Last Updated on May 23, 2023
Desert hiking is a unique and challenging experience that requires proper planning and preparation.
The harsh desert environment presents many logistical and organizational challenges, such as protecting yourself from the hot sun, staying hydrated, and dealing with extreme weather and sudden temperature changes.
To make the most of your desert hike, it’s essential to know what to pack and what gear to bring with you.
Below, a comprehensive guide on what to pack for desert hiking, including desert hiking essentials, a desert camping gear list, and tips on what to bring on a desert hike.
As part of the Amazon Associate and eBay Partner Programme, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Desert Hiking Essentials
Water: Stay Hydrated in the Desert Heat
Water is undoubtedly the most critical item on your desert hiking gear list. The desert’s harsh conditions can quickly lead to dehydration, which poses a severe threat to your well-being. As a general rule, you should bring at minimum two liters of water per person per day. However, if you’re hiking in hotter weather or planning on embarking on a strenuous hike, it’s advisable to carry even more water to stay adequately hydrated.
In the desert, the chances of finding a spring or river are virtually non-existent, so it’s important to not take any risks and come prepared with enough water, and to also have an additional reserve of about a gallon in your vehicle.
Desert hiking can take a toll on your skin, so it’s important to pack a high SPF sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn. A minimum of SPF 70 is recommended, and depending on your skin type, you may need a higher SPF. Sun screen needs to be reapplied every couple of hours while traveling in the desert especially during peak hours in the afternoon.
SPF 100 Banana Boat Sport Ultra
SPF 100 Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch
SPF 100 La Roche-Posay Anthelios
SPF 110 Neutrogena Age Shield
Sodium Replacement Powder
Electrolyte replacement powders, also known as sodium replacement powder, are an essential item to bring on a desert hike. These powders help replenish electrolytes and prevent hyponatremia, a condition caused by an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. When hiking in the heat for long periods of time, these supplements are not only helpful, but also a safety measure.
A Brimmed Hat
Spending long hours in the sun can be dangerous, and it’s essential to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. A brimmed hat is a must-have item, as it provides all-around protection for your head, neck, and face. The wider the brim, the better it will be at shielding your eyes and protecting your skin. Alternatively, a desert headscarf can also offer some degree of protection.
Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat
Columbia Unisex Adult Bora Bora Booney
Panama Jack Mesh Crown Safari Sun Hat
Just like a brimmed hat and sunscreen, it’s important to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays. Invest in a good pair of sunglasses with UV protection to keep your eyes safe and comfortable during your hike.
The best sunglasses for desert offer the highest level UV protection with a rating of UV400, which blocks between 99 and 100% of UV rays in the desert.
|BEST BUDGET GLASSES
SUNGAIT Polarized Sunglasses
Hammockable Handmade Wood Sunglasses
|TOP QUALITY GLASSES
|BEST KIDS GLASSES
ACBLUCE Kids Polarized Sunglasses
Cotton Long Sleeve Shirt
Cotton is not the best material for hiking, as it doesn’t dry quickly and is a poor insulator. However, in the desert, a cotton long sleeve shirt can be an asset, as it helps keep you cool during the day and protects your upper body from the sun.
It is especially important that your desert attire covers up every inch of your body to offer protection from the sun, and there are UPF 50+ clothing shirts that are designed 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
A Down Jacket
The desert may be hot during the day, but temperatures can drop drastically at night. Be prepared for these sudden changes by bringing a warm hat, mittens, and a down jacket, just in case.
What food to pack
The best snacks for desert hiking include options that are high in protein, healthy fats, and natural sugars. These types of snacks will provide you with sustained energy throughout the day and won’t make you thirstier. Some good options to consider include unsalted nuts, dried fruits, beef jerky, canned foods such as beans, fruits, and vegetables, energy bars, and chocolate.
All of these snacks are easy to pack, don’t spoil easily and will provide a quick boost of energy on the trail. Avoid salted options that are going to make you even more thirsty and dehydrated.
Desert Camping Gear
One of the most important things to consider when camping in the desert is staying hydrated. A hydration backpack is a great option for carrying a large amount of water with you on the trail.
These backpacks come with a hydration bladder that can hold up to 3 liters of water, and they also have pockets and compartments for storing other gear.
Osprey Atmos AG 65
CamelBak Sparta Hydration Pack
T3 Tactical Reload Hydration BPack
CamelBak Mule Hydration Pack
Desert temperatures can drop significantly at night, so it is important to bring a warm sleeping bag. Look for a sleeping bag rated for temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The Western Mountaineering MegaLite and the Nemo Disco 30 are both great options for desert camping.
Western Mountaineering Megalite
Nemo Disco 30
Hyke & Byke Eolus
A sturdy and durable tent is a must for camping in the desert. Look for a tent with UV protection and that can withstand high winds. The Crua Duo 2 and the Coleman WeatherMaster Tent with Screen Room are both great options for desert camping.
Coleman WeatherMaster Tent with Screen Room
Free Space 4-Seasons Outdoor Camping Bell Tent
Snugpak Scorpion 2 Camping Tent
Desert Survival Gear
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is essential for any outdoor adventure, but in the desert, it’s even more important. Pack a basic first aid kit with bandages, gauze, and antiseptic wipes, and be sure to include extra supplies such as tweezers, scissors, and a snake bite kit.
Also, make sure you know how to use the items in the kit in case of an emergency. A snake bite kit may be necessary depending on location.
Surviveware Survival First Aid Kit
First aid kit for desert hiking and backpacking
Rapid Care First Aid Unitized First Aid Kit
First aid kit for those who live in a desert area
Ven-Ex Snake Bite Kit
Venom extractor against snakes, scorpions, spiders, bees and wasps.
