Desert Camping Done Right

Survival Strategies
cacti, arizona
No Agua, Amigos: Contrary to popular belief, cactus juice won't keep you hydrated (Corel)

Survival 101:
The four big points to keep in mind when it comes to desert survival are shelter, water, fire, and signaling. "In the worst case scenario," says Nester, "think of a coyote. You never see them running around. Hole up, make some shade, and keep covered like a cowboy would—they’re dressed from head to toe for a reason."

The most important need is water—and forget the myth that you can drink cactus juice. While the most dependable water source is what you've brought with you, in a desperate situation you need to be able to "find the water, catch it, or make it," says Erin Adams, program director at the Desert Institute, located in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. The best way to make water, says Adams, is to create a transpiration still. Tightly wrap a plastic bag around a plant limb with greenery, either during the day or at night, and about a cup of pure water will accumulate within a few hours.

Dry conditions in the desert make fire a dangerous thing, but fire is an important tool for signaling. Both Adams and Nester suggest bringing both a primary and secondary fire source, such as lighters and storm-proof matches. A signal mirror is also a useful tool; the larger the mirror, the farther the signal will travel, but a smaller mirror is easier and lighter to carry.

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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