How much does Burning Man really cost?

How much does Burning Man really cost?

March 12, 2013

Someone who had never been to Burning Man once asked me how much the event cost.

Here's my answer.  Enjoy.



Burning Man Ticket, generally $380-$465. Includes a place to pitch your tent, access to the greatest participatory art show on earth, a seat at the burn, and unlimited use of the Burning Man outhouses. Everything else, you’ll need to provide, probably at a cost.  For instance ...


Transport from SF to Burnng Man: Gas/carpool contribution $100.00. Or you can fly from SF to Burning Man for about $400 round trip, in your buddy's private plane. (But add $100  extra for the plane because you're only allowed 25 lbs for luggage, and will have to hire a friend to drive a lot of gear). If you live out of state and fly to Reno add $350. If you live abroad add $1000 to $2000 for air to SFO, passports, etc.


Burning Man camping supplies: sleeping bag $100.00. Ground pad $20.00. 50-gallon drum for water for you and your friends, $30.00. Or you can buy pre-filled water bottles at Safeway for about $30.00. Burning Man shade structure $200.00. Mist system $100.00. Beach or lawn chairs $20.00. Rebar to stake it all down, $20.


Sleeping at Burning Man: Tent $100.00. If you rent a cargo van to sleep in, that's $250.00 (but you don't need a tent). If you instead tow a u-haul trailer to sleep in, that's cheaper, at $150.00 ... but assumes you own an SUV with a hitch. If you go to Burning Man in an RV with four friends, your share is approx $500.00 (and you don't need a tent nor stove, but expect to lose your cleaning deposit, which is about $500 extra. And you'll have a dump fee on the RV, usually about $100.  Perhaps more, if you use the shower in the RV, but most RV people rarely shower in the RV for this reason.  (Instead, RV people chase the water trucks, naked, maybe with a little bit of shampoo in hand).


Burning Man Theme camp dues $100-300.00. Required. The theme camp sends an advance team, and secures you a premier camping spot and address (i.e.: intersection of Insanity and Reality). Plus at work, when your coworkers say, “You go to Burning Man? What camp are you in?” You can answer, “Stick it In!" or “Sexucation” or “Dominatrix Dome” or “Swingers Camp” or “Pee Funnel Camp.” (Always a conversation starter.  That alone is worth $200.00.)


If you're in a music camp, you get some essential items like a concert quality sound system, and the satisfaction of knowing all the folks attending Burning Man, now rocking outside your tent at 4 am are benefitting from your efforts, and your subwoofer.


Unfortunately, if you're wondering, a Burning Man theme camp doesn't usually include food or water, or "items you accept responsibility for." Example: you might agree to build a bike rack for camp, using lumber you buy at Home Depot for $60. But, don't assume you will use the bike rack the following year at Burning Man. If it gets cold, chance you'll burn it (along with your wood futon frame, which you weren't sure how to transport home anyway).


Burning Man Cooking essentials: Stove $80.00. Propane for stove $20.00. Personal grocery/food $200.00. Personal beer/wine/drinks $150.00. Cooler $20.00. Ice $20.00.   


Misc party stuff: $200.00. On a related note, if you take drugs or medication add money for that too.


Playa gear: Playa Bike $200.00. El wire for bike lights $50.00. Burning Man Goggles $50.00.  


Miscellaneous Burning Man clothing $200 (windbreaker, warm jackets, fleece gloves, warm hat, sun hat, etc).


Burning Man Costumes $50.00 if you go to the Salvation Army. $500.00 if you go to the place on Haight. Twice that if you go with your girlfriend. Four times that if your girlfriend goes with her girlfriend.


Other Misc stuff you will buy at Wal-Mart at 3 am near Reno (dust masks, rope, batteries, electric cords, flashlights, inner tubes, patch kit, pump, pasta, bike lock, charcoal, garbage bags): $200.00.


You don't normally have a car, and therefore, never go to Wal-Mart.  Cordless drills seem like a good value, and something you might use on the playa, so you pick one up for $150.00.  And, in the same aisle, how did you forget a sledgehammer, for the rebar? $30.00. And the vice grip to remove it. $10.00.  And a teflon skillet - for home.


At the last gas station, you pick up a few things you somehow forgot at Wal-Mart. (Can opener, dish soap, gloves, lip balm, sunscreen, oil for the generator, baby wipes). $50.00.


Ah, you're on the playa. Your cash is no good here. Except for two, and only two items: Ice ($5) and coffee ($2). Seriously.


After Burning Man: Hotel in Reno if you opt to sleep there, $100.00.


When you get back: car wash, $30.00 x 3. Laundry (you'll need a front loader) $50.00. Dump fees $30.00. (You'll probably throw out everything that won't fit in washing machine or car wash, such as the living room couch your buddy threw in the truck last minute).   


Something always gets damaged. Maybe you fall asleep on the exit and wreck your friend's bumper. Or your tent rips in half. Or your JBL EON speakers get blown over and need repair. Or maybe something flies off the roof of your truck, and you lose it on hwy 80 ... such as your girlfriend's air mattress. You get a parking ticket in Truckee cause you didn't know to feed the meter on Labor Day. Or, maybe you miss your futon frame. These are real examples. Personally, Burning Man averages me about $300/year in "damages."


