AdventureExploration & Survival

What are the most common mistakes that people make in the desert?

Saguaro in Arizona's Sonoran Desert (Photo: Rennett Stowe/Flickr)
Saguaro in Arizona's Sonoran Desert

1. Not bringing enough water.
2. Not bringing electrolyte replacements.
3. Not bringing enough water.
4. Hiking during the middle of the day in the summer.
5. Thinking that because they are in great shape, they're acclimated to the heat.

Let’s look at some of these:

Not bringing enough water
During the summer, I suck down three gallons or more a day during desert survival courses I teach for the military—even though the course doesn't involve much hiking and we hole up from 12 to 4 p.m. to avoid overheating. Don't skimp on the water, and don’t plan on finding it in the backcountry, no matter how wet a spring it has been. The best water source is your kitchen tap. Plan ahead.

Not bringing enough electrolyte replacements
Water by itself isn't enough to keep the human body going. We also need quality electrolytes to replenish sodium and potassium lost through perspiration. If you don't get them, you run the risk of developing hyponatremia, or "water intoxication," which can be life-threatening. I add in some GU2O or Vitalyte to all of my drinking water. Try to consume two to three packets of electrolyte powders per day, depending on your activity level.

Not bringing enough water
Bring water. Enough said.

Hiking in the middle of the day
There's a reason the siesta came about in the Southwest and other desert regions. Think like a coyote: I generally get shade-hungry about 11 a.m. and find a nice cool spot to relax, rehydrate and take a catnap until the cooler hours.

Thinking that because they're in good shape, they're acclimated to the heat
Many of the hikers who get dragged out of the Grand Canyon each summer with heat-related injuries are endurance athletes or otherwise in superb physical condition. The reason? They have a big engine but a little radiator. It takes about a week of living in the heat full time before your body becomes acclimated and can handle heat stress efficiently.

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside
Filed To: Survival Guru
Lead Photo: Rennett Stowe/Flickr
More Adventure