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Heat Kills! Tips For Hiking In The Desert Heat


I’ve lived in the Moab desert for the past 8 years and prior to that life-changing move I was a mountain girl from Colorado. What I discovered, and I discovered it quickly after I moved to Moab, is that hiking in the mountains during the summer is a completely different experience than a summer hike in the desert.

Here are a few key differences:

  • There is very little shade in the desert compared to the tall pine trees, aspen trees, birch trees, and various other tall trees that provide ample shade in the mountains, that is unless you are above tree line, and then well, there is no shade at all.
  • There is little to no water in the desert compared to lakes, ponds and numerous creeks that are common in the mountains.
  • The temperature is typically 10-20 degrees hotter in the desert than in the mountains, and the higher in elevation you climb the cooler it gets.
  • The heat can and will fatigue you quicker than hiking in cooler temperatures.
  • The desert heat is something you don’t want to take lightly and you always need to prepare for.


Because of these differences you need to prepare differently for desert hiking in the summer.


Tips For Hiking In The Desert Heat


Wear light colored clothing. Dark colors absorb the high temperature from the suns rays, which makes you, get hot quickly. Light colors, like white, reflect the suns rays, as well. Although, after researching my theory there are people on the interweb saying loose fitting black clothing, based on physics, keeps you cooler. I say go with white or light colors.

Wear cotton shirts while hiking in the dry desert heat. Yes, I said COTTON! The cotton will absorb your sweat and allow it to dry slower than a synthetic shirt that dries quickly. As the moisture in the cotton shirt evaporates it cools your body keeping you cooler longer.


Adventure kid hiking


Mesh shoes keep your feet cooler than waterproof and all leather shoes. The mesh allows air to pass through keeping your feet cooler and allowing them to breath.

Sun hat and sunglasses help keep the suns rays from pounding your noggin and damaging your eyes. Since the suns rays reflect off of water, rock, concrete and metal structures the sun hat and sunglasses will keep you protected from the damaging rays.

Sunscreen or long sleeve shirt and pants will help protect you from getting sunburned. Because there is so little shade in the desert you’re more exposed to the harmful rays of the sun.

Hydration is very important when hiking in the desert. The dry air and the heat will suck the moisture right out of you. Hydrate as much as possible before the hike and then make sure you are drinking plenty of water during the hike. This is especially important for tykes.

“In relation to their weight, they have a large surface area of skin through which to lose water. In addition, until about age two, children’s kidneys are not able to concentrate urine and preserve body fluids as efficiently as adult kidneys.” (Encyclopedia of Children’s Health)

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Your urine should be light yellow to almost clear if you are probably hydrated. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to start drinking. By the time you get thirsty you are already dehydrated.

infant drinking from camelbak


Frozen water bottles. Throw a couple water bottles full of water in the freezer overnight and then toss them in your pack. They will slowly melt providing you with cold water 2-3hrs into your hike. Use the ice-cold water to hydrate or to stay cool by dousing yourself with it.

Ice. Fill your water reservoir or water bottles that you will be drinking out of with mostly ice. The ice will keep your water cold, which in turn lowers your body temperature as you’re drinking.


Hiking in the desert heat


Bandanas are great to keep wet and then tied around your head or neck. As the water evaporates from the bandana it cools you off.

IF you happen to find some shade take advantage of it. Stop for a few minutes to seek shelter from the sun. It will be a few degrees cooler in the shade than the direct sun.

Have snacks on hand, including salty snacks. Snacks will help fuel you keeping you energized and the salty snacks will help replenish the salt lost through sweating. If you don’t replenish salts lost through sweating, you can get hyponatremia, a low level of salt in the blood.

Know the signs of heat exhaustion.

  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea

Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and even cause death. (webmd)

*Remember: while hiking with tykes they are more susceptible to heat exhaustion because they adapt to heat more slowly and are unable to regulate their body temperature as efficiently as adults. They can overheat easily.

As some of the signs around Moab state: Heat Kills!


Be safe and have fun!






What other tips do you have for hiking in the desert? Have you ever experience heat exhaustion? What’s your opinion on wearing black while hiking?








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