Keep Your Chill in the Heat: 6 Tips for a Successful Trip to the Desert

So — you’ve decided to plan a trip to the desert. After reading about the amazing camping localesand drooling over photos of the jaw-dropping scenery, we don’t blame you! It’s guaranteed that you’ll fall in love with the desert’s magical beauty and endless recreational possibilities, so follow these suggestions to ensure that every excursion is a great one.

  1. Bring Water. Lots of Water. Okay, okay – this tip might seem a bit obvious. Who wouldn’t bring water to the desert? But the question here isn’t if you should fill your bottles, but rather, how much to carry with you. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of fluid you’ll need. According to the National Park Service, a gallon per person, per day is a good estimate. That being said, you’ll want to have twice that amount on hand. Potable water availability is often unreliable and scarce, so stock up ahead of time!
    Near Joshua Tree

  2. GPS is your BFF. Any time you venture into the wilderness, it’s essential to bring navigational equipment – usually a map and a compass suffice. In the desert, keeping track of where you are is even more crucial. Roads and trails can be especially tough to find and follow, and it’s easy to get turned around in such a homogenous landscape. Bring multiple tools to help you keep your bearings, and practice ahead of time so you’ll be super confident when using it for real.Ryan Campground, Joshua Tree National Park

  3. Customize Your Safety Know-How. Even the most seasoned outdoor explorers can (and definitely should) add desert-specific first aid and emergency skills to their repertoire before a trip begins. The desert has its own unique wildlife, like snakes, scorpions, and spiders, and requires specific knowledge. Learn how to handle stings and bites, how best to store your food, and what kind of wildlife to expect in your area. Brush up on the warning signs of sunstroke and dehydration. In all likelihood, you’ll have a fun and safe excursion, but it’s always best to be prepared. Pro tip: shake out your boots in the morning to check for any stowaway critters!
    Desert Mountain Majesty, near Joshua Tree

  4. Give your Vehicle Some TLC. With services typically few and far between, and cell service unreliable, the desert isn’t exactly a hospitable place to have car problems. To avoid the huge bummer of a roadside breakdown, take your vehicle to the shop a few days prior to your adventure for routine maintenance and any repairs you’ve been putting off. Double check your tire pressure before hitting the road, and fill up on gas as often as you can. You might want to hold off on a car wash until afterwards – any good desert trip is bound to kick up an epic amount of dust!
    Dream in a Vintage Caravan, Sky Valley
  5. Shield Yourself from the Sun. As summer turns to fall, it might be tempting to try and extend that golden tan for as long as possible, but think twice about catching your rays in the desert. There is typically little natural protection from the sun’s heat, which can feel harsher in such an arid and exposed ecosystem. Wide-brim hats, sunglasses, and lots of high SPF sunscreen are vital. If possible, bring a tarp to shade your tent during the day. Wear light-colored clothing with long pants and sleeves if you have particularly sensitive skin. Sunburns are never a good look.
    Boot Mesa, Monument Valley Campground
  6. Respect Your Environment! Upon first glance, the desert may look like a resilient badass of an ecosystem – and it is. But in many ways, it’s also fragile, and can easily be disturbed by human missteps. Follow the same rules you would in any wild space. Respect the flora, fauna, rock formations, and other amazing features of the desert wonderland. Practice the tenets of Leave No Trace. And take a few quiet moments during your outing to observe and appreciate the desert’s awe-inspiring beauty – it’s what you’re there for, after all!

Jennifer Kotlewski is a Los Angeles based writer, humanitarian, and wildflower junkie. You can see what kind of trouble she’s currently getting into via instagram @jenkotlewski.

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