I recently met a Reno local who is preparing for her first burn. “Do I really need to get an RV?” she asked me. “My friend told me you can’t do Burning Man without an RV. I just want to bring a tent.”
This hurts me on the inside. I haven’t been around that long — my first burn was 2003 — but I’ve spent many burns in a tent, and a couple of two-month work seasons besides. One of the things I hate to see is the rapidly increasing number of rental RVs on playa. They have their place, sure. If you’ve got small kids or a physical need for top-notch shelter, you might want to spend thousands renting an RV, plus hundreds in gas to drive it to Black Rock City and keep the A/C running. But that is a LOT of money (and a fair amount of pollution), and it’s not necessary to spend that much. You can be smarter about it, and I’m about to tell you how.
It is completely possible, and pretty easy, to build your own shelter and cooling system. You can have an airtight, windproof, shaded and cool place to sleep away the day, and you can build it yourself for a fraction of the cost of an RV rental.
THE INCREDIBLE HEXAYURT – $300
Holy wow! In 2007, Treehugger and Current TV hosted a contest for the best “eco-ideas” for Burning Man. The winner was a DIY shelter that costs under $300 to build, packs up flat into your truck, and can be reused year after year. Vinay Gupta’s Hexayurt is now being tested as disaster relief and refugee shelter. Why? Because it WORKS. This is far and away the best shelter idea I’ve heard of.
FIGJAM’S COOL SWAMP COOLER – $6
FIGJAM stopped by my last post to tell me about his homemade swamp cooler. It costs $6, runs off a battery and will cool your shelter for hours. If you have access to a generator, you can use a bigger fan. For most people’s tents and yurts, though, this basic setup will take care of your hot hot blood. Genius!
A few years ago, I visited a friend who’d built a hexayurt-like structure and set up a swamp cooler inside. It was dark in there, so cool you practically needed a sweater, and I just wanted to go to sleep for ever.
SHADE THYSELF – $20-100
Crash spaces are all well and good, but any good camp needs a communal area for the kitchen, the dance floor, the “we just got home and it’s 8am” bacon-and-bloody-mary fest…
For that, you need to make yourself a shade structure.
Rule Nº 1: No pop-up shade tents from the store! These things break. The fabric, the poles, the teeny weeny stakes, the guy lines… they’re not made for the epic windstorms of Black Rock City. I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve taken down (or chased across the playa) in a storm. Do. Not. Bring.
No, what you want is some shade cloth (tarps are okay, but they tend to tear), sturdy poles, rebar stakes and strong rope. I like Jon Starbuck’s shade design: four 4×4 posts, a center pole and rachet straps for guylines. You can tarp off the sides to make it bigger, and it’s reusable. Bonus if you have a big vehicle in camp: park it with its side to the dominant wind direction (Southwest, amen hallelujah) and it’ll make a handy windbreak that you can connect a tarp to.
If you’re super crafty, go track down the Department of Public Works Shade Crew and tell them how amazing they are in as many ways as you can think of. They may or may not let you in on the amazing shade structure design that protects Black Rock City’s staff and volunteers during those 115-degree August afternoons.
The ideas above are my favorites, but we are a creative people and we have been doing this a while, no?
Mylar is thin but powerful silver material that blocks heat transfer. Duct-tape it over your car windows (and roof), your tent, your water jugs, everything you can think of. Thanks Luvbugg for the suggestion!
PRO TIP: Bring a Mylar survival blanket when you go out at night. They’re great for keeping warm at sunrise when your bunny ears and fishnet tights just aren’t cutting it any more.
Clif Cox’s Desert Quonnie
These tube-shaped PVC structures work well and you can use ‘em to cover cars, tents, etc. Make sure you set them up so the wind passes through them, instead of coming from the side. If they get bashed by a big wind, they will implode and you’ll have PVC and rebar flying around all over the place.
These are the ultimate in lasting shelter. If you make yours from metal, you can use it every year with little to no additional cost. Domes can shelter huge numbers of people, and they withstand the wind. They’re costly up-front, labor-intensive and potentially heavy to transport, but if you’ve got a big camp you probably already know that this is the way to go.
Check out MAKE’s guide to building a bamboo dome. If you’ve got a better resource for building metal domes, leave a comment and I’ll post it here.
Commercial Playa Domes
Do a search for “Burning Man shelter” and you’ll come up with sites selling massive white geodesic domes. I’ve used one of these before and do not recommend it. It’s incredibly difficult to set up and take down, requiring lots of strength and sledgehammers and cursing. The long exposed poles are PVC and the cloth is plastic, and it’s all under a lot of tension. This means it’ll break after only a couple of years. Once it breaks, you’re in the unfortunate position of having to dismantle a very unsafe structure in the middle of a huge storm. For example. Not worth the hefty price tag.
Cargo trailer extraordinaire
I did this in 2008 and it was awesome. Pack all your stuff in a 5×8′ cargo trailer. When you get to Burning Dude, unpack everything and throw a futon inside the trailer. Hang a carpet over the door. Voila! Windproof shelter. It gets hot in the daytime, but it’s perfect for a good night’s sleep.
A gosh-darn tent
Really, tents are not so bad. In fact, tents work just great and you probably already have one. So use it! Put a tarp over it for shade, make sure you have somewhere else to crash out during the daytime, and you will be FINE. Trust me.
What works for you?
There are a million more great ideas out there, so please share your experience in the comments.
Also, I’m planning to tackle the following topics in upcoming posts: transportation, hygiene & safety, costumery and PARTICIPATION! If you’ve got suggestions, leave me a comment. I can’t wait to hear your ideas.