Burning Man Theme Camps vs. Open Camping

My first burn, I joined a theme camp that created large-scale robots and robotic vehicles (shout out to eatART). Joining this camp offered: an instant community of new friends, an opportunity to learn about robotics, shared shade structures, and a kitchen to use. The second year, three friends and I shared an RV and camped on our own. This offered: total freedom of our time, no money spent on camp dues, and we still had access to a shade structure thanks to who we happened to camp next to. For my next 7 burns (this year will by my 11th), I’ve alternated between camping with theme camps and what’s known as “Open Camping.” Both have their perks and their challenges. Hopefully this guide will help you choose a way to camp that’s right for you.

Theme Camps

Theme Camps are the substance of Black Rock City, offering everything from yoga, late night grilled cheese, dance parties, and yes… the orgy dome. So there is a camp aligned to your unique interests.

Camps range in size, cost, commitment, and style. Some camps require you to be there the entire week and commit to a few work shifts. Other camps, known as Plug ‘n Play Camps, operate more like resorts; your sleeping arrangements, showers, food, bikes, and even costumes are set up for you. All you need to do is arrive on the playa. For this premium service, expect to pay a premium price (tens of thousand$ for the week). If you don’t have that kind of cash to splash, there are camps with fees in the hundreds, and camps who will waive their camp fees and even offer free tickets if you’re willing to put in more work.

Camps range anywhere from three to 400 people. Smaller camps tend to be more intimate and offer more opportunity for connection over the week. Larger camps and villages tend to have more resources. 

Positives of Theme Camps

  • Being part of a community 
  • The chance to make lifelong connections
  • Co-creating an experience or art for the playa
  • Infrastructure provided (kitchens, shade, communal areas, showers, bikes, etc… depending on the camp)

Downsides of Theme Camps

  • Camp fees can be quite high
  • There will be work shifts & obligations
  • There can be camp drama 
  • how to choose a camp

If you have friends who camp with theme camps, ask them about joining theirs. Or, look at last year’s listing of theme camps, find one that feels aligned to you, and reach out by their Social Media or website.Things you may want to consider in your choice:

Do you know anyone at the camp? What kind of people will be camping here? Will they be aligned to you?

Camp Fees
The price range of camps is HUGE. some are under $200, some are $20K+

With the range in camp fees comes the range in amenities. Plug ‘n Play camps have hexiyurts, RVs, showers, power, bikes, catering and/or air conditioning. Other camps will expect you to be entirely self-sufficient. Most camps have a shared kitchen and shade structure. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to spend or prepare.  

Commitment Level
Since most theme camps expect you to participate in creating or working the camp. You might have to commit to a few shifts, where you work the bar, cook food, build camp, clean, DJ, spank people… you name it. these work/play shifts can be the most fun you’ll have all week, or a burdensome chore. So consider what kind of shifts and how many you want to commit to before you choose a camp

Generally, 2:00 and 10:00 are LOUD. These avenues are where a lot of Sound camps are. Some play loud music all night, while others play all day. If you know you’d probably sleep all day when it’s hot and party all night when it’s cool, you might not want to camp next to Distrikt, a loud daytime sound camp. 

Camping on or near the esplanade will mean you are at the center of the action. Camping in the outer streets will mean you have a farther “commute” into the playa but it will probably be quieter.

The eastern side of the city also tends to be dustier in windy conditions. 

What are you into? If you’re active and love to move, a camp like Swing City (traveling rings), Black Rock Roller Disco, or Camp Contact (acrobatics & contact improv) will connect you with like-minded movers. If you’re bringing kids, you’d probably want to camp in or near Kidsville. If you’re sober, there are a couple AA camps that will make it easier to stay sober surrounded by free booze and drugs. If you’re LTGBQ, you may want to camp with Camp Beaverton, Glam Cocks, the Pink Mammoth, or at any of the camps in the Gayborhood. If you’re into sexual exploration, ATTOL or Suspended Animation might turn you on. If you’re into Tantra, try Naked Heart. If you love TED, try Ideate. If you want to rave all night, try a sound camp like Opulent Temple or Titanic’s End. If you prefer live music to deep house, try Crossroads or Reverbia… There really is a camp tailor-made for you.

Open Camping

Positives of Open Camping

  • No time constraints, work shifts, nor obligations
  • No camp drama
  • No camp fees

Downsides of Open Camping

  • You have to bring your own amenities (kitchen, shade, shower, etc.)
  • You miss the opportunity of connecting & co-creating something with a community
  • You won’t know exactly where you’ll be camping until you find the space
  • You’ll most likely have to camp in the outer streets, which means longer “commutes” into the action
  • You might get lonely
How to Open Camp

Open camping is available throughout many blocks between H Street and K Street (shown in teal on the map below). It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis. When you see a spot, talk to the people around there to ensure you can camp there and if there’s enough space for you, because there are still some themed camps placed in these outer streets. Placed camps will be marked with blue survey flags, but these flags are small and hard to see at night. Some reserved plots are so large that they may appear unclaimed and available, when they aren’t. If you set up in a registered area, you may have to relocate, so make sure you’re in free camping before you set up your camp.

Bringing an RV is the easiest way to open camp because you’ll have your own kitchen, shower & gray water container with you.

If you bring a tent, you’ll want a shade structure over it. The cheapest & easiest shade option to fit a tent under is the monkey hut, made of a large tarp & PVC pipes. You’ll have to get creative with how you wash & dispose of your gray water, or could get a hefty fine.

Map of Burning Man with the open camping area shown in teal. Always check you’re not in a placed camp before you set up.

Extreme Free Camping (a.k.a. Walk-in Camping)

If you’re a minimalist camper, want more quiet, and have always wanted the feeling of camping on the moon, then maybe walk-in camping is for you. Vehicles can’t drive in walk-in camping so it is literally: walk-in all of your supplies, tents, kitchen, shade structures, bags… everything outside of the “city” and into the open space located outside the last street between 2:00 and 5:00. If you have a vehicle, park it on the outside of the last street, walk in your supplies & set up your camp on the open playa side of the flag fence.

You can also camp along the flag fence line with your vehicle about 200 feet out from each entrance (at the :15, :45, and :30 intersections). Look out for signs that designate the parking area versus where you can camp.

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