Dear Tent: When did you get so high maintenance?
Camping in a tent is the easiest way to make a home at a festival. You can buy one anywhere and they are o so simple to set up. So why is there so much information about camping in a tent at Burning Man? Because, like I have said before, the playa is unlike anywhere else in the world. The environment is extreme, and nothing is easy. And that’s what makes it so amazing! ummm… right??
But do not fret, Playa Divas. With these tips you can build a home that is divine.
Step one: Embrace the dust. Just accept that it will be in everything, on top of everything, and all around you. There is nothing you can do about it.
Step two: Read THIS article about camping in tents at Burning Man. This is the best one I have found because it includes pictures, easy to understand information, and links to further reading.
Step three: Figure out your tent priorities. Mine are pretty simple; I want something I can stand up in, with as little mesh vents as possible, one that is easy to transport, easy to set up, and something sturdy that I know will survive the week. Anything above and beyond these requirements is super bonus.
Step four: Decide how much you want to spend. Cost is a huge factor when considering your playa tent options. When it comes down to it, you absolutely get more tent the more you spend. There are a few different cost categories for tents.
A Class ($800 and above): When you spend this much on a tent, you can really get an amazing home. Canvas wall tents are built for every weather scenario you can imagine, so you know they will be amazing on the playa. They are roomy, luxurious, and can even have a wood burning stove inside.
B Class ($500-$800): Springbar tents like the Kodiak Canvas Tent are a dream. Every burner I have talked to states that their springbar tent will take a hell of a pounding and stay strong. Just make sure you wash and dry the canvas when you get home with a mixture of vinegar and water, otherwise mold can be an issue.
C Class ($300-$500): You can get an excellent high quality tent from a source like REI in this price range. You can pick the floor size, the ceiling height, 2 rooms or three? Would you like a screened in porch room with that? The tents in this price range will last you a few years, will be compact enough to pack and store easily, and will be easy to set up.
D Class (under $300): Any tent from big box stores like Target or Costco will be under $300. Stay away from 50$ tents that are meant for backyard camping. I have never used a tent at Burning Man that was over $150. Some have survived a few trips and have been perfect, others barely made it through the week.
After many successful (and a few unsuccessful) tent experiences on the playa I have found the home experience that works for me. Keep in mind that I live in California and can haul my gear to the playa, so I can be a little more extravagant than anyone who is traveling by plane and cannot bring all this gear…
I use a simple tent that is large enough to stand in as my sleeping area and dressing room. I bring a portable clothing rack that I hang all my clothing on, hanging shoe shelves for some of the smaller go-to items, a plastic 3 drawer cart (for panties, bras, socks), and a 5 drawer cart for toiletries (a drawer each for eyes, skin, hair, feet, teeth). I label the front of each drawer so I know where everything is. I place a full length mirror in a sturdy corner, and set a storage bin directly outside the tent for my playa boots. I bring a portable bed frame and air mattress that is extremely comfortable (and off the ground!). I put storage stuff under the frame and a small (smallest portable one I can find) table by the bed for misc items and a battery operated lamp. I hang carabiners from inside loops to keep my always necessary items like dust masks, goggles, headlamp. For me, it is all about organization. If I can put everything away easily, I will find it easily.
Everything else for my camp I keep outside my tent. A simple table for my kitchen setup and a couple bins underneath to keep everything tucked away when I’m not using it. I even put my stove in a bin when I am away from camp. Imagine the dust storms as a tornado that can throw everything anywhere. And I dont like a massive layer of dust on my pans and things…
Now that you have the basics all figured out, let me share my Playa Diva Tips and Tricks:
Super Pro Tip: Buy your tent from a retailer that has a good return policy for customers. REI and Costco seem to be the best. If you have any issues with your new $300 tent on the playa (broken poles, broken zippers, etc) you can return your tent with ease.
Shade Structure: If you want to sleep, your tent needs to be in the shade. You can use a tarp or two and figure out a way to tie it from your car or a friends RV to go over your tent. I really don’t know how to do that kind of thing but THIS makes it look easy. I have only used pre-made shade like an EZup. If you use an EZup or other square shaped screen room, be extra careful to reinforce the stake down and guylines. Dust storms love to toss these around. I love the idea of a giant tipi shade structure like THIS that my tent could just fit inside of. Easy to pack and assemble, affordable, and large enough for your tent and chill out area. Perfect!
Bins: I use about 4 large (70 qt) plastic bins to transport all my gear to the playa. Always get the heavy duty ones with latching lids that won’t blow away in the winds. Once there I pull everything out of the bins to set up, then I reorganize them and use them for camp organization. I always use one for my dusty shoes.
Some links for more information about tent camping:
Watch this video from the folks at the Pickle Camp about How To Setup a Camp