The desert can be a harsh environment, but if you know what to expect and take the right equipment, you can be just as comfortable in the desert as any other place. Hyperthermia -- or heat stroke -- is one of the most serious threats you'll face when camping in the desert for any length of time. Although it doesn't get much media attention, approximately 400 Americans die each year from exposure to excessive heat. If you spend the entire day out in the desert sun it can be easy to overheat; and in extreme cases, too much heat exposure can result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which is when the body is unable to cool itself down.
Some common symptoms of heat stroke include chills, confusion or dizziness, slurred speech and even hallucinations. If you or a member of your camping party appears to be getting heat stroke, the best thing to do is rest in a shaded area and to drink plenty of water [source: CDC].
Staying hydrated is the most important thing you can do when camping in the desert. Most experts suggest drinking at least 1 gallon (3.785 liters) of water each day you spend in the desert. But the amount of water your body needs really depends on your physiology and your level of exertion and exposure. For that reason, Wilderness Medicine Institute founder Buck Tilton suggests following conventional wisdom by drinking enough water that your urine stays clear [source: Tilton].
To cut down on water loss, you can try breathing through your nose and avoiding fatty foods (they take more water to digest). But the best way to avoid dehydration is to simply drink plenty of water. And no matter how much experience you have living in the desert, it's always a good idea to pack more water than you think you'll need.
Because deserts tend to lack major landmarks, it can often be very easy to become disoriented or lost -- and the desert is one of the last places where you want to lose your bearings. If you plan to go hiking in the desert, it's always a good idea to bring a good map, a GPS unit, or a cell phone (if you get coverage). And if you're traveling alone, tell people where you're going and when you'll return [source: NPS.gov].