The desert is a mysterious and beautiful terrain that often is dismissed as lifeless and hostile land. Yet, it must be experienced to be appreciated, and there is no better way than setting up camp and taking it all in. The wide-open spaces and stunning natural beauty make it unforgettable. However, there are a few things to keep in mind to help make your trip more enjoyable.
Whether you're an experienced camper or a first-timer looking to stargaze in Joshua Tree or hike through the Mojave, desert camping can be a great way to experience the unique wilderness. Here are 8 tips for camping in the desert from Camp&Go that will help you prepare and enjoy your time outdoors.
Know When to Camp in the Desert
Before you set out to enjoy the wonders of the desert - do your research. Like any camping trip, it's essential to research the climate, wildlife, and other potential dangers if you plan on going to any new area. This will help you come up with a plan for your trip and pack the right gear.
The desert is a beautiful but also a harsh environment. It is good to know when to camp in the desert to avoid the extreme temperatures and weather conditions that can occur. If you think summer would be a good time, then be aware that you’ll be experiencing highs into the 100s and busy campgrounds. You could camp in the winter months but expect below zero nights.
The best time to camp in the desert is during the spring or fall months. During these times, the weather is more moderate, and there is less risk of extreme conditions. However, it is still best to be prepared for all possibilities.
Proper planning and preparation can make camping in the desert a safe and enjoyable experience.
Understand the Wildlife
A basic understanding of the local wildlife is always recommended. Not only will this help you stay safe, but it will also allow you to appreciate the area's natural beauty. So many different types of animals call the desert home, from snakes and lizards to rabbits and foxes. So naturally, you want to be in the position to be able to appreciate these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
Most of these animals are harmless, but there are also some that can be dangerous. It's important to know what to look out for so that you can avoid any unwanted encounters, as well as understand how to identify an area that wouldn't be ideal for camping.
Beware of scorpions & snakes. The American Southwest is home to several species of venomous snakes and scorpions; both should be avoided whenever possible. Use caution when stepping over rocks or into crevices, especially at night. Check sleeping bags for any critters and keep your tents closed to avoid anything from getting in.
Stay on trails. In many cases, hiking off trail through the desert can damage fragile ecosystems and increase your chances of getting lost. Therefore, it’s always good practice hiking or camping anywhere to stick to established trails whenever possible and even more so in the desert environment.
Taking the time to learn about the desert's wildlife and how to protect the delicate ecosystem will enable you to enjoy your camping trip to the fullest.
Go Easy in the Heat
Anyone who has ever been to the desert knows that it can be scorching. While the heat may feel good initially, it is crucial to take it easy and avoid overexerting yourself. Otherwise, you may suffer the consequences.
The combination of high temperatures and low humidity can quickly lead to dehydration. Morning and evening are the best times for outdoor activities, as the temperatures are cooler and there is more moisture in the air. However, even at these times, drinking plenty of fluids is essential and avoiding strenuous activity. Sometimes we can feel like we’re superhuman, but places like the desert can quickly show us otherwise. Taking these few simple precautions allows you to enjoy the desert without risking your health.
Pack for Extreme Temperature
Because desert temperatures can vary dramatically from hot during the day to cold at night, it is important to pack clothing and sleeping gear to keep you comfortable in both extremes. During the day, light, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics will help you stay cool, while a wide-brimmed hat will protect you from the sun. At night, however, you'll need to layer up to keep warm. The misleading thing about the desert is that it can get incredibly cold at night, even in the summer months. A thermal base layer, followed by a sweater and a thermal jacket, should do the trick. Don't forget to pack extra blankets, as well.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
When heading out into the desert for a camping trip, one of the essential things to pack is plenty of water. The human body is made up of 60% water, and every day we need to replace the water we lose through sweating, urinating, and even breathing. In a hot, dry climate like the desert, it's easy to become dehydrated. So, make sure to bring plenty of water (you'll need at least 1 gallon per person daily).
That's why it's best to be cautious and bring more water than you think you'll need. It's also a good idea to pack some extra water in case your plans change, or you become lost. The best method of hydration is water. However, you can take additional hydration supplements that can replace electrolytes and salts you lose through sweating.
Remember the Necessities
There are many necessities to consider when packing for a trip through the desert.
These include sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses, hats, batteries, chargers, and a first aid kit. Sunglasses and hats will help protect you from the sun. Insects can also be a nuisance, so be sure to pack insect repellent. And finally, batteries and chargers are essential for keeping your devices charged. And, of course, a first aid kit is always a good idea when camping.
