Skip to content Skip to footer

Hiking in the Desert: Is it Safe and Major Tips

There are a few ways to make hiking more exciting than trekking in a breezy desert. The thrill, excitement, and feeling of being excluded from civilization make every moment worth it. However, to earn this experience, you have to put in the work.

Hiking in a desert requires much more technical preparation than any other trail you have ever tried. The seclusion, dryness, extreme change in temperature between day and night, sandstorms, Monsoons, and Windstorms, are all factors you must critically plan for if you really want to have the time of your life. Anything less could lead to a catastrophic failure on your first desert hiking attempt. So want to hike in the desert? Then hang on for all you need to know

The Desert

It is important to understand that a desert is an extraordinary terrain that offers a uniquely special experience. All the rules you already know regarding hiking will need to be upgraded, and you may have to abandon some thumb rule techniques.

There is a desert on every continent. So irrespective of where you are, you can enjoy a surreal moment with the stillness and serenity of the desert. However, there is the risk of suffering from desert illness and other conditions that could threaten your objective of completing your hike. You also need to make plans for other essential factors. To get it right, here are some major tips to consider

Tips for Successful Desert Hiking

Plan Your Hike and Group

While you may think desert hiking is easy peasy and an activity you can complete alone, it is important to know that both assumptions are flawed. Hiking in a desert is tasking, and you need to plan very well to start and end well. Some of the things you must take into consideration include

Hiking on sand dune

Hiking Buddy

You should never try to hike alone. That is a bad choice that could backfire heavily. Deserts are tricky terrain, and you need a support system from a hiking buddy to go through the challenge all the way. It is even better if you hike in a group than with a single individual.

Hiking with at least one person helps to kill desert boredom and make it easy for you to get help when necessary. When in a group, you get to enjoy your hike and relish every moment. You experience every walk as a therapeutic activity and not a forced challenge you must complete.

Read the Weather

It is essential to check out the weather before planning for logistics. Having a good knowledge of future weather changes before hiking is so important before desert hiking is essential due to the drastic effect certain conditions can trigger.

There are several weather conditions to worry about in deserts. There are Thunderstorms, Monsoons, Windstorms, and Sandstorms. All these conditions can be critical and expose you to danger if you go on to hike in a desert without proper planning.

With good knowledge of the weather condition of a desert you plan to hike, you can decide whether to continue or abandon the activity. Never attempt to go on a desert hike without accurate knowledge of the weather conditions throughout the timeframe you will be on the trail.

If the weather is favorable, you should also hike safely. Avoid low-lying and open areas as often as you can. Also, stay away from slot canyons whenever there is a thunderstorm. Always pack in a way that allows you quickly pack your entire session and sit out a storm. Make plans for emergency evacuations in case of surprise storms that could threaten your safety.

Bring Water – Lots Of It

Staying hydrated is essential when desert hiking. Actually, there is probably no other circumstance where you need water more critically than desert hiking. You are hiking in a desert, friend, which means you are in a terrain notoriously reputed for being very dry.

Deserts are not just dry and sandy. They barely get rainfall, with stats confirming that most get less than 10 inches of rain annually. So you need water and a reliable source that you can fully depend on for the length of your hike.

How easy is your chance to find a reliable water source when hiking? If you think the probability is nil then you are right. It is important you have a real plan on how to get water. You should come along with your water and ensure you have a plan on how many liters you intend to use daily.

Generally, it is recommended that desert hikers drink up to 6 liters of water daily per person and nothing less than 4 liters if there is a need to be economical. You need to plan how to get so much water with you on a hike. Alternatively, you could choose a suitable hike, like directional hiking, that allows you to return to a start base daily. That way you can get a refill at the end of each hiking day.

Hiking on rocky desert

Keep Electrolytes in Stable Levels

It is easy to know why you must stay hydrated in the desert. There is a high chance that was the first thought that came to your head when you thought about hiking in the desert. But did you ever considered the need for you to have your electrolytes on the high?

Electrolytes are the medium with which our cells conduct electrical charges that make our muscles contract and perform other important functions.

When exposed to harsh sunlight and high temperatures, you lose sodium, essential minerals, and electrolytes that have distinct bodily functions. You may have the water part sorted and maintain proper hydration, but without adequate electrolytes, you risk suffering hyponatremia, also known as low sodium, in your blood.

To avoid a shortage of electrolytes, you should stock up on electrolyte powders and tablets and consume them with your water. You could also top up your sports beverage consumption and eat salty snacks. In the desert, snacks with lots of salts rule the day, and you should have lots of them to keep your electrolyte level safe. 

