Desert Survival Kit: The Essentials You Need Before Heading Out

Desert hike
Written by Sean Nelson

Planning to go for an adventure in the desert? Hold that thought and check this article out. As you already know the desert is unlike any other survival environment you will ever go to. The hot, dry and thirsty desert is certainly never too kind in many aspects- that is why we are here, to gear you up for such conditions.

Despite the scotching heat you could as well come across risky scenarios such as dust storms, venomous snakes, flash floods, and even scorpions. However, there are ways to cubing this situations and still have loads of fun under the beautiful sun. Want to know how? Stay put and we will give you the necessary desert survival kit.

Steps to preparing a survival kit

Determine the weather conditions and the terrain

This is the first and very important bit that should be considered before packing for the desert. Get to find out the weather conditions so as to know what you should carry in your survival kit. As you already know, most deserts are often hot and sometimes windy in the day. However the nights are often very chilly.

Some of the equipment you should have in your kit in preparation for the weather include:

  • Leaf bags to protect you from sun rays.
  • Sun glasses to protect your eyes from dust the brightness from the sun.
  • Extra water to keep you hydrated

Have a compass or a GPS location tracker

Thanks to technology, GPS trackers are easily available in the market. GPS devices help to give you guidance in the event you get lost in the desert. There are various devices that can be used for GPS tracking such as tablets and smart phones.

These sophisticated devices could however fail as they use battery power which could always run out. These devices could also lose signal as is often the case while out on adventure. In such scenarios, what you need is a dependable back up. A map and a compass will come in handy for you cannot afford getting lost in the middle of nowhere.

See also: Best Garmin GPS: Your Key to Navigating the Toughest Terrains

A road map could help you in an emergency to know how you can find your evacuation site. A traditional paper road map can be bought from a gas station. You can as well download and print one.

Pack a fire starter

Like any other survival environment, at some point you will find the need to put up a fire.  Fire does not only keep you warm in the cold times but also enables you to prepare food stuff.

Some of the fire starters you could use are matches, lighters and a flint and a scrapper. Each has its own benefits as well as disadvantages. Go for the most reliable one.

If you are planning to have a lighter, rather than having a fuel based starter, go for fire steel lighter. The reason for this is that they produce hotter heat output and they also last a lifetime. You will however need to take some time and practice with it if you do not possess any fire making skills.

Get a survival knife

A knife is among the most important items to pack for any survival situation. Buy a good quality knife that has a good balance of durability, has good cutting power, good price and thoroughly field tested for your needs.

While in the wild a good quality knife could be used in a couple of ways. It could help you start a fire, cut strings, build a shelter, hunt, cut food, and clear paths. During pressure a fixed blade knife is more durable as compared to a folding knife. See our tips on how to choose the best hiking knife for more options.


Cordage can be utilized for snares, trap triggers, bow strings, tying down shelters, lashings, fishing line and much more. It is always a great idea to have some with you although you could make some from natural materials- learning how to make one is not actually difficult.


It is recommended that you carry at least 10 feet of good and strong cord.

Have sufficient water and have a water purification kit

You can be sure of being hydrated while in the desert. So you will need to stock up sufficient amount of water with regards to the number of people tagging along with you to ensure everyone is well hydrated. It is advisable that you go for collapsible, light and easy to carry containers.

Must read: Best Water Purification Tablets: Water Treatment and Solution

You might find water from other resources in the wild. This may not be safe as it may contain viruses, microorganisms, heavy metals, chlorine and bacteria. Iodine crystals can be used to purify water containing various dangerous elements. They come in a small bottle but can purify gallons of water.


You might as well purchase a portable water filter. You will find in the market several portable survival straws in a position to filter bacteria, viruses, chlorine and much more.

Purchase enough non-perishable food

Bring with you non- perishable food items that could take you at least a week. This might include whole grain cereals, canned foods as well as salt free crackers. Go for items that do not need refrigeration as well as those that do not require long preparation time.

Some survival situation food items to pack are rice, canned meat, peanut butter, lard and beans. The following tips might as well come be of great help:

  • Buy a manual can opener that you can utilize in any survival situation.
  • A survival knife can be used as an alternative in the event you forget your can opener.
  • In the event you get stranded in the desert, you could scavenge on food from available local plants, animals or fish.

Pack the right desert gear

As earlier mentioned, the desert environment is totally different from any other survival environment. As you already know, the weather is always hot in the desert and as such you need to pack light. Pack clothes that are very light and whose material does not absorb much heat.

This could include light bright colored clothes, vests, shorts and other light gear. Do not forget your sunglasses as well.

Pack the essentials of a shelter

If you are going to spend the night out in the desert, you will need to build a make shift shelter such a tent or a tarp to stay warm and protected from dangerous conditions and things that the wild may present. Trash bags, tarps, ponchos and plastic bags can be tied to trees or poles and will comfortably act as shelters. There are tarps that are specially made for survival situations and can be purchased at most outdoor stores.

Have your flashlight in check

This is most certainly an important item especially if you are planning to spend the night in the desert. Your phone might have battery hick ups or have low power and thus fail to produce sufficient lighting. If possible go for a key chain type of flash light.

