What kind of shoes should you bring to Burning Man?
I’m a woman of a certain age, and I want to be comfortable. This topic of comfort is particularly relevant when it comes to my feet and the shoes I pack, so take what I write though that lens. In years past, I have packed boots with heels, and while they may be cute, I didn’t want to wear them for hours and hours. And, as you can probably imagine, sometimes at Burning Man you’ll be out for hours and hours. Plan accordingly with the footwear you bring.
Even if you’re young and feel your feet can take more of a beating, I’m guessing 95 percent or more of Burning Man attendees will walk more than they usually walk in a given week, which again points to footcare, foot support, and your shoe choices as being important decisions you make.
I always bring four or five pairs of shoes and almost always favor one (I never know ahead of time which one). I also almost always never wear one pair, though I never know ahead of time which pair that will be.
I like switching up my shoes on different days to give my feet and gait a different experience. And, yes, I love to walk barefoot on the playa, but closer to camp mostly. And I definitely wash my feet thoroughly afterward.
Uggs (natural fleece) boots provide warmth and comfort
I almost always bring my Ugg boots to Burning Man, and I highly recommend bringing footwear with a natural fleece lining, such as that found in Uggs brand boots. I think these kinds of boots (or slippers or shoes) are great for many uses, and since it can get colder than you might imagine, both in the morning and at night, it’s really smart to have warm, cozy options for your feet.
You can also wear Uggs in the day, as wool breathes. I wouldn’t make them my default shoe for everyday wear as they don’t have the best support, but they truly are a great pair of boots to bring. Also, beware of imitation brands that don’t have a true fleece lining because you won’t get the warmth benefits from them.
While they will get trashed in the playa dust, you can wash Uggs and many fleece shoes in the wash. They’ll never be quite the same afterward, but that’s true of any pair of shoes you bring to Burning Man.
Hiking or work boots are a must
I usually bring a pair of Doc Martens for sturdy foot support and especially for camp build and pack down days. You need some sort of sturdy hiking or work boots that you’ve already worn in and are comfortable on your feet. Make sure you can walk in a particular pair all day long before bringing them to Burning Man, and bring more than one type of shoe as these could get uncomfortable if worn every single day you’re there. Give your feet a break.
Slip-on shoes with support might just be your go-to shoes
Having shoes you can slip on and off with ease, yet have support, is a big plus. Lace-up shoes require a lot of commitment, and some camps and interactive spaces will be no-shoes-zones, and require that you take off your shoes in order to enter. I recently found a pair of Keen boots with a velcro strap instead of laces. Velcro! These were fabulous, as I got the benefit of a boot but also an easy on-off option with the velcro.
Sturdy sandals can be nice to have. Some people live in them and love them. Not me. They don’t have nearly enough support. I feel exhausted after wearing flip flops or shoes with little support all day long on playa. Also the playa dust will get into your shoes and under your feet.
If you do wear sandals, make sure to give extra care to your feet each night in terms of washing and moisturizing them. And I absolutely would not recommend wearing them every day. There is something called playa foot, which I’ve never had, though apparently it’s rather nasty. Here’s a video about how to avoid playa foot. (This woman has an incredible series of videos for Burning Man first-timers.)
Do you need specific night outfit shoes or boots?
Many people dress up at night and, as such, often wear fancier shoes for night. To me, night-time shoes/boots still need to pass the test of 1) can I walk a few miles in them? and 2) can I bike in them? I suggest you err on the side of comfort and walkability when it comes to footwear, especially in your first year. Bring a variety of comfortable shoes rather than a variety of uncomfortable shoes. ‘Tis more important for your feet to feel good than look good.
Going barefoot on the playa!
I love-love-love the feel of playa dust on my feet and often walk barefoot during the day, especially inside my camp or village. I tend to walk barefoot more toward the end of the week when the playa “crust” is pulverized in high-traffic areas and it turns into soft, silky dust. If you do the same (and I recommend it!) wash your feet very well before putting on shoes again.
Here are some tips on avoiding playa foot.
Overall, when it comes to footwear on the playa–especially as a first-timer–it’s better to over-pack and have options.
The city is big. You’ll want to explore it. Be good to your feet.