Desert Camping Done Right

Threats to Your Survival
death valley, california

Preparation Is the Best Defense:
The big three things to address before going desert camping are dehydration, heat exhaustion, and hyponatremia (a debilitating lack of sodium in the blood). "Being prepared, and planning, are the best defenses," says Van Tilburg. "A little bit of foresight can go a long way."

Problem: Dehydration
What It Is: Dehydration is defined as "an excessive loss of body water" and is a familiar enough term to not only outdoorsy-types but also athletes. Signs of dehydration are dizziness and nausea.
What You Can Do: The best defense against it, of course, is bringing enough water, but should you or your partner start suffering from dehydration while out in exposed, parched stretches of desert, Van Tilburg suggests drinking half-strength Gatorade (or another sports drink) to replace electrolytes. If you only have water, pair it with salty snacks, to replace essential sodium.

Problem: Hyponatremia, or "water exhaustion"
What It Is: Defined as "a deficiency of sodium in the blood," hyponatremia occurs when people drink too much water without replacing essential electrolytes. Symptoms include blurred vision and nausea, but according to Van Tilburg, "urine is the best objective sign," where a light yellow color is ideal.
What You Can Do: Load up on salty snacks.

Problem: Heat Exhaustion
What It Is: Often co-existing with mild dehydration, heat exhaustion is marked by a subnormal temperature combined with dizziness, headache, and nausea. It differs from heatstroke, where body temperature is dangerously elevated.
What You Can Do: Seek shade, eat a little food, and drink a little water.

In general, when you encounter a problem, don't make a decision right away. "I advise a lot of people to sit down, get some shade, get the group together, and address the initial problem," says Van Tilburg. "Wait a half-hour, and then re-evaluate the situation.'

Published: 27 Sep 2005 | Last Updated: 24 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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