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Hiking can be a fun, relaxing, and enjoyable activity that helps keeps you active and gives you time to interact with nature.

While a hike in the woods can be shaded and cool, desert hiking can be more extreme and require more attention to your safety.

With many elements actively around you during a hike and little protection, you will need to make sure you are properly prepared with desert hiking safety tips.

Why staying safe is important

Safety should always be your first priority during any activity, especially one taking place outside.

There are many different factors outside that can prove dangerous to your health and put you in harms way.

A desert is no exception to this.

Doing proper preparation before beginning your hike with help keep you safer and in your best health condition.

This allows you to not only enjoy your experience more but also allows you to extend your hike and continue on more easily.

Dangers of the Desert

Different safety issues you may experience during a hike may include soreness to your feet, sunburn, dehydration, extreme temperatures, and more.

These safety concerns can easily be fixed with the proper preparation and understanding of the desert.

Heat vs Cold

Contrary to the popular misconception, the desert is not always hot.

While the day time can reach extremely high temperatures and humidity, this is not the case when the sun has disappeared.

Rather, deserts can be pretty chilly during the night.

This is due to a lack of moisture found in the desert atmosphere that can not trap any of the heat made throughout the day to keep the nights warmer.

Average temperatures you will experience in a desert can arrange around 100 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the season and the sun’s position.

Desert can also experience precipitation despite the classic characteristic of deserts being totally dried out.

Due to this large difference in temperature, many people overestimate the weather and heat they will experience.

This causes them to wear less clothing, being unprepared for the chilly nights, and not wear the proper clothing.


Sunburn is one of the biggest issues you will experience during your time in the desert. This is due to the lack of coverage and shelter available from the sun.

These harmful sun rays can easily damage your exposed skin, leaving it red, peeling, and burnt.

Too long of sun exposure can lead to sun poisoning and even worse damage to your skin.

This is a safety issue for many people who do not properly provide ample coverage for their arms, legs, face, and neck.

When these areas are not covered, they can become sunburnt within a half hour, but you may not feel the effects and pain of the sun burn for a couple of hours.

Dehydration and Heatstroke

The hot, humid weather conditions found during mid-day in a desert, along with the general exhaustion of hiking due to constant motion, can lead to several health concerns.

Things like dehydration, heatstroke, and heat exhaustion can be dangerous as their symptoms worsen.

Dehydration occurs when you do not have enough fluids in your body.

This can be caused by not drinking enough water in the humid environment.

Becoming dehydrated can leave you not only thirsty but also fatigued, dizzy, and confused.

When your body overheats due to being over exposed to extremely warm temperatures can lead to heatstroke.

Heatstroke can lead to headaches, rapid breathing, nausea, and alter your mental state.

Similarly, heat exhaustion occurs when your body starts to overheat leading to cramps, fainting, dizziness, fatigue, rapid pulse, nausea, and low blood pressure.

These symptoms can leave you more prone to endangering your safety during a hike and lead to other problems.


The terrain of the desert can also prove problematic to your safety and health.

Sharp edges of rocks, winds picking up and blowing hot sand, vegetation, and other features of the desert terrain can cause minor damages to your safety and health when you are unprepared for their existence; though most of these conditions are unpredictable and consequential rather than something that can fully avoided.

Damage to your Feet

Your feet are arguably the most important part of your hiking experience as they will be doing the actual walking.

Keeping them safe and in good condition is extremely important as any damage they may suffer will cause a rapid shift in your hike.

Your feet can suffer from blisters, cramps, strain, and cuts if the shoes and socks you are wearing are not properly fitted or able to withstand and work well with desert conditions.

Desert Hiking Safety Tips

While each of these safety issues can cause you harm, they can easily be addressed and avoided.

To avoid the dangers, plan your trip ahead of time paying attention to the times you will hiking, and the weather conditions you will experience.

Making sure you are wearing the proper clothing and materials to best protect your skin and body.

Packing the right gear is also important.

When to Hike

To avoid the hottest parts of the day, always consider taking your hike during the hours of the morning or later in the evenings.

These are good times to hike because there is a more average and cool temperature, less sun exposure, and more shade.

Planning out how long your hike will last and what hours you will out can help too.

This can help prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as it gives you more time to hike before the temperatures rise too rapidly.

If you know you will out during hot times, consider planning out times to take breaks.

These breaks can function as a good rest period and allow you to make any adjustments to your gear.

During a break, make sure you take time to drink water and if needed to eat a snack or food for nutrition.

A break is also a good time to give your feet a break.

Sitting down and taking the pressure off of your feet can help prevent straining and cramps.

One trick to hiking in the desert includes giving your socks and shoes a break too.

During a break, take off your shoes and socks to allow to dry out incase any moisture or sweat has damped them, which can be both uncomfortable to walk in and lead to blisters on your feet.


Wearing sun block is key to avoiding being burnt by the sunlight.

Any areas of your skin that are not covered by clothing should feature some type of sunblock or sunscreen.

This is used to prevent sunburn, but the solution must be applied multiple times throughout the hike to be effective and even then, can still not fully protect your skin.

When looking for sunblock, look for a bottle that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to 50.

These offer a greater amount of protection for your skin and work well to filter out ultraviolet (UV) rays due to its physical barrier.

Instead of allowing your skin to absorb the UV rays, the sunblock will scatter or reflect the rays.

This SPF number only works for two hours after application though, so remember to reapply every two hours.

What to wear

Another way to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays is to wear the proper clothing.

You may think that in the hot, humid conditions you will want to wear the least amount of clothing as possible- you should definitely not do that.

The point of your clothing is to add a layer of protective coverage to your arms and legs to block out the UV rays.

Wearing cargo pants and long sleeve shirts is not only good for the cooler desert nights, but it also provides complete coverage for your skin.

Wearing a hat is also a great addition to block the sun from burning your face, ears, and neck.

In order for these clothes to properly work against UV rays, you will need clothes that are made as UV ray protection materials.

Like sunblock, these materials will work to stop your skin from absorbing the UV rays shining down on you.

Similar to an SPF number, materials have an ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) that works to absorb the rays before your skin does.

UPF has several different levels but UPF 30, 40, 50, and 50+ are the best levels for desert hiking.

Looking for materials that keep you cool is also important as this will prevent you from suffering from heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Materials like polyester and nylon work well, as they are thin and breathable.

These materials also feature the ability to wick moisture from your clothes.

This prevents moisture from dampening your clothes, as it allows the sweat and moisture to sit on the outside of the clothing where it can more easily evaporate.

Another way to help keep the balance between cool and covered with your clothing is to pack with layers.

This can apply to your shirts and socks.

Even if you do not end up using your layers, at least you will have an extra outfit prepared incase an unforeseen event occurs.

Layers make it easier to switch between short and long sleeve shirts as well.

With your pants consider looking for convertible pants that can function as both long pants and shorts for your convenience.

Packing your gear

Packing the right gear is a great way to ensure your safety.

Making sure you have layers of clothing, food, water, proper weather-based attire, and other supplies you might need will help ensure you are prepared for every situation.

Make sure when you are packing that you pack light though, as extra weight can way you down, wear you out, and be uncomfortable in the heated conditions.

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