Hiker walking on a trail in the desert Hiker walking on a trail in the desert

7 Essential Desert Survival Tips

7 Essential Desert Survival Tips

If you live near a desert climate, or plan or exploring one this year, it’s important to understand the environment. Here are a few essential dessert survival tips that’ll keep you alive if you get off trail. Make sure you read to the end. You might be surprised to learn the biggest danger of a desert environment.

Using a Leatherman Signal to start a fire

1. Be Prepared to Make a Fire

You read that right. 

Most folks see the desert as a barren wasteland of dry sand and dirt where the temperature never drops below 100 degrees. But the truth is, it can get cold out there.

Making a fire at night will help you keep warm. It will also help rescuers find you if you are lost. Sage and dry brush make for good kindling, as do dry animal droppings.

A multi-tool like the Leatherman Signal is an essential piece of equipment for outdoor adventures. It includes 19 durable tools including a ferro rod that makes starting fires easier even in the worst conditions. Learn more about the signal in this Tool Spotlight article.

Hiker putting water in a pack with a Leatherman in their pocket

2. Preserve Sweat, not Water

Too many people believe you should focus on conserving your water when lost in the desert. But it’s your sweat you should worry about.

Focus your efforts on maintaining a normal body temperature and keeping your skin out of the sun.

Build a shelter in the shade that will allow the breeze to flow in. Do not wander around in full sunlight.

3. Don’t Drink the Cactus

There has been a myth circulating for decades that you can drink the water inside a cactus to survive in the desert. In fact, doing so might just kill you faster. The water inside the average cactus is not pure enough to drink and is toxic to the human body. You’re better off not drinking any water at all than resorting to this.

Learn more about the dangers of drinking cactus water here: Can You Drink Water from a Cactus? Understanding the Dangers.

Hiker walking up a hill on the desert

5. Stay Off the Ground

While exhaustion might cause you to want to lie down on the ground, you should stay off of it whenever possible. The desert ground can reach upward of 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so make yourself a cushion to sit on.

If you’re stranded with your car, remove the seats and place them on the ground under shade. Otherwise start unpacking gear and see what’s comfortable enough to make a seat with. You want to try and put at least a foot and half between you and the desert floor.

6. Keep Your Clothes On

With the sun bearing down on you, it might seem like a good idea to start peeling off clothes, but this could be disastrous. Exposing your skin to the sunlight will lead to sunburn and speed up dehydration. Instead, you’ll want to cover as much skin as possible and keep it away from direct heat.

Make sure you are familiar with the signs of heatstroke.

7. Stay High to Stay Dry

One of the biggest threats in the desert is flash flooding. Ditches, arroyos, and canyons can fill quickly with water and cover you before you realize what’s happening. Drowning kills more people in the desert than dehydration. Keep to high ground and avoid any place that could spell doom during a torrential downpour.

We hope these tips help keep you safe if you need to survive in the desert. Don’t forget to always tell someone where you are going. The key to any wilderness survival plan is to share your plans with friends or family. Tell them your route and when you expect to be back.

Planning some hikes in cooler climates? See our favorite tools for outdoor adventures in any environment here Multi-tools for Hiking and Climbing