Maybe you just believe in always being prepared, or maybe you’re planning a desert trip. Either way, here’s what you need to know to survive the sand and heat in case of an emergency.
1. Give The Heat The Respect It Deserves
If you’ve never experienced blistering heat, you might not know what to expect from the desert. Depending on the location, temperatures can get as hot as 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 Fahrenheit. Without shelter or shade, that can go from being unpleasant to being dangerous pretty quickly.
If you’re short on water and feeling the heat, your best bet is to keep your mouth closed as much as possible. Don’t talk and try to control your breathing so as to avoid panting. That will only dehydrate you more quickly.
2. Don’t Leave The Vehicle
If your vehicle is broken down and you’re stranded, it’s usually best to stay with the vehicle so a) you have cover from the heat, wind, etc. and b) so that search parties can find you easier.
If you must leave your vehicle and feel relatively certain about your location and the way back to safety, leave a note for rescuers with important information i.e. who you are, when you left, the route you’re taking.
Again, if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s probably best to stay put! Important note: if you’re staying with the vehicle, only step outside during mid-day to avoid the peak heat.
3. Don’t Drink All The Water
If you have clean water, you should definitely drink it, but you shouldn’t drink it all at once. You’ll burn through your supply faster than if you took small sips throughout the day to maintain minimum hydration.
A good way to test your hydration level is to evaluate your urine color. Light colored urine means that you’re relatively hydrated, whereas dark urine means you need to drink water ASAP.
Any water sources found in the desert should be closely examined before drinking. If they have any kind of contamination, you might waste the water in your system by vomiting it all back up.
4. Maintain Your Hunger
It’s a similar principle for food as it is for water: eat very small portions at any single time to avoid hunger pains and maintain your energy. Eating too much too fast will actually make you thirstier and cause you to have hydration issues.
People can fast for up to 40 days, so your body can survive without food for an extended period of time. Much longer than without water.
5. The Ground Is Lava
When you were a kid, did you ever play the game where you pretend the floor is lava and you can’t touch it? If you’re trying to make it in the desert, avoiding sitting or lying directly on the ground might make a big difference for your survival chances.
The sand can be 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so think creatively and use supplies you might have like a car seat, windbreaker, etc. to keep your feet off the ground. This will also protect you from possible dangers like snakes and insects.
6. Keep Your Clothes On
It might seem counterproductive to keep your clothes on in the heat, but taking them off actually speeds up dehydration. By keeping your clothes on, you’ll also avoid sunburns better than if you were bare skin.
7. Control Your Emotions
There’s nothing more useless in a dangerous situation than blind panic. Urgency might help you work with a purpose, but direct your energy into productive solutions as opposed to screaming for help or wasting energy on other pointless endeavors.
A calm person has a much better chance of rationally figuring out their survival plan.
8. Watch For Dust Storms
If you haven’t realized it yet, the desert has a number of different ways to get you. One of them is dust storms.
If you see clouds of dust approaching you, prepare by covering your face as best you can. That might mean ripping a small piece of excess clothing and wrapping it around your face like a breathing mask to filter out sand or simply covering your mouth with your arm.
9. Prevention is the Best Solution
As with most things, preventing the problem altogether is better than having to solve it. If you’re planning a trip into the desert, think ahead about items that might be useful if your car were to break down or you were to get lost.
First, share your plans with someone reliable before you embark on your adventure, especially if you’re traveling alone (not recommended). Don’t solely rely on your cell phone for communication and navigation — the battery could die or the service could dip out. Consider renting a satellite phone or bringing an independent GPS unit.
Finally, use a vehicle that’s meant for all-terrain driving and won’t easily get stuck. Make sure it has safeguards like a spare tire or a self-starting charger should the car break down.