Traveling through the desert can be a transformative experience. It is one of the most unforgivable environments on the planet. Hot in the day, cold at night, and vast expanses of, well, not much other than sand. Deserts are worth exploring, but caution needs to be taken. In this post, we will explain a few survival tips if you find yourself in a difficult situation.
Bring an excessive amount of water with you
Consider that in most desert environments a half gallon of water is the absolute minimum you should be drinking on a daily basis. The heat and the dry air will dehydrate you much faster than you think. You should plan to have at least a gallon of water for every day you are in the desert.
If you are low on water, continue to drink, but in measured amounts
One of the biggest mistakes people make if they are low on water in the desert is to stop drinking. They think that they need to conserve water at all costs, so they let themselves get dehydrated. In many cases, people who are found dead in the desert are discovered with drinking water on their person.
They died of dehydration even though they still had water. You need to continue drinking water, but do so in a deliberate and measured manner. Sip on the water throughout the day, but do not drink large quantities at once. Doing so will overwhelm your kidneys and will result in you urinating out most of the water that you just drank.
You also should avoid overeating. Your body can go longer without food than it can without water. What’s more, eating actually requires a large amount of water for the food to be metabolized. So eating, especially foods that are high in salt and protein, will actually dehydrate you rapidly if you are low on water. If you are going to eat anything, try light carbohydrate snacks and don’t eat too much of them.
Take shelter during times of extreme heat or cold
Extreme heat during the day and extreme cold during the night – this is the desert climate. Morning and evening times provide your best opportunity for movement. During the heat of the day, you should take cover under some shade. If there is none, you should find a way to make some yourself, either with a tarp or other fabric. At night, try to find a spot to take shelter before the cold really sets in. It’s harder to recover body heat if your starting point is you as a shivering mess.
Seal and protect
Tried to keep your mouth closed as much as possible (or cover your mouth with a bandana or cloth) as you can lose a significant amount of moisture this way. Also, be sure to cover your head as much as possible. A broad rimmed hat is ideal as it provides you with the maximum amount of shade, but anything to protect the top of your head will help as this is your first point of contact with the sun, and the one that will contribute to the greatest loss of fluids.
Avoid drinking from unknown water sources
See a little stream or creek and think the water must be clean? Think again. Even crystal clear water can be contaminated with bacteria, often from the waste of animals. If you get any kind of bacterial infection or parasite from drinking said water, you will quickly lose fluids from ways that are far more unpleasant than sweating (namely vomiting and diarrhea). Unless you have the means to purify water (see our post on this here), avoid questionable water sources.
Hopefully you don’t find yourself lost in the desert with dwindling supplies, but if you do, hopefully the above tips will help. Another important thing to consider is that it is unwise to try and walk to a town or population center unless you are sure of the route and the distance. In many cases, it is a better idea to stay put where you are, especially if you are close to a vehicle or something else that can provide shade and shelter. Your chances of survival will be much higher.
Finally, you may interested in watching this short video on desert survival from a user on youtube:
Photo credit: flickr user elBidule