How to Pack for a Desert Camping Trip


The desert environment is among the most challenging for campers. Temperatures range from extreme heat to below freezing; shade is limited, and resources for water and firewood are also hard to find. Camping in the desert requires planning to prepare for potential emergencies and survival situations. Although you'll face some challenges associated with desert camping, you'll be rewarded with solitude and scenery in a unique and rugged ecosystem.

Food and Water

  • The desert provides little in the way of food and water. You must pack enough food and water to supply the trip, plus an emergency cache. You will sweat during the heat of the day without realizing the significant amount of water you lose. The dry air evaporates your sweat immediately, making it difficult to gauge the loss. Pack and fill several large, sport-style water containers that have a tap system. Fill them with a combination of ice and water to keep a cool water source for several days. Carry multiple large water bottles, and refill them from the bulk source throughout the day. Pack dry foods like granola bars and trail mix to snack on. If you have room, pack an ice chest with fruit, eggs and meats. Only carry a few days of cold food, because the ice will melt quickly. Eat the cold foods during the first couple of days, and fill the remainder of the trip with pasta and canned foods. Use a gas stove for cooking, and bring an extra water source for dishes and hygiene.

Shelter and Sleeping

  • Natural shade is ideal, but not always available in the desert. Look for rock formations and trees when selecting a campsite, to maximize your shade potential. Pack large tarps and poles to provide shade; you can put your tent under the tarp system. Do not use the tent fly if you want to maximize airflow and prevent condensation. The tarp will protect you from rain and wind while providing shade during the day. The days are often hot, but nighttime temperatures may reach freezing. Pack a sleeping pad to provide insulation from the ground. Use a minimum-20-degree sleeping bag, and bring extra blankets to prepare for colder weather.

Dress Appropriately

  • Bring clothing for all types of weather in the desert. Dress in layers to prepare for the heat and the cold. Pack a base layer, mid-layer and warm pants and a coat. Wool socks keep your feet warm at night, and sandals are often the choice for daytime. A typical day of desert camping involves lightweight, breathable clothing during the day, followed by a base layer in the evening and the mid-layer before bed. The mornings are often cool until the sun warms the ground. Bring sunglasses and sunscreen, and keep your body covered when possible to prevent sunburn.

Emergency Preparation

  • Always pack a first-aid kit and extra water. Remote desert camping requires a second spare tire and basic tools for vehicle emergencies. Pack an emergency satellite signal system to prepare for extreme emergencies -- the emergency system can potentially save your life. Pack a shovel for burying human waste and for digging out a stuck vehicle. Bring bug spray along with the sunscreen to remain comfortable.


  • You should pack firewood for desert camping, because the desert ecosystem is fragile and wood is not always readily available. Bring chairs for the campsite, games for entertainment, and music or musical instruments for evening fun around the campfire.

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