Hints for Camp Leaders

25-28 People is about the max you want in an easy to manage camp.  Some camps however do take on larger projects and this number will have to go up.  When your camp gets above 40 or so, cliques seem to form and there will be people in your camp who never got to know each other.

Try to finish as many projects as possible before arriving on Playa.  Things like building a bench or making a table are many times more inconvenient once at Burning Man.

Budget extra days to assemble your camp.  Some years there will be dust storms or rain that will cause you to lose entire days of building.

If anything occurs that you consider a mild disaster (vehicle breaking down, getting a really late start etc.) don’t worry too much about it.  In time, and after the event the good memories will overpower the bad ones until they are forgotten.  I often tell my crew when we are having a pre-event meltdown to be sure and take pictures because they will never remember they had 3 flat tire on the drive out, really.

Time your arrival at the event for daylight hours with time to spare.  Trying to  find your placement, much less starting work on your camp is pretty impossible if you arrive in the dark.

When you arrive on Playa, it is very important to check in with your placer.  Shipping containers are sometimes dropped in the wrong spot.  Don’t set up until your location is confirmed with your placer.

If you are DJing and running a camp, try to have your music sets dialed in way before the event.  You don't need the stress of trying to put a whole set together while on Playa.


A board like this helps to keep all camp members on the same page.

Try to recruit as many people for your camp that live in your home town.  People coming in from other cities generally are not available to help pack or clean up when you return home.

If during set up you find you are in need of an item in the default world, ask yourself “Will I find a solution to this missing item before the correct items is delivered to me?”  Items you call out for will become a top priority for those arriving behind you.  If they bust their ass to find stuff for you that you don’t end up using, they will be a bit bummed.

Budget two spare tires for each vehicle.  If traveling in a caravan consider investing in an electric impact wrench (see sidebar) and a generator to make changing spare tires easier.  Also take a real floor jack (see sidebar).  Waiting an hour to change a tire on a hot desert road sucks.


Camp leader fail

Create an organizational chart, assign people jobs, and give them a job description.  You can't do everything yourself.

If your camp has people paying dues, be sure to collect more than you need up front and then return what was unused.  It is much easier than collecting after the event.

Treat nothing as a disaster, but rather as an opportunity to come up with the most amazing plan that gets your camp back on track.  You go to Burning Man to use your awesomely creative brain, this is your chance to actualize.

If your camp will be using a generator to provide power, always have 50% more power available than what you think you will need.  Every item you run will most likely have a heavy draw on startup spiking your usage.  There  also always seems to be much more power being used than you originally thought and if you are purchasing, you camp will grow over the next several years.

The watts number on the side of the generator is the peak wattage but is not a sustainable wattage.  Subtract 20% to see what you can run constantly.  2000 watt generator?  Plan on having 1600 available.

Some jobs you delegate will not be done exactly as you would have done them or as cheaply as you could have done them.  This is the price you pay for not being completely overwhelmed with every decision and project.  You need to learn to accept that.

As a leader you also have to know that many people in your camp can do particular tasks much better than you.  Delegating and getting remarkable results is the best experience ever.

If you are going to be driving a lot of rebar, get a demolition hammer (see sidebar) with a rebar attachment.  You will save countless hours of pounding rebar and probably an injury somewhere along the way.

Adding members to your camp at the last second is not desirable.  Much of your culture and camaraderie is developed throughout the year by means of group projects and events.  New people added just days before or even on playa might not understand your ethics and objectives and may not be as vested in what you have accomplished throughout the year.  If you do add someone right before the event be sure to talk to them about your camp’s expectations and core values.

Not everyone in your camp has to be a bad ass worker.  The hard workers are great, but you also need the people that keep the camp fun and make for a lively vibe.  The person who sets up the shade structure may be no more important than the person who gets everyone out from under the shade structure and headed out for an adventure.

Your job as camp leader is not to find out who was responsible for a problem, but rather find a solution.

If you are building a large structure, don’t think in terms of how big you could possibly build, but rather in terms of what you can successfully take down at the end of the event when everyone is exhausted.

During set up have one person in charge of checking the oil and other fluid levels on your camp vehicles.  It’s better to get this out of the way now because if you wait until the end of the week people will be less energetic and it might get missed.  Also, if a problem is found you can have someone bring the necessary fluids.

During set up and strike, have one or two people whose primary job is to keep everyone hydrated, fed, and covered in sunscreen.  Sometimes these three items can get lost when everyone is focused on the big project at hand.

When measuring out your camp, use a measuring wheel (see sidebar).  It only requires one person to operate and makes accurate measurements even when there are high winds.  They can also measure great distances with ease.

In the hierarchy of dealing with issues in your sector, the Placer is pretty near the top.  If you have unwelcomed squatters, border disputes, or need to get a container moved, the Placer is the one that has the most power.

Slackers breed slackers.  A team approach breeds great camp members.   Share your camp expectations with new members and let them know that everyone needs to do their part.  Many hands make light work.

If your camp does not do group meals during the event that’s totally fine.  Even if you don’t, be sure to do group meals during early arrival/setup.  People motivated to put camp up will sometimes overlook eating properly.  It’s also a great time to have everyone together for status reports.

