How to build a Burning Man theme camp

Photo by Ian Norman

My friend John Mills has been integral in running the Duck Pond – one of the larger and more well-organized Burning Man theme camps – since 2005. Those who have been to Burning Man probably know this camp as the one with the giant slip 'n' slide and the radio tower with a yellow duck on top.

This year John is unable to attend, so he's focused his energy into helping the community by writing an extremely detailed account of how their camp works and how to run your own. I helped John edit this post, and as a total Burning Man outsider I was amazed at how much work and thought goes into throwing a week-long party in the desert. Even if you're not interested in Burning Man, I think you'll find this insider's perspective on the culture and innovation behind the event extremely interesting.

Building a Burning Man theme camp


    1. Sometimes it seems like Burning Man is the only place where Gen-Xers are un-self-concious enough to get naked in public. Whenever I go anywhere clothing-optional to sun myself I’m usually surrounded by aging hippies. (Not that I’m freaked out by naked old people, just disappointed by my generation’s prudishness.)

      1. It’s not self-consciousness (at least in my circle of Xers). It’s that giant ball of burning gas 93 million miles away. See us after nightfall and we’re more than willing to get down to kit, but between dawn and dusk, there ain’t enough sunscreen in the world to protect our defenseless flesh. My cohort (West Coast/Desert babies born 70-77) has had sun safety drilled into our skulls since infancy.

        The aging hippies already did their damage.

        ETA: The original article is amazing — the Burn has never been an option for me (see: Sun, above) but as an organizational document, it’s priceless.

        1. Despite being a person of pallor (“so pale, she’s translucent! so pale, they don’t x-ray her, they just hold her up to a strong light!” are a couple of the things friends have said about me) I spent more than a week out on the playa without getting even a tan line under my watch. It was a matter of frequent and copious application of high-SPF sunscreen and staying under cover most of the daylight hours, but it was possible. A data point, just in case you want to try to make it out to one of the Burns…

        2. Oh, yes, that, too. My dad died from melanoma cancer, and I am the same pale as he was. I wear SPF 1 billion during the day, but I love skinny dipping at night much more- then I don’t have to worry about it! Unless I get moonburn, lol…

      2. As someone who loves to be naked whenever possible (especially when there’s a place to soak!), I have found that aging hippies hardly ever make inappropriate sexual comments to me, nor do they automatically equate my naked body with sex. In my encounters with younger people, I have often felt objectified and unsafe. The difference in the energy is pronounced. I’ll keep hanging with the old hippies until younger folks learn that it’s wrong to harass me and make comments about my body just because I’m naked. It’s a shame- I live so close to Mazo Beach, but after being fucked with twice in a row (including being groped once), I won’t go back. :(

        1. Yeah, I can imagine that’s a huge part of the turn-off for many people and especially single women. I got my first wolf-whistle last week from another guy at the beach where I was sunning (perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a popular spot for gay men) and I can’t say I much cared for it myself.

          It’s one of those chicken-and-egg problems; it’s hard to get a whole generation of people to separate nudity from sex until social nudity goes mainstream, but it’s hard to get more people to go nude until the sexual harassment goes away. I must say I’ve never encountered inappropriate behavior from people of any age at private retreats, though.

          1. I need to get me on one of them retreats. But, yeah, I hear you- a big problem is that women are seen as the sex class, and until that changes… I recommend more feminism! It is very important to speak out when we witness harassment happening (especially in the case of large groups of men); that is one way we can work together to change the culture. I mean, shit, I just want to hang out naked and smoke a j (YES, I’ll share!) and have a good time like anyone else- without being treated like a potential fuck every time I am in public. And, it’d be great if I didn’t feel like I had to bring a male escort to keep it from happening. :/

          2. If you ever head out to Cali I’ll point you toward a couple spots where you can soak in peace. My favorite is Harbin Hot Springs (but they also host detox programs there so you’ll have to leave the j at home).

          3. Oh, cool! I’ll look it up! I could be j-less, no problem! I used to live in Taos, and I LOVED going to the hot springs in Arroyo Hondo… I could use a soak right about now… chronic pain, argh…

  1. I’ve DJ’d for the Duck Pond and had a blast (a live recording of one year is available on the “United by Dust” mixes on my Groovelectric podcast at The Duck Pond crew are the coolest. I won’t be on the Playa this year but I hope everyone has an amazing time!

  2. I keep saying this year is when I go to Burning Man, and then I don’t go! Next year, I swear! It looks so, so amazing and fun. I’ll be in Snowflake Village! :D

  3. I’ve gone to Burning Man five times, but can’t make it this year. It is much more than a week long party. Ask someone who’s been there. Part of the magic comes from the fact that the more you put in, the more you really do get out of it. My camp (Pinky’s) built a pink pirate themed bar that got bigger and bigger each year and the most fun I had was tending bar and entertaining the huge crowds we drew. Another special thing about Burning Man is that there is NO commercialization or vendors of any kind (‘cept for coffee at center camp. It’s not a barter economy. It’s a gift economy. You give without expectation of something in return. It works wonderfully.

  4. If you’re looking for for feminists at the Burn, check out Camp Beaverton (7:30 and E)- the playa’s home for queer women, and their sibling camp, Gender Blender for gender variant awesomeness.    As far as skeezes go, there are plenty at the burn, but they’re still outnumbered and shamed by the literally thousands of bad-ass human beings that have mad respect for other humans, regardless of how good they look naked.

  5. Isn’t it typical that the documentation gets done just as things come to an end…[2011 is Burning Man’s last year. – Edit: Not. It was a hoax from theshroom.]

  6. The Wickerman Festival was just held in Dumfries, Scotland last weekend. Dumfries was one of the filming locations of the ’73 movie. I think I’d rather see that, as the weather was a pleasant 68 degrees.

  7. I was at Transformus (North Carolina regional burn) a couple of weeks ago, and most of the people going starkers that I saw were women. I know I didn’t hear any crudity, but that may have just been the crew I was with. We liked having people dance at the PLF camp, naked, in costume, in street clothes, whatever. If there were any people inclined to unsolicited crudity, they would have been weeded out a long time ago – we don’t tolerate a**holes. Now, if you like talking dirty, and dancing nekkid on stage, come on up and join the madness :)

    The amount of work to put up a theme camp is insane, and it takes a lot of money and time. We will be going to BM next year as a crew, but transportation from the East Coast is brutal.

Comments are closed.