Going to Burning Man Without an RV

tonyedwardswidget2Comedian, Mac Genius and double-digit Burner Tony Edwards has put together a very useful blog post on alternatives to RV’s for Burning Man.

Reblogged from ohtony.com:

Going to Burning Man is a pain in the ass. Two of the biggest challenges are transportation and shelter. This is why the Recreational Vehicle is the king of Burning Man shelter, it’s the easiest way to go. Well, actually, the absolute easiest way to go to Burning Man is to have someone drive an RV to the playa for you, while you fly into BRC airport. Unless you actually own an RV, it’s also the most expensive, which is why it’s called “Rockstarring”.


To rent an RV, you can figure on costs starting at about $3000 and going up from there. That’s not including fuel and cleaning fees. Not everyone can afford that, but, there are other, less expensive ways to bring shelter with you to Burning Man. However, there are some very important requirements to meet for the perfect Burning Man shelter.


1. It must be able to withstand gale-force winds.


2. It should be able to be erected fairly easily and quickly by a small number of people. If you arrive after driving 10 hours straight (not recommended, BTW), you are going to want to get your shelter ready fast so that you can take a nap. Also, you don’t want to be struggling with it while the wind is blowing hard. The faster it goes up, the sooner you can hunker down if need be.


tent-dust3. It should be dust-resistant. The dust at Burning Man is called playa dust. It has the texture of coarse talcum powder. It is also extremely corrosive and alkaline. It gets everywhere. You do not want to come in from the playa, looking forward to a little sleep and find your bed and everything in your tent covered with a thick layer of dust.


4. Roomier is better. Also, being able to stand up straight is a big plus. Imagine trying to get dressed while bent over.


5. You will need shade. Burning Man is a strenuous event. You are going to want to be able to get lots of rest when you need it. Let’s say you go out for the evening and return to your camp just before sunrise, which is also the coldest time of day on the playa. You crawl into bed in your tent at 6am. But, once the sun comes up, the temperature rises very quickly. Within a couple of hours, your tent goes from being a freezer to an oven…unless it’s under shade.


Here are some possibilities.






The tent is the shelter of choice for the 99% at Burning Man. It’s the cheapest, in terms of cost and transportation. But, you have to choose your tent wisely and take precautions. We have done tents at Burning Man several times. My first year, I brought a small, two-person tent. Not good. See requirements 3, 4 and 5. I ended up sleeping in my car (more on that later…).


When considering a tent, try to find one with no mesh panels. In 2012, I found the tent pictured above for an excellent price. It had a couple of mesh panel in the roof, so I sealed them with Gorilla tape and extra nylon fabric. That, combined with the rain fly, partial cover and protection from an adjacent RV made for a comfortable one-person Playa home..


When choosing a tent, you want to give yourself some headroom and floor space in the tent.


I STRONGLY suggest against using any kind of tent without shade.


rebarDo not use the tent stakes that came with your tent. The wind will pull them out and send your tent flying. Get extra long, heavy duty metal ones. The best solution is to use reinforcing bar or rebar, for short. If you can find some with the bend at the top, or have some bent like a candy cane, that’s even better. Note: You will probably need to bring/borrow a sledge hammer to drive the rebar into the playa, and vise grips to pull them out. And something to put over tops so that people don’t trip on them and gouge there ankle, like tennis balls with slits cut in them. Oh yeah, bring work gloves, too. See what I mean? Pain in the ass.


One year, we struck upon what ended up being a great tent setup. We will probably use this solution this year.


First, the tent:

Big Ass Tent


This Trek tent has a foot print of 10’ X 20’, which is why we lovingly call it the “Big Ass Tent”. You can find it online selling anywhere from $250 to $300. Here’s why this tent rocks:


1. Every window and door have both mesh closing and solid closings. That means, when it’s all zipped up, there is no way for dust to get in! But, if the weather is nice, you can open them up and get a breeze.


2. I can walk in standing straight up! (I’m 5’10”). And, I can remain standing in about 80% of the tent.


3. It has metal poles that won’t break in a high wind and lot’s of stake-down loops.


4. It has a full, reinforced floor with a threshold at the door.


5. It has 3 three rooms. There are room divider fabrics built in. Use one room for the bed, the middle room as a living area and the third room for storage.


