Burning Man: Five tricks for the desert

In this one time at burning man by summerburkesLeave a Comment

Our friend Kellie has been hassling us (just kidding Kellie) about sharing some tried-and-true desert-rat information with her and her newbie friends before they go out there to Burning Man for the first time.

As a ten-year veteran of the DPW who’s lived out there in the Black Rock Desert each year for 2 weeks to 2 months at a time, we’ve boiled down the checklist — for this or any other summertime festival — to a few simple tricks.

If those sentences make no sense to you, go to the dirt rave website to see what the rumpus is. Burning Man might barely register as a blip on most Americans’ pop culture radars, but to roughly a few hundred thousand of us, it’s either the greatest thing ever or it WAS the greatest thing ever.

Outsiders say it’s a naked hippie drug rave, but those who have been know it’s a survival exercise and the world’s largest game of Let’s Build a Fort.

Unlike capitalist festivals, the anarchist-rooted temporary autonomous zone of Burning Man takes a lot of preparation, and if you don’t do it right you might get sent home in a Medevac helicopter … or worse.

Here are five favorite non-dying-of-heatstroke-and-dehydration tricks.



It says on Cera-Lyte’s Website not to use this product without medical supervision, but if you consult your doctor about dosage beforehand or simply scroll down to #5 on this list, you should be ok.

[UPDATE 2015: It tastes like they put aspartame in it now, so we don’t drink it anymore. Use coconut water instead.]

When Catfish Mike was in charge of the commissary, he ran across CeraLyte on the World Health Organization’s website. It’s what they feed to children who are dying of starvation and dehydration. We all drank it each morning until supplies ran out and we started to cry.

So, f**k gatorade and all that other hi-fructose “rehydration” malarkey in the A-hole. Two glasses of this stuff in the morning and in half an hour your hangover is gone daddy gone. (See #5.)

Alternately, make your own electrolyte solution using warm water, mineral sea salt, raw honey, lemon juice … look up a good recipe and have the materials with you for daily dosing. Seriously though: F**k Gatorade and all other ‘hydration’ products except the minerals found in sea salt, the acids found in vinegars & fruits, and the sugars found in cane or honey.

Side note: You can drink too much water. It’s possible, especially if you try to drink it all at once, and it leads to something called water intoxication. So, steady as she goes.



Don’t listen to the capitalists; listen to nature: Coconut is the superfood of superfoods. From a now-defunct Website:

Coconut juice, the coconut water from young coconuts, is pure, clear and one of the most concentrated sources of electrolytes known. In fact, coconut water is identical to human blood plasma. During the Pacific War 1941-1945, when IV solution was scarce, coconut juice from young coconuts was used as IV solution. In Asian countries, where coconuts are common, coconut juice is considered one of the healthiest drinks available.

Because it has the same electrolyte balance that we have in our blood, and contains potassium, calcium and magnesium, coconut juice is a natural isotonic beverage.

… and if that’s not enough said, head on over to the Coconut Research Center’s Website for the extensive list of all the healing and good-stuffing it does. We recommend Amy & Brian’s all-natural brand, if you can still find it anywhere. (Like with your Emergen-Cs and whatnot, the less sugar you ingest out there, the better.)

There are other non-sugar-added brands that have to be refrigerated, but so far we’ve found no other that can be stored in hot cars in cans until they need drinkin’. Failing that, go to almost any Latino or Asian corner store and get the sugar-added kind.

(Oh yeah, and coconuts also kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and yeasts. Which prompts us to remind you: We are all living on top of each other out there. Get a vaccination for meningitis — do that anyway, as it’s coming back — and WASH YOUR HANDS. Don’t even ask about the DPW/Gate “plague” that comes every year after the event. Shudder.)



Otherwise known as Vitamin B3, niacin should REALLY be approached with caution, and definitely, absolutely avoided by anyone on blood-thinning medication or anyone with ulcers, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, or gout. As for the rest of us, if you take too much, you’ll notice pretty much right away when you get a rash or the “Niacin Flush” — an itchy and intense rush of blood to your face and neck. If that happens, cut way down on the dosage and work your way back up.

That said, Niacin/B3 reduces headaches, cramps, ringing in the ears, circulation problems, and alcohol-related vitamin deficiencies. It combines with other B vitamins to release energy in the cells and keeps the nervous and digestive systems a go. It supposedly also opens up the capillaries near your skin’s surface, allowing more oxygen to enter your system, which is helpful in high altitudes. Again: don’t overdo it, and if you do, don’t sue us (see #5).

[UPDATE: 500 milligrams is too much niacin for thin people with high metabolisms. That chemical-burn-toned, red-faced twitchy, hyperventilating and scratching like a junkie feeling is not good. 200-300 mg should be plenty, but start way lower. Experiment at home first, or potentially risk a sudden acceleration of Acclimation Crankiness.]

We also take chlorophyll, aloe, collagen hydrolysate, biotin, and other supplements to replenish our silica, calcium, and magnesium — elements which get stripped out of your body if you’re on the desert for a while.



Cowboy Carl says cowboys wear silk scarves around their necks because silk knows how to keep you cool when you want to be cool and hot when you want to be hot. We used to put ice in ours, wrapping it up to where the ice rested on our neck and trickled down our back, but apparently this is a BAD IDEA because it messes with your body temperature too much.

Best thing to do once you get out to the Black Rock Desert is to acclimate, and to stop screwing with your body’s thermostat while all the doors are open in the house, as it were. Anyway, silk scarves help regulate, so see if you can score one.

And we don’t know if you know Cowboy Carl, but it’s best just not to question him at all (unless you want a hilariously smart-ass response) and to do EXACTLY as he says, because he knows EVERYTHING.

By the way, Cowboy Carl also says 80 percent of your heat/cold comes out of your head and feet. So dress accordingly … but don’t go barefoot on the playa or you’re at the med tent with cracked feet. It’s all alkali dust out there. Vinegar vinegar vinegar. Bring vinegar. Cut your sponge-bath or solar-shower water with it.



Don’t do anything to make us have to tow you away in a car with blinky lights (NOT the good kind). Don’t overindulge and wander off alone in the desert and become a POOP (Person Out Of Place).

Don’t forget to drink water, don’t be an asshole to your friends, don’t burn your trash or throw your cigarettes out the window or leave your pants in the Porta-John, don’t negatively interfere with anyone else’s experience, and don’t make the ticket prices any higher by being one of the whoopsies who has to take a special helicopter ride to Reno.

Listen to your friends when they tell you to drink water, because that’s the polite way to tell you you’re most likely showing the first sign of dehydration in Black Rock City: acting like an asshole.

Also, don’t be outwardly mean to any idiot you see slowly sending themselves to the med tent with their unthinking or accidental behavior. Most of us have been there (“been there”) at least once, and most of the people we know “went down” because we were pounding T-stakes for 9 hours or welding in the hot sun and trying to be all go-getterish.

So just hand that idiot — who might also be brilliant and having a bad day — your last can of coconut juice and watch the karmic rewards come back to you (eventually, we swear it will happen).


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