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Desert Travel Tips

Elements and weather in the desert are more extreme, whether it’s hot, cold, wet or dry, you must be prepared for the worst type of each weather condition when preparing for desert travel. That being said, traveling in the desert is an incredibly rewarding experience. Interesting rock formations, stunning landscapes, refreshing oases, vibrant wildflowers, and solitude are a few of the remarkable benefits of desert travel.


Simply being in the desert will dry out your skin, mouth, and hair. Drink more water than you typically do while exercising. Hydration systems, such as CamelBak or Platypus are a great way to have easy access to water on the go. You can tell how hydrated you are by how clear your urine output is. If it’s yellow, drink more water. Plan to drink at least four liters of water each day while traveling in the desert, and bring extra water bottles so that if your hydration pack gets a leak or you want to add Gatorade or flavored powder, you can. Additionally, having a water filter, rather than tablets, is a good idea for desert travel in case streams are muddied.

Check the Flows Before You Go

Knowing where the water sources are and how high (or low) streams are flowing is important when traveling in the desert. Natural springs are often seasonal and streams can become extremely muddy during low water. Have a mapped out plan of where you intend to pump water with backup sources as well.

Weather Watch

Weather changes in desert environments are frequent and extreme. It can go from sunny to stormy in the blink of an eye. Winds rip through the desert and torrential downpours, even for a short while, can cause tremendous flash floods. It’s important to know your escape routes if you are hiking or biking in a wash or narrow canyon. Always be looking for changes in the wind or sky, and know how to access higher ground. Additionally, always strap or stake everything to a permanent object (strong trees, big rocks, sand stakes), even heavier items such as fully loaded tents or canoes can sometimes be moved by the wind.

Avoid Summer Heat

Traveling in the desert is best done in the spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler. Traveling in the early morning and evening hours is best to avoid hot weather. Long lazy lunches in the shade and afternoon siestas are a must in desert adventures. If you are planning a desert river trip, mid-summer is an ok time to go, just be prepared to get on the water early and spend the hot noontime hour(s) in side canyons, near water, or in the shade.

Desert Adventure Clothing

A loose fitting, long-sleeved, lightweight shirt is best for hot desert hiking, climbing, or biking. It both protects you from the sun and can be wetted to keep your skin cool. While it might be tempting to wear a tank top, keeping your skin covered prevents burning and keeps your skin cooler. Shorts are fine as long as you wear plenty of sunscreen on your legs. Wearing a broad-brimmed hat is also extremely important. Baseball caps are ok, but they leave skin on your face, neck, and shoulders exposed to the sun.

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