6. Going to another multi-day festival or just camping? You are all set!


The only part missing is the shade, which is why we also borrowed a legendary Burning Man shelter, the Costco car canopy:




This car tent’s dimensions are…10’ X 20’! Put this tent up, then put the canopy over it. You get extra dust protection and plenty of shade. Air circulates between the canopy and the tent, so you can basically sleep in the middle of the day.




Yeah, I know, I look cranky. But look how cute Laura is in the mirror. You can look inside and see how dark it is in the middle of the day.


Anyway, you could use a smaller tent and/or different shade solution. But, trust me, if you are doing a tent, you need shade.









I don’t suggest living out of your vehicle unless it was made for camping. This is a picture of me the first year at Burning Man, 2002. I was going to sleep in the tent on the right, but after the first morning, I switched to the car. Someone gave me reflective material to put over the windows to help with the sun. I slept in the car and put my stuff in the tent.


Let’s say that you take something bigger that a car, like a van. A van is great because it takes care of shelter and transportation, you can carry all of your stuff in it. But, you can basically only sleep in it. You are constantly getting in and out of the van, so it’s going to get a lot of playa dust in it. If you rented the van, the rental company is probably going to ream you for extra cleaning costs, even if you try to clean it yourself first.


You know how you aren’t supposed to leave dogs in a car with the windows closed on a sunny day. If you sleep in your vehicle, you are that dog, unless you have shade. If you added a Costco canopy to the mix, that would help with shade, but I still don’t think camping like that is ideal.


Campers and Trailers




Campers and trailers make for great Burning Man shelter because that’s what they were designed for. If you don’t own one, see if some kind friend or family member will letyou borrow their’s for the week (Just be prepared to spend a couple of additional days cleaning it up when you get home.)


If you are thinking about using a pop-up camper, make sure that it can be sealed off from the dust. They have a tendency to use a lot of mesh windows.


The main down side to campers and trailers is getting them to the playa. You will be using much more fuel towing the camper, the  trip will take longer and you will be stressing the towing vehicle much more. But, if that’s not a problem, then rock on!






A yurt is kind of like a tent, but with solid sides. Most yurts you see at Burning Man are hexayurts; small six-sided shelters built with rigid insulation. The Hexayurt can be made from about $300 of materials from Home Depot, plus about $100-150 of mail-ordered tape. Depending on the construction technique, it takes about 8 hours to prepare at home and 0.5-4 hours of assembly on the playa. I’ve never camped in a hexayurt, but I have seen them and helped assemble one at Burning Man.


The upside of a yurt is that they are COOL, as in keeps the cool air inside. By just spraying mist in the air, you can drop the temperature down 10 degrees. They also require no shade. And they look cool, in geeky kind of way.


Two challenges to using a hexayurt are the construction and assembly. Unless I had someone helping me who had put one together before, I’m pretty sure that I would be frustrated trying to put one together at Burning Man. Because of the size of the pieces, they need to be transported in a larger vehicle. Lastly, unless you build a tall (and way more susceptible to wind) hexayurt, you will have to bend over every time you go in or out. And, once you are in, you will only be able to stand up in a circular area in the middle off the hexayurt.


So, if you are handy, have a truck available for transport and want to make sure you are a cool as a cucumber, try a hexayurt. Here’s link to get you started. Appropedia.org







Last year, Laura and I decided to go to Burning Man three days before we left! We drove up with our friend Rich, who was towing a 6 X 12 U-Haul trailer for the camp. We had brought with us a tent that I had used the year before (the one with the lights pictured above) at Burning Man. It wasn’t bad, but I was concerned about the amount of space for two people. After we arrived and unpacked the camp, we looked inside the trailer and thought to ourselves, “Hmm, that’s a lot of room in there…”


Since the trailer wasn’t set to be used that week, we moved in and used the tent as extra storage. It actually worked quite well.  After figuring out how to insulate ourselves from the cold floor at night, we found that we could sleep in as late as we wanted. We could close the doors almost completely when the dust blew. It was oddly romantic.






