How to Stay Safe Hiking in the Desert

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Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point, the Slickrock trails of Moab, Utah and the vast array of amazing hikes that surround the Grand Canyon are just a few examples of outstanding hikes located in the middle of the desert. If you’re not a fan of warmer climes, you might think to shy away from these iconic trails. However, with the right preparation, you can enjoy them just like you would any day hike.

As with any outdoor activity, it’s possible to conquer hiking desert trails if you spend the time to learn the tricks of the trade. Lots of experienced desert outdoorsmen and -women have come before you in this discipline. Here are some of their best teachings when it comes to hitting the trail in desert territory.

Study the Climate

Imagine how difficult it must have been to get outside before the invention of weather satellites! A well-prepared traveler can make themselves more comfortable on a hot day, but to ensure your hike is enjoyable and not miserable, it’s best to check the weather well ahead of time and plan to hike outside the hottest parts of the day. Usually, that’s mid- to late afternoon.

Are you a morning person? That’s perfect for desert hiking. Watching the sun come up from the trail is a magical experience, and you’ll be through with your walk before things get too toasty out. Night owls can make their preference work as an advantage too, although you’ll want to be careful to check whether trails remain open, understand park laws and regulations and bring plenty of lighting equipment if you’re planning to night-hike.

Even though heat is the primary antagonist when it comes to desert trekking, it’s not the only one. Flash floods and monsoons can make your sandy hike into a sloppy nightmare. Understand if your hike crosses land where flood weather can manifest, and whether it’s flood season when you hike. If you get caught in a flooding trail, move to high ground as quickly as you can and wait for help or better conditions.

Have a Trail Map

Getting lost anywhere is frightening and dangerous. In the desert, it can be deadly. Before heading out on your hike, make some time to look at a topographical map of the trail. Print or acquire a trail map beforehand, and regularly track your progress using GPS if possible.

This advice is particularly relevant for longer hikes like the Grand Canyon’s Rim-to-Rim adventure. Even if it’s reasonably straightforward to see which way the trail leads, you need to have an understanding of your progress. If you find yourself moving too slowly and don’t have the supplies or energy required to finish the hike, you should call for help.

Don’t Hike Alone, and Leave Your Itinerary With Emergency Contacts

Like most activities, hiking is better with friends. When you go out alone, your risk of getting lost with no one able to find you increases significantly. Solo hiking trails you know and can complete in a relatively short period are OK, as long as you notify someone you’re going. Unless you’re a highly skilled hiker and camper, do not attempt long distances alone. And regardless of whether you bring company, always tell at least one person outside your party where you’re going and when you expect to return.

Dress in Layers

Layers are always a smart idea for physical activity. For desert hiking, you’re looking for the ability to add some warmth if things cool off quickly, or shed layers to a breathable base if it warms up. Go for moisture-wicking technical fabrics that will dry quickly if you need to douse yourself to bring that core temp down. Want a pro tip? Moisture-wicking underwear from brands like Exoficcio and Patagonia can help make your day more comfortable when it’s warm on the trail.

A backpack is another essential part of your kit that can contribute to overheating. Technical hiking packs will often incorporate breathable fabrics, and you should only choose a pack as large as you need to accommodate the supplies you’ll bring on the trip. Also, many modern hiking packs include water bladders, which are the simplest way to bring along critical hydration during a warm-weather hike. Have some extra water with you to refill your bladder and help cool yourself down if you’re planning a longer hike more on that later.

Wear Sunscreen and a Hat

This tip probably seems obvious, but when you hike in the desert, you’re signing up for a whole lot of sun exposure. Your head, along with any other exposed skin, is likely to absorb some UV rays. So slather on some SPF a good trick is to put your first application on before you leave for the trail. Doing so will allow it time to absorb before you’re in the heat, which will help you stay comfortable.

Keep your SPF with you on the trail. Some hikers like to bring multiple types of sunblock, including zinc, aerosol-based spray and more conventional cream for re-applying to their face and body throughout the day. Don’t forget lip balm with SPF as well. And, of course, a wide-brimmed hat will go a long way to shield your head, face and neck from the sun’s rays. Even a ball cap is a great addition to your kit if you haven’t got something a little more David Attenborough.

Pack Food and Water

Dehydration can be a killer when you’re hoofing it through the desert. You can die of thirst in a matter of days, so do not leave home without plenty of water. A good rule to go by is to bring about two cups of water per hour of estimated hike time. If you’re always thirsty, bring more. If you’re planning to camp out, have a good understanding of where you can find fresh water, and bring a means of filtering it to make it safe to drink.

