Surviving in the desert isn’t impossible, if you follow these 10 tips.
We talk all the time about the tips and tools you need to survive in the woods, or to make it through a winter survival situations, but we don’t talk a lot about how tough the desert environment is.
While your hunting or camping exploits won’t always take you into the hot sands of a desert, it’s always good to have survival skills and knowledge in your back pocket, just in case a scenario arises where you’ll need them.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips that can help you survive in the desert.
1. Stock up on water
As obvious as it is, the importance of staying hydrated in the desert can simply not be overstated. Whether you are taking a drive across the desert or venturing out into a desert reserve like the Joshua Tree National Park, you need to make sure you have a lot of water.
Ideally, every person in your party will carry enough water for themselves, ideally a gallon per day. This may add a lot of extra weight to your pack, but it could also save your life, so don’t skimp on it.
2. Dress properly
Since desert environments are inherently warm, you may feel the desire to dispense with most of your clothing when heading out on a desert adventure. Don’t. A lightweight tank top or t-shirt may seem comfortable for a bit, but once you start burning under the unforgiving sun, you’ll be scrambling to find shade that isn’t there.
In the desert, your clothes usually are your shade, so wear long sleeves, long pants, sunglasses, thick boots or shoes (no sandals – this isn’t the beach) and wide-brimmed hats to keep yourself protected. Keep cool by wearing lightweight and breathable clothes in light colors. And don’t forget about the fact that it typically gets cooler after the sun goes down, so bring a sleep bag if you know you’ll be spending the night.
3. Stock your car
Even if you’re just driving across the desert – whether to reach a destination in the middle or simply get to the other side – it’s important to be prepared for the possibility of a survival situation. Whether your car runs out of gas, overheats, gets a flat tire, or otherwise breaks down, you need to be ready for the possibility of either hiking your way to civilization or sitting tight until help can come along.
4. Bring a four-season tent
If you are simply going out into the desert for a day hunt, you probably won’t want to be lugging around a tent. However, if you expect a lengthier adventure, invest in a four-season tent and put it in your pack.
The tent will provide much needed shelter if you find yourself in a survival situation. Just make sure you know how to pitch the thing quickly and on sand.
5. Avoid the midday sun
No matter what your desert journey is, there’s no reason to schedule it in the middle of the day. When the sun is at its peak position in the sky – especially in the middle of the summer – it’s just about as brutal and unforgiving as any force on the planet.
Plan your desert forays in the morning or evening, when most hunting is better anyway.
6. Bring extra layers for evening
Like we said, if you are heading out into the desert in the evening or at night, don’t expect high heat. Deserts may see some of the hottest temperatures on Earth in the daytime, but they get surprisingly cold after the sun goes down.
If you are going to be exploring the desert after hours – or even spending the night there – you are going to want to bring the right clothing and gear.
7. Remember flash floods
Another contradictory thing about deserts is their propensity for flash floods. Check the weather forecast before you decide to go see the sites in a desert canyon, and absolutely never pitch a tent on a canyon floor if you end up camping in the desert.
Remember that desert canyons were initially formed by water, usually via floods. If such water flows are powerful enough to carve formations into sand and rock, they are also strong enough to sweep you, your tent, and your friends away without warning, so always be on the lookout.
8. Consider investing in hiking poles
With enough water and done at the right time of day, a hike through the desert can be a fun experience that really gives you a chance to bask in the solace of open spaces. Remember, though, that walking on sand isn’t the same as walking on packed dirt or stable pavement.
Sand erodes quickly, and since the desert is littered with rugged terrain and uneven footing, it’s all too easy to trip and fall. Hiking poles can give you the support you need to stay on your feet and keep moving at a steady clip.
9. Inform loved ones where you are going
Whenever you are going into the desert – be it for a drive, a hike, or some other adventure – tell a friend or family member precisely where you are going and how long you will be gone. The desert is littered with dead spots, which means you might not be able to use your phone to call for help if you run into trouble. By keeping someone else abreast of your plans, you may just be giving yourself a lifeline.
10. Bring water purification tablets
While you probably won’t find many water sources in the desert, it’s not a bad idea to toss a few water purification tablets into your pack just in case you get lost and run low on water.
You never know when you are going to stumble across a pool of standing water, and purification tablets can turn that pool from a contaminated puddle into a wellspring of life.