Burning Man Safety – One Doctor’s Guide
Dr. John Swanson knows Burning Man & the playa and offers his top tips for newbies on their first trip to Black Rock City.
Burning Man is more than an end-of-summer vacation. It’s a chance to experience community and self-reliance in a way that goes beyond life in the big city (or The Biggest Little City in the World). To get the most out of your Burning Man experience, it’s important for first-time burners to come to the playa as prepared as possible.
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John Swanson, MD, with Northern Nevada Emergency Physicians is more than familiar with preparations for Burning Man. One of the physicians providing patient care in the ER at Renown Regional, Dr. Swanson is also assistant medical director for REMSA/Careflight. Dr. Swanson is a past volunteer at the medical tent at Burning Man and has first-hand knowledge of what to expect and how to prepare.
It’s critical, notes Dr. Swanson, to remember that the desert is a land of extremes, with searing temperatures, nighttime cold and pouring rain all a possibility any given year. “It can be over 100 degrees during the day and it can be in the 40s at night. You should be prepared for just about anything.”
The Must-Have Items
The theme of self-reliance is a big part of the Burning Man culture. While you’re going to need more than just a backpack full of this and that, there are several absolute essentials that, according to Dr. Swanson, no burner should be without: food and water, goggles, a dust mask, and LED lighting.
Here’s the rule of thumb for water: 1½ to 2 gallons per day for drinking and washing. The goggles and the mask are for dust storms, which often rage on the flat, but windy playa. You can get a mask at any hardware store, and effective goggles – more like safety goggles that block out any foreign matter rather than the ones you’d use to ski — can be found at most department stores.
As for the lighting, Dr. Swanson cautions against glow sticks. “There are choices that are more effective and more environmentally friendly,” he explains. Instead, get a light wire made from LEDs. You can put it on yourself or your bike (or whatever transport you have) and you’ll be seen in the dark.
One Great Resource
If you want more info than just the top essentials, Burning Man’s online survival guide includes more info on what to expect in desert
conditions, and even a complete checklist to use before you head out. “It’s spectacular information about what to bring and how to prepare yourself for the week,” Dr. Swanson believes.
Dr. Swanson says there’s one more thing to remember to bring — an open mind. “Be prepared to see new things and just enjoy the experience.