What should I wear for desert hiking?
When you're hiking in the desert during the summer, is it best to be fully clothed or to wear minimal clothing? What outfit would you recommend? The Editors Santa Fe, New Mexico
E.F. Adolph was a physiologist commissioned by the Department of Defense during WWII to gather data on U.S. Army recruits training in the Mojave Desert. He wrote a landmark book called Physiology of Man in the Desert, which documented his groundbreaking and much needed work. He found that a person who remains clothed will survive 25% longer than someone walking around in shorts and t-shirt. The more skin that is exposed to the sun and wind the more evaporation occurs. So keep covered! Take a lesson from the cowboys who are covered from head-to-toe and even wear gloves and a bandanna on their neck. If you don’t remain clothed, you will become jerky!
My preferred outfit is to wear cotton/poly (5.11 brand) pants, lightweight hiking boots, SmartWool socks, cotton/nylon long-sleeve shirt, brimmed (Tilley brand) hat, sunglasses, and a wet bandanna around my neck when hiking in the intense heat. (Note: In addition to the 5.11 brand of clothing, Filson also makes some excellent, but pricey, clothing designed for safari outfitters and desert trekkers.)
The less exposed skin, the better. When I get into camp after backpacking all day, I will shed some layers and let my body soak up the cooler air. This involves donning sandals, shorts, and a t-shirt while replenishing my body with a hearty dinner combined with a dose of salt along with some electrolyte replacement drinks before going to bed.
If you are ever lost in the desert, remain clothed, get shade-hungry, and hole up under a tree or boulder, and stay hydrated.