These kinds often have very little weight, have longer battery and bulb lives. They also produce huge amounts of light.

Have a suitable signaling device

A number of items can be used for signaling while in the wild. This may include: a headlamp with strobe feature, pen flares, signal mirror and selecting an orange or red poncho or space blanket over an olive drab. It is up to you to choose what to go for. Some prefer having all of them in their kit.

However, you should note that at some point weight will certainly be a point to ponder about more so if you are planning to go light in terms of bulk.

Prepare a First aid kit

First aid kits have always been useful even in ordinary situations. Coming with your own emergency kit is not difficult. Once you have put up all you need, store the kit in a two zip lock bag for more protection from water penetration.

Some of the items you might include may be aspirin, bandages,, medical tape, some packets of antibacterial ointment, painkillers and whatever else you may deem fit with regards to the kind of people that are coming together with you.


Purchasing a survival kit

Some people may not the time to build their own survival kit for the desert. Some are just lazy and find the entire process tiresome. If you belong to any of the brackets mentioned, not to worry yourself sick. There are lots of survival kits out there these days that have been beefed up with all the major necessities needed to help you out while in the desert.

Some are specialized for other conditions. If you do not find one that suits your needs, most of the survival shops will be willing to customize one according to your likings. Purchasing a commercial survival kit will mean adding a few more items and even removing others just to round it all out. Just be keen to note that the kit has most of the survival emergency items mentioned here today.

Important survival tips for the desert

  • Always remain calm. In times of trouble, panic will never bring out any solution. Rather keep calm, and start thinking of ways to solve the problem.
  • Conserve energy and water. Have in mind that water is best stored up in your tummy not in your containers. Do not do non- value adding activities as they will drain your energy away.
  • Always remain in your location. Do not start wandering about or walking aimlessly. Not unless you have an idea of where you are headed to, it is best to remain in your location for the sake of emergency purposes.
  • Like any other life situation, come up with a workable plan and stick to it.
  • Think about where you have come from, what brought you there and where you are headed to.
  • Haste will always make waste. So look for a shade or shelter and relax and try to assess the situation.
  • Make your situation better- fetch firewood, build a fire and prepare how you will spend the night. All these will boost your psyche.
  • Always be prepared for whatever kind of situation- that is why you have to have a survival kit.

What you should do and know before venturing on a survival trip

Let somebody you trust know where you are headed to

This is a smart move for any outdoor adventure. Let a family member or close friend know where you are going, how long you will spend there, and when you are planning to get back. This is important so that in the event something appears to be out of place, at least people will know where to start.

Telling the guy at the gas station on your way might not really help as they meet lots of people and they may not really care about your business. As earlier mentioned it is important that you have a plan and not deviate from it so that in case of anything, rescuers will have a particular location to focus their search.

Watch out for scorpions and rattle snakes

Lots of people are afraid of scorpions in the desert. However, you should know that scorpion bites are normally rare. If you are keen about where you are sitting down, then you will be safe.

Another dangerous thing in the desert is a bite from a rattlesnake. Be careful about the places you plan to rest. Before going on your adventure carefully analyze the area you are going to explore.

Learn how to make a solar still

Making a solar still will help you collect water. For this, you will need some thin plastic in your kit. Solar stills create a miniature greenhouse. Heat is trapped in the plastic vapor barrier. In the night, temperature drops and condenses the moisture in plastic and becomes water which you can collect in a container.

Creating a desert solar still:

  1. Dig a hole a some feet wide and deep
  2. Put up a tiny collection pit at the center of the hole with the help of a plastic sheet.
  3. Stretch the thin plastic sheet across the hole.
  4. Get some medium sized heavy rocks to hold the plastic sheet in place.
  5. The plastic sheet should be up off the ground but with a slight drop at the center of the hole. This can be done by adding a medium sized rock at the middle of the plastic sheet.

Moisture collected will be transformed to water which collect at the center of the plastic sheet and will drop in the small collection pit. Although the water collected might not be much but it will help you be hydrated.

Do not build fire in the daytime

Building fires in the day will drain your energy away and cause you to sweat more which will make you be hydrated. You should mitigate loss of water by avoiding sweating.

In case you are starting a fire for the purposes of signaling that would be understood. But remember, you might not have enough time during an emergency to start fires. It would be best that you have other signaling options such as those earlier shared in this article.

Basically, the best time to build fires is during the night. For the following reasons:

  • Fires help to keep predators such as coyotes, mountain lions and bobcats away.
  • Fires will help you be warm at night as the deserts are often cold at night.
  • Rescuers will easily spot even a small fire in the night as compared to the day time.

Wrap Up

Desert environments are harsh and not pretty. But going to adventure the desert prepared can make the experience an unforgettable one. Ensure you have just the right gear for the desert and you will certainly want to go back again and again.

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Sean Nelson

Sean was backpacking since he was 7. He was born close to the RMNP and his father was a ranger, so life surrounded by mountains and wildlife is a norm for Colorado. He likes to explore, but prefers to stay in USA. In his opinion, there are too many trails and options in US to go abroad.