Tips For the Desert Survival

Today we have a guest post from Mike Millerson.

It is believed that a desert is one of the most dangerous places on earth. It seems that it is worth giving up there under unforeseen circumstances since it is simply impossible to get out. Most people associate the desert with the heat, lack of water sources, and plants. The thought of the path that will have to be overcome on foot under the sweltering sun, cold nights, and dunes extending for hundreds of kilometers is terrifying. Is it even possible to survive in such conditions?

In fact, even if you find yourself in the middle of the desert in Mexico alone without a connection, you will have a chance to stay alive and get out of it. Thousands of years ago, people lived in deserts, so the human body retained the ability to tolerate heat and lack of moisture. However, an important role is played by preliminary preparation for the adverse conditions that surround you in the desert. The main thing we want to emphasize is that it is possible to Survive Nature; the main thing is to be prepared and know some dos and don’ts.

In this article, we will look at some necessary tips for survival in the desert. After reading, you will understand that nothing will be impossible, even if you have to spend several days surrounded by dunes.

1. Guide to Choosing Clothes

The first thing that usually worries all people when it comes to survival in the desert is clothes. What should I wear, and what should I bring so as not to die from the heat during the day and from the cold at night? Let us figure it out.

  • Firstly, you should not forget about protection from sun rays. Since in the desert, you do not have the opportunity to hide from the sun under trees or in the shade of houses, you need to cover your body as much as possible. It is desirable that all your body parts are covered with a cloth and thus protected from burning due to sunlight. The best option is white clothes that are created specifically to reflect sunlight (the abbreviation “UPF” is written on such clothes). However, just white clothes are also suitable in order not to overheat in the sun. Do not forget about accessories! They are not decorations but vital additions that will protect your head and hands. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, gloves, and sunglasses.
  • Secondly, the preservation of water in the body is crucial when being in the desert. The more moisture you retain preventing active sweating, the less you want to drink during the day. This is a very simple principle that many do not think about. In order to prevent moisture loss, we recommend wearing loose cotton clothing. In addition to a T-shirt, wear a light windbreaker that lets in the air but protects the skin from sunlight.
  • Thirdly, keep in mind that the temperatures during the day and at night in the desert are radically different. Therefore, it is necessary to have warm clothes with you that you can put in a backpack during the day and put on after sunset. It can be a wool sweater, a fleece jacket, or an ultra-light down jacket. It is also a good idea to keep a pair of socks in your backpack to provide warmth to your feet.

2. Seeking Shelter in the Desert

The second thing you have to take care of is finding and setting up a shelter in the middle of the desert. At first, it may seem that this is an unsuccessful activity that will only take away your energy. Is it possible to find shelter in a place where there is nothing but sand? Well, in fact, there is not only sand in the deserts. It is often worth walking just a couple of kilometers to stumble upon rocky terrain. You can hide between fairly large rocks that create a shadow or find a small cave. However, be careful because wild animals can hide in the same places.

Another option for a shelter that you can build in a few minutes using improvised means is a homemade awning. You can stretch the fabric between rocks or sticks to create a canopy and provide yourself with a place to rest in the shade. It is better to use a thick cloth or even a blanket. It is also recommended to create several layers and put branches between them. This way, you can create a canopy that will keep you cool during the day. 

We also do not recommend sitting and lying on the hot ground. Your body will heat up quickly, and you will lose moisture and provoke thirst. It is better to lay any fabric. A coating that does not let heat through is ideal for this.

3. Moving Through the Desert

Since you cannot spend all the time in the shelter, you need to think in advance about how you will move around the desert. Moreover, you may not wait for help in one place, but go-ahead to try to meet people and find a nearby settlement. However, you may encounter a serious problem: it is extremely difficult to walk in the desert because of the heat, sun, and hot sand.

There is only one solution: to move at night and sleep during the day. It may be difficult for you to adapt to such a regime right away, but this is the only way you can save energy and reduce the amount of water you need every day. If you want to move around during the day, then you will need to spend three liters of water more per person every day. Therefore, the decision on how and when you will travel in search of a source of water or help will be decisive.