If you’re bringing pets along, don’t forget plenty of water for them to drink, as well as a vessel for them to drink out of. We’re not always advocates of bringing pets be sure it’s safe for your four-legged friend to come along. Overcommitting your dog to a long hike in the heat can be dangerous, because dogs can’t sweat and don’t know when to stop following their owner if they get dehydrated.

As for food, will you need snacks for a two-hour jaunt, or is this going to be a longer-distance journey? You can probably guess what kinds of snacks work well on a hot trail. The typical selection of fruits, trail mix, energy bars and dried foods comes to mind. Don’t go overboard with caffeinated gels and snacks, because they can lead to dehydration if you use too many. Always pack more snacks than you think you’ll eat. You don’t want to get caught in a pinch if there’s an emergency or you have to stay out longer than planned.

If you’re planning a longer-duration hike, you should think about meals to bring. The time-honored tradition of sandwiches can make for a fun trail lunch and should provide enough protein and carbohydrates to get you through a longer pull. You can meal-prep ahead of time or find some pre-made at a nearby market.

If you’ll be spending the night on the trail, there are many tasty options to cook up. Depending on the size of your pack, you may be able to bring a legitimate camp cooktop and grill up some meats or veggies extra points for s’mores.

Those who are more interested in saving weight should check out a camp stove such as a Jetboil or MSR. You can use these highly packable stoves to boil water, which you can then use to rehydrate freeze-dried meals. The selection of these types of meals is impressive these days, with everything from chicken casserole to beef stroganoff to mac and cheese and even stir-fried vegetables. Not willing to pay the premium for fancy backpacking food? A box of dried pasta and dehydrated vegetables cooks up in a snap, too.

Bring First-Aid Items

A basic kit with bandages, a tourniquet, cold compresses, tweezers and painkillers is probably all you need for shorter hikes. If you’re staying out longer, it’s probably smart to come prepared with additional supplies. Treatment for foot conditions like blisters can come in handy if you’re covering lots of ground, as can aloe vera gel for sunburns. Make sure you have a supply of any medicines you need to take regularly, even if you don’t plan to stay out long. In case of emergency, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Go at a Safe Pace

Even if you feel like you typically keep a fast pace, the effects of the sun and heat can slow anyone down. Moving too quickly can cause dehydration, cramping and other issues. Ultimately, your best bet to complete your hike in a reasonable amount of time and still feel good is to go at the pace your body tells you is OK. If you’re part of a group and need to move slower than your friends, say so. They should understand you don’t want to push yourself too far, and should be willing to adopt a slower pace if you need to.

Treat Wildlife With Respect

There’s a real chance you’ll see some wildlife while you’re on the trail. It might even be part of your motivation to go hiking. However, remember when you spot wildlife on the trail, you’re not looking at a domesticated animal. The best policy is always to remain at a safe distance. Don’t pursue wild animals, which could turn aggressive or could hurt themselves while trying to evade you. Many endangered species are under legal protection, and you’ll be breaking the law if you bother them but more importantly, trying to force a wild animal encounter could have negative consequences for everyone involved.

That rings true of all animals you spot on the trail, but use particular caution when you encounter larger animals and predators such as bears, mountain lions, coyotes or even larger herbivores. It is not safe to approach these animals. Remember, you’re a visitor in their habitat. Be respectful and don’t attempt to bother them. Doing so could result in a tragedy.

Have a Supply Stash in Your Vehicle

Imagine taking a wrong turn on a hike. You recognize you’ve made a mistake, but not before you’ve made your way far off the trail you had planned on taking. You’re going to have to dig into your extra supplies, which means by the time you get back to your car, you won’t have anything left, and you’ll have had to make the extra effort to get back. In this scenario, you can understand why it’s critical to keep extra supplies in your car.

Extra water, snacks and even a change of clothes are all great things to have on hand in your car for when you return from the trail. If all goes as planned, you may never use them, and that’s OK. It will give you peace of mind to know they’re at the ready in case you or a fellow hiker needs the help.

Know How to Get Help

Cell phones have made venturing outdoors much less daunting than it once was, and that’s all for the best. Before you head out, though, make sure you have mobile service while on the trail. Many remote locations still lack cell coverage, which is why it’s smart to have a radio or GPS beacon, some additional means of summoning help if you need it. If you find yourself on the trail with no means to reach anyone, go back. It’s not worth the risk.

Have Fun!

Desert hikes can expose you to vast arrays of plants and wildlife and bring you to new and fascinating places, all while you’re getting fresh air and good exercise. You’ll have the chance to spend some quality time in the great outdoors with your friends and family, in places many people never make an effort to enjoy. So get outside and have a great time just keep the tips we mentioned in mind to ensure things go smoothly and safely. Where’s your favorite desert hike? Let us know in the comments below.