Don’t forget one of the most important things to bring on any trip: a map. In the desert, where there are few landmarks, and it can be easy to become disoriented, a map and compass can be essential just in case technology fails you. Remember, navigational tools are only helpful if you know how to use them. So before heading out into the desert, brush up on your map-reading and compass skills.
Additionally, a good quality camp cot, camp chair and cooler should be on your necessity list. Coolers are essential for keeping food and drinks cold in the hot desert sun. Camping cots provide a comfortable place to sleep and elevate you from a less than ideal sleeping surface. And a camping chair offers a place to relax after a long day of hiking.
Your desert camp essentials also need to be backed up just in case - things can go missing, and items can break. Ensuring that you bring more than one of everything means that you can be fully prepared for anything the desert experience throws at you.
Know the Signs of Heatstroke
Heat stroke is a very real danger when camping in a hot environment like the desert. The combination of high temperatures and low humidity can cause the body to overheat, leading to serious health problems. That's why it's so important to know the signs of heat stroke so that you can act quickly if necessary.
Symptoms of heat stroke include nausea, dizziness, headache, confusion, and loss of consciousness. If you or someone you're with begins to experience any of these symptoms, it's important to immediately get out of the heat and into a cool, shady area. If possible, drink some cool water or other fluids and fan the person to help them cool down.
Heat stroke can be a serious medical emergency, so if symptoms persist or worsen, call 911 if possible or seek medical attention immediately. By being aware of the signs of heat stroke, you can enjoy your desert camping trip while staying safe and healthy.
Travel in a Reliable Vehicle
To travel through the desert safely and with ease, you need to choose a reliable vehicle. While any car can technically make the journey, some are better equipped to handle the challenges of the desert landscape. For example, a four-wheel drive vehicle will have no trouble navigating sandy roads and rocky terrain. In addition, a car with a large fuel tank can make the trip without stopping for gas too often. Perhaps most importantly, a spacious vehicle will make the long journey more enjoyable and allow you to take everything you need.
There's nothing worse than being crammed into a small space for hours, feeling claustrophobic or restricted. And, of course, you should always have a spare tire on hand, just in case.
Check Your Vehicle
Before heading out on any desert camping trip, give your vehicle a good once-over. Checking fluid levels, tire pressure, and the condition of your lights and brakes are necessary to ensure your car can handle the rough terrain.
You should also check your tires before you head out into the desert. Ensure they're adequately inflated - under-inflated tires can lead to a blowout.
Once you're out in the desert, keeping an eye on your vehicle is essential. Sand and dust can quickly build up on tires and undercarriages, making driving difficult and increasing the risk of breakdowns. The last thing you need is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with the nearest assistance hours away.
Fill Up at Every Gas Station
Your vehicle's fuel supply is something you should always be thinking about on your journey. You may not have the opportunity to fill up your tank often, so it's best to start with a full tank and keep an eye on the gauge. It is also a good idea to carry extra fuel, too. Just be cautious about how you store it in your vehicle.
Snacking Isn't Just OK, It's Encouraged
Another essential thing to consider is keeping your energy levels up even if you don't feel hungry. Snacking throughout the day will help you stay hydrated and energized and avoid heat exhaustion.
Pack snacks high in protein and healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and nut butter. These will help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Taking some dried fruits to boost vitamins and minerals is also good. These kinds of snacks will keep in the hot climate.
Don't hold back on snack supplies; you must be snacking throughout the day. It's easy to forget to eat much when you feel hot and sluggish. Snacking is an easy way to ensure your body gets the nourishment and energy supply it needs.
Be Smart About Tent Placement
Take care when choosing a campsite. When picking a campsite in a desert environment, try to find one that is sheltered from the wind and has good drainage in case of rainstorms. Avoid low areas where water could accumulate after rainfall or near cliffs, which could lead to dangerous situations if there is an accidental fall.
Avoid bushes and areas where snakes may call home if you're not setting up your desert camp in a campground. Pitch your tent in locations that are shaded. Any tent in the sun will be unbearable to be in during the height of the daylight heat, but also dangerous for your health.
One danger unique to deserts is flash flooding – sudden torrents of water that can quickly sweep away people and possessions caught unaware. If there is any chance of rain while you are camping, avoid setting up camp in dry riverbeds or other low-lying areas prone to flooding. Learn how to identify these areas; it may seem like a rare occurrence, but it's more common than you think. It is better to be safe than sorry.
We hope this information helps you have the trip of a lifetime. By following these tips and being properly organized, you are sure to have fun and a rewarding experience.