In future years you'll initiate some art project. Let's assume it's an art car. A simple golf cart with a whitewater raft on top, so you and your friends to 'raft' around the playa. Golf cart purchase $2500.00. Raft purchase $500.00. Saw to cut bottom out of perfectly good raft, $20.00. Mechanic pre-burn $1000.00. Shade structure to work on car in desert $500.00. Generator for sound $1000.00. Sound system $600.00. Trailer $1000.00. Mist system $100.00. Lights $100.00. Gas for art car $200.00. Gas containers $100.00. Gas for art car generator $100.00. Mechanic post-burn $1000.00. New carburetor, to replace the one clogged with playa dust, $300.00. And just when you think you are finished: storage for Burning Man art car for 12 months $1200.00.  (Or, you can sell your creation for about $100.00, and move on.)


The good news: Burning Man happens just once a year. And, if you buy your ticket when they go on sale, you can save a few bucks.

Also in News

Burning Man Is Its Own Worst Enemy
Burning Man Is Its Own Worst Enemy

May 31, 2019

Negotiations for a new permit have stalled over the environmental impact of huge crowds in the Nevada desert.

Scroll down for text version, or see the original version here.


Metamorphosis is an apt theme for the 2019 edition of Burning Man, the annual libertarian arts festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. As organizers prepare for the weeklong gathering that kicks off on Aug. 25, they’re also grappling with the possibility of radical changes that they say could ultimately force them to discontinue the 33-year-old event.

Burning Man Project, the nonprofit that organizes the festival, has been negotiating for three years with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a 10-year permit. The current one expired in 2016; so far, no agreement has been reached. Event organizers say the government wants to impose conditions that are cumbersome and unnecessary, which would force changes that betray the spirit of the festival.

The problem, the feds say, is size. Burning Man’s attendance has swelled to nearly 80,000, including about 10,000 staffers and volunteers, from the 80 or so people who attended the first summer solstice bonfire party in 1986. That inaugural event was held on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. By 1990 the growing crowds couldn’t be safely accommodated on the beach, so the bonfire moved to the Nevada desert, according to Marian Goodell, a founding board member who was recently named chief executive officer of the project.

The festival’s popularity has challenged some of its core precepts, especially the one about “leaving no trace.” The strain that Burning Man has placed on the site has led the BLM, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior that manages 245 million acres of public lands, to assess the festival’s environmental impact and to develop requirements that will be a condition of any new permit.

According to a draft environmental impact statement published in March, the BLM is concerned with air and light pollution, as well as a range of public-health risks such as sexual assault, drug overdoses, firearms, and traffic. The agency could consider increasing the size of the venue or, more remotely, denying a new permit. The BLM could also mandate that organizers bring in dumpsters for trash, place concrete traffic barriers around Black Rock City for added security, and hire private security services to search attendees for weapons and drugs.  “We won’t do Burning Man if it has to have dumpsters at the gate, cement barriers, or searches by third-party security forces,” Goodell says.

The government says security and environmental measures are needed. The BLM also says it’s increasingly concerned the event could become a terrorism target. Currently, government staffing for emergency responses is limited because Burning Man overlaps with hurricane season, the bureau says.

Marnee Benson, Burning Man’s associate director of government affairs, says the cost of the proposed measures could reach $20 million. That’s in addition to an annual budget of about $40 million. She suggests the bureau’s requests are motivated more by greed than by environmental concerns. The agency, she says, has approved new oil and gas leases, including the controversial Dakota Access pipeline that runs through the Standing Rock American Indian reservation. A BLM spokesperson declined to comment on Benson’s assertion.

Each year the BLM collects 3% of the event’s gross revenue, equal to more than $1.25 million in 2018, according to Benson. The group pays the BLM permit fees of $3.5 million annually. State and local governments also collect $1 million for agency services, such as the Nevada Highway Patrol and the Pershing County Sheriff. And Burning Man pays Nevada about $3 million for the state’s live entertainment tax. A BLM spokesperson declined to comment on the figures.

Bob Abbey, a former national director of the bureau who advises Burning Man on policy issues, describes the BLM’s draft impact statement as flawed in that it approaches the event as if it had never before taken place. “Burning Man has been held at the same location on public land for almost three decades,” he says. “Yet it is now deemed by some within the Interior Department to be more of an environmental threat than offshore drilling.” A BLM spokesperson declined to comment.

The BLM’s decision is due shortly before this year’s event opens. Should the organization agree to the BLM’s conditions, changes would be phased in starting with the 2020 festival, according to Mark Hall, the Bureau of Land Management’s field officer overseeing the environmental impact statement.

At recent town hall meetings in Reno and Lovelock, Nev., co-organized with the BLM, business owners and community stakeholders have expressed support for Burning Man, saying it’s had a positive impact on the local economies “Every year, 20,000 Burners coming from 34 countries during the week, bringing in $11 million revenue just to the airport,” Brian Kulpin, head of marketing and public affairs for the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, said at an April 8 meeting. “We appreciate even the playa dust they bring in.”

Ultimately, Burning Man CEO Goodell says that while she expects a reasonable decision, the organization will be prepared for any outcome: “We would be very sad to move, but we would know where to go.”

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