Last Updated on August 3, 2022

Desert climates are characterized by extreme temperatures with highly variable weather conditions, with a very high day-to-night temperature range. In order to know how to dress in the desert, you need to keep in mind that the days in the desert are very hot while the nights can be very cold.

Not only that, but while the desert environment is generally dry, it can be subject to extreme weather such as flash floods, thunderstorms, windstorms and sandstorms.

When hiking in the desert for extensive periods of time, you need to be ready for just about everything nature can throw at you.

What to wear in the desert?

When traveling in a hot desert, you should dress in breathable, light clothing during the day and change into something warmer at night. Wear light-colored, comfortable clothing made of natural fibers like as linen and cotton in order to minimize exposure to dangerous UV rays from the sun.

In the case of windy weather or sand storms, wear preferably shielded sunglasses and a kefiah or shemagh scarf to cover your nose and mouth. This can also be used as a replacement for a desert sun hat if you don’t own one, just wear it as ah headband and shield your forehead which can potentially save you from a sunstroke.

A strong, 70+SPF sunscreen can help protect your skin from the dangers of the desert sun and likewise a pair of UV-blocking sunglasses will protect your eyes which can also get sunburnt in the desert.

Desert clothes for winter

Most hot deserts have temperatures which are actually rather enjoyable in winter during the day, and you don’t really need to cover up more than you would during summer.

Keep in mind though that temperature at night could drop below freezing: bring a heavier jacket and sweater with you for when it gets dark. In a cold desert it can get chilly even during the day, and it’s actually common to see snow in these deserts in winter.

Best fabric for desert

The optimal choice of fabric for hiking in the desert is merino wool. This type of material both regulates your body temperature, protecting you from the heat during the day and from cold at night, and is sweat-repellent, which is something you are going to need in a hot desert climate. Other than merino, regular wool is also a good choice for the desert, as are silk and linen.

The choice of color also makes a different: bright colored clothes tend to repel UV rays, while dark colors absorb them, therefore it may be better to pick a white shirt over a black one if you are travelling to the desert.

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What clothing to wear in the desert: shirts, footwear and accessories for desert hiking

Best Clothes for Desert Hiking

The ideal desert outfit covers you head to toe, leaving no skin exposed to dangerous UV rays and offering protection from wind, rain and all the elements. This includes protecting your eyes and mouth, so don’t forget to bring useful accessories such as scarves, hats, sunglasses or goggles, and most importantly sunscreen.

Shirts

The best shirts for desert hiking are long sleeve, lightweight, and offer sun protection. Wearing long sleeves is always recommended in the desert, regardless of how hot it gets. Sun rays aren’t just stronger in the desert, they also get reflected all over the place by sand, rocks and terrains which lack vegetation.

This means that it is especially important that your desert attire covers up every inch of your body, and there are UPF 50+ sun protection clothing items that are made just for that.

Browse more UPF50+ shirts for desert hiking

Trousers

As with long sleeves, you should also wear long pants and trousers over shorts in the desert. The goal is again to cover as much of your skin as possible. The best pants for desert hiking are long, light, and bright-colored.

Browse more pants and trousers for desert hiking

Jacket

A light jacket is needed in most desert climates which see temperatures drop sharply every night. Bring a good jacket with you on your day hikes and wear it in the early mornings and evenings.

If you are looking for a motorcycle jacket for desert riding on your dirt bike, avoid leather and pick an enduro jacket instead.

Browse more desert jackets

Desert Footwear

Shoes

When travelling to a desert climate, wear outdoor hiking shoes that are sturdy enough yet not too heavy. The best shoes for desert running have durable thick soles that will protect you from debris on rough terrains while also allowing you to firmly step on soft sand without sinking.

Oboz Sawtooth II Low B-DryHoka One One Clifton 7Xero Shoes Terraflex
Read more: Best shoes for desert hiking

Boots

If you are going on a desert hike or on a desert survival trip then boots are recommended. Desert boots are meant to be sturdy but made of material that can withstand extreme heat without making your feet sweat more, allowing for breathability.

Weather in the desert can be unpredictable, so a quality pair of boots must protect you from all sorts of environmental hazards, from sandstorms to flash floods.

Read more: Best boots for desert hiking

Socks

A pair of quality socks is a must when hiking in the desert, in order to prevent blisters and other foot problems during your travels. You need to choose a fabric that will both defend your feet from the scorching sand of the desert while also absorbing sweat and ensuring proper perspiration.

The best desert hiking socks are made in large percentage from Merino wool, a special type of material which is especially good at absorbing moisture from sweat and keeping your feet fresh.

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Read more: Best socks for desert

Gaiters

Gaiters offer an extra layer of protection for your ankles as they shelter your legs and feet from rocks and debris while hiking or running in the desert. High gaiters are also useful against snake bites and scorpion stings which makes them especially suited for desert survival situation.

Desert Gaiters for Sand Dune ExplorersBest Desert Gaiters
Read more: Best desert gaiters

Desert Outfit: what clothes to wear for desert hiking

Desert Clothing Accessories

Sunscreen

In a desert climate, SPF 50 should be the very least level of UV protection, and that’s only if you live in a stony desert with some shade. If you are travelling to a hot desert like the Sahara, make sure your sunscreen is at least SPF 70 or SPF 100.

This is due to the fact that you will be surrounded nearly exclusively by sand dunes, which will reflect the harmful sun rays all over the place, even on your skin. Not only should you use the greatest sun protection you can get, but you should also reapply it frequently if you are hiking for several hours.

Read more: Best sunscreen for desert

Sunglasses

The best sunglasses for desert offer maximum UV protection with a rating of UV400, which blocks 99-100% of UV rays.

BEST BUDGET GLASSES

SUNGAIT Ultra Lightweight Rectangular Polarized Sunglasses UV400 Protection
TOP DESIGNER
GLASSES

Handmade Wood Sunglasses with UV400 Polarized Lenses & Spring Temples
TOP QUALITY GLASSES

BNUS Sunglasses for Men & Women, Polarized glass lens, Color Mirrored Scratch Proof
BEST KIDS GLASSES

ACBLUCE Kids Polarized Sports Sunglasses TPEE Flexible Frame with Adjustable Strap for Boys Girls Age 5-13
Read more: Best sunglasses for desert

Goggles

If you are planning extreme sports activities such as sand surfing or dirt bike riding then sunglasses may not be enough, but eye goggles can offer protection from dust and rock debris as well as from the sun.

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Read more: Best ATV goggles for desert

Hat

The best type of hat for desert climates is the so-called sun hat, which is a wide-brimmed hat made of lightweight cotton or other beathable natural fibers. A sun hat complements your desert outfit while protecting you from the sun. If you don’t want to bring a hat, you can opt for a headscarf instead.

Read more: Best hat for desert

Scarf

A great addition to your desert outfit is a traditional Shemag or Keffiyeh scarf. You can either wear is as a bandana to cover your forehead if you don’t have a hat or wrap it around the bottom half of your face to cover your mouth and nose in what is a typical desert attire.

Scarves are especially useful if you are caught in the middle of a sandstorm or extremely windy weather as they can help you keep sand granules out of your face.

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Browse more desert scarves

Read also: Packing List for Desert Travel

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