10 Basic Desert Survival Tips

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

The desert is a beautiful, exotic, and enticing place, but it can also be deadly. Many unsuspecting and uninformed people who go out to explore the desert end up having more of an adventure than they expected. Annually helicopters can be seen flying overhead searching for someone who was unlucky enough to go out into the desert and not return. News stories tell of people who went up a cliffside that could not get back down, people caught without water, and people caught during flash floods in monsoon season. Many of these misadventures could have been avoided by taking some very simple precautions. Below you will find 10 basic desert survival tips to help prevent any of these misfortunes in your life.

  1. Always tell someone where you plan to go and when you plan to be back. This includes your route to your destination, your destination, anyone traveling with you, any health issues that you have, and what supplies including medications that you have with you.
  2. Do not rely on a cellular or a mobile phone in an emergency. It would be wise to bring along a satellite phone. A satellite phone is a mobile phone that communicates directly with satellites that orbit the earth. Satellite phones are roughly the size of mobile phones during the 1990s which is like a lunchbox. Satellite phones work better because they get more reliable connection and can use satellites which are in low orbit space to connect you to your level and during an emergency.
  3. Have multiple ways to figure out where you’re going and don’t just rely on electronic GPS devices. While GPS can be very helpful especially in the desert, old-fashioned maps don’t need to be recharged. If you don’t have a way to recharge your phone or GPS units a backup paper map is a wonderful tool to have.
  4. Bring enough water for every person traveling with you for every day you expect to be gone. A minimum of 1 gallon per person per day is what should be brought. However, in a desert situation more is always better. Also, don’t save the water for when you get really thirsty. Dehydration can make it difficult to think. Additionally, don’t bring sodas as a substitute for water. This only further dehydrates the person drinking it.
  5. Conserve water as much as possible. This means keep your mouth closed while walking. Don’t talk unnecessarily. Don’t eat unnecessarily. Don’t drink any alcohol or eat salty foods if you are on limited amounts of water.
  6. Make sure that you’re dressed properly with proper foot protection and keeping your body covered. Don’t remove clothing to stay cool this will speed up dehydration. Wearing clothing prevents sunburn. If you have sunblock be sure to use it regularly. Sweating, sand, and time can remove sunblock as you move around. Make sure to reapply every 8 to 12 hours
  7. Make sure to use sunglasses if you have them. The desert can impair your distance vision and hamper your adaption to night vision. The bright light from the sun can cause headaches. If you don’t have sunglasses available, try to improvise a sunshield with a hat, a bandana, or a cloth. Applying dark black eyeliner or soot around your eyes can also help.
  8. Be careful of laying directly on the ground in the sun or in the shade. In the sun the ground could be 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature and burn you. Use a cloth or cardboard to put down before you sit anywhere. Additionally, in the shade you’re more likely to encounter venomous insects or snakes that are on the ground. Always inspect the area you intend to sit before you put down your cloth or cardboard so that you don’t accidentally disturb a venomous snake or insect.
  9. Be sure to watch the sky closely as flash floods can occur at any time a thunderhead is within sight. When weather changes in the desert it can happen rapidly. Do not remain in any dry creek beds or areas which will flood suddenly and become dangerous. Going to higher ground is a safer bet.
  10. Use common sense and hire a guide if you are unexperienced in desert hiking. Never undertake anything which you aren’t fully prepared to do by yourself. Always ask for help if you need to
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