How Not To Die in the Desert

You would think it would be common sense that when it is 100+ degrees outside, you would make every effort to stay inside. Unfortunately you have people like this who think that if it is 128 degrees outside, they should go check it out. Obviously not the smartest thing to do. Anyway, here is how to stay safe in high heat:

  • Don’t hike/run/exercise or otherwise exert yourself outside when the temps get too high (generally about 80+ degrees for most people). Examples here, here, and here.
  • Similarly, if you must travel during periods of high heat, make sure your vehicle is in excellent working order. Example here.
  • If you must be out and about, try to do your walking/errands/travel in the early morning or late evening when the temps are cooler.
  • Do not head out to the middle of the desert (anytime) without a good map, GPS device, compass, and other navigation aids. It is very easy to get turned around in the barren desert and often times in remote areas, your cell phone won’t work.
  • If you make it a habit to travel in remote areas, carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) with you. At least it will provide a way for rescuers to find you should you become lost or injured.
  • Obviously, never leave anything perishable in your vehicle when it is hot (kids, animals, plants, chocolate, etc). You can replace the plants and chocolate but you can’t replace your kids or pets so leave a sticky note on your dash as a reminder to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle.
  • If you do get lost in the desert, stay with your vehicle. It is easier for searchers to find a vehicle in the desert than a lone person walking down the road. Note that you may not want to stay IN your vehicle as it will feel like and oven but you can always make a quick shelter next to it to hide from the sun.
  • Before you head out on a desert road trip, leave your itinerary with a trusted person who will start the search for you if you don’t arrive back when you planned to.
  • Always carry emergency gear in your vehicle when traveling: more water than you think you will need, clothing, shelter, etc.
  • And if you will be walking, do the same; carry more water than you think you will need, a tarp for emergency shelter, an umbrella or sun hat, wear a long-sleeved sun shirt and pants, good walking shoes, sun screen, sunglasses, etc.
  • Pay attention to hydration, before, during, and after your excursion. Drink plenty of water before you leave, drink regularly while you are out and about, and continue to hydrate yourself after your return. Especially for people not acclimated to the desert, the sudden high heat and low humidity not only zaps your strength but zaps your water reserves too. Note that you may want to intersperse water and electrolyte drinks (Gatoraid, Pedialyte, electrolyte tabs added to water) to replace electrolytes lost through sweating.
  • Note that hydrating excludes drinking alcohol or caffeine which tend to make you more dehydrated.
  • Carry a cooler full of ice in your vehicle. With ice water you can drink it to cool your core, dip your shirt or a towel in it to place on your body to cool off, and have a way to keep any food at a safe, cool temperature. Us folks who live in the desert regularly carry a cooler with ice to put our groceries in during the summer when we are out doing errands.
  • Know how to recognize the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to change plans. If the weather suddenly turns hot, skip the hike and opt for indoor activities until cooler weather returns.