It can get downright cold at Burning Man: Tips about coats and jackets
My philosophy about the cold and Burning Man is you can’t put on what you didn’t pack. It’s true: there are “warm years” in Black Rock City, though rare is the year that there aren’t at least a few cold nights (and mornings). And some years the entire event is downright abysmally cold while other years it can be surprisingly balmy and warm even late into the night.
One year at BRC, for five nights in a row, I slept with nary an item on and slept on top of my sleeping bag because it was so warm at night. I started to think that perhaps I’d overpacked with my many layers of wool and warm clothes. Yet, by the end of the week, there wasn’t a cold-weather item in my suitcase that I’d regretted packing.
Check the weather
Check the weather forecasts for Gerlach, Nevada, before you go. You always need to bring a coat and layers for warmth. I recommend you err on the side of excess here. At least for your first year.
Bring a fairly heavy (and warm) coat, though, eh, maybe not too heavy
My first year I brought a heavy, bulky winter coat. As I was dropping off my bins and gear with some friends who were driving a bus out to Black Rock City and ferrying out gear (for a modest price), I ran into someone who’d been to Burning Man several times. She told me she had a great Burnerrific coat for sale. Did I want to take a look at it? Sure, I said. So off we went to her nearby house.
I remember being in shock when she brought out a full-length, vintage fur coat that looked like someone in Siberia had lovingly worn it for years. And I realized then that I had packed my clothes without truly understanding the depths of how cold it could get there.
I declined the coat, but went home and added to my gear a bulky faux-fur vintage coat I had, my Uggs and layers of cashmere. My first day on playa, it rained at dusk, a brilliant double rainbow emerged, the temperature plummeted and the night was bitterly cold. I was wearing every single warm item I had, and still I was cold. To the bone. Thankfully, as the days went by, it warmed up some.
That said: bulky coats can be challenging to work with because when they’re on your body, they’re bulky and often cumbersome, and when you take them off, they’re bulky to carry around.
Also, your body temperature will change at night depending on where you are in the city and what you’re doing. Among many dancing to an amazing DJ? You’re not going to want your heavy coat. Walking a couple of miles in the deep playa in the dark of the night? You’re going to want those heavier layers.
Long coats help with warmth
Many people go for longer coats that may not be quite as thick as a full winter coat. Coats in the faux-fur realm or coats that are more like fleece robes can work nicely. Some people wear leather coats and jackets, and I wouldn’t say you’d be wrong if you packed a full-length vintage fur coat. I’m not sure how well real fur cleans up after a week in the desert, so bring fur with that awareness. Faux fur goes in the wash with relative ease.
I now bring more wool and more layers to stay warm, along with a lighter weight full-length coat rather than bring one big heavy coat and fewer warm layers. That said, you wouldn’t be wrong if you wanted to bring a big heavy coat.
Long coats also have built in blankets, so to speak, if you sit down on the playa in them.
Bring a vest if that suits you
Many people bring vests, wear them and look great in them. They can help with layers and warmth. And (guys especially) often wear them in the day as their tops, with nary a thing underneath.
Bring a few coats in a variety of weights and lengths
Aim to bring coats and jackets of different weights, lengths and warmth value. However, don’t bring too many items in the same fabric weight. One year a friend called me over to help him pick his outfits for Burning Man. He had the incredible fortune of having a sister who ran a costume camp halfway across the country, and she had sent him a lot of clothes and costumes from which he could choose.
The problem (I noticed) was he kept picking clothes in the same weight and warmth level. So, we reviewed his choices again but this time looked at his outfits (especially his nighttime clothes) through the lens of warmth, weight and variety. We were able to cut his outfits in half and then add in a few more diverse items: some lighter-weight nighttime pieces and some heavier-weight items, as well.
A bathrobe can function as your lightweight coat
Some people swear by a super-luxe soft bathrobe as their night-time and cold weather wrap. Get one at a thrift store and bling it out with some faux-fur trim if you want. This item could also function as your lightweight coat option. With enough other layers, it could work well. Layers will help you keep warm.
It’s really about layering
At the end of the day, it’s layers you want. Study photos of people at Burning Man, especially nighttime photos where they seem wrapped up for warmth. Check out how many items (layers) they are wearing.
People don’t dress like they might in the default world with, say, a simple outfit underneath and maybe a coat and scarf as their outer layers. Instead they might be wearing leggings, two pairs of socks, boots, a skirt over the leggings, a shirt, a sweater over that, a neck scarf or gaiter, a hat and wrist warmers.
Remember you might be carrying a backpack
Test the coat(s) you plan on bringing with any backpack or bag you plan on bringing. Does they work together? Can you access your bag fairly easily? What about lights? Do you have lights on your coat? Are you adding a backpack that would then cover your lights? Think on these things. Plan.
You may not use it, but can’t put on a layer of warmth you didn’t bring.