Extreme Survival: Stuck in a Desert

Ever wondered how to survive a volcanic eruption? Not sure what to do when zombies inevitably take over? Don't worry, we've got you covered.

Oct 4, 2012
Outside Magazine
survival apocalypse desert alone

Alone in the desert.    Photo: ozanhatipoglu/Flickr

THE SITUATION: For whatever reason—plane crash, misguided hike, scavenger hunt gone horrifically wrong—you're stranded in a desert. You have no food. You have nothing to drink. If you don’t do anything, you will die, eventually. You don’t want to die, though. 

WHAT DO YOU DO? First, you should find some shade and make sure you’re not dehydrating. Then, you should figure out what kind of desert you’re in. "Do a quick survey in your head and say ‘OK what do I see here? What’s available?’" says Jesus M. Garcia, education director at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. "Maybe it’s sand dunes. In those environments there are plants that are tubers, and they have big, succulent roots you could actually dig out and mush and get moisture out of them.” If you can, look for what animals eat and follow their example. "There might be some things that are edible and good to eat, but you’ve never tasted them in your life—and they might taste horrible to you.”

To find water, look for arroyos or depressions in rocks where moisture might collect. More than anything, it's about staying calm and figuring out where you are. "You start by assessing your environment and not just hoping you're going to find something right away," Garcia says.