Last Updated on September 6, 2023
Venturing into the unknown? Travelling in the desert is a challenging yet rewarding experience that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.
Whether you are going on a desert hike, setting up a camp under the stars, or running a desert marathon, it’s important to be prepared.
To make the most out of your desert adventure, here is a checklist of recommended desert camping gear and equipment that you need to bring with you when you hit the dunes.
Desert Camping Essentials Checklist
- Camping Tent
- Sleeping Bag
- Long Sleeve Shirts & Pants
- Closed-toe shoes
- Plenty of water
- First aid kit
- Desert-friendly snacks
- Travel insurance covering desert activities
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The lack of shade and protection from heavy winds make camping in the desert somewhat challenging and a sturdy, high-quality tent with UV protection can make or break your sand dune adventure.
Our top pick for a quality desert tent is the Crua Duo 2 – it’s extremely lightweight but with a sturdy aluminium base that resists wind, and its reflective flysheet make it versatile so that you can stay chill during the day (by reflecting UV rays outside the tent) and warm at night (by turning the reflective side inwards).
It’s also an overall great tent against desert wind. If you are planning a long camping trip in extreme hot weather, it may be worth to invest in an evaporative air cooler to chill the air and add humidity around you.
Coleman WeatherMaster Tent with Screen Room
Free Space 4-Seasons Outdoor Camping Bell Tent
Snugpak Scorpion 2 Camping Tent
The best sleeping bags for desert hiking are not too bulky while still offering protection from temperatures below 30F (-1°C).
Night temperatures often fall from 100F (35°C) to 25F(-3°C) overnight, so it is recommended to get a warm enough sleeping bag, paired with some long-sleeve clothes you can sleep in.
If you are looking for a great desert camping sleeping bag that is versatile, lightweight and warm, the Western Mountaineering Megalite ticks all the boxes. Make sure to also grab a compactor bag to optimize your space.
When hiking in the desert you will need to carry large amounts of water with you, so it’s important to bring a sturdy rucksack with you.
The best backpack for a desert trip is lightweight, capient, and ventilated so that it doesn’t absorb your sweat in the hot weather.
You will also want at least a few side pockets where you can keep your water flask and sun protection cream.
The Osprey Atmos AG 65 is an incredible backpack for desert as it keeps the weight off your back both reducing load and keeping sweat away.
Cherry on top? You can get an internal sleeve hydration reservoir for carrying extra liquids.
Osprey Atmos AG 65
CamelBak Sparta Hydration Pack
T3 Tactical Reload Hydration BPack
CamelBak Mule Hydration Pack
If you think you can just walk around the desert wearing short sleeves, think again.
Even on the hottest day, night temperatures in the desert fall sharply and very suddenly.
It’s best to always keep a light jacket or extra layer of clothing at hand and make sure you are not caught off guard when this happens.
Always wear loose, long-sleeve shirts and trousers in the desert during the day and bring something heavier to put on at night.
You most likely won’t need a rain jacket in the desert, rain showers happen but they come and go very quickly.
Wind storms and sand blowing everywhere are much more of a concern.
Shirts and Pants
It’s ideal to wear long sleeve and pants in the desert. Choose clothes that have UPF protection to protect your skin from the sun.
Cotton is not recommended as it absorbs sweat and takes a long time to dry, instead, synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and spandex are ideal as they wick moisture away from the skin, are quick-drying, and provide UV protection.
When it comes to pants, lightweight and breathable materials such as quick-dry nylon or a blend of nylon and spandex are ideal.
Convertible pants that can be easily converted into shorts are also a great option as they allow for ventilation and temperature control.
Avoid wearing denim as it holds in heat and takes a long time to dry. A desert scarf can also help protect your face and mouth.
SUNGAIT Polarized Sunglasses
Hammockable Handmade Wood Sunglasses
ACBLUCE Kids Polarized Sunglasses
Walking barefoot on scorching hot sand is a recipe for third degree burn, so limit that to very specific locations and times of the day.
You should always wear closed-toe shoes in the afternoon and in the summer when temperature is at its highest.
If you are into that, barefoot shoes with a thick enough sole are also an option. In many deserts you are also likely to encounter nasty snakes or scorpions, so you may want to include an extra layer of protection by putting on a pair desert gaiters.
Hanes Men’s Long Sleeve Cool Dri T-Shirt UPF 50+
HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 7
75% Merino wool socks
Scott Recoil Pro WFS Goggles
100% cotton shemagh
It goes without saying that sun protection is extremely important in the desert, and a sun cream offering at the very least 50 SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is recommended.
The best sunscreen for desert hiking is 70 SPF or higher and sweat-proof, such as Sun Bum Original SPF 70.
Keep in mind that no matter what sun cream you choose, you will still need to reapply it every two hours or so (the stronger the sun, the more often you’ll need it), so make sure to stock up.
An anti sweat cream will make it so that its effects will last a bit longer.
Not only you need to apply the strongest sun protection you can find, but if you are hiking for several hours, you will need to re-apply it regularly as you sweat in the desert heat.
SPF 100 Banana Boat Sport Ultra
SPF 100 Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch
SPF 100 La Roche-Posay Anthelios
SPF 110 Neutrogena Age Shield
Everyone knows the dangers of the sun for your skin, but a less known threat they pose is to your eyes as well.
In fact, your eyes are 10 times more sensitive to harmful UV rays than your skin is.
In the desert, the sunrays get reflected by the sand and the lack of shade makes the use of sunglasses especially important.
The best desert sunglasses have a UV400 rating, which means they block between 99% and 100% of all UV rays.
The single most essential item you will need in the desert.
If you are wondering how much water you should bring with you on a desert trip, the anwer is bring more than you need.
Ideally, aim for 2-6 quartz (around the same in liters) of water per day that you are going to spend hiking out in the sun, and one more gallon (4 liters) as backup in your vehicle.
Sources of electrolytes and fluid replacement drinks are also not a bad idea, to fight dehydration and replenish minerals you will lose when sweating.
Coconut water is an especially good idea. You may also want to get yourself a nice soft cooler bag to keep your drinks fresh in the desert.
While staying hydrated should be your priority in the desert, remember to also fuel your energy with proper meal choices.
The best foods for desert camping are either canned or dried, as they can be stored for days without the need for refrigeration.
Make sure to include at least some dried fruits and sources of protein like meat jerky or canned beans.
First Aid Kit
A good desert hiking first aid kit can – literally – be a lifesaver when you have a medical emergency while stranded in the middle of nowhere. A generic outdoor sports first-aid kit will cover most minor injuries, with included trauma supplies and minor burns.
Keep in mind that you may need to stack on different kind of medicinals depending on which desert location you are going to, and a kit to treat snake bites may be a good idea in some cases.
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.
Travel insurance covering desert activities
When first aid is not enough, you may need end up needing medical attention.
Never underestimate the importance of adequate desert travel insurance – and always double check with your insurance provider that they are going to cover any kind of activity you are planning to conduct during your trip.
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