15 Items Every Prepper Should Hoard

I tend to agree with most everything on the list, especially batteries and toilet paper, as one can NEVER have enough of either, lol. I was glad to see he included items like tarps and cordage since these items can be more useful than most folks realize during a SHTF emergency.

I do, however, take issue with two items, in particular, that being candles (because they’re a significant fire danger) and I wouldn’t suggest bleach as the best long-term option for water treatment, though, there are plenty of other potential uses for bleach around the house.

Perhaps the only two items that I was surprised to see included were socks (it’s not something I tend to stockpile) and propane (mostly because propane can be used up fast when there are better options) but, honestly, it doesn’t much matter what finite items you choose to include so long as you (1) have a plan to utilize them and (2) have plenty!

How to Survive in the Woods at Night

Exploring the wilderness is a pastime for people around the globe. A routine day hike, bike ride or climbing excursion is as far as most people ever go. But what if you want to stay out longer?

Enjoying wilderness areas after dark is quite possible, but without the proper knowledge and education, it can be intimidating. You’ll want to practice a few essential skills and have the appropriate equipment. Get caught in the dark without them, and you could be in for an uncomfortable evening.

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Plan Your Outing

Spending a night camping should never be an off-the-cuff decision. Even a seasoned woodsman, able to get organized and execute an overnight trip with a few hours of planning, has a strategy before heading out. Communication is the first component of your plan.

Have at least two friends or relatives record the location to which you’re traveling and let them know how long you expect to spend in the field. Check in with them once you’re back. If they don’t hear from you, make sure they know to follow up and get help from the authorities if you’re unreachable. If you’re going alone, a rescue beacon is an expensive investment, but the best way to ensure people can find you in remote areas.

On a less anxious note, planning is a smart idea so you’ll understand your surroundings. What is the climate like this time of year in your wilderness zone of choice? What is the elevation? Where are the best natural sources of water? If you’re planning to stay out overnight, you’ll probably choose to filter or treat water instead of bringing everything.

Will this be a backpacking trip? A hunting expedition? Are you going to tackle the latest and greatest climbing locale? The answers to all these questions will inform what gear you bring and who’s coming with you, which influences how fast you can move, the size of campsite you need and the type of shelter you’ll employ. Allowing your trip to take shape spontaneously is a good way to forget things, and it’s something you should avoid.

Pack the Right Gear

Specific items probably spring to mind when you consider a trip into the wilderness. When the aim is to stay comfortably overnight, shelter should be the first thing on your mind. Even if you’re trying to save weight, gram-light solutions can provide a much more restful evening then camping out beneath a sheltering rock. Some areas won’t have natural shelter whatsoever. Select a practical tent or bivouac, or if you’re doing the ultralight thing, you can use a shaped waterproof fabric such as silnylon to lash to the surrounding topography.

You’ll likely need a backpack to carry your gear, and you want something comfortable and not over-sized for the expedition. Never go camping without a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, and then, of course, you’ll need whatever cooking equipment you plan to bring along with your food supply. For quick trips, you could attempt to make do with only dry food that requires no cooking, but it can be great fun to enjoy a hot meal cooked on a camp stove not to mention hot coffee or a mountain mocha in the morning.

Additional supplies to consider are:

  • A small first-aid kit
  • Lighting such as a flashlight, headlamp or alternative lighting solutions to provide visibility in camp and on the trail
  • A whistle to call for help if needed
  • A knife and eating utensils and a water filter or treatment solution we’re fans of the filter, since you can avoid adding chemicals to your drink that way.
  • A compass or way-finding tool such as a handheld GPS your cell phone may not have service once you’re off the grid.

Finally, dress for the occasion. We recommend technical fabrics that will wick moisture and potentially some insulation if it’s going to get cold. Dress in layers for colder climates so you can easily regulate body temperature. In warmer climes, shorts, a lightweight shirt and sunscreen are essentials, and don’t forget the sunglasses. If you’re prone to insect bites or know you’ll be around lots of creepy crawlers, permethrin-treated clothing offers protection without having to soak yourself in bug spray. You can also treat your clothing at home if you plan far enough for it to dry.

Practice Essential Skills

Have you ever made a fire? It’s one of those things that sounds simple however, a small change in conditions can make it extremely challenging. Practice starting a fire with the gear you’re going to bring. Some outdoorsmen like to use greasy corn chips as tinder because they can double as a ration. Maybe you’re carrying flint and steel, which you’ll want to practice with if you are. Or, perhaps you prefer a good old-fashioned lighter and white gas, which can be helpful as long as you’re mindful of the environment.

