5 Safety Tips for Hiking in the Desert

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Photo courtesy of @traveltalktours
Hiking in the desert is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. The desert can be an unforgiving place for the unprepared though. When hitting problems and not preparing right, things can get dicey real fast in the heat.
Here are five safety tips for when taking a hike deep into the desert.

Skip the Superman/Supergirl Routine

When you’re hiking in the desert, it’s easy to go out too hard and fast without considering distance or pacing yourself. If you have a bit of an ego, or if you’re inexperienced as a hiker, you might make this classic mistake. Respect the desert, terrain and conditions.
If you’re going on a multi-day desert hike, go easier on the first day to see how you handle it. Your feet need to get accustomed to the movement, friction and heat generated inside each hiking boot. With endurance, this will build up over time; not overnight. Stretching is also a good idea if your hike might take you over uneven or undulating terrain as most hikes do. You don’t want to risk pulling a tendon when you are half-way to the next GPS waypoint.

Pack Lighter Than You Think You Need

It doesn’t matter how far you’re walking in a day, thicker clothing, heavy boots, and a stuffed oversized backpack will become cumbersome long before the day is over.
Look into purchasing an ultralight backpack that’s ideal for hiking. If you’re wanting to switch to ultralight, aim for going out with 10 pounds (4.5 kg) or less on your back. It will make the day more enjoyable when you don’t feel like a pack mule – believe us! There’re no porters in the desert to carry your luggage for you. That’s unless you’re planning an extra trip to Nepal. Plan accordingly.

Hike During the Coolest Times of the Day

Many great hiking spots get hotter than novice hikers expect. To handle the heat when hiking during the summer, adapt to it. Act like the desert animals do to survive it. Move over terrain in the early morning, late afternoon, and early evening when there’s still light. Avoid hiking from 10am through to 4pm because that’s when it’s hottest.
When you’re hiking from a designated point A to point B where the hike doesn’t end until you hit point B, leave prepared. Hike with a buddy in case you fall ill and have trouble making the distance. Just having the moral support when suddenly feeling under the weather or after getting injured will help you push through to your destination.
Bring along a compass and a headlamp in case you get lost in the evening. Pack enough food and water to cover more than the total excursion time and to cover unexpected delays; you’ll need sustenance to keep your strength up. Furthermore, if you’re walking in the evening, keep a good eye open for animals that are also walking around once the sun has come down.

Take Continued Hydration Seriously

The deserts around the world regularly hit near-record temperatures. The scarily named Death Valley in California recorded 134-degrees Fahrenheit (56.7-degrees Centigrade) in 1913 and still to this day has warnings posted for hikers about soaring temperatures in the summertime.
Dehydration happens when the human body is losing more water than it’s taking in. Colder water must be heated up by the body before it can be used to reduce your body’s core temperature. While drinking ice cold water feels great, it slows down bringing the body’s temperature down (cold towels applied to the exterior does help).
The effects of dehydration can hit you suddenly and unexpectedly. Also, you can get heat stroke or other heat-related medical issues causing you to collapse on the ground. Just dehydration alone can cause fatigue and confusion making hiking impossible. Stay hydrated by taking small sips of water before you feel thirsty and always travel with a buddy for protection. Bring 2-3 liters of water with you on a serious hike.

Go Old School with a Map

While digital devices are great, when their battery runs dry and the power bank cannot save you, you could end up in serious trouble. A smartphone’s glass display is hard to see in the bright midday sun too! For longer hikes, buy a paper map that shows the desert landscape. Most local maps will show the best trails in the area and will give you a clearer idea on distance and undulating terrain. Hiking apps for iOS and Android provide useful information about different locations and trail information for planning purposes.
Going on a hike is one of the best ways to see expansive deserts up close. Each one provides different vistas and memorable journeys. Just make sure you arrive ready to tackle the conditions to avoid getting caught unprepared.