Quora: What is your ideal number of people to camp with at Burning Man, and why?

Quora Question:

What is your ideal number of people to camp with at Burning Man, and why?

Last year i had a major role in a camp of more than 200 people. This year i camped ‘renegade style’ with just one longtime friend. In prior years, i have done almost everything in between. What have your experiences been?

My Answer:

In my experience, you can do it all kinds of ways…

Going Solo, Sort of…
In 2009, i had only a few days to spend on the Playa, and i had been too busy (organizing another festival) to properly make plans with any group. I made arrangements with some friends’ theme camp to work for food, and i arrived with little more than a tiny one-man tent and a couple costume changes. I set my tent up beneath a tractor trailer (good shade, if you’re small and desperate) and went looking for a yellow bike. Basically i never told anyone where i was camped, and i spent a lot of time just walking around. I wouldn’t really recommend this route, but it can be done, technically.

Camp of Two
This year i camped with one long-time friend in a basically self-sufficient unit, with our own shade and cooking setup and such. We had some friends in a small theme camp next door, and made friends with the random neighbors who had claimed a free space next to us. It was, for me, the Best Year Ever, due in no small part to the cozy and intimate setting we had at our little camp. Breakfasts (gourmet french press coffee with booze in it!) went on for hours, with whoever happened to stop by. It was great.

I would only recommend this for long time friends, ideally veteran burners who’ve at least spent significant amounts of time together on the Playa before. If it’s just the two of you packing and pulling it off, you want someone who knows what they’re doing, and who you know you can tolerate in extreme conditions for a week.

Riding the International Short Bus of Virgins. Literally. (about 20 people)
One year, my partner and i somehow became the proud owners of a 1986 International Short Bus just before Burning Man. A group of several friends from overseas were planning to attend, and so we decided it would make a great home base and shade anchor for a decent-size family camp. The group of us would total about 18, but only four of us would technically be traveling on the Bus.

Of the entire group, only my partner and i had been to BM before. Recipe for disaster? Not so much… well, at least not due to the International Virgin Contingent. There was just a bit of a nasty secret-love-triangle-thingy that popped up at the most inappropriate moment… But then, once you have more than a few people in a group, it’s statistically likely that somebody once slept with somebody and forgot to tell somebody… or something. Anyway, drama occurs, and be prepared to practice your mediation skills under extreme conditions. Remember – dehydration makes people cranky. Drink those coconut waters.

Veteran Satellite Outpost (about 20 people)
Some of my friends who have been ‘doing this forever’ like to be near their friends in the big theme camps, but don’t want or need all the fuss, responsibility, and expenses. These friends have mastered the art of setting up a Satellite Outpost near a camp of interest, without actually joining it (or sapping its resources), because they are pretty much badass and self-sufficient already.

These people, i have found, are Doing It Right, and generally have a lot of fun just hanging out (at their awesome little self-sufficient spots) without having to schedule fun things to happen (because they Just Do). Seems to work best with groups of 10-20, with groups of people who have mostly at least been to BM once before.

Classic Theme Camp (about 50 people)
I did this my first year, with a group of old friends, and it was a blast. So much fun i can’t really remember a lot of it, actually. Also it was over 10 years ago. Anyway, once you get to a group this size, there will be Old Friends and New Friends all mixing together, and drama will inevitably occur at some point. Being hydrated and well-rested works wonders for keeping tempers calm.

Make sure to plan in advance for several really reliable people to be around to break down and MOOP the camp – this is probably the most commonly overlooked part for everybody, even experienced folks. People always flake, or have to leave early, or something – so plan accordingly.

Other than that, have fun doing some kind of a collaborative project with a big group of people… It’s a great opportunity for grown-ups to play together (all year if you plan it right) and have some sort of legitimate reasoning!

Mega Sound Camp (anywhere from 50 to Hundreds of people)
I once helped organize a major sound camp (200+ people, multiple nights of music and performance) in a serious leadership role. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience to help provide a massive entertainment spectacle out there, but be prepared to throw your entire heart into it, and probably a significant chunk of your time and money, too.

You don’t have to work in event production off-Playa to play an important role, but be prepared to do a lot of seemingly unglamorous tasks if you’re not a specialist or tech of some kind. If you are a specialist, be prepared to work at least twice as long and hard as you expected, and be sure to clearly label all your tools and equipment (and be prepared to lose it anyway).

I don’t mean to discourage people, but just try to know what you’re getting into. You should be really dedicated to the cause if you join a major sound camp, because you are letting down way more than just a couple close friends if you fail for any reason.

What’s the Best Option?
Hard to say what’s good for another person, but i like the small Satellite or Camp of Two after all these years. I really value the more intimate encounters i have there. Your goals and experiences may be dramatically different.

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