How Desert Survival Works

Stranded in the Desert: On Foot

A hiker climbs a sand dune in Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Idaho
A hiker climbs a sand dune in Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Idaho
Steve Bly / Getty Images

If you're forced to leave your car or you're lost while hiking, you're going to need to make all the right moves in order to survive. Desert hiking shouldn't be treated the same as being on foot anywhere else.

The first rule of desert hiking is to walk slowly. You're going to have to force yourself to do this, because your natural reaction may be panic, which will increase your pace. Calm down -- this is your best bet to survive. Take a break for at least 10 minutes per hour. Look for large desert rocks to provide some shade. Use smaller rocks to prop your feet up, then take off your shoes and change your socks if you have fresh ones. It's important that you only take your shoes off if you can find shade and elevate your feet. If you take them off while standing in the sun, your feet may swell and you might not be able to get your shoes back on.


The time of day you choose to walk is also important. Try to stick to the early and later stages of the day to do the bulk of your hiking. Take a long break in the peak mid-day hours and rest in the shade. This will also help keep your spirits up. Whenever you have a choice on which route to take, choose the easier path. It's better to go a longer distance over easier terrain. Remember, water loss is your main enemy, so while you may save an hour or two by trekking up and over that small mountain, you'll be overexerting and putting yourself in danger. Zigzag back and forth to keep your exertion levels in check and take more rest breaks. If you're with other people, set your walking pace based on the slowest and least fit member and stick together. You should only send a single member of your group ahead of the pack if someone is injured and can't continue.

In the next section, we'll detail some of the dangers you'll face in the desert.