Whatever you’ve got, gather firewood early and know how to start your fire. Be sure to put it out safely with water, and avoid making smoke in designated areas.

Know how to set your shelter up. This task is another one you can practice at home ahead of time, and depending on the type of shelter, it can be simple or complex. Know whether your shelter is waterproof on its own or requires a rain fly. Understand the best way to situate your sleeping equipment in it, and how to face it into the wind.

Be familiar with how to set up your camp stove and how to prepare the food you’re planning to make. If you’re cleaning water using a filter, practice using it with tap water, as it may require some assembly or could need a change of element. Know how to recognize a contaminated or cracked filter element, two things that can render your filter ineffective in the field.

Reading a map and making sense of landmarks can be challenging. Those who came before you may have left markings on the trail in the form of blazes. Understanding how to orient yourself and use these simple markers can make the difference between reconnecting with the trail and winding up more lost. Study up beforehand and only go off-trail if you’re very competent at navigation.

Of course, whatever specific reason you’re on the trip will require preparation, too. Let’s assume if you’re going to hunt, climb, fish or birdwatch, you have those skills well-honed. But they’re worth brushing up on and nothing to downplay if you want to enjoy the trip and stay safe.

Prepare to Encounter Wildlife

You’re venturing into the natural habitat of wild animals when you go on an outing. Never forget that. While it’s true many people spend years taking trips to the great outdoors without ever giving a second thought to the animals they encounter, seeing an animal can go from a pleasant surprise to a dynamic situation quickly. Always respect wildlife around you for example, by securing any food you bring to areas designated for bear canisters in a locked container far enough off the ground.

Be aware of the types of wildlife you might see before going on your expedition. Not only will this inform you of any potentially harmful or poisonous critters that inhabit the area, but it will also make the trip more exciting. Have you ever come across an animal, only to say to yourself, “What is that?” Telling the story of the amazing woodland creatures you saw on your trip will be difficult if you haven’t got a reference to call them by.

If there are dangerous animals, understand how they behave toward humans and how to resolve an encounter with one. Rattlesnakes make a noise warning you to get away, and that’s exactly what you should do. A territorial bear might give you a harsh look, but turning and running isn’t a good idea. Puff your chest up and make yourself appear larger than you are. Some animals are more dangerous than others, and if you know that the area you’ll visit includes a risk of encountering large predators, you should consider bringing a firearm.

It’s best to avoid feeding or consciously interacting with wild animals while you’re in the wilderness. You don’t want to draw more attention to yourself while out and about, and you also don’t want to create a dependency for wild animals. If they learn to gather food from humans, animals will continue to do so, which makes it more difficult for them to survive as they should and also creates pests for your fellow outdoorsmen.

What to Do If You Get Stuck in the Woods

Until this point, we’ve focused this guide on situations where you’ve planned your trip and have a working knowledge of the area you’ll visit and what to expect. But what should you do if something goes wrong? What if you’re on an outing and you get lost? What if your planned day hike takes a frightening turn, forcing you to spend a night in the wilderness? Stay calm. You won’t perform well with anxiety. Chances are you can see your way out of the situation if you make it through the night.

Finding water is critical, and this scenario is why it’s a good idea to carry a small kit with basic first-aid materials and purification tablets anytime you go out. Include hand sanitizer, which can keep you from ingesting more than is necessary if you must resort to the best drinking water you can find. Look for clear, fast-moving water, ideally at high altitude. In places where snow is available, it can also constitute a good source of drinking water, but you should put it in a container and allow it to melt.

If you cannot find a good water source, don’t climb attempting to locate one. Instead, move downhill looking for areas of vegetation and dark spots, which might indicate water nourishing healthy plant life. You can also get water from certain types of tree, which have watery sap that will sustain you. Cut a slit in the side of the tree and position a container beneath it to collect the sap.

Edible plants can add to your sustenance if you don’t have any food with you. Many types of berries and nuts, including elderberries and walnuts, grow in the wild and are safe for human consumption, although some require knowledge of how to process them correctly. Avoid hunting game even if you have the means, unless you know it’s legal in the area and you have the required equipment to process your kill and turn it into food.

Find shelter beneath the topography somewhere protected from wind and rain. If you’re in a cold area, it’s possible to stay warm by building a snow cave, but be sure you know what you’re doing to prevent a cave-in that could leave you buried. You might have to sleep on the ground. We recommend doing so with your clothes on to give yourself some skin protection from biting insects and weather.

