Last Updated on August 11, 2022
Finding food in the desert is more difficult than in any other environment out there, even more so in hot sandy deserts like the Sahara where resources are scarse and the heat unbearable.
If you are planning a hiking trip to the desert, it’s best to think ahead and bring your own food. But there are actually quite a few different species of plants in the desert, many of which are edible, and so are most animals you will encounter. If you find yourself in a desert survival situation, it is possible to rely on your bushcrafting, foraging and hunting skills to find food in the desert.
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Foods you can find in the desert
Prickly Pear Cactus
In the American deserts, you can find edible prickly pear cacti, which are commonly eaten in some cuisines such as Mexican (ever heard of nopales?). Every part of the cactus is edible, including the fruit and pads, making sure you have removed the thorns. Cacti can be eaten raw and are a good source of hydration.
Date palms are undoubtedly the most iconic type of tree in the desert. Dates are considered a superfood in the desert, rich in nutrients and natural sugars that provide energy. You can recognize ripe dates by their aspect: pick fruits that are brown and have wrinkles, they should also be slightly soft to the touch.
In rocky deserts and canyons, with a little luck you can find bird nests in the crevices of higher rocks. If you find eggs you can eat them, taking care to cook them to reduce the risk of salmonella. Cooking an egg in the desert is quite simple, just find a rock or large stone exposed to the sun, crack the egg on it and it will cook in no time as if you were using a frying pan.
Rabbits and Hares
You can find rabbits and hares in most hot deserts, from the Sonoran desert in the US to the Sahara in northern Africa. Cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits and Cape hares are available as game meat in the desert. After hunting a rabbit, remove the head and skin it with your hunting knife. Remove the insides and cook the meat before eating.
All desert snakes are also edible, including those that are venomous (provided you get rid of the head which contains toxins). They are easier to hunt at night since they are nocturnal predators. Hit them with a rock to stun them and then attack the head with your knife or a large stone. Remove the scales and cook the snake meat in the sun before eating it.
Like snakes, lizards are another type of reptiles which can be hunted for food in the desert. Most types of lizards are edible even though some may be venomous, like monitor lizards and beaded lizards. You can usually consume them provided you remove the head where they produce their toxins. Keep in mind that some species may be endangered and you should not hunt them under any circumstances.
Desert Bushcraft Gear
Desert bushcrafting is about living deliberately in the outdoors, learning to build shelter, hunt and gather food, detect water sources, treat burns and injuries, and construct simple tools from natural materials. It’s all about being able to improvise and come up with solutions to problems as they occur in the unforgiving desert environment. Because of the nature of this climate, it is important to be prepared for all eventualities. That means having the right gear:
Bushcraft Knife or Multitool
In any survival situation, holding a sturdy two-bladed knife or multitool can be extremely practical. It has a multitude of potential uses including hunting, foraging, cutting, cooking, and so on.
LifeStraw Water Purifier
When you are stranded in the desert without water, you are gonna have to rely on whatever source of water you may encounter in order to stay hydrated. This can be risky because a stream of water may be contaminated and make you sick, which in turn will make you more dehydrated. LifeStraw technology allows you to remove 99.99+% of all bacteria, viruses and protozoa in water found in nature, e.g. streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, etc.
Tinder-quik Fire Tabs and a bunch of Lighters
Finding wood and other dry material to burn for setting up a campfire can be challenging in a desert where vegetation is scarce. Tinder-quik fire tabs make for a great addition to your desert survival kit, as nights in the desert can get very cold and you will also need a source of heat for cooking your food.
First Aid Kit
A desert first aid kit must include wound care items and treatments for burns and scalds, as well as all the essential travel medication you would find in a traditional kit. In addition to that, a Snake Bite kit with a venom extractor sunction pump may be useful.
Desert Camping Essentials Checklist
- Camping Tent
- Sleeping Bag
- Desert Backpack
- Desert Hiking Boots
- Plenty of water
- Food for desert
- First aid kit
- Travel insurance covering desert activities
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