I know a couple of people who flew in to San Francisco from London, rented a U-Haul truck, went to thrift stores and got a cheap sofa, bed and other stuff. They then drove to the playa and had their own hotel room on wheels in the back of the truck!


Of course, if you don’t want to rent a U-Haul to just sleep in it, consider offering to take other people’s stuff for a fee, or the stuff for your camp for reimbursement. Another option.






If you have ever visited a construction site, you’ve probably seen one of these portable offices. Sani-Hut is a company which supplies all sorts of temporary buildings for construction and events. They also contract a lot of work with Burning Man. But here’s the deal; You can call them up and reserve an office like the one above. They will then deliver it to you on the playa! For cheaper than an RV! Oh, did I mention the AIR CONDITIONING?

I’ve had friends do the U-Haul truck thing at Burning Man before. It’s good, up until about 10am. After that it’s almost unbearably hot. You could get around this by building some sort of shade structure over the truck.

Personally, after years of renting RV’s I bought an old one on eBay for a great price. It’s survived 3 burns and 1 JuPlaya so far, about 30 days in total on the Playa. I’m not sure how many it has left in it, but it’s been to other great parties too, and on lots of fun road trips. It more than paid for itself compared to rental options, and the plus is I can leave it stocked with all the glowsticks, feathers, glitter, booze, and whatever else we didn’t consume at the festival. Of course, if you believe the burnier-than-thous, you’re supposed to just make your own yurt, sleep in that, and spend the RV money on Gifting to randoms. Make a statue and burn it, why have a nice RV with air conditioning and a bathroom that you get a lot of use out of? Goddamn rich people, screwing up our burn…

18 comments on “Going to Burning Man Without an RV

  1. I’ve been a few times with a Springbar tent and its worked out really well. In heavy winds you can’t beat these things and being able to stand up and move around is a huge plus. I think the quality on a Springbar is better than a Kodiak, plus the springbar guys will fix anything if it ever breaks or tears. Heard bad customer service stories on Kodiaks. Also just saw they are offering free shipping, which is like a $100 value. If you’re in need of a tent this is the way to go. http://www.springbarcanvas.com

  2. Ran into this post looking for creative comments regarding shade structures. I’ve been to two burns in a Kodiak tent, and personally, loved it (except for the 9 AM and on HEAT). I volunteered for ESD, and worked mostly nights, so daytime sleep is important. I did notice that the cargo van my friend and I rented last year seemed cooler than the tent in the AM so I may nap in there this time.
    But, to throw a monkey wrench in the mix, the spouse wants to come to the event for the first time this year (2017) but wants to buy a used RV or travel trailer and keep it out in NV (we live in the Midwest). He wants a generator and AC. Of course, would love AC, but keeping the event simpler and frankly, cheaper, was a better go for me, despite the dust and heat. The spouse doesn’t want to consider tent camping, which is too bad.
    My head is spinning with the logistic nightmare. I think this is more of a marriage issue. Ha. I like doing it all myself, and he likes paying someone else to do something. Well, if you see a married couple sleeping side by side in a Kodiak tent and a broken down RV in 2017, and there’s no yelling, come by and get some cheese.

  3. I’m envious of anyone going to Burning Man..It’s one of my bucket list in life things to do.,,Yet as I read this..I fear it may never happen. I don’t drive. I’m single and it’s unimaginable how I could ever carry a tent of such sizes and food supply into BM…one never has to fear this will become so commercialize that hoards of tourist descend upon it..

    • “…one never has to fear this will become so commercialize that hoards of tourist descend upon it..” Nothing to fear, like the Tin Principles being entirely ignored by the Borg, that has happened already.

  4. After our RV died on us, we just rented a U-Haul for this year’s burn. We are thinking of getting a small window a/c unit to be able to sleep in it during the day. Can anyone help me out as to how we can mount that and make that happen?

  5. Great guide! We bought the cabin tent but had trouble finding a decent canopy for shade and wind circulation. Any tip offs?

  6. is a roof top tent a bad idea? I have a 4wd SUV and a roof top tent made for it…it has a ladder access and an annex room next to the vehicle…best of both worlds…very small footprint…and a full stand up area at ground level. Just concerned about the wind. My first BM.

