What kind of shoes should you bring to Burning Man?
I’m a woman of a certain age, and I want to be comfortable. This topic of comfort is particularly relevant when it comes to my feet and the shoes I pack, so take what I write about what shoes to bring to Burning Man though that lens.
In years past, I have packed boots with heels, and while they were darn cute, I certainly didn’t want to wear them for hours and hours. Nor to walk in them for miles and miles. And, as you have probably already heard or read, sometimes at Burning Man you’ll be out for hours and hours and you may walk miles and miles.
Plan accordingly with the footwear you bring.
Even if you’re young and feel your feet can take more of a beating, I’m guessing 90 percent or more of event attendees will walk more at Burning Man than they usually walk in a given week. Your foot care, foot support and shoe choices are all important decisions you make regarding your feet and your ability to walk, stand, bike, move, dance and so on for this most magical of weeks.
I typically bring four or five pairs of shoes and almost always favor one (I never know ahead of time which one). I also almost always never wear one pair, though I never know ahead of time which pair that will be.
I like switching up my shoes on different days to give my feet and gait a different experience. And, yes, I love to walk barefoot on the playa, but closer to camp mostly. And I definitely wash my feet thoroughly afterward.
Uggs (natural fleece) boots provide warmth and comfort
I almost always bring my Ugg boots to Burning Man, and I highly recommend bringing footwear with a natural fleece lining, such as that found in Uggs brand boots. I think these kinds of boots (or slippers or shoes) are great for many uses, and since it can get colder than you might imagine, both in the morning and at night, it’s really smart to have warm, cozy options for your feet.
You can also wear Uggs in the day, as wool breathes. I wouldn’t make a pair of Uggs my default shoe for everyday wear as they don’t have the best support, but they truly are a great pair of boots to bring. Also, beware of imitation-look shoes that don’t have a true fleece lining because you won’t get the warmth benefits from them. You needn’t buy Uggs, per se, but do make sure your boots have natural wool/fleece lining.
While your shoes will get trashed in the playa dust, you can wash Uggs and many fleece shoes in the laundry. They’ll never be quite the same afterward, but that’s true of any pair of shoes you bring to Burning Man.
Hiking or work boots are a must
I usually bring a pair of Doc Martens for sturdy foot support and especially for camp build and pack down days. You need some sort of sturdy hiking or work boots that you’ve already worn in and are comfortable on your feet. Make sure you can walk in a particular pair all day long before bringing them to Burning Man, and bring more than one type of shoe as these could get uncomfortable if worn every single day you’re on playa.
Slip-on shoes with support might just be your go-to shoes
Having shoes you can slip on and off with ease, while still providing some support, is a big plus. Lace-up shoes require a lot of commitment, and some camps and interactive spaces will be no-shoes-zones and require that you take off your shoes in order to enter. I recently found a pair of Keen boots with a velcro strap instead of laces. Velcro! These were fabulous, as I got the benefit of a boot but also an easy on-off option with the velcro.
Sturdy sandals can be nice to have. Some people live in them and love them. Not me. They don’t have nearly enough support. I feel exhausted after wearing flip flops or shoes with little support all day long on playa. Also the playa dust will get into your shoes and under your feet. If your feet sweat at all in the heat, then that can mix with playa dust and make slippery mud.
If you do wear sandals, make sure to give extra care to your feet each night in terms of washing and moisturizing them. And I absolutely would not recommend wearing sandals every day. There is something called playa foot, which I’ve never had, though apparently it’s rather nasty. Here’s a video about how to avoid playa foot. (This woman has an incredible series of videos for Burning Man first-timers, fyi.)
Do you need specific night outfit shoes or boots?
Many people dress up at night and, as such, often wear fancier shoes for night. To me, night-time shoes/boots still need to pass the test of 1) can I walk a few miles in them? and 2) can I bike in them? I suggest you err on the side of comfort and walkability when it comes to footwear, especially in your first year. Bring a variety of comfortable shoes rather than a variety of uncomfortable shoes. ‘Tis more important for your feet to feel good than look good.
Going barefoot on the playa!
I love-love-love the feel of playa dust on my feet and often walk barefoot during the day, especially inside my camp or village. I tend to walk barefoot more toward the end of the week when the playa “crust” is pulverized in high-traffic areas and it turns into soft, silky dust. If you do the same (and I recommend it!) wash your feet very well before putting on shoes again.
Here are some tips on avoiding playa foot.
Overall, when it comes to footwear on the playa–especially as a first-timer–it’s better to over-pack and have options.
The city is big. You’ll want to explore it. Be good to your feet.