General Illness and Injuries

While heart-related conditions are very likely, know that you could suffer other common illnesses due to stress, too many intense sessions, and inhaling not-so-great air. Common illnesses and injuries you could suffer when hiking in the desert include

  • Strains and Sprains
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Allergic Reactions
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blisters

The list is endless, so you need drugs and other first-aid amenities that can help you recover easily.

Woman hiking in the desert

Avoid Hiking Under Unbearable Heat

Temperature is always high for most days in deserts, which highlights why you must be ready to bear the heat. The sweat is definitely going to come, especially during summer, when the frequency is pretty at constant levels. However, just because you are expecting high-level heat does not mean you should expose yourself to unbearable temperatures.

You need to think like a desert animal and apply the basic rule of Postponing hikes when the heat is the hardest, and the sun is scorching.

You need to try as much as possible to avoid hiking during the hottest time of the day. It can be difficult to determine which time of the day is the hottest in a desert, as anytime between 10 am and 4 pm does bring down the heat. To get it right, try to hike more in the early hours of the day. That should be around 7 am to 12 pm.

You can sit out most of the hottest hours, around 1 pm to 3 pm. If you prefer to hike within this time range, you need to limit the distance to avoid severe exposure to the sun and risk fainting and sun illness.

As expected, you should have a hiking buddy or group that can readily participate in night hikes. With headlamps, compasses, a map, and proper planning in the evening just before dark, you guys can cover a good distance under the moonlight before retiring for the day. It may all look a bit unconventional, but that is what makes desert hiking special. The ability to easily maneuver through challenges and craft solutions.

Dress Well

It is important to move with the right clothes for a desert hike. Because of the heat, the best clothes to wear are lightweight, light-colored and breathable. It is also nice if they are loose fitting to avoid trapping sweat which could cause stickiness and irritation. Opt for long sleeves because they help you shield off the effect of the sun and deflect direct rays to your skin.

Try as much as possible not to wear skin-exposing clothes, even if you have the urge to do so during intense heat. You will get sunburned, which isn’t fun.

Pack enough clothes to cover most of the days you will spend on the trail. That way you conserve your water for more important needs instead of washing.

Hiking in the desert at sunset

Stay Away from Wildlife

If your chosen desert has wildlife, then ensure that they are not the big types that can pose a real danger. Desert wildlife is easily irritated and can be triggered by the slightest sign of threat. If your trail has wildlife, ensure they are few and are the type that will avoid you if you keep your distance. You should arm yourself with bangers, jackknifes, and, if legally possible, a firearm for self-defense. You really can never be too careful when it comes to desert wildlife.

Recognizing Illnesses and Taking the Right Steps

You may have experienced the phenomenon of falling ill when you change your environment suddenly. In the desert, it is no different, and it can get really hard here with the different types of illnesses and possible injuries taking turns if you are unlucky

It is essential you know how to recognize different conditions you may experience when desert hiking. This is because you can accurately determine if it is best to forego your hike or if simple first basic treatments will be enough to keep you going.

One of the major types of desert-influenced conditions is heart illness. There are signs you can look out for to know the type of heart sickness you may be suffering from. The American Society and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight possible heart-related illnesses you may suffer when hiking in the desert.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a common condition that desert hikers suffer when exposed to too much sun and heat. It is caused by a severe lack of electrolytes and is generally not life-threatening. Its symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, heavy sweating, high temperature, irritability, and faintness. If not properly handled, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke is the aftereffect of heat exhaustion and can see you suffer extremely high temperatures. The body can no longer regulate its internal temperature at this stage, causing restricted muscle functioning.

Heat Stroke must be immediately treated with first aid practices. Once stabilized, you should abandon the entire desert hike and give it a try another time. If you opt to continue, ensure you forgo hiking during the hottest part of the day. Heat Stroke is an emergency condition.

Group of hikers in the desert

Respect your Limit

It is normal for us as humans to have predetermined plans on how much distance we desire to cover before setting out on a hike. However, you need to understand that hiking in a desert is a different ball game that will push you to the limit.

As much as you have a hike plan already outlined, be flexible to adjustments and make changes that are more tolerable if necessary. You must communicate this with your group, as everyone must be carried along in the process. Desert Hiking is more about completing an experience in the best health than accomplishing a milestone in record time. Focus on the former; you will never push yourself beyond the limit and risk serious injuries.

Final Thoughts

So that is basically all you need to know about hiking n the desert. You have to plan, prepare and ensure you do both with full conviction and commitment. Also, it is essential you have gadgets that can help you get help easily on the ready in case of any situation. Desert hiking may not be popular, but it is unique and an experience worth getting if you really love hiking. We are rooting for you to get it right and have fun and an unbeatable experience.

Leave a Comment