By Bruce F. Barber


1. Know where you’re going. Plan your route before you start. Use maps, preferably topographic of the proper scale, and mark on it (in blue pencil) the route you plan to take. Do your best to identify obvious rest stops along your route and mark your planned campsite(s). Using red pencil mark the route your are actually taking as you progress along your route.
2. During hot weather, plan your route to take advantage of natural shade throughout each day. Topographic maps can tell you where to expect shade if you are familiar with their detail
3. Carry a compass. A compass can be a life saving tool but it wont help if you don’t know how to use it. Should that be the case, get help to learn how before departing on your desert journey. When crossing a flat of any appreciable size take note of landmarks ahead and behind. Take frequent compass readings. Record your readings and keep them available. Being able to see in a sandstorm is one of your most important considerations. Therefore, have an idea of how you will react to a sandstorm and be prepared to follow those plans.
4. NEVER TRAVEL ALONE. There should be a minimum of two vehicles traveling on every desert outing. When walking, there should be a minimum of two persons but four is best for all unforeseeable emergencies.
1. Always carry water in the desert. Standard amount is one gallon per person per day at 85 degrees F. although that amount increases as the temperature increases. Be prepared for every emergency. Know your water needs at whatever temperatures you are expecting. And know what temperatures to expect in that country in that season. The southern deserts are prone to sudden heat waves into the 90s and 100s F. even in the spring and fall, which are the most popular seasons.
2. During hot periods, keep your mouth closed to keep from drying out. Suck on a pebble to keep your mouth moist, to reduce the sensation of thirst and conserve water. Drink small sips throughout each day to keep yourself hydrated.
3. If you find that you must use native water, use purification tablets or a filter, even if the water is running and clear. Animals, especially burros and humans, do sometime foul the water. And remember: tablets are of no use if there’s a dead animal in the trough or stream. You will have to boil the water.
1. Wear white reflective long-sleeved and long-legged clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect from the direct rays of the sun. Avoid wearing shorts. Use sunglasses and sunscreen.
2. Boots should be heavy enough to protect the feet from the hot ground surface as well as sharp rocks. If you are going to be doing any appreciable mountain climbing, don one pair of silk stockings to prevent blisters plus a heavy pair to absorb and radiate body moisture.
3. Take shelter frequently on hot days. Stop to rest at least once per hour. Carry a lightweight, opaque tarp to make your own shade if you can’t find any. If possible, never sit or lie directly on hot ground. Elevate yourself to reduce your body’s heat load.
1. Food and water caches must be lined and covered with heavy rocks to keep burrowing animals out.
2. Most deserts in summer have nocturnal snakes, scorpions, centipedes, ants or other insects, necessitating a tent or bivouac at night. In cooler seasons, these animals are not nocturnal and come out only during the day.
3. Use a hiking staff to alert rattlesnakes as you walk. Watch and listen for them, especially in dense brush or rocky areas. Watch where you put your hands and feet. Carry a snake bite kit.
1. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, to facilitate rescue should you run into trouble.
2. Keep your car stocked with extra food, 5 gallons of potable water (for the car but available for people in an emergency) and tools (hand tools and tire changing tools) in case of a breakdown. Carry an extra car key in a safe place. Always cover your windshield with a secure tarp to prevent damage from sand during heavy winds. Make absolutely sure your ignition switch is in the OFF position before closing and locking your car.
3. Global Positioning Systems are modern conveniences that are rapidly becoming emergency equipment. If you can possibly afford one buy it, learn how to use it and make it a regular part of your outdoor and emergency equipment including duct tape.
Desert Packing Lists…
Bare Essentials: Daypack
Water (follow leader’s instructions as to amount)
Proper Boots (ditto, as to weight & soles)
Men’s and women’s silk stockings to minimize foot blisters
Heavier stockings for heat transfer (to promote perspiration)
Windbreaker / Rain Jacket
Space Blanket (large, thick, metalized, with grommets & cord)
Warm hat & gloves (for warmth plus protection from cactus & rock)
Enough food for 1.3 times your planned stay in the desert per person
Sun Hat
Long-sleeve shirt
Long pants
Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries & spare bulb
VHF radio
Camera and film or memory cards and extra batteries
Emergency Supplies:
Signal Mirror
Extra food, such as granola bars & candy
Cold weather wear: wool, pile and thermal underwear
Pocket Knife
Safety Pins
Bandage materials
Iodine or other antiseptic
Moleskin (for blisters)
Water purification tablets
Spare shoelaces
Small plastic tubing (to draw off water from seeps)
Large plastic garbage bag (to keep rain off & to collect rainwater from showers)
Tweezers or pliers (for cactus spines)
Comb (for cholla joints)