.
Landmark so you and your friends can find your camp
A big sign clearly stating the name of the camp and what the street address is
Something to offer to passersby - a croquet game in this case
Plentiful water for drinking and washing
Safely capped tentstakes and garden lights to reduce trip hazards

Not seen here, the camp also needs a greywater evaporator or holdinng tank to keep the wash water from creating wet craters in the playa.

Step 8: Greywater Evaporator Pond

Here's the simplest kind of greywater evaporator. It's some sticks laid on the ground to hold up the edges of a black tarp. The used wash water gets dumped here, and evaporates away, leaving some crusty crud behind. That gets bundled up with the tarp and thrown away somewhere away from the playa.

To the left is a geodesic dome made from electrical conduit.

Step 9: Shower With Greywater Pond

This shower is on a platform over the evaporator pond.
The water is in a "sun shower" black waterbag hanging in the sun to warm the water up.

Behind it is a simple landmark made by hanging a red streamer from a pole.
Below that is a shade structure made by parking two vehicles back-to-back and hanging a tarp over the gap between them.

Notice the tent stakes laying on the ground - made from re-rod with the end bent over to make them less dangerous. The pieces of pipe are used to bend the re-rod.

Step 10: Another Shower

The frame is left over scaffolding from the camp's huge tower structure.
The bathing platform is a couple of wooden pallets.
There's an extra greywater pond being constructed to handle the greywater being stored in 5gallon water jugs.

Step 11: Fancy Greywater Evaporator Windmills

Alphageek built these nice windmill evaporators near center camp. They pump water over a porous mesh to speed evaporation and through a sand filter bucket to take the major chunks out.

Step 12: Pull Out Tent Pegs With Vicegrips

Alphageek demonstrates tent peg removal technique. He clamps a vicegrip to the rebar and twists it left and right. There are two ridges on the rebar that enlarge the hole, making it easy to pull out of the ground.

Notice the garden sprayer in the background. That's to spray passersby with a cool mist of water, which is very nice.

Step 13: Instant Fuzzy Cave-Disco Go-Go Boots

Giant fuzzy boots with a miniskirt are almost a uniform for young women at burningman.
I wondered whether Ben Davis or some other industrial clothing supplier was carrying them. After musing on this topic for several years, I biked past this disco dome and saw this lady napping. The secret is now revealed.

All you have to do is buy a yard of furry cloth and wrap a regular pair of boots with it. There are drawstrings at the top of the fuzzy tubes to keep them from falling down below her calves.

Step 14: Desert Disco Equipment

A closer look reveals many more details in addition to the ingenious green boots.

The rest of this woman's equipment includes an LED keychain flashlight, wrap-around sunglasses, and a wineskin full of drinking water. Around her neck she has a pair of swimming goggles and a dust mask in case there's a dust storm whiteout.

She is laying on her cloak of fake fur pile fabric. It's a simple rectangle just the right size to be worn conveniently over the shoulders without dragging on the ground. It can be worn tightly or loosely depending on how much warmth is needed. If necessary it can provide warmth to several people.

The LED flashlight is needed at night to see where one is going and what one is eating/drinking, but also to reveal one's location to bicycles and vehicles so they won't hit you.

The disco dome over her is a geodesic dome made from electrical conduit pipe. The ends are flattened, drilled, and bolted together to make the triangular cells of the dome.The fabric triangles tied to the frame cast a distinctive pattern of light and dark on the floor. The gaps between fabric panels are intentional to encourage cooling airflow.

The floor is carpeted with discarded carpet scraps. She chose this surface to sleep on because it is perfectly suited to the desert environment. Arabs and other desert dwellers invented pile fabric for a floor covering in dusty environment. The dust settles down among the vertical standing fibers of pile, giving you a pleasant dust-free top surface to sit or recline on.

When you travel among the Arabs you frequently see them hanging their carpets over a railing or clothesline and beating the dust out. There is little such rug-beating at burning man due to the short duration of the event.

Under her instant cave-disco fuzzy boot covers she's wearing leather boots or shoes. The alkali dust of the Playa is hard on feet. It's not too hot to walk on barefoot, but after a few days you'll get bleeding cracks around the edge of your heel. That's painful. Many camps provide tubs of vinegar-water for people to dip their feet in.

Step 15: Silver Aluminized Bubblewrap

These folks have covered their rooftop popup camper with aluminized bubblewrap to keep it cool. They've covered their ice chest (second photo) in the same stuff for the same reason.

