Survival Tips For Desert Hiking

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Hiking in the desert? Or in the heat? Or the Blazing Sun?

We are not going to tell you how to beat the heat – that’s just part of your hike!

But take some tips from the experts on how to stay safe – and alive!


And we have another tip for you:  Here at we are believers in the trekking umbrella – only 8 ounces! It reflects the sun, and repels rain. And you can create your own shade!

Read on.

Hiking in the heat can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible and it doesn’t have to be deadly—as long as you’re prepared.

For some advice we polled our readers, our travel writers and Joe Impecoven, the Outdoor Programs and Outreach, Puget Sound Market Coordinator for REI. He spent 25 years growing up and hiking in the Sonoran Desert around Phoenix.

Here are a few expert tips for staying safe in the desert:



Desert hikes require plenty of water. Make sure to drink at least a liter every hour you’re out in the sun. (Photo: Erik Isakson/Tetra Images/Corbis)

1. Water. Do we really have to list this one? Impecoven recommends bringing two liters of water minimum (more if than 2 hours+).  Expert tip: Chug as much water as you can at the trail head – at least a liter. Then top off your bottle so it’s completely full when you hit the trail.


2. Take advantage of all shade.  If you do find yourself running out of water or become overheated, find a rock or anything casting a shadow and sit in it for an hour or two.  Breathing through your nose will conserve moisture.  When the sun starts to set, carry on, it’ll be a lot less hot.

3. Bring Kool Ties. “Kool ties are neckerchiefs that contain hundreds of little beads that soak up and swell with cool water,” Impecoven says. “ Hiking with one around your neck can be great for keeping cool.”

4. Do not eat the cacti. Cactus pulp may contain water, but it’s salty and no good to drink.


5. Look for deciduous trees or bushes.  They’ll only grow near a water source.

6. Bring a map. In this device-enabled age it’s easy to forget the importance of analog technology.  Google will do nothing for you out in the desert.

7. Bring moleskin and extra socks:  Friction and heat cause blisters.  “If you have a hotspot in your shoe the hot dry desert air may not be helping it.  Moleskin and a fresh pair of socks can turn a crummy hike into a great one,” Impecoven says.

8. Pack snacks.  “Salty snacks are great to help retain the water you’re losing so quickly,” Impecoven says.

9. Bring a flashlight/Headlamp: Desert sunsets can be the best and it’s easy to spend some extra time watching the sunset from the top of a peak. Bring yourself some light. You won’t regret it.

10. Don’t get cocky.  You really can’t go as far as you might otherwise think you can without lots and lots of water.

11. Have an extra cell phone battery/portable charger:  Cell phones heat up and malfunction easily in the desert heat.

12. ·Pack a mustache comb or a multi-tool. “The Teddy Bear Cholla cactus only needs the slightest grazing touch to let go of a big clump of cactus that will grab on,” Impecoven warns.  “A mustache comb is a must to remove the barbs from anywhere you’ve taken a hit.”

13. Wear a hat and loose clothing.  An exposed head will heat up far faster than a well shaded one which can lead to heatstroke and the need for even more water.

14. Take it easy.  Slow down and enjoy the silence. Walking at a comfortable, slow pace will ease the heat and the need for water.

15. Don’t bring the dog. “Dogs should not hike in the desert during the summer,” Impecoven says.

Thanks to Jo Piazza for this article
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