Tips for labeling your burner bins and larger gear

suitcase bags

After spending an insane amount of time provisioning and packing to go to Burning Man, the last thing you want to have happen is to lose your gear because you didn’t label it well. Even if you’ve been a masterful gear labeler for other events and festivals, I encourage you to take your labeling game up a notch for Burning Man. And if you were thinking your name on some duct tape would suffice, let me tell you know: it won’t.

Playa dust makes everything the same tinge of dust-color

You can’t even begin to imagine how same-same everything starts to look when covered in playa dust. You may think you have a sense of it, and you may have seen hundreds of photos and videos, yet once you’re actually on playa, you’ll be reminded how the intellectual understanding of something and experiential knowing of something are quite different. The greenish, grayish, fine powdery talc that we call dust gets on everything.

Dust is integral to all things Burning Man. In short order, your gear and everyone else’s gear is going to start looking the same: dusty. After a few hours on the playa, all the bags and bins start to look the same: dusty. The dust covers everything! As such, you must label your gear with a diligence, focus and expressiveness heretofore unknown to your person.

How your gear goes on a truck may not be how it comes off a truck

Add to this issue of everything looking the same in the dust, if your bins and bags are being ferried in on a truck or bus, you’ve lost control of where your bags are packed. Trucks often require Tetris Masters to move all the items around in order for everything that needs to get on the truck to fit. (Bins are nice and stackable. Bikes and camp gear often aren’t.) So even if you saw all your gear loaded onto a truck in one section of the truck, there is no guarantee that it will all come off the truck together in one neat pile. And, well, you want to retrieve all the gear you so lovingly and thoughtfully packed.

I implore you—and I use the word implore with great intent—to take the task of labeling your large gear as a serious and important part of your pre-playa preparation.

Burner Bins…nearly everyone uses them (which is all the more reason to be hyper-vigilant about making yours look unique)

You’ve probably seen these around: they are these 27-gallon, black bins with yellow tops, and in they are often called Burner Bins. They’re great. They’re cheap. They stack. They’re relatively durable. And most everyone has them! Both individuals and camps.

The challenge with so many people and camps using Burner Bins is that your gear in these bins will look like everyone else’s gear, not only in color and shape, but with the playa dust covering up your meager labeling, your bins won’t stand out unless you make Herculean efforts to make sure they do.

You need to label your larger items, so they  —

  1. Stand out,
  2. Are uniquely branded with “a look,” and
  3. Communicate to anyone (especially someone who might not have slept in the last 36 hours and who is now unloading the truck ferrying your gear) that all your gear belongs together and should be put in one pile.

A little story

There was a year when I couldn’t find my cooler. My cooler! My fresh food for the week! This was not a small issue for me. My cooler was diligently labeled with my name, which I had written in really big letters on the lid. I’d even drawn a big flower on it to make it stand out. Yet, once our camp’s truck was completely unpacked, for the life of me, I couldn’t find it among the gear. I’d asked everyone in our camp of 30 to keep an eye out for my cooler. (I was the theme camp organizer this year and had an elevated platform for making announcements.)

Nearly two days later, I found it. Turns out, I’d walked past my cooler dozens of times, and my campmates, collectively, had walked past it hundreds of times. My cooler had just started to look like everything else, and no one had noticed it.

So, please trust me when I implore you to label your gear in a way that brands your items as a unit in an incontrovertible way. I now know better and am much more diligent about labeling my gear in this way.

Josh & Cody’s method

This “how to label your gear” guide by Josh & Cody offers an approach to labeling your gear and bins. I’ve seen these guys show up at the D.C. Container load-in during years past, and their branded gear is impressive and utilitarian. This approach of making sure all your gear looks like it belongs together is super-smart and super-helpful.

Create large, detailed labels

Here is a method I suggest you use for your burner bins: Create and print large, color-paper labels with your name, playa name (if you have one), phone number, camp name and camp address printed on them. Then attach the labels to the top and both sides of each bin (a long side and a short side). Also number your bins as, e.g, 1 of 4, 2 of 4, 3 of 4, etc.

This aspect of labeling your gear is not the beginning and end; it’s simply one step in the process that I recommend you do.

Mark the top and both sides of your gear

For your bins and other gear, do something creative with paint or tape. Make the colors on your bins and gear big and bold. Be not frugal with your use of colorful packing or duct tape as you create a design and look for your gear. Brand every side of your bins. Brand your gear, top and bottom. And on the sides. (You never know how your gear will be stacked by someone else so make sure it speaks to your band regardless of how it’s piled somewhere.)

Every bit helps when it comes to keeping your gear in a recognizable pile. Every bit helps.

Brand your gear so it’s super-obvious it belongs together

When my gear is being loaded onto or off of trucks, it’s now easy for someone to clump my gear together. Especially if your gear is coming in on a container, or if you are taking the Burner Express, you probably won’t be loading and unloading your gear. Make it easy for others to know that your gear belongs together.

How to label larger nylon and fabric gear

Large gear bagged in, or made of, nylon or fabric–items such as tents, cots, large backpacks, duffel bags, folding chairs and nylon suitcases–can be more challenging to label as the surface area for labeling isn’t flat and paper labels are more likely to get torn and shred as your gear is moved around throughout the the week.

Writing your name and contact info on a piece of tape (even if it’s wide duct tape) is only marginally valuable, as duct tape 1) can come off too easily, and, as you now know, 2) the playa dust makes everything look same-same, so what may seem like a reasonable labeling job when you’re sitting in the comfort of your living room or garage can easily become lost in a sea of dust.

Use Plasti Dip

What I do is buy the Plasti Dip kit of plastic paint with coloring options. First, I get all my gear ready before I mix the paint—any gear that is either fabric and/or anything large, including my cooler. I then mix the Plasti Dip and tint to create a color that will pop on the canvas (use the white paint as one of your colors).

I then paint my name in very large letters on my gear. I chose to write only my first name—JESSIE—in the same lettering and same general size (about five or six inches in height) on all of my gear.

Losing your gear or bins because of poor labeling practices would suck.

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash


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