The Elements

Your Survival in Black Rock City

The Elements

Acclimation –Beating The Heat (And Cold)

The Black Rock Desert is a thoroughly flat, prehistoric lakebed, composed of a hardpan alkali, ringed by majestic mountains. Daytime temperatures routinely exceed 100°F and the humidity is extremely low, which rapidly and continually wicks the moisture from your body. Because the atmosphere is so dry you may not feel particularly warm, but you’ll be steadily drying up. Sunscreen, lip balm and lotion are your best friends on the playa. At nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the atmosphere provides much less filtering of the sunlight that causes sunburn. As a result, you will burn much faster and more severely than at lower elevations. Put on sunscreen every morning and repeat as needed during the day.

It takes nearly everyone a day or so to adjust to the desert climate. Don’t be surprised if you spend your first day feeling a bit queasy and cranky. Begin drinking more water as you approach the desert. To stay healthy and enjoy the week, drink water all the time whether you think you need it or not. Drinking up to one gallon of water per person per day is a reasonable rule of thumb.

Remember to eat salty foods to prevent electrolyte imbalance. Users of alcohol, caffeine or other drugs are particularly at risk for dehydration, and should pay careful attention to their water intake. Dehydration can cause headaches, stomach cramps, abdominal pains, constipation, flu-like symptoms, and mood swings. It exacerbates both heat-related and cold-related conditions (i.e. heat exhaustion and hypothermia), and makes it difficult for the body to mend itself.

If someone you know complains of these symptoms, or shows signs of either severe overheating or (worse) a case of chills under the midday sun, get them to shade immediately and seek prompt medical help. In case of emergency, go to the Medical Clinic at Esplanade & 5:15 or an Emergency Services Station near the Civic Plazas. Medical staff are always on duty and emergency evacuation is available.

teepeesMake sure you bring some kind of shade for your camp and try to lie low during the hottest part of the day (save your strength for the night). Use sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and water. If you don’t take a few basic steps to protect yourself, the desert’s midday sun will cook you in no time. However, when the sun drops over the horizon, temperatures can quickly plummet fifty degrees. Overnight lows in the 40s can seem exceptionally cold after extensive daytime sun, so you’ll want to bring warm clothing, and a good sleeping bag as well.

What You Need to Know About Storms

The playa can be subject to sudden bouts of fierce, unpredictable weather. Storm cells, fed by rising thermals that stream upward from the surrounding mountains, may arise in the late afternoon or evening and bring high winds, lightning and (sometimes) rain into camp. Likewise, dust storms can prowl the playa in packs or sweep in a broad front across the plain. Dust storms can produce instant “white outs” but are usually over quickly.

Long, sustained rainfall – or prolonged white out conditions – are unlikely; however, you will want to come to the event mentally and physically prepared for such occurrences.

  • DO NOT DRIVE your vehicle in a storm.
  • Relax and wait until conditions change.
  • Bring an extensive first aid kit.
  • Bring a battery-powered radio and tune into BMIR, 94.5 FM.

White Out Conditions:

  • Seek immediate shelter and stay there. (White outs are why goggles are great!)
  • If you are caught outside of shelter during this condition, simply sit down; cover your face with your shirt and wait. It is helpful to carry a dust mask with you at all times.
  • Be on alert for moving vehicles.
  • If you are in a vehicle, STOP and wait for the air to clear. You will not be able to see where you are going and could hurt yourself or others.

In The Event Of Rain:

  • DO NOT DRIVE your vehicle. You will become stuck and tear up the playa surface.
  • Remain where you are.
  • Do not ride your bike. Carry your bike; playa mud clogs wheels and gears in just a few feet.


Burning Man DOES NOT provide water. You must bring your own. You should bring 1.5 gallons of water per person per day for drinking, washing and cleaning. Always carry a full water bottle when you leave camp. Public pools and showers are not permitted. Water for private use that entails full body contact or consumption must be potable and come from Nevada State Health Division approved water sources. If you have any questions, contact the Nevada State Health Division: 775-623-6588.

Common Injuries

According to our medical staff, the most common problems are dehydration and lacerations from stepping or tripping on unprotected rebar or tent stakes. Please avoid injury and act responsibly.

Lighting Yourself

The Black Rock Desert is dark at night, and it's very easy to run into people or things you can't see, like unlit art installations or bikes. Do your part for your safety and the safety of others: light yourself, your bike, your art, and your belongings WELL, front and back. Consider a good LED headlamp, LED blinky lights, or EL wire. Weak glow sticks and bracelets DON’T cut it and become instant trash and potential MOOP.