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10 Tips for Camping and Hiking in Desert Climates

Emily and I love to explore the unique landscapes of the desert. However, desert climates can pose some serious challenges when camping, hiking, or backpacking.

Between the sun, heat, sand, and lack of natural shelter, it’s easy to encounter problems.

Here are our 10 tips for hiking & camping in desert climates.

1. If You Can’t Beat the Heat, Avoid It

Avoid doing strenuous activity during the midday heat! Morning is the coolest part of the day for physically demanding activities. So try to schedule your peak physical exertion around the cooler mornings and evenings.

2. Water, Water, Water

Always bring extra water. Unforeseen accidents can keep you out for longer than expected. You want to make sure that you have enough hydration to keep you going and avoid heat exhaustion.

3. Ice Ice Baby

One of my favorite tips for the desert is to add some ice to your water bottle or hydration bladder. It makes a world of difference having refreshing cold water.

Ice in a hydration pack is especially nice because it keeps your back from getting so hot and sweaty.  Just be aware that condensation may occur inside your bag.

And for extreme cooling, consider purchasing dry ice to add to your cooler. At -109 degrees Fahrenheit, this frozen liquid nitrogen product is exponentially colder than H2O ice. And it turns straight into a gas, instead of leaving behind melted water in your cooler.

4. Fun-size Sun Protection

Don’t let your skin look like this

Buy a small bottle of sunscreen, so that you have no excuse to not carry it everywhere. You never want to be stuck without proper sun protection.

I use larger bottles of sunscreen to continually refill the smaller one so I don’t have to carry a huge bottle but still get the savings of buying in bulk.

5. No Melting Foods

Avoid foods that will melt in the heat, like trail mix with chocolate. I know, it’s delicious.  But it will just melt and become a mess.

6. Neck Buffs, an Unlikely Friend

While many people might only consider a neck buff for cold climates. Neck buffs are actually quite useful in the desert too. They can serve so many purposes.

  • Wear it over your nose and mouth if dust or sand starts blowing.
  • Filter out smells when visiting one of those smelly backcountry bathrooms.
  • Soak it in water to provide some evaporative cooling on your head or neck.
  • Move it to an area that might need some extra sun protection.

I prefer the lightweight wool neck buff because they don’t get as smelly as synthetics and they are light enough to be worn in hot weather.

7. Protect your Perishables

Put perishables and coolers in your trunk or towards the center of your car. And use a windshield sun visor to help keep the heat out. This will keep your food out of the sun as much as possible.

Ice in your cooler will last longer, and unrefrigerated foods will stay fresher.

8. Light and Breathable Clothing

Opt for lighter clothing on hot days. Ditch your heavier-material clothing for something lightweight and breathable, like athletic wear. I reach for a pair of running shorts and my Chacos for all my desert hikes.

9. Plan For Extreme Temperature Swings

Emily bundled up in warm clothes for a cold night in the desert.

Don’t underestimate the temperature swing between day and night. You might think of deserts as only hot, but temperatures can swing over 40℉ between day and night.  This is especially true for the high desert, that is deserts with high elevation.

So just because it’s hot during the day, doesn’t mean it can’t be freezing cold at night.

10. Savor the Shade

Finding shade under a tree in the desert.

Finding shade can be a challenge in the desert, so don’t miss a chance to cool off.  Even a small tree can provide a cool place for a break. Or choose hikes that have shady canyons or cliffs that provide some shade.

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10 Tips for Hiking & Camping In The Desert
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