Venturing into the desert? Here’s your ultimate guide to desert camping and check list of recommended gear and equipment that you need to bring with you when you hit the dunes, in order to make the most out of your desert adventure.
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Desert Camping Essentials Checklist
- Camping Tent
- Sleeping Bag
- Closed-toe shoes
- Plenty of water
- First aid kit
- Travel insurance covering desert activities
The lack of shade and protection from heavy winds make camping in the desert somewhat challenging and a sturdy, high-quality tent with UV protection can make or break your sand dune adventure. Our top pick for a quality desert tent is the Crua Duo 2 – it’s extremely lightweight but with a sturdy aluminium base that resists wind, and its reflective flysheet make it versatile so that you can stay chill during the day (by reflecting UV rays outside the tent) and warm at night (by turning the reflective side inwards). It’s also an overall great tent against desert wind. If you are planning a long camping trip in extreme hot weather, it may be worth to invest in an evaporative air cooler to chill the air and add humidity around you.
The best sleeping bags for desert hiking are not too bulky while still offering protection from temperatures below 30F (-1°C). Night temperatures often fall from 100F (35°C) to 25F(-3°C) overnight, so it is recommended to get a warm enough sleeping bag, paired with some long-sleeve clothes you can sleep in. If you are looking for a great desert camping sleeping bag that is versatile, lightweight and warm, the Western Mountaineering Megalite ticks all the boxes. Make sure to also grab a compactor bag to optimize your space.
When hiking in the desert you will need to carry large amounts of water with you, so it’s important to bring a sturdy rucksack with you. The best backpack for a desert trip is lightweight, capient, and ventilated so that it doesn’t absorb your sweat in the hot weather. You will also want at least a few side pockets where you can keep your water flask and sun protection cream. The Osprey Atmos AG 65 is an incredible backpack for desert as it keeps the weight off your back both reducing load and keeping sweat away. Cherry on top? You can get an internal sleeve hydration reservoir for carrying extra liquids.
If you think you can just walk around the desert wearing short sleeves, think again. Even on the hottest day, night temperatures in the desert fall sharply and very suddenly. It’s best to always keep a jacket or extra layer of clothing at hand and make sure you are not caught off guard when this happens.
Walking barefoot on scorching hot sand is a recipe for third degree burn, so limit that to very specific locations and times of the day. You should always wear closed-toe shoes in the afternoon and in the summer when temperature is at its highest. Desert hiking shoes are best if you are planning to go hiking or trail running as you will need something that is both sturdy and breathable. If you are into that, barefoot shoes with a thick enough sole are also an option.
It goes without saying that sun protection is extremely important in the desert, and a sun cream offering at the very least 50 SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is recommended. The best sunscreen for desert hiking is 70 SPF or higher and sweat-proof, such as Sun Bum Original SPF 70. Keep in mind that no matter what sun cream you choose, you will still need to reapply it every two hours or so (the stronger the sun, the more often you’ll need it), so make sure to stock up. An anti sweat cream will make it so that its effects will last a bit longer.
The single most essential item you will need in the desert. If you are wondering how much water you should bring with you on a desert trip, the anwer is bring more than you need. Ideally, aim for 2-6 quartz (around the same in liters) per day that you are going to spend hiking out in the sun, and one more gallon (4 liters) as backup in your vehicle. Sources of electrolytes and fluid replacement drinks are also not a bad idea, to fight dehydration and replenish minerals you will lose when sweating. Coconut water is an especially good idea. You may also want to get yourself a nice soft cooler bag to keep your drinks fresh in the desert.
First Aid Kit
A good desert hiking first aid kit can – literally – be a lifesaver when you have a medical emergency while stranded in the middle of nowhere. A generic outdoor sports first-aid kit will cover most minor injuries, included are trauma supplies and minor burns. Keep in mind that you may need to stack on different kind of medicinals depending on which location you are going to, and a kit to treat snake bites may be a good idea in some cases.
Travel insurance covering desert activities
When first aid is not enough, you may need end up needing medical attention. Never underestimate the importance of adequate travel insurance – and always double check with your insurance provider that they are going to cover any kind of activity you are planning to conduct during your trip. We recommend WorldNomads Insurance with their Explorer Plan which covers camping, hiking, sand duning, sandboarding and pretty much any desert sport and activity you can think of.