Shower huge respect to the people in your camp who stay until the very, very end.  Cherish the work they do and hold on to them.  Just to clarify, most of my camp leaves on Monday morning but a few stay until Tuesday for all the last bits of work.


Container door closed until next year

When inviting new members to your camp, it is OK to bring a friend of a camp member, but never invite a friend of a friend of a camp member.  They generally never end up working out and don't have a connection to the crew.  Let camp members know that inviting a fucktard to be a member of camp is the same as that member being said fucktard.

If you decide to use a generator for power, do not put it on the edge of your camp aimed at the camp next to you.  It looks good on your map, but is extremely disrespectful to the people next to you.  Plan on putting it in the center of your camp and make the necessary adjustments so it is not loud.  Buying a cheap generator and polluting your neighbors is the same as not bringing trash cans and just tossing your waste into the camp next door.

If you are looking to be a placed camp that gets invited back year after year, consider your camp's interactivity in each design decision you make.  Light  the street in front of your camp and at least a little on the back.  Make your space stand out 24 hours a day.  You also can't leave trash.  Plan on raking your camp once in each direction, use wide landscape rakes and magnetic rakes.  Being green on the moop map is important when attempting placement in your second year.

As a camp leader expect to do much more work than anyone else, and be ready to be the one everyone looks to when something is going wrong.  You need to set an example for others through hard work and responsible actions.

Until you have a deposit collected on your camp dues, don't plan on the person making it to the event.  Sometimes asking for even a $20 deposit is enough to get the perspective camp member to make a decision.

Having someone outside of your camp responsible for a critical piece of infrastructure can be tricky.  They do not have the same level of dedication to your group as someone inside your organization.  Do it only as a last option.

Make a point to welcome the people arriving mid to late in the week.  You will be in your groove and may not have time but someone’s initial moments in camp can really set the tone for their burn.

Every person with some authority has their own personal kingdom.  For many, this is their first time being in control.  They don’t take kindly to suggestions and like to remind you that they are running something at the event whether it be controlling some major division of BM or simply guarding a propane tank.  Make them feel special and tell them they are doing a great job or they will make your life hard until you respect them.  There are some really great people in control of things at BM but some take things way too seriously.

If you have someone from outside your camp haul a trailer or large item for you, be sure to clarify if they are responsible to haul it back at the end of the event.

If there is a rain storm that closes the city for any period of time, two problems will present themselves.  No ice deliveries and no sewage trucks.  Your placer and Rangers will require you to be self sufficient until the Playa dries, this could be days if the right conditions present themselves.  Always try to have some back stock of ice and when the portapoties get shut down have a backup plan.  If you have an RV in your camp it may be required to share its bathroom.  If you have friends that are river rafters they may have some portable toilets they can let you borrow for the adventure.

Don't over dream what you have planned for your camp.  Build it up over the years with grace and thought given to each detail.  Aiming for "big" but only getting 1/2 way there is not nearly as cool as nailing small.  Having a completed project by Friday (pre-gate opening) will earn you mad respect from your peers.  Working until Wednesday will put your membership on the decline.

To be effective at recycling in your camp you must have a full proof system and someone committed to making it work for the whole week.  That person must also follow the recycling to its final destination.  Use clear bags or some sort of colored tape to mark bags for recycling.  All too often I have seen recycling that was meticulously sorted on Playa but thrown away once home due to lack of labeling.

Never pack your trailers or vehicles more than 75% full.  If you are packed to 100% capacity is will take just as long to load the last 20% as it did to load the previous 80%

IMG 4715

Be even keeled and know how to determine what is an emergency and what is not.

Before breaking down your camp, take lots of photos of what worked, didn’t work, piles of gear that were not used, and the locations of tents and vehicles.  When planning for next year the photos will be invaluable in making planning decisions.

When breaking down and packing up camp, use flagging tape to mark large empty squares on the ground, one colored square for each camp trailer or truck.  As boxes and bags get ready to load, stage them in the colored squares until the entire trailer or vehicle is ready to be packed.  When staring at the pile of gear that was your camp, the squares make it very easy to figure out what gear has and does not have a way home.

Trash can overwhelm a camp and you never know how much you have until the last cars are leaving.  Encourage if not demand that people leaving early take trash to the reasonable capacity of their vehicle.  Make sure plastic jugs and aluminum cans are crushed before they go in the trash.  Making trash smaller needs to be a core value of your group.

If you have people leaving your camp early, be sure you have them pack some camp trash home with them.

Charge a strike deposit.  Have everyone write you a check for $100 to be returned when the last piece of gear is loaded and camp is green.  This is most helpful in large camps with a higher levels of infrastructure and anonymity   If you are a tight group of friends it is most likely not an issue.

On the drive home if you are driving, have a scribe to write down all your thoughts on what to do next time to make it better.  Write down any random thoughts that come into your head.  They are very fresh on the long drive home but will quickly fade when you reenter reality.

If there are problem members in your camp, the Playa is no place to let them know or to make decisions about whether they will be with you next year.  You have 9 months to figure out next years membership so if you need to talk to someone, do it when you are well rested and have had time to make a good decision.

Always work to be creating the next leader and share all of your knowledge with those that show interest.  The year is coming where you will be injured, or unable to attend.  The knowledge that is needed to create your space is much easier taught when you are on Playa with your crew.