  7. Last year, my unshaded hexayurt was an oven by 11am. Unfortunately, my neighbor’s hexayurt (under a standard Costco carport) did the same.

  8. Pingback: BURNING MAN HOME 2014

  9. Went tent for my first six years until my wife wanted to go. Then it was a travel trailer for the next 6 years until we thought, I bet we can rent this trailer to a burner who is willing to pay $$$! Now it’s back to the tent and I couldn’t be happier! Im in a tent and making BANK!

  10. +1 on the Costco carport over a tent. We did that for the first time in 2013, and it totally rocked! The great weather in 2013 didn’t hurt either.

  11. 6 years in a tent – rather small – Big Agnes Copper something 3. 2 people fit just fine.
    You would need 3 sleeping mats from WalMart ($8 each) to cover the floor, 2 sleeping bags (WM @ $20/piece), bunch of inflatable pillows (random chinese sites $1/piece) and a sheet (Full size in WM $5) to cover sleeping bags, pillows and the rest during the daytime as a dust protection. When you come to your tent say 5AM to grab few ZZZs, just carefully fold the sheet and you got relatively clean and dust free sleeping quarters.

    Last year brought some luminet (google it if you don’t know) – covered tent with it – was able to add another 1.5 hours of sleep in the morning.

    Also important to put your tent to the west of your car (or other structure) and as close as possible to it, so it will be in the shade in the morning – another hour or so of sleep.

    Of course you gonna need some shade structure – I use Wenzel, North Territory or whatever WM has on sale ~$100. Couple of folding chairs ($10), cooler, large plastic containers with lids (WM ~$8) – usually one for edibles and one for plates, paper towels and other stuff. Try to get clear plastic ones – you’ll be able to see what is where.

    Another good thing is space blankets (check Ebay ~$1/piece) – you’ll have to figure out how to attach them to the windows of shade structure – I use giant paper clips (you know, black ones).

    Since I come from the East Coast I can’t take car port on the plane and it costs too much to just junk it after the burn. So pretty much everything mentioned above (except Big Agnes tent @4lb) is being given out to various folks that live nearby.

    All in all this survival stuff is pretty boring – ~60K people go the BM every year and pretty much everyone comes back alive. Chances are you’ll be among them, unless you do something outrageously stupid, so just don’t do it and you’ll be fine.

  12. Halfway between the “sleep in your car” and the U-haul solution is a cargo van. Pack all your stuff in the back. Get there. Empty all your stuff into a small storage tent and fill the back of the van with a nice air mattress, bedding and some basic clothes storage. Erect some sort of shade structure over it (Costco carport is great, but we’ve used an jury-rigged Aluminet shelter which was better for cooling). During the day, nap in some communal area that’s not nearly as butt-hot as your van.

    • A van is how I did it the times I went (except for the horrible year I took an RV). You are usually good in the van until about 10am, then life begins for a new day. Make new friends. *”During the day, nap in some communal area that’s not nearly as butt-hot as your van.”* It is an adventure experience, not a test. Share your solutions with others, or enjoy sharing solutions others have made.

  13. Thanks for the information. 2014 will be my first Burn and I’ve been asking a lot of questions…and I have a few for you as well. How compact was the Car Canopy when stowed (…I’m renting a minivan for the trip out) and did you have to tie the whole structure down to keep it from blowing away, or was there a way to anchor the support struts to the playa?

    • Regarding transporting a car canopy – the suckers don’t really pack any tighter than the box they originally come in. And the box is…heavy….There are some extraneous parts for an awning that I don’t bother with and just leave at home (seems like they would probably not stand up to high wind anyways). One thing that I started doing was wrapping the poles together in sets that one person could carry with bungie balls and the same for the tarps.
      The feet for the canopy have three holes that you can drive rebar stakes through, but I would still recommend a ratchet strap & rebar stake from each pole and tape some tennis balls on the end of the rebar to avoid rebar injuries :-p

      Something that I would like to see is as the costco car ports start showing up frickin everywhere at BM – let’s see some creative painting on the sides – it’s supposed to be radical self-expression right?

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