Something that lately has gotten lots of attention is joining a theme camp. For some reason many new burners think it is something they must do to have a good burn.
The reality is you can have a great burn without joining a theme camp, and joining a theme camp of people you don't know can actually ruin your burn (due to drama, personality conflicts, amount of work expected from you, and a slew of other reasons). The potential for problems as at least equal to the potential benefits.
What Is A Theme Camp
Most theme camps start with a small group of friends that share a vision or other goal of what they want their playa experience to be like or what they want to offer the residents of Black Rock City. Many have grown from small groups of friends to massive camps or even villages, but most started the same way.
With most theme camps there will be a core group that live near each other and spend a lot of time pre and post burn on maintenance, building, storing, and so on.
They come in all shapes and sizes from those that are small and just offer a few events, to massive operations that take as much planning and work as the invasion of Normandy. Some have communal kitchens where everyone is expected to work a shift or two, many don't. Some have showers, some don't. Some rent private porto potties, most don't. Most expect at least a minimum amount of time working in camp.
Some have no dues, most do have some form of dues. Beware camps that have high dues and "will supply most of what you need" such as shade, tents, sleeping bags, water, food, etc... There have been more than a few burners who showed up to camps like these only to find the camp leader flaked out (either intentionally or due to other circumstances) and not only were they out hundreds of dollars, but here they were in the desert without even the minimum stuff needed for survival. Remember the burn is about radical self reliance, so don't be caught out by something like this.
Reasons To Join A Theme Camp
- You share their vision (whatever it may be).
- You like the people in the camp.
- You feel you are a good fit.
- You have a skill or something else to help with their vision.
Reasons Not To Join A Theme Camp (or reasons they might not want you)
- I am flying in and it will be so much easier not to have to bring ________________.
- They have a shower.
- I want access to an early entry pass or directed sale ticket (most camps that get these use them for their core members and won't offer them to new members anyway).
- They have an Art Car / Mutant Vehicle.
- They have a nice kitchen.
- They provide _______________.
- Basically anything that is about what they can do for you as opposed to what you can do for them.
Bear in mind that many people in theme camps have been working hard for months every year to make it happen. They might not be so accepting of last minute folks looking to join, and any that is accepting of that probably just needs your dues money.
Recent years have seen an increase in scam camps. These are basically camps that offer all the amenities for a price (basically Plug & Play), yet fail to deliver as promised.Some are intentional scams, some are created with good intentions, but fall way short for a variety of reasons.
Generally these camps will offer to supply everything from food, water, shelter, sleeping bags, etc.. Many target burners traveling from overseas. Some are actually legitimate services, but beware - if you get taken in by a scam you won't know that until you are in the desert without even basic survival needs. Think long and hard about this - the Playa is a harsh mistress and nothing is available for sale once you are there.
Solo camping means camping in a non theme camp - not necessarily camping alone. In Black Rock City solo camping is not really solo camping as you will get to know your neighbors and make lots of new friends. I still keep in touch with many of my neighbors from my first year when we were solo camping, and we try to meet up at each burn.
Those who are really nervous about casting their fate to the wind and just camping anywhere may wish to look into an "orphan style" camp. These are typically loose aggregates of solo campers who share some shade structure and sometimes other stuff with no formal organization, dues, or theme.
This is my best wisdom on the subject - take it or not, it's your decision.
Don't join a theme camp just for the sake of joining a theme camp.
Camp life at Burning Man tends to be very intimate so don't join a theme camp of people you have never met - it could turn out wonderful, but it could also ruin your burn.
A better way would be to meet burners in your regional area and find a good fit that way. Or camp solo your first year and if you find a theme camp that appeals to you - ask about joining for the following year (this is what I did, and I have no regrets).