Last Updated on December 17, 2023

It can be difficult to find the perfect clothing for desert climates.

Deserts are characterized by extreme temperatures with highly variable weather conditions, with a very high day-to-night temperature range, and lack of shade.

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.

And most importantly, desert dwellers need to cover up as much as possible in order to minimize the risk of sunburn.

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What clothing to wear in the desert: shirts, footwear and accessories for desert hiking
The desert outfit comprises closed-toe shoes, long sleeve shirts and pants, and a headscarf.

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 desert 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

One of the best choices 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, cotton is also a good choice for the desert, as are silk and linen. Better to avoid heavy layers, wool, denim, and nylon.

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.

Best Fabric for Desert Clothing
Woman wearing long sleeve linen dress in the desert.

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, making the risk of sunburn much higher.

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.



Women’s UPF50+ Long Sleeve UV Sun Protection Shirts Quick Dry Rash Guard Swim Outdoor T-Shirt


Vapor Apparel Men’s Outdoor UPF 50+ Long Sleeve T-Shirt


Coolibar UPF 50+ Kid’s Sandshark Long Sleeve Surf Shirt – Sun Protective
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.

Again, 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.



Little Donkey Andy Men’s Stretch Convertible Pants, Zip-Off Quick-Dry Hiking Pants, UV Protection, Lightweight


Butrends Women’s Hiking Capris Pants Outdoor Zipper Pockets Workout Travel Cargo Pant


CQR Kids Youth Hiking Cargo Pants, UPF 50+ Quick Dry Convertible Zip Off Pants, Outdoor Camping Pants
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.


Desert Footwear

Shoes

When travelling to a desert climate, wear outdoor hiking shoes that are sturdy enough yet not too heavy.

The ideal desert shoes offer excellent support, cushioning, and durability to help you tackle the rough terrains with ease.

A good pair of hiking shoes should be sturdy enough to handle the rugged landscape, yet not too heavy to weigh you down and cause discomfort during extended periods of use.

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.

Moreover, the shoes should have enough flexibility to allow for quick and agile movements, and provide excellent traction to prevent slipping and sliding on the soft sand.

Oboz Sawtooth II Low B-Dry

Oboz Sawtooth II Low B-Dry
Hoka One One Clifton 7

HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 7
Xero Shoes Terraflex
Xero Barefoot 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.


Kenetrek Desert Guide Non-Insulated Hiking Boot

BLACKHAWK Desert Ops Boot, Coyote

DANNER MANUFACTURING Bull Run Moc Toe Work Boot

VIVOBAREFOOT Gobi III Eco
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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75% Merino wool socks
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66% Merino wool socks

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40% Merino wool socks
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 Explorers
Outdoor Research Bugout Gaiters

TurtleSkin SnakeArmor Gaiters


Kahtoola INSTAgaiter Low
Best Desert Gaiters
Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters
Read more: Best desert gaiters

Desert Outfit: what clothes to wear for desert hiking
Fashionable in the desert.

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.


SPF 100 Banana Boat Sport Ultra

SPF 100 Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch

SPF 100 La Roche-Posay Anthelios

SPF 110 Neutrogena Age Shield
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.

In addition to UV protection, you should also look for sunglasses with polarized lenses. Polarized lenses reduce glare from reflecting surfaces, such as sand and water, making it easier to see clearly.

BEST BUDGET GLASSES

SUNGAIT Ultra Lightweight Rectangular Polarized Sunglasses UV400 Protection

SUNGAIT Polarized Sunglasses
TOP DESIGNER
GLASSES

Handmade Wood Sunglasses with UV400 Polarized Lenses & Spring Temples

Hammockable Handmade Wood Sunglasses
TOP QUALITY GLASSES

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

BNUS Sunglasses
BEST KIDS GLASSES

ACBLUCE Kids Polarized Sports Sunglasses TPEE Flexible Frame with Adjustable Strap for Boys Girls Age 5-13

ACBLUCE Kids Polarized Sunglasses
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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Scott Recoil Pro WFS Goggles
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Scott Recoil XI Pro Tether Goggles
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Scott Sports 89Si Youth Goggles
(for kids)
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.


Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat

Columbia Unisex Adult Bora Bora Booney

Panama Jack Mesh Crown Safari Sun Hat
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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100% cotton shemagh
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100% cotton keffiyeh
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Cotton/Polyester blend shemagh
Read more: Best desert scarves

Read also: Packing List for Desert Travel


Desert Clothing FAQs

What type of clothing should I wear in the desert?

The best type of clothing to wear in the desert is loose-fitting, lightweight, and made from breathable materials, such as cotton or linen.

Most people prefer to avoid wearing dark colors, as they can absorb heat. Instead, opt for light colors, which will reflect heat and help you stay cool.


What should I wear on my legs and feet in the desert?

Long pants or shorts are both acceptable for the desert, but it is important to protect your legs from the sun, sand, and insects.

If you are wearing shorts, be sure to apply sunscreen liberally to your legs. For shoes, choose a sturdy pair of hiking boots or sandals.


What accessories should I wear in the desert?

There are a few essential accessories that you should wear in the desert, including:

  • A sun hat: A wide-brimmed hat will help protect your face, ears, and neck from the sun.
  • Sunglasses: Sunglasses are essential for protecting your eyes from the harsh desert sun. Choose sunglasses with UV400 protection to block 99-100% of UV rays.
  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen is essential for protecting your skin from the sun. Apply sunscreen liberally to all exposed skin, including your face, ears, neck, and hands.
  • A scarf: A scarf can be used to protect your face from the sun and sand, or to keep your head warm at night.
  • Water bottle: It is important to stay hydrated in the desert, so be sure to bring a water bottle with you and drink plenty of fluids.

What should I wear if I am going on a desert hike?

If you are going on a desert hike, be sure to wear comfortable, supportive shoes and clothing that is appropriate for the weather conditions.

You should also bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and plenty of water.


What should I wear if I am camping in the desert?

If you are camping in the desert, you will need to pack layers of clothing so that you can stay warm at night.

You should also bring a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent.


What is the best fabric to wear in the desert?

Merino wool is a great fabric to wear in the desert because it is breathable, moisture-wicking, and temperature-regulating. It also has natural UV protection.

Other good options include cotton, silk and linen. Avoid wearing heavy layers, wool, denim, and nylon.


What color should I wear in the desert?

The color of your clothing does not make a big difference in terms of staying cool in the desert.

However, people generally prefer to wear brighter colors because they are thought to reflect sunrays.


What should I wear in the desert at night?

The desert can get surprisingly cold at night, so it is important to dress in layers.

A good rule of thumb is to wear one more layer than you would during the day. You may also want to bring a hat, gloves, and scarf to keep warm.

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