Desert Camping Done Right

Gear Essentials
By Melinda Mahaffey
dead horse point state park, utah
High Camp: Camping at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah (Digital Vision)
Equipment Essentials
Join Outside Online's Gear Guy as he discusses the essential gear for any successful (and safe) backpacking trip. PLUS: discover money-saving strategies from the expert himself!

Essential Gear:
Solid boots, long-sleeve cotton shirts, long pants, jacket or sweatshirt, and a wide-brimmed hat like the Packable Canoe Hat from Orvis ($29; Since cotton holds essential moisture, "the desert is one of the few places where cotton is useful in the wilderness," says Van Tilburg. All three experts we interviewed highly recommend wearing long-sleeve T-shirts and long pants, topped with a wide-brimmed hat. At night, be prepared for cooler weather, and pack appropriately. "People don’t bring enough warm clothes," says Van Tilburg. "Even hot deserts can get cold at night."

Hydration: Although it's generally accepted that a gallon of water per person per day is standard, Van Tilburg and Adams caution that each person has different needs. "The average person uses about a gallon of water a day in 85-degree weather," says Adams. "In the desert that need is exponential." In order to maintain electrolytes, bring along sports drinks, or if that is too much weight, consider pretzels or other salty foods as an alternative. Stay away from salt tablets say both Van Tilburg and Nester.

Shading: Shade can be made simply by using an umbrella or a garbage bag, but Nester recommends bringing a quality emergency blanket with grommets. One example is the MPI Space All-Weather Blanket ($10;, which can be used for shade, shelter, and warmth during desert nights, but any equivalent blanket will do.

Emergency Gear: While lighters are an easy fire source, their dependability is questionable. Always bring a secondary fire source, such as specially recommended storm-proof matches by REI ($4.15; or a spark rod. Other signaling gear like whistles and signaling mirrors (three inches by five inches, $11; are also valuable. Additionally, a pocketknife that fits your hand is an indispensable all-around tool; Swiss Army knives are the unquestionable brand leaders, including the never-flummoxed Camper, with a blade and tool for every occasion ($25;

Published: 28 Sep 2005 | Last Updated: 24 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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