GPS, Map, and Compass
Navigating the desert can be a tricky task, which is why it’s essential to bring a GPS, map, and compass with you on your hike. These tools will help you stay on track and ensure that you don’t get lost in the vast desert landscape. It’s also important to remember to pack a backup map in case your GPS fails.
Matches or Lighter
Fire is a necessary tool in the desert, it can help you cook your food, boil water and keep you warm during the night. It’s important to pack matches or a lighter so that you can start a fire in case you need to camp overnight.
A multi-tool can be a lifesaver in the desert, it can help you remove cacti barbs from skin and clothing, and other small repairs. Even if you don’t think you will need it, it’s better to be safe than sorry and pack one.
A headlamp is yet another a must-have for desert hiking, as the sun sets early and darkness can come on quickly. Bring a headlamp with extra batteries, so you’re not left in the dark. Not only will it help you navigate in the dark, but it will also be helpful if you need to set up camp after dark.
When choosing desert hiking gear, it is important to consider the following factors:
- Weather conditions: The desert can experience extreme temperature fluctuations, so it’s crucial to choose gear that can adapt to changing weather. Opt for lightweight and breathable clothing that provides protection from the sun and allows for easy ventilation. Consider packing a wide-brimmed hat to shield your face and neck from direct sunlight. Layering is also important, as desert temperatures can drop significantly at night, so bring a lightweight jacket or fleece for warmth.
- Terrain and trail conditions: Assess the terrain you’ll be hiking on and choose appropriate footwear. Desert trails can vary from sandy dunes to rocky surfaces, so select hiking shoes or boots with sturdy soles and good traction. Look for footwear that provides ankle support to prevent injuries on uneven terrain. Gaiters can also be useful for keeping sand and debris out of your shoes.
- Fitness level and hiking experience: Consider your fitness level and previous hiking experience when selecting gear. If you’re a beginner or have limited hiking experience, start with shorter and less challenging hikes before attempting longer or more strenuous routes. Choose gear that is comfortable and fits well to avoid discomfort and blisters during your hike. Additionally, bring trekking poles if you require extra stability and support.
Additional Tips for Desert Hiking
In addition to the essential gear, here are some extra tips to enhance your desert hiking experience:
Start Early or Hike Late:
One of the most important strategies for desert hiking is to plan your hike during the cooler parts of the day. The desert can get scorching hot during the midday hours, with temperatures reaching extreme levels that can be dangerous and lead to dehydration and heatstroke.
By starting your hike early in the morning or hiking during the cooler evening hours, you can avoid the intense heat and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. This will not only ensure your safety but also provide you with the opportunity to witness breathtaking desert sunrises or sunsets, adding to the overall beauty and enjoyment of your hike.
Hike with a Buddy:
Hiking with a buddy is always a recommended practice, and it becomes even more crucial in remote desert areas. Having a hiking partner provides an extra layer of safety and security, as you can rely on each other in case of emergencies or unexpected situations.
A hiking buddy or group can assist with navigation, share the load of essential gear and supplies, and offer support and motivation throughout the hike. Additionally, hiking with a companion can enhance your overall hiking experience by allowing you to share the joys and challenges of the desert landscape with a fellow adventurer, creating lasting memories and strengthening your bond.
Inform Someone about Your Plans:
Before embarking on your desert hike, it is essential to inform a reliable person about your hiking plans. This could be a friend, family member, or park ranger. Provide them with detailed information about your intended route, estimated time of return, and any alternative plans you may have. In the event of an emergency or if you fail to return as planned, this information will help search and rescue teams locate you more efficiently. It’s important to be as specific as possible about your starting point, intended trail, and any landmarks or points of interest along the way. Regularly check in with your designated contact person during your hike to keep them updated on your progress and any changes to your plans.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings:
When hiking in the desert, it is crucial to stay vigilant and be aware of your surroundings. The desert ecosystem is unique and often home to various wildlife, some of which may pose potential hazards. Familiarize yourself with the local flora and fauna, particularly species that are known to be venomous or aggressive, such as snakes, scorpions, or spiders.
Learn to identify them and understand their behaviors and habitats. Keep a safe distance from wildlife and avoid any unnecessary interactions. It’s also important to stay on marked trails whenever possible to minimize the impact on the fragile desert ecosystem and prevent unintended harm to plants and wildlife.
Take Frequent Breaks:
Hiking in the desert can be physically demanding, especially in extreme temperatures. It is essential to listen to your body and take regular breaks to rest, hydrate, and refuel. Use these breaks to assess your physical condition, check for any signs of dehydration or heat exhaustion, and adjust your pace accordingly.
Hydration is particularly crucial in the desert environment, so make sure to drink water consistently throughout your hike, even if you don’t feel excessively thirsty. It’s advisable to carry electrolyte-rich drinks or powders to replenish the minerals and salts lost through sweating. Taking time to rest and recover will ensure that you can complete your hike comfortably and safely, without pushing yourself beyond your limits.
Know Your Limits:
While desert hiking can be an exhilarating adventure, it’s crucial to know your limits and hike within your physical capabilities. If you’re a beginner or if you’re unfamiliar with desert hiking, it’s recommended to start with shorter and less strenuous hikes to acclimate yourself to the environment and gauge your endurance.
As you gain experience and confidence, gradually increase the difficulty and length of your hikes. It’s important to be mindful of your fitness level, any pre-existing medical conditions, and the specific challenges of desert hiking. Pushing yourself too hard or attempting hikes that are beyond your capabilities can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, or injuries. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and choose hikes that align with your fitness level and experience to ensure a safe and enjoyable desert hiking experience.
Your n°1 source of information on the world of sandsports and desert adventure travel. Our articles are the result of extensive research, personal experience, and knowledge-sharing within the global sandboarding community.