4. Supplies for Staying in the Desert

You cannot know in advance under what circumstances you will find yourself in the desert. Perhaps it will happen unexpectedly, and you will have to survive with a minimum supply of things. However, we hope that you will have the opportunity to pack your things in advance and provide for various scenarios. Therefore, we will tell you exactly what you need to bring to the desert.

  • Water

The first and most obvious point is to bring enough water. It is pretty obvious that there is never a lot of water in the desert, so make as many supplies as you can. We want to give just a couple of additional tips. Try to store water in a place protected from sunlight so you keep the water cool for longer. Moreover, we recommend dividing the water into several containers so that if one of the bags or bottles is damaged, you will not lose all your liquid reserves.

  • Food

The main thing you should know about the recommended set of food for staying in the desert is a sufficient amount of nutrients and a minimum amount of harmful additives. Choose water instead of carbonated drinks and fruit instead of snacks. Keep in mind that it is better to give up sweets because they cause thirst, although they certainly add a boost of energy. 

By the way, you can take food containing salt and potassium, as they may not be enough when sweating a lot, but do not abuse them, as they can be harmful when the body is depleted. In general, we recommend taking those foods that do not weigh much, take up little space but are extremely nutritious. For example, protein and granola bars have such properties.

  • Some additional supplies

Now that we have talked about water and food supplies, we can move on to additional devices that will help you navigate and find a way out of the desert. In fact, this is a standard list of things that are indispensable for any long stay away from civilization. You can find more information about packing all the necessary supplies at

Never go far from people without such basic things for survival as a knife, a rope, a lantern, a first aid kit, any devices for starting a fire, and water treatment devices such as special tablets. In addition, you can take care to take thick blankets for survival and a special respirator that will help you breathe even during a sandstorm. These tools are extremely important for survival in the desert and at the same time can be quite useless under other circumstances, so it is easy to forget about them. 

In addition, think in advance about how you will signal your location and the need to get help and collect everything you need. A signal mirror is just one of the compact and simple options.

5. Water Extraction in the Desert

The worst nightmare is to stay in the desert without a single drop of water. What should you do in this case? Is it possible to find water in the desert? Do not worry, it will be possible to find water even if you are in the middle of a desert. We will tell you what steps you need to remember right now in order not to get lost and provide yourself with the water necessary for survival in the future. 

How to find a water source? You will be lucky if there is rain after which the water remains on the rocks and in puddles. This will be the easiest way to find water. However, rains are a rare phenomenon in the desert, so you need to be prepared for a long search of a stream or groundwater. 

How to choose the direction of movement and understand that there is a water source nearby? There are several signs by which you can detect the source of water:

  • The first obvious sign of the presence of underground water or a stream nearby is the green trees around. If you encounter vegetation, you will soon stumble upon a source of water;
  • Water can also be on a rocky surface. It is possible that water flows down the stones and gets into the soil, so do not pass by the stones without trying to get water; 
  • Pay attention to the animals: you need to look for places where you can see a cluster of birds or a lot of tracks left by animals on the ground. If this place is popular with animals, then there will be water nearby;
  • You may not find the stream right away, but you can pay attention to the ledges and cracks in the ground. You can find a dried-up stream this way. Do not despair, because perhaps the stream has not completely dried up. We recommend walking along the ledges left by the stream. Perhaps there is still water left somewhere;
  • If none of the sources described above are found by you, then you will need to be patient and collect water literally drop by drop. Take pieces of cloth and collect condensation that appears early in the morning on trees and rocks. Then squeeze out the pieces of cloth and add water to your containers.

By the way, we do not recommend searching for water when you still have a lot of full containers in stock. Perhaps someone will find you before all the water is gone. By staying in the shade in your shelter, you minimize the amount of water you drink daily and save energy. Get out of the shelter and start looking for a water source when you realize that there will not be enough water for more than a couple of days.

