Day Hiking Tips In The Arizona Desert
It’s not just a big dustbowl! The Arizona desert is filled with magical scenes … mountains and vistas … critters and plants. It is especially spectacular when the desert is in bloom! But, the extreme differences between the daytime high and the overnight low temperatures can make you feel like you ate a bowl of habanero salsa followed by an ice water chaser. I know what you’re thinking … and, NO, it is not always about food. The point is … Be ready for the temperature swings while hiking in the desert. With my day hike tips, before you know it, experiencing the desert will come as naturally to you as it does for a Gila monster! Psst we’re compensated…see our disclosures.
Day Desert Hiking Tips #1: Respect The Sun
You won’t find lots of shade when you are trekking through the desert so be prepared with sun protection. Wear brimmed hats, sunglasses, long pants and shirts. Of course, don’