Desert Hiking: Beginner’s Guide For Hiking In The Desert


Desert hiking may not sound as appealing as hiking under the shade and cover of the woods. But hiking in the desert does have its perks, especially when you consider the many wonderful sights hidden in the vast drylands. Take note though that it is a very different activity than hiking in the woods, and certain precautions need to be taken to ensure that your trip is as safe and as enjoyable as possible.

Bring Lots of Water

This should go without saying, but many people underestimate how much water they need for desert hiking. As a general rule, you’ll want to bring at least a liter of water for every hour you plan to spend out in the desert. This is because you’ll be losing more body fluids than usual, and you’ll want to replace them with water to keep yourself hydrated.

Along that line, avoid bringing sodas and other flavored drinks like iced coffee and others. More importantly, do not ever think about bringing alcohol. They may taste better than water and sound like fun, but they won’t be able to replenish your lost body fluids as well as water can. They may hasten the dehydration process and leave you feeling thirstier than when you started.

Wear Sunscreen and Lip Balm

Protecting yourself from sunburn and other harmful effects of the sun include wearing sunscreen and lip balm before heading out into the desert.

Make sure that you wear sunscreen with high enough SPF levels to protect you from the sun. Remember, the sun out in the desert can be much more dangerous to your skin. Also, avoid sunscreens that are predominantly sold as beauty products. They don’t contain enough SPF to combat the intense ultraviolet rays of the desert sun. Also, be sure to re-apply sunscreen now and then, even when you’re wearing sun-protective clothing.

Your lips are also in danger of drying up and breaking while hiking in the desert, not only because of the sun’s heat but also because of the hot air. That said, wear lip balm with SPF protection to prevent these things from happening. Just like sunscreen, you’ll want to re-apply lip balm every once in a while because the prior applications will fade easily as you constantly lick your lips and drink water.

Wear the Right Clothes

You must wear appropriate clothes when hiking out in the desert. Not only should you wear clothes that keep you cool, but at the same time give you protection from the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Long pants. Some people think that wearing hiking shorts in the desert is okay because it helps to cool down their lower extremities. Although a valid argument, it is still better for you to wear long hiking pants instead. This will give you better protection against thorny desert bushes and keep your legs from getting sunburns.

Long sleeve shirts. Long sleeve shirts are preferred over short-sleeve or even sleeveless shirts when you’re out hiking in the desert to protect your arms from getting sunburned. You’ll want to avoid using cotton shirts because they don’t dry quickly, which means that you’ll be soaking in sweat for the longest time while hiking.

Jacket. Why bring a jacket in the desert? Because weather temperatures can drop drastically during the night time out in the desert. You don’t have to wear your jacket while hiking, but you’ll want to make sure that you have one in your hiking backpack just in case you find yourself still out there after sundown.

Hiking boots. The desert is tough terrain, and most of the time you’ll be walking on sharp gravel or loose dirt. That said, you’ll want to wear hiking boots with tough soles and uppers. Also, wear hiking boots that go up to your ankles for better protection against sprains. High cut hiking boots are also much better at preventing dirt and sand from entering the boots compared to low cut hiking shoes.

Hiking socks. You should consider investing in high-quality hiking socks because you certainly wouldn’t want to be wearing cotton socks while you’re out in the desert. This is especially true if you have sweaty feet. Hiking socks have moisture-wicking abilities and dry quicker, and they also have specially designed soles to keep your feet from slipping inside the boots.

Wide-brimmed hat. Although a cap will do, it is better to wear a wide-brimmed hat. This will offer better protection against the sun, especially for the back of your neck. Look for hats that have mesh or vents in them to allow heat from your head to escape.

Sunglasses. Sunglasses are crucial because you’ll want to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun. Polarized sunglasses are great because they generally have UV protection, and they also allow you to see the surroundings much clearer than ordinary dark sunglasses.

Keep an eye out for Wildlife


The vast and dry terrains of the desert are home to a variety of wildlife, some of which can be pretty dangerous like venomous snakes and scorpions. Thus, always keep your eyes peeled for these creatures while you’re out hiking in the desert. This may not always be easy considering that they are camouflaged and blends well with their surroundings, but you’ll want to try your best nonetheless. After all, your safety depends on it.

Check the Weather Forecast

When talking about deserts, most people immediately think about hot and dry places. However, even deserts get their fair share of rain sometimes. And out in the desert, when it rains it pours so much so that it causes flash floods and thunderstorms. These rains are so torrential that they can fill up canyons to the brim. That said, be sure to check the local weather forecasts in the area that you are planning to hike in. Look for reports on weather disturbances and possible thunderstorms. If there are any, you may want to consider postponing your trip for another time.

Bring Hiking Essentials

Aside from food and water, there are several other hiking essentials that you’ll need to bring.

Map and compass. If you’re hiking in a well-traversed trail, you can get a map from the local store or you can get one online and print it out. Also, don’t forget to bring a compass to accompany your map.

Emergency Beacon. Emergency beacons or personal locator beacons are one of the most important items in a hiker’s checklist. These devices can be very helpful in helping authorities or search parties to locate you just in case you meet an accident while hiking.

Water Filter. Some desert hiking trails go have natural or man-made water sources available for hikers to refill their water bottles. This is great especially if you don’t like carrying gallons of water while hiking. However, there is no certainty that the water here is clean and potable. That said, you’ll want to bring along a water filter to ensure that your drinking water is safe and clean.

Flashlight. You may have no plans of staying in the desert during nighttime, but there are times when things simply don’t go according to plan and you suddenly find yourself still in the desert after the sun has gone down. So be sure to pack along a flashlight and some extra batteries. If you’re bringing a rechargeable flashlight, make sure that it’s fully charged before you leave home.

Hike with a Friend

Hiking solo can be fun. It allows you to have some personal time on your own to relax and reflect especially during those times when the stress of work or home is starting to get to your nerves. However, as a first-time hiker in the desert, you should consider going with a friend or a family member. You can also join guided hiking tours. Having someone nearby can be of immense help especially for first-timers. They can provide you with an extra pair of eyes to help spot dangers along the trail and even call for help when needed.

Tell Someone Where You’re Going

You must let a friend of a family member know about your desert hiking plans. Leave them your itinerary detailing when you intend to go, the places you’ll be visiting, and when they can expect you to be back. You should also leave the contact number of the authorities in the area you’ll be hiking in so they have someone to contact in case they can’t reach you.

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Desert hiking is no mean feat as you’ll be hiking under extreme temperatures and rough terrains, bringing with it a certain kind of challenge that hiking in the woods often doesn’t have. But don’t let this discourage you from hiking in the desert, because there are plenty of wonderful sights and enjoyable things to do out in the vast drylands.

More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:


  1. Tips and Tricks for Hiking in the Desert, Happiest Outdoors
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!