Last Updated on August 11, 2022

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.

Having the necessary desert hiking gear and following a few precaution tips will ensure that your hike goes as smoothly as possible.

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Man hiking in the desert
Hiking in the desert.

Desert Hiking Tips

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.

Protect yourself from sunburns

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. Hence, it is important to take a few actions to protect yourself:

  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
BEST BUDGET GLASSES

SUNGAIT Ultra Lightweight Rectangular Polarized Sunglasses UV400 Protection

SUNGAIT Polarized Sunglasses
TOP DESIGNER
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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

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.

Prepare for cold weather

Even if you are traveling to a hot desert, if you are planning to stay overnight you will have to deal with sharp drops in temperature. 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.


Desert Hiking Gear


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.



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

It is also recommended to wear long pants and trousers in the desert. The best pants for desert hiking are long, light, and UPF50+.



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.


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. 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.


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. The higher Merino 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 offer the best sun protection and are made of lightweight 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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