Bring lots of lights to light up your body and bike
You need lights for your person, your tent, your bike, your backpack. You may need lights to mark your guy wires, or other reasons unforeseen. Bring a lot. And then bring backups. You don’t need quite as many lights if you buy quality lights. Still, bring extras.
Let’s start with the most basic of lights, a headlamp
You need a headlight for navigating around your camp at night, in your tent and especially in the portos. Bring an extra. Bring the right batteries for it, and test your headlamp before you get to the playa. Test how it fits on your head. Test the batteries. (I learned the hard way that if you leave your batteries inside of a headlamp for a whole year, they drain down and aren’t as effective.)
It’s helpful (and kind to others) to have a headlamp with a red-light option. Why? Your blaring, glaring white light shone in others’ eyes can be uncomfortable and unpleasant to them. Do aim to get in the habit of turning your headlamp off (or onto the red option) when talking with others. Another option that many people go for is to keep their headlamps around their necks with the lights shining down, and they only to pull the headlamp up onto their foreheads when they need it for the portos or when riding their bikes in deep playa.
Rumor has it that red lights and green lights are better for night vision, though I’ve yet to see a headlamp with a green-light option. If nothing else, the red light is a gentler choice when you’re around people or even in your own tent.
Always put your headlamp in a place that’s easy to locate
Also, you may want to keep one of your headlamps on a shelf by the front opening of your tent. Once dusk comes, get it and put it around your neck even if it isn’t dark yet because it can get darker much faster than you might expect.
And put it back in the same place, day after day. Or night after night.
Bring a high-powered flashlight
A headlamp is an item you absolutely must have. A flashlight is an extra item you may want to bring, especially a high-powered one.
Buy better quality lights
I’ve mostly given up on cheap lights, and I’m starting to invest in better quality lights. Especially if you’re a first-timer, I’d encourage you to skip the step of stocking up on cheap lights and build your Burning Man lights inventory with better-quality lights.
When looking for higher-quality, durable lights to buy, note that many of them are made for dogs, runners and such. They’re not as novel and blingy, but they work and they last, so I’m moving toward with this type of small, portable light accessories.
Unfortunately, the cheaper lights often either 1) break, 2) don’t work from day one and/or 3) fall off your body, bike or bag, which means they get lost and become MOOP.
Another thing to check out is Etsy. As more burners are making light-based gear to sell, and as LED technology improves, sites such as Etsy have some pretty cool options, including some LED wearable gear.
Why you need so many lights at Burning Man
First, a story: A few weeks before Burning Man one year, I was at a friend’s house for a small party. He was returning to Burning Man for his second time and his new girlfriend was coming with him. She started complaining that he was overpacking and said, “He has, like, 50 lights! That’s crazy!” I thought for a few seconds, added it up in my head and said, “No, you might even need more. You have two people; you need lights for your person, your backpacks, your bikes and other miscellaneous needs. Most of the lights are probably cheap, so some will never work out of the box, others will break and fall off and others yet will only last a day or two.”
Don’t be a darkwad
Every year that I’ve gone to Burning Man, I’ve seen a remarkable number of people who aren’t lit up at night. This I don’t understand at all. There’s a pejorative term for those who don’t light up and it’s called being a darkwad. Check out the Burning Man Glossary for the explanation, though it’s easy enough to discern the meaning.
You need lights; more than you can imagine. You want lights for safety, of course. There may be a time when you’re walking across deep playa late at night and a gaggle of people on bikes comes flying through. You want those on the bikes to see you before they are on you. Or maybe you’re one of the people in the gaggle of bikes. You want to be visible.
Or a lightwad
Didn’t know that was a term ’til just now, but I get it. Don’t be a lightwad.
Help your friends spot you
You also want lights so your friends can see you and track you when you’re hanging out together at night. Invariably, when you’re out with a group, even a small group, you might wander off in a direction to get a better view of an art installation, or leave the dance floor to get some fresh air, or get engrossed in a conversation while your friends are starting to move along to another destination. In additional to being a safety-critical must-have, your (distinct) lights help you stand out in the crowd so that your friends can spot you and find you.
Cheaper lights means more lights means it’s harder to stand out
With every passing year, LED lights and batteries have become both cheaper and more plentiful, which means everyone is more lit—body, bikes, camps and art cars. This light is both lovely… and challenging. The more lit other people are, the more lit (or distinctly lit) you need to be to stand out.
Plan for your wardrobe logistics and your lights
You also need to think about the logistics of your lights, especially those on your body. For example, are you going to do some artistic costuming where you light up the back of your jacket as your primary outfit and safety lighting? That’s cool. Will you also be carrying a backpack? (a backpack that covers those lights?)
What happens when the night temperature and your jacket aren’t a match? When it’s too hot? Or too cold? Same thing with a string of lights? How will that string of lights be attached to you? Or on what piece of clothing? Will you be taking that piece of clothing on and off depending on the temperature? Where is that going? And what will happen to your lights if you’re dancing heavily (and heartily) on a packed dance floor? Will they stay on? Fall off? Be in your way?
And just where are you planning on putting that battery pack your lights require? In your pocket? Attached to you… somehow? What does “somehow” look like in 3D? Do test runs with your lights, clothing, battery packs, jackets and backpacks/camelbacks and so forth.
Personally, I’ve never quite mastered the lights thing. Not even close. Maybe that’s why I’m encouraging you to put attention here and get some unique-ish lights for your body, bag and bike. Maybe you’ll be much better at this than I am, more creative, more logistical, better at problem solving these issues. I love it when others really make it work with their lights and their outfits, so don’t take my perspective as a downer. Many people are really good at this. Learn from them!