Over the truck they've lashed together a frame of pipes to hold up a winter camo net.
A roof made from the silver bubblewrap would have made much better shade, and then they'd have been lounging right there under it in utter luxury.

Step 16: Silvertarp Fleamarket Stall Structure

Now that's some quality shade.
And so of course there are some people relaxing under it.
This is a fleamarket stall mated up to a vanagon camper.
Real silvertarp is getting harder to find. Most tarps are translucent and make a solar oven, even the silver ones. Hold yours up to the sun and see if you can see through it. If you can, keep shopping.

Step 17: Innertube Goggle Strap

Xander is playing guitar under his van's awning while offering cold fruit to passersby.

He wasn't satisfied with his goggles' strap, so he made a new one from a bicycle innertube.

Old bicycle innertubes have thousands of uses. Make sure you've always got plenty.

Step 18: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In keeping with this year's "Green Man" theme, this camp teaches people how to weave old plastic shopping bags into rugs etc. Some of them are pretty nice.

Step 19: The Magnificent Pee Bottle

Don't pee on the Playa! The nitrates make the airport think Billy is a walking bomb just cuz he's covered in playa dust. Also it's harmful to the little playa critters.

So here it is, the pee bottle! True luxury! Everyone has their own portable restroom! The convenience and comfort of a hundred years ago, when a "commode" was a piece of furniture you could put in any room.
In the morning you can see throngs of people strolling to the portapotties to dump theirs pee bottles into the thrones.

If only it could all be saved and used for the nitrate-rich fertilizer it is. I hear Yemen has latrines that catch the urine and dry it out for nitrates.

Step 20: Art Car Disco Bar

Here's Camp FKO's art car. It's a "typical" mobile disco bar.

You enter and leave at the rear so there's less chance of falling under the wheels.
There are bike storage hooks at the sides so people don't have to abandon their bikes when they get on board.
There's lots of illumination to increase the spectacle and reduce chance of collisions. The frame is solid and well triangulated, there are good railings, and the base vehicle is plenty strong to support the weight of people and toys.

Step 21: Extremely Comfortable Plywood-and-Stick Couch of Memories

The sight of that couch brings back memories.
In 2003, my first year, I showed up at burning man with an orange sheet, some airline blankets sewed together to make them big enough, and a share in "foodlab" which provided food and water for a week. And a folding bike.

[inset text box, 30% yellow screen, this won't be on the quiz ]
One way to get girls to talk to you is to act like you're dead.
It requires patience, but severe depression can be a good substitute for that.
Just collapse somewhere and don't move for a few hours. Some nice lady is sure to come asking you questions about the nature of existence and whether you've got one.
[ end sidenote ]

Warning: There's no sex in the following story.
I felt the need to sleep somewhere public and loud, so I plunked down on one of these super-comfortable plywood-and-slat couches for some Z's in a disco dome. Eventually a female of the species got the same idea and plunked down next to me. The night chill hit her and her tossing and turning rolled her right over to me and she snuggled up for some warmth. We had a nice talk about her research, something about retail shelves and psychology. I took the liberty of rolling my eyes back into my head to read her soul. She already had a labrador retriever and a dude named "Bo" there in a baseball cap. She went outside to pee and I fell asleep. She returned, and no, wait, it was someone else named girl #2! I looked up and girl #1 was grinning and giving me a thumbs-up, while lip-miming something like "attaboy!" Girl #2 had nothing to say and shoved her scapulas in my face for a minute or two, then she got up and tried to take my blanket with her. I clung to it despite sleep paralysis, and there we were, doing a tug-of-war with the blanket. She said she just needed to wear it outside to pee and she'd bring it right back. She never reappeared. Probably she worked for the airline. I took it as a sign to practice monkish mind-over-body self-warming meditation techniques. As a result I was miserably cold. The next night I tried again, and after that being miserable was an unbreakable habit. Eventually I discovered it was easier to be warm when I ate a rich dinner first.

That interaction with random women took place on Wednesday night. You should be aware that on thursday all the women leave and are replaced by fat guys with no pants and a camera. That's absolutely true. After thursday there are no women at burning man. They have all been scared away by thousands of fat guys with cameras wearing a shirt and no pants.

