Desert Camping Done Right

Threats to Your Survival (Cont.)
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death valley, california
Pretty in Pink: Death Valley National Park, not to be underestimated at either end of the mercury scale (PhotoDisc)

Other Factors to Consider:
When it comes to the weather, most people are aware that heatstroke is an issue in a desert environment, where temps can easily top 100 degrees. But they forget that those same locations can bring low temperatures at night. For example, in Death Valley National Park the average September temperature is a high of 106 Fahrenheit and a low of 75 Fahrenheit, which is what you might expect—but not that the record high sits at 123 Fahrenheit and the record low at 41 Fahrenheit.

Because of weather, even the fittest athletes need to acclimatize to the desert environment before embarking on a strenuous trip, much like mountaineers do. "It is important to pace yourself," says Tony Nester, former ranger, owner and operator of Ancient Pathways (, and author of Practical Survival and Desert Survival Tips, Tricks and Skills. "Research has shown that it takes five to 12 days to acclimatize to the heat, regardless of fitness level." The worst mistake that Nester sees desert hikers make is overexerting themselves. He suggests a 20-40 rule: for every 40 minutes of walking, take a mandatory 20-minute break.

In an ever-changing environment like the desert, nothing is more reliable than local knowledge. Visit a ranger station to find out about important topics like current conditions and the likelihood of flash floods. Topographical maps can be out of date, and should not be primarily relied on for essential information such as watering holes.

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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