6. Sending Signals To Get Help

Staying in the desert can be dangerous since you are alone for a long time without the opportunity to get help. Usually, deserts are not inhabited by people, so it may not be easy to find someone who will help you get out of there in an emergency. Therefore, we recommend that you always have a couple of items that can help you send signals for help in your backpack or car.

The simplest tool that you can use to increase your chances of rescue is a signal mirror. It fits in the pocket of jeans, but at the same time, it is an extremely powerful and useful tool in the desert. You can reflect a ray of the sun and direct it up at a passing plane or car. Even if the distance is very large, the sunbeam will reach the people in the vehicle. 

Another way to attract attention is to make a fire. If you have nothing to burn, and you are already desperate, then try to pierce and burn the spare wheel. You will also be able to use flares if you have them. It is worth remembering that it is useless to launch flares during the day in the desert: because of the bright sun, they can go unnoticed. Finally, attract attention with the help of audio signals. For example, use a car horn, whistle, or shot. Try to make rhythmic sounds so that it is clear that this is a call for help.

7. Some More Survival Tips

Now that we have sorted out the basic tips on how to organize your forced stay in the desert to save energy and water balance for a few days, we can discuss a few more additional tips. 

The first piece of advice we want to give you is to beware of dangerous plants and animals. It may seem obvious, but there are even more dangers waiting for you in the desert than you can imagine. For example, sharp and dangerous cactus burrs can not only be located on the plant itself, but also spread over the ground. Look at the ground carefully, and in no case go down the road strewn with prickly burrs. In addition, while searching for water under the rocks, do not forget about dangerous scorpions and spiders. First, poke with a long stick to expel all insects from under the stone, and only then push it away with your hands. 

Moreover, if you feel that you are overheated in the sun, go into the shade or return to your shelter and settle the skin with a damp cloth. It may surprise you, but drinking a lot of water in this state is not the best way out. Unbutton your clothes and relax. 

Finally, move through the desert with your mouth closed. Most likely you will want to open your mouth a little because of the heat and thirst, but it is not worth doing. By opening your mouth, you will only lose more moisture and want to drink even more.

8. Moral Preparation

At the end of our article, we want to touch on the topic of psychological state and moral preparation for a long stay in the desert. It may seem unimportant when the main task is to survive and get out of the desert, but actually, maintaining calm is one of the key points. 

Do not panic, plan your actions and solve problems as they come. Remember that you need to save energy, so in no case should you run around the desert in the hope of attracting attention or bumping into a group of people. Act calmly and take your time. The probability of rescue in the case of well-planned actions is several times higher than when panicking.

About the author: Mike Millerson is a former USA Army sergeant and a highly educated survivalist and prepper with a degree and interest in Engineering and Electronics. He applies his extensive expertise in survivalism, homesteading, backpacking, hiking and hunting, spreading his deep knowledge about handling emergencies and prepping for them reasonably and effectively.

Additional commentary by Surviving Mexico

Remember, several species of cactus are edible. The Opuntia ficus-indica has edible nopales and produces tuna fruit. Hylocereus undatus has delicious pitahaya fruit, while the Stenocereus provides the pitaya. These might be life-saving options in the event of a desert-survival situation.

All hope is not lost if you are lost in the desert in Mexico as there are several indigenous groups that still live in or near one of the five desert regions in Mexico. For example, the Mayo, Yaqui, Pima, Seri, Cucapá, Papago, Kikapú and Guarijio all live in the state of Sonora.

Traditional Mexican clothing items are designed with the hot sun in mind. Rebozos can be worn as headcovering, as a shawl, for babywearing, as a sling for carrying other items, as a blanket, or as a dew catcher. The serape is heavier but can also be used as a blanket, head covering, and overcoat.

If you are looking for more survival tips for living in rural Mexico, then check out A Woman’s Survival Guide to Disasters in Rural Mexico: A Framework for Empowered Living Through Crisis available on Amazon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Native fauna and flora

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.