Being stranded in the wilderness is an ideal time to use your beacon, whistle or signal mirror to reach out for help. If you have no other means, the smoke from a fire can be one way to get attention, but be warned you will likely be guilty of a crime in the aftermath, unless authorities have declared the area safe for burning.

Remember, this situation should never happen. That’s why it’s critical that even when you go hiking for the day, you let a friend know. Ultimately, the wilderness is not something to fear, and we want everyone who ventures forth to enjoy themselves safely. It just takes a little preparation, and you can ensure that will be exactly your experience.

[Note: This was a guest post.]

DIY Solar Tracking System Inspired by NASA

I just love DIY ideas like this, don’t you? After all, I wrote an entire book about DIY survival projects, so it only stands to reason that I would, lol.

In any case, the neat thing about this solar tracker is that it doesn’t need any GPS signal or computers to work but, instead, simply “follows” the movement of the sun using small light sensors throughout the day!

Apparently, he got the original idea from this video which includes more details about the build, if interested…

How to Find and Dig a Shallow Well From Start to Finish

I’ve never tried to dig a well myself nor have I ever tried dowsing rods, but this guy apparently swears by them. The first several minutes of the video is him finding the best place to dig, while the rest is him digging the well and installing the piping and pump. It’s a pretty neat process to watch straight through…

Survival Water From Your Hot Water Heater

Image credit: https://www.askaprepper.com/survival-water-from-your-hot-water-heater/

In the video I posted the other day about 7 steps for emergency water preparation, I don’t recall it saying anything about how to get water out of the water heater. The following post covers that crucial knowledge in detail…

Probably the first thing any of us will notice in a post-disaster scenario is the lack of electrical power. The second thing we will most likely notice is that there isn’t any water. We’ll go to the sink, expecting the water to come out of the faucet, like it always does, and nothing will happen. For many, that will be the moment they wake up and realize that the brown stuff really has hit the rotary air movement device.

Water is one of our top survival priorities, beaten out only by the ability to maintain our core body temperature. Yet it is often overlooked in our day-to-day lives. We are so accustomed to having water at our fingertips, that most people don’t have any idea where to get water, other than bottled water, in the case of an emergency which shuts down the city water.

Yet most of us have a number of water supplies readily available, within walking distance of our homes. We also have clean water in our homes, ready for our use. All we have to do is find a way to access it…

Read the full article here

7 Common Trees Ranked for Survival Purposes

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The following article is an interesting (and unexpected) comparison of several common trees and attempts to rank them in order of best to worst for survival purposes focusing on several key areas, including nutritional benefits, medicinal value, firewood quality, and more.

The article compares oak trees, apple and maple trees, white pines, and a few others. Which one do YOU think will be the winner? The answer may surprise you…

Many trees provide nutritional value, medicinal qualities, and a good source of firewood. But which tree is the best?

It’s a tough question. Many trees provide value on many levels, and the importance of those qualities can be subjective. For example, a tree might bear a fruit you enjoy, but is it a fruit with lots of calories to help sustain you in a survival scenario?

Here are some questions to consider.
-Are you knowledgeable enough to maximize the nutritional value of a tree?
-Do you have the skills to distill the medicinal qualities of a tree?
-Do you depend on firewood to heat your home?

Let’s assume you want all three of those things–nutrition, medicine, and heat–and assign grades to various trees to see if one emerges above the others. We’ll then explore in detail the value of that “one” tree.

Continue reading article here

48 FREE Survival PDF Downloads

The Urban Prepper really went overboard on this one because he’s compiled all of the survival PDF files he’s created over the years and is giving them away for free!

He’s included files covering a wide range of topics, including several versions of an Altoid’s tin survival kit, bug out bag kits, EDC, vehicle preparedness, the survival cheat sheet I linked to a few weeks back, and plenty more. It’s really a wonderful resource he’s offering us today.

In order to get it for yourself, you need to go directly to the YouTube video and click on the link in the description that says: “ALL PDF’s, 1 ZIP…” which is followed by the actual ZIP file link. (FYI, I would link directly to the ZIP file, but it’s not mine to directly give away.)

After the file downloads you’re going to need to extract the contents (here’s how if you need guidance) or you can use something like 7-Zip which is free and a program I’ve used in the past, though, there are certainly other options and it’s probably not necessary if you have a relatively recent version of Windows or Mac.

Note: This extraction process is best done on your computer and not on a tablet or smartphone. Regardless, the extraction process really isn’t that complicated, but it can be frustrating if you’re not very familiar with computers.

Anyway, here’s the video about the PDF downloads below; just be sure to go directly to the video description to get the PDF link, enjoy…