Desert Hiking: Tips for Staying Safe and Comfortable

desert hikeFrom explor­ing the South­west­’s arid trails to trekking over­seas, you’re like­ly to tra­verse desert ter­rain at some junc­ture in your hik­ing career.

Plan­ning a long-dis­tance desert hike requires a dif­fer­ent mind­set from prep­ping for a typ­i­cal traipse through the for­est. Be pre­pared with these desert hik­ing safe­ty tips:

Hydrate
Always keep in mind that in the desert, planned water sources aren’t reli­able. If you do come across a spring or pond, always replen­ish your sup­ply. To min­i­mize bac­te­ria, first, treat water with a pre-fil­ter then with a reli­able fil­ter­ing sys­tem.

Study the Bush­es
Know how to spot a poten­tial water source! While many hik­ing maps high­light water sources, it’s impor­tant to be able to find water unaid­ed.

Make sure you can iden­ti­fy decid­u­ous trees and bush­es native to the area, as they grow near water sources. How­ev­er, some­times that source is a spring too deep in the ground to reach.

Pri­or­i­tize Your Time
Desert hik­ing is all about max­i­miz­ing day­light mileage while min­i­miz­ing sun expo­sure. Since mid­day is the hottest time of day, you’ll want to accom­plish most of your mileage in the ear­ly morn­ing and evening. Be care­ful about hik­ing at night as it’s easy to acci­den­tal­ly get off trail in the desert.

Stay Cool and Com­fort­able
Take every oppor­tu­ni­ty to cool down. Low­er your body tem­per­a­ture by tak­ing breaks in the shade of a boul­der or Joshua tree. Prac­tice breath­ing through your nose to con­serve mois­ture in your mouth. Wear light-col­ored and light­weight cloth­ing, and stick to long sleeves. Don’t for­get to reap­ply sun­screen!

Con­verse­ly, tem­per­a­tures can drop at night, so pack meri­no wool lay­ers to wear after the sun sets.

Slow Down
Plan to spend more time hik­ing than you would on a cool­er trail of equal dis­tance. Stick to rough­ly sev­en­ty per­cent of your typ­i­cal speed to help reduce sweat­ing and exer­tion. If you find your­self breath­ing hard, slow down.

Don’t Eat Cac­ti
Though some cac­ti con­tain enough water to drink, cac­ti juice is often acidic and can con­tain dan­ger­ous alka­loids. Drink­ing cac­tus water can cause diar­rhea, fur­ther exac­er­bat­ing dehy­dra­tion. How­ev­er, eat­ing cac­tus fruit is gen­er­al­ly safe.