Step 22: Coat Is Hat

Bounce models her favorite hat, which is a coat.
The climatic extremes of the desert make such adaptations handy.
She's going barefoot and carrying her boots. You can get away with that for a few days before your feet start cracking.

Step 23: Art

The streets of this temporary city are laid out like a giant horseshoe.
In the middle is the town square or park dotted here and there with artworks.
This one memorializes the American soldiers lost in our current batch of evil wars.
The boots were donated by the bereaved families.

Have you seen the military swearing-in ceremony? "To uphold and defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic". The biggest enemies reside in our white house.
Someday our troops will remember their oath and do something about it.

Step 24: Fire Blanket

Believe it or not there are living things in the playa dust. Tiny shrimp-like critters and other simple animals that roll up and go dormant when the winter puddles dry out. They've got enough problems without fire and ashes getting all over them. Here's the fire blanket that's laid down under the Man so the fire won't harm the playa.

Step 25: My Yurt

My own structure worked really really well. It's a wooden lattice yurt with an insulated silvertarp roof.
I lashed some redwood boards sideways on my truck's lumber rack to make a floor and set up the yurt on top of that. Even in the worst dust storms it was nice inside.

Step 26: Yurt Interior

My friends Leslie and Pete were visiting when a dust storm hit so we went inside to wait it out. The insulated silvertarp roof made good shade, and the cloth walls filtered the dust out without stopping the airflow.

Step 27: Yurt Vs. Traffic Jam

After the yurt survived 60mph winds we figured we'd just drive away with it on top.
So monday morning at dawn we pulled up the pegs and started driving with the yurt on top. There was a two hour traffic line to get off the playa, so there was plenty of time for Tetranitrate to take it down in traffic. People enjoyed the show and talked to us. We waited as long as possible to keep the entertainment and finished up just before we got to the highway.

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    Question 2 years ago

    I like this Instructable a lot, it's very informative, thank you! Question: Can you make an Instructable for the yurt? They LOOK simple to make but you never know LOL


    7 years ago

    very cool stuff, very cute on rebar removal, hehehe try removing rebar at Afrikaburn :-)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Please refer to concrete as concrete. Cement is just an ingredient of concrete.

    As one who has spent more of my professional life looking at urine than I care to admit, I will say unequivocally that PEE IS NOT STERILE. In the lab, if urine contains less than 100,000 organisms per ml the reported result is "negative" as that is considered the threshold between a normal amount vs an infection. It's recently been found that in a healthy person pee in the bladder may be sterile, or contain a normal bacterial flora. It's long been known that on the way out it also picks up bacteria from the urethra. So even if it started sterile in the bladder, it's not ever ever sterile once it's been peed. Again, in a healthy person bacteria in the urethra is not harmful and lives in low numbers in harmony with the body's defenses. Outside of the body, in soup of urine, in a non-sterile container, in the absence of the body's normal defenses, at ambient temperature, that bacteria is going to multiply. It's the same idea that you wash your hands after you pee. If that little bit of bacteria gets on your hands, then you touch your eyes or mouth or food ... you're running a risk of having a bad time. If you let that bacteria grow to huge numbers over night in a jar, then get it on your hands, and then touch your eyes or food ... you're very likely going to have a bad time. Even pee on unbroken skin is likely to cause a staph infection if not washed. Actually, you "pee is sterile" folks ... let me know where you're camping so I can be sure not to shake your hand or take any gifted food from you.



    14 years ago on Step 12

    weld steel rings to the stakes and insert a common bumper jack inside the ring and jack the stake out of the ground


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    Going to get this out of the way first and move on to practical matters and comments on burning man. On the removal on the current administrative branch an possibly some members of Congress is not the duty of the military, but the duty of the people and their elected representatives. The military is the last one we would want to do the job, as that would be a slippery slope. On P in a bottle, read volume 5 of the foxfire book series to learn how P was collected and processed to obtain nitrates for black powder production here in parts of the US long ago. The P bottle in the sun, will help disinfect the urine or one can add hydrogen peroxide to seed that process along. A long neck funnel from the auto department can make a P bottle easier to use for women and also help men make sure they actually hit the target. Would in be practical to recycle grey water in swamp coolers, or would there be enough bacteria from showering to make that a nasty idea?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It is sterile only to the person it came from...


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Doesn't pee (as a body fluid) also carry disease? You'd be fine around your own pee, but who knows what the next person has inside them? Am I wrong?


