Burning Man tent basics

weather vane

Will your tent work? Will it suffice? And more importantly, will it survive the high winds without crumpling like a wad of paper? It has been many years since I’ve routinely gone around touting my astrological sign as a conversation starter. But for this guide, I’ll claim it. I’m a Virgo with a four-planet stellium in Virgo. I’m a Virgo’s Virgo, you could say. This sign is associated with Hestia, the goddess of the eternal flame that burns in both temple and home alike. Virgo also has an orientation toward keeping order, both in the mental and physical space.

That said, I’m into my tent set up.

A dust-free tent at Burning Man? Hah!

To me, one of the main things in selecting a tent is that I need to be able stand in it, move around in it, and have plenty of place to store and sort my gear. It’s my home for a good ten days or more, and it needs to function as such.

Many people fuss about “meshy” tents (tents that have a lot of mesh in them and, thus, let dust into the tent). I have an REI Kingdom 6, which is very meshy, but personally I’ve always been okay with  dust that comes in my tent. Plus, I put a wool afghan on the floor of my tent so any dust that comes in falls through the holes and/or gets trapped by the carpet. It’s a bulky thing to pack, but it works wonders.

Dust is a reality of Burning Man. You can’t escape it. You and everything you’ve brought with you to the playa are going to get dusty: your clothes and shoes, your backpack and jacket, all your gear, and yes, the interior of your tent. Tent placement and location matter and help reduce the dust (a little) and at least some of the wind (a little). The trucks, RVs and various vehicles that arrive and the structures that get built may help cut down some of the wind and dust blown directly into your tent and, hopefully, you’ll get some reprieve. But the reality is you can’t keep the dust out.

Canvas tents prevent some dust from getting in

If the idea of dust coming into your tent, really bothers you, you can get a hardcore canvas tent. The dust certainly won’t be coming through the thick canvas, though it will come in on your feet! Do note, that before purchasing a rather heavy, rather thick and rather expensive canvas tent you need to know how you’re going to be using this tent. Is it just and only for Burning Man? Do you live in the Southwest of the U.S. and mostly camp in dry and arid areas?

If you’re on the East Coast or in the Midwest of the U.S. and plan to use the tent you’re purchasing for Burning Man also as your festival tent (and I do hope you’ll attend Burning Man regionals), then a canvas tent (as your only tent) may not work as well because it often rains and is wet at these events. And the words wet, canvas and stored damp are words often associated with the word mold. And mold isn’t something you want in your home, nor in your tent. So think before you invest in one of the canvas tents. That said, those who have them, love them!

Rebar or lag screws to secure your tent at Burning Man

The long-promulgated advice around securing your tent at Burning Man is to do so with rebar. Candy cane rebar (rebar bent in a candy-cane shape) is kinder to your feet and the feet of others than rebar stakes. (You have read The Survival Guide, right? You do understand that you must bring serious stakes, preferably rebar, to stake your tent.)

Some people say lag screws are infinitely better than rebar, and their arguments sound pretty solid.

If you’re camping with a group, especially one that has been around for a few years, they may have extra candy cane or cut rebar. (Or lag screws.) Ask around. Rebar tends to accumulate in camp inventory year over year.

Whether you choose lag screws or rebar, don’t show up with the tent stakes that came with your tent. Longer tent stakes won’t cut it either. You seriously and sincerely need to secure your tent to the ground. It gets darn windy some days and tents have been known to go rolling…and flying.

Leave your tarp at home

Yes, it can rain at Burning Man, but I don’t bring a tarp. It’s one fewer thing to bring. Bring yours if you want to.

Shade for your tent

You’ll probably want a shade cover to put over your tent. Shade allows you to sleep in later in the morning, or nap during the day, or, frankly, just go into your tent for 10 minutes to do or get something without feeling like you’re dying in the sweltering heat. Be forewarned, though: even with shade, your tent will probably be unbearably hot during the day.

Without shade covering over your tent, once the sun is up beyond a certain point, forget about sleeping or hanging out in your tent at all. If you can afford it and if someone can pick it up in San Francisco and bring it for you (because they don’t ship), the shade structures from Blackrock Hardware Shade Kits are some of the best I’ve seen. And they’re relatively easy to put up. Also, ask your camp if they provide shade for tents, as many do.

ShiftPods: A tent alternative

Don’t want to camp in a tent? Is an RV too much? Consider the ShiftPod. They are sturdy structures that assemble easily. Mention More Carrot Farmers Market and tell them they sent you, please. The camp gets a referral fee.

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