By Nanci Dixon
As snowbirds migrate to the Southwest, the desert and mountains beckon with the promise of amazing hikes and glorious sunsets. As alluring as a quick, easy walk in the desert may seem, it is always wise to put safety first before putting on the hiking boots. Here are 10 tips for safe desert hiking.
Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water before hiking and take lots of water along. It is recommended to have at least 1 gallon of water per person, per day. If thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Don’t ration the water, drink it. *Editor’s Note: If you don’t own a Lifestraw, we highly suggest you keep one with you at all times on hikes and day trips.
Don’t skimp on snacks! Pack some snacks with protein, salt and sugar. Yup, that is permission! You will need carbs to get through the day.
Avoid the heat by hiking in the morning or evening when the temperatures are cooler. The hottest times of the day are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Rest and take shelter if feeling symptoms of heat exhaustion (fast or weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, weakness, dizziness or headache).
4. Know your location
Know where you are going. Take a map. Hike with someone or at least let someone know where you are going. Don’t rely on cell service in remote areas. Download a map to your device. Talk to rangers, if available, about your planned hike.
5. Stay on the trail
Don’t go off-trail – for several reasons: it is easier to get lost; the desert surface is fragile and may have taken decades to build; and snakes, scorpions and other biting creatures can be hidden in rocks and brush. These are creatures you do not want to become friends with.
6. Caution: Things that bite
About those biting creatures we just talked about… Always watch where you are walking, in front and to the side. Don’t back up without looking behind you. A snake can strike up to a distance of half their length. Rattlesnakes are not highly aggressive, but back away slowly if you encounter them. Their rattle is amazingly loud. Don’t wear headphones or earbuds. Scorpions take shelter in the day – be careful picking up rocks or branches. Do not approach any wildlife.
7. Don’t burn
Wear sunscreen. The sun in the desert is amazingly hot and direct. Remember to use lip balm with sunscreen too.
Wear a hat and good shoes. Long pants and long sleeves shield the sun. Light-colored clothing will reflect the sun’s rays. Dress in layers. When the sun sets, the temperatures in the desert can drop 30 to 40 degrees very quickly. There are clothes that can actually block UV rays and are rated SPF50. Check out the women’s option, and the men’s. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you may want to consider buying a top like that.
Watch the weather reports. A rainstorm miles away can easily cause a flash flood downstream with no warning. Be careful in washes and canyons.
10. Know what to bring
Have a lightweight day pack with you for your water and snacks. Be sure your phone is fully charged. Bring a headlamp or flashlight (with extra batteries), waterproof matches, a compass, Benadryl and anything else you may need in an emergency.