Last Updated on January 25, 2023

Desert hiking is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences you can have, and which everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

In fact, a hiking trip to the desert presents many logistical and organizational challenges regarding hydration, protection from sunlight, and dealing with extreme temperature changes between day and night.

Before the beginning of your journey, it is important to bring with you all the necessary desert hiking gear and to follow a few precaution tips which will ensure that your desert hike goes as smoothly as possible.

Below, everything you need to know in order to prepare yourself for your next desert adventure.

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Man hiking in the desert
Hiking in the desert.

Desert Hiking Tips

1. Check the local weather

Weather conditions in the desert can change drastically and very quickly. Even in a hot desert, flash floods and thunderstorm are very common, especially at night. Make sure you plan your trip accordingly and keep an eye on the weather forecast a few days before you leave.

There are four main types of deserts: hot, cold, semi-arid, and coastal. The only characteristic they have in common is that they are very dry with little to no precipitation, other than that, they differ in terms of seasons, temperature ranges and wildlife.


2. Protect yourself from the hot desert sun

The sun in the desert is stronger than anywhere else, because of the lack of vegetation and shade, and because sunshines get reflected by sand.

Needless to say, it is important to take a few actions to protect yourself from the hot desert sun:

  1. Cover up from head to toe, leaving as little skin as possible exposed
  2. Apply strong suncreen every two hours or so
  3. Wear desert sunglasses, because the sun can also damage your eyes

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
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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

3. Bring more water than you think you need

How much water should you bring to the desert? Ideally, when hiking in the desert you should bring around 2 to 6 quarts (10 to 20 cups) of water with you for daily excursions, and also keep another gallon (4 liters) as a reserve in your vehicle.

It is also a good idea to have some electrolyte sources in the form of sport drinks or coconut water to replenish salts and minerals you lose sweating.

A purifying water bottle can help you collect water from streams or fountains, never drink water you find in the desert without filtering or boiling it first.


4. Be ready for sudden drops in temperature

Even if you are traveling to a hot desert, if you are planning to spend extended periods of time there you will have to deal with sharp drops in temperature at night.

Because of this it is recommended to dress in layers and always have a jacket that you can put on at night and in the case of rain.

If you are camping in the desert, then you will also need to pick an adequate desert tent and sleeping bag to keep you warm at night.


5. Pack some snacks

When the sun is scorching and the heat feels unbearable, it’s easy to forget to eat. Even if you are not hungry, you need to restore your energies.

When camping in the desert, make sure to bring with you foods that won’t spoil easily and that are not going to make you thirstier. Ideal desert hiking snacks are unsalted nuts, dried fruits, beef jerky, canned foods, instant ramen, crackers and oatmeal.


Desert Hiking Gear

Below, a list of accessories which will make your trip to the desert easier:

  • Backpack with hydration reservoir – this will allow you to bring as much water with you as possible
  • Purifying water flask – if you find water in the desert, you must make sure to kill all bacteria before drinking it, so consider bringing a water purification system or tablets with you.
  • Water cooler – to keep your beverages cool in the heat.
  • Merino socks and desert gaiters – to protect your legs and feet from hot sand, debris, and absorb moisture from sweat so that you stay comfortable in the heat.
  • First aid kid – Pack a small first aid kit with supplies like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain medication in case of minor injuries or emergencies. You may want to include a snake bite kit depending on location.

Man wearing desert clothing on a hike in the Sahara desert
Desert hiking gear includes long-sleeve clothing for maximum protection against the sun.

Desert Hiking Clothes

In a hot desert environment with no shelter from the scorching sun it is imperative to cover yourself from head to toe, preferring long-sleeved shirts and long pants and avoiding wearing t-shirts, tank tops and shorts.

Say yes to closed tennis shoes or desert boots, no to sandals and flip-flops (and absolutely do not go barefoot in the desert). A sun hat or a headscarf (like a desert shemagh) will also ensure you get full protection for your head, neck and shoulders.

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.


Shirts

The best shirts for desert hiking are long sleeve, lightweight, and offer UPF50+ sun protection. Most people prefer to opt for lighter colored clothing, although there’s a debate around whether what kind of color you wear in the desert actually makes a difference.



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

Pants

Covering your upper body is not enough, it is also recommended to wear long pants and trousers in the desert. The best pants for desert hiking are long, light, and UPF50+. Avoid shorts or you’ll end up scorching your legs.



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 for the early mornings and evenings in the desert when the temperature drops. UPF protection is a nice addition but not a must in this case as you’re unlikely to wear the jacket during peak sun hours.

Wind, sandstorms and sudden rain showers can however become a problem at night, and tend to appear all of a sudden, so it is important to have a jacket on hand at all times.


Weatherproof Original Mens Golf Jacket (Mens Windbreaker)

Weatherproof Vintage Womens Rain Slicker Jacket

BALEAF Kid UPF 50+ Sun Protection Jacket Hooded Cooling Shirt with Pockets Hiking Outdoor Performance
Browse more desert jackets

Shoes

When hiking in the desert it is recommended to always wear closed-toe tennis shoes in order to protect your feet from scorching sand and debris.

The best desert hiking shoes are lightweight, durable, and transpirant.

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

Desert boots are ideal for more challenging terrains you may encounter during your expedition, and especially needed if you are travelling to a rocky desert or canyon in the US.


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

The best socks for desert hiking are made of Merino wool, a special type of material which is especially good at absorbing moisture from sweat and keeping your feet fresh. As a rule of thumb, the higher Merino wool percentage, the better.

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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

When hiking in the desert, gaiters offer an extra layer of protection against rocks, debris, snake bites and scorpion stings. Depending on where you go and how adventurous your hike is, you may need them or not.

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

Hat

Sun hats are ideal for desert hiking because they are made specifically to offer maximum protection against the sun and are made of lightweight, breathable materials.


Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat

Columbia Unisex Adult Bora Bora Booney

Panama Jack Mesh Crown Safari Sun Hat
Read more: Best hat for desert hiking

Scarf

Desert Shemag or Keffiyeh scarves are useful for protection against the sun as well as sandstorms and wind. Wear them as a bandana and use them to cover your mouth and nose if the weather is particularly windy.

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100% cotton shemagh
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100% cotton keffiyeh
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Cotton/Polyester blend shemagh
Browse more desert scarves

Desert Hiking & Camping Essentials Checklist

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