Tips and Tricks – Playa Tent Addition

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.

Dust Storm
Click photo for more info

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.

Sibley Bell Canvas Tent

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.

Wall tent by Kirkham’s

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.

Kodiak springbar tent

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.

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…

THIS is the tent I have used for a few years now. It is beyond easy to set up, is large enough to stand in, has no vents or poles to worry about, and has room for 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…

What I wish my Burning Man tent looked like
Click on the image for more images of beautiful yurts

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:

Great DIY shade structure for Burning Man.

Fun examples of tents and homes on the playa.

More fun examples, including information about Hexayurts.

How to seal your mesh vents and keep more dust out.

Watch this video from the folks at the Pickle Camp about How To Setup a Camp

Tents vs Trailers

After the storms 2007
Click on the photo for more information

23 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks – Playa Tent Addition

    1. Yes! But like always at Burning Man specifically, use rebar! Not the stakes that come with the tent. If you “candy cane” the rebar by bending the top over into a candy cane shape, you can use them with this tent.

      1. It is not that you “must” candy cane the rebar, it is that when the rebar is in the shape of a candy cane it no longer sticks straight out of the playa. This is what causes the majority of injuries at Burning Man. So any option to use rebar in a safe way is what one “must” do.

  1. Great post. Thank you.

    I am thinking of buying the Coleman 6-person Instant Tent that you recommended, but I have seen a few reviews online saying it leaks….a lot. What was your experience in that department?

    Also, how about wind resistance? The Coleman website says it’s wind resistant up to 35mph, but we all know the playa can provide much higher winds.

    Finally, how big/small/heavy is it when all broken down and packed away? I would be lugging it on a plane, and am wondering if I even *can* do that without paying oversize luggage fees.

    Thank you again!!

    1. This is my favorite tent, and the one I recommend to everyone looking for the best tent for the price. I have had mine in the rain many times and it has never once leaked. Mine also held up for many of the wind storms on the playa with no problems. Some of the windier years I use the additional guy lines, and that may help.

      It is a very large and heavy tent (about 25 pounds). You would likely have to pay oversize luggage fees. Depends on the airline.

  2. The structures made by blackrock hardware are great because the rebar goes inside the poles- which have screws that clamp onto the rebar. That way you don’t have rebar sticking out of the ground to trip on or guy lines to run into in the dark.

    They’re in Oakland so if you can buy from them, great… otherwise, this system can be reproduced if you’re handy enough.

    1. I use the Coleman Instant Tent 6 person. It is the best tent I have ever found for Burning Man and have used it for a few years now. The mesh is lined perfectly for the dust, so as long as you always zip up your tent when you are not in it, everything stays as dust free as can be expected. I had this tent at the burn for years when it has been very windy, raining, dusty, etc and it does a great job. It is also the only tent I have taken repeatedly to the burn and other festivals. For the price, it is by far the best. I got mine on Amazon for about $100. I have noticed the price changes often and sometimes goes up to $180.

      1. Thank you so much for the great advice!! I’m getting the Coleman 6 instant for SURE! Do you use it with or without the rainfly? Does it come with the tent or is it separate?

    1. I’m not sure what that means… I use the Coleman Instant Tent. The top of it is a round contraption that all the poles are stationed in. It really is the best tent for the burn.

  3. Cool thanks, you answered my question, gonna order it now! 🙂
    (there’s another ‘coleman instant tent 6 person’ that’s almost identical but different frame w/ cross bar on top)

  4. I’ve been using my Springbar tent on the playa for eyars and it’s a a champ- dust proof, standing height, bomber in wind, built to last forever. Go with the Springbar over the Kodiak big-box knock-offs- you’ll be glad you did. Also looks like the springbar tents are in stock this year with free shipping (usually wicked backordered and it takes months) check it-

  5. Hi – any tips to keep the dust out of that particular tent – thinking of getting one. Third time burner, first time tenting 😬

    1. I have not personally used a bell tent on the playa. My suggestion: if you really want to get it clean then set it up completely once you get home and hose it down. Then use a spray bottle with vinegar and water mixture to get to the tough spots where playa can get stuck, like seams. Leave it set up while it air dries, you don’t want any mold to grow on the fabric.

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