    According the the Burning Man website: http://www.burningman.com/environment/resources/gr...

    1. DO NOT USE Evaporation Ponds (yesterday's technology).

      Evaporation ponds - black plastic sheeting laid on the playa, over a rim of two-by-fours on edge - were the earliest evaporative devices invented for the Playa, but we cannot recommend them.

      Ponds take an enormous amount of space to make a shallow layer of water, they're hard to make perfectly level, and they eventually fill with mud. Pond evaporative performance relies on a sunlight-absorbing black surface, and playa dust gradually disables it. Then you have to pump out the pond, and clean or reline it.

      Your pond may attract slip-and-slide buckaroos, whose antics can tear up the plastic surface. Many other mishaps can cause pinhole leaks, which eventually make large muddy patches on the Playa. Even if it never leaks, it will probably spill when you try to empty it. At the end of the event, you have a very nasty mess of stuff to take home in your vehicle. And it didn't even get rid of that much gray water.


    8 years ago on Step 19

    We use a gallon insulated beverage cooler with wide screw on lid. Wide opening makes it easier to squat over if you don't have one of those penis things. If you're drinking enough water, you can LITERALLY fill that gallon up in one night! Brush your teeth at night and spit in it to make it (relatively) minty fresh.


    8 years ago on Step 3

    I think these are banned now. Another example of a few morons making new rules necessary!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I have a different philosophy of tent stakes. After 8 years on the playa, I don't use rebar anymore. When the wind blows at 70 mph, something will break, preferably not your expensive camping gear. I use light metal stakes. All that crap piled up in your tent will keep it from blowing away. If the corners pull loose, just put them back after the storm. Same with tarps and shade cloth. I use thin string to hold them. The string breaks, tarp falls down. I put back up while my neighbors are mourning their destroyed shade stuff. Google "mechanical fuse".


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I stumbled on this when looking for diy sump pump plans for my large fish tank, dunno how that happen *laughs*

    I work as an erection specialist "har har" we do tents....its what we do!

    as stated, we also make our own stakes, altho we use super thick hardened rebar and axle shafts, we also do bounceys for kids and use smaller rebar, bent with an oxy torch. We put these stakes into everything, including black top etc....and we do events with tents in the same spot year in and year out so after its bin willed with tar "black jack" it can be tuff to get out the next year.

    As stated, sledge hammers, there your friends, but another tool i havent seen mentioned "i didnt read all posts but then again im not going to since i just happened across this" a pipe wrench! its key for stake removal....with or without the use of a sledge, it makes your like simple without the danger of 4x4ing a stake into someones skull or screwing around with a jack.....consider it.

    and urine unless coupled with something like a bladder infection, etc, is sterile.


    10 years ago on Step 12

    I have a big military tent (think M.A.S.H). And it has 16 3/4" x 24" stakes. I had them bent into candy canes.

    A good sledgehammer puts them in, and helps to take them out.

    When I get ready to pull them, I give 'em a couple of good whacks with the sledgehammer from the four cardinal directions (toward the tent, away from the tent, and each side). This generally loosens them enough to pull out.

    For really stubborn ones, I thread a free one through the loop, and use it as a tee handle.

    For really, really stubborn ones, I put a fulcrum on the away from the tent side, and use a free one as a lever to pull it out. You can stand on it if it needs that much juice.

    Finally, like above said, as a last ditch, when your buddy Paul Bunyun drove the stake through a granite boulder, you can hitch your car to it and pop it out. But, that often bends them.


    11 years ago on Step 12

    I use a propane torch to heat the rebar end red hot, then bend it in a loop. The loop end allows easier withdrawal by using a length of rope to yank it straight up and out, and the round part reduces injury.
    It also reduces the chance the rope will come off if the wind flaps the loose rope around.
    I also paint the stakes with fluorescent paints in a couple colors, as two colors are easier to see than one.

    If you find a local foundation company, you might be able to borrow their rebar bender, a tool used to make up rebar frames etc. for concrete work.
    Take your rebar to them.

    As an alternative, have the stakes made up in a rebar shop, yes there is such a place, and odds are the rebar MIGHT be cheaper there.
    You can even get rebar that is coated in a green epoxy, which reduces rusting somewhat.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 12

    YES heat bending your rebar is best because you get a much tighter bend radius then if you cold bend it. Thus the re is easier to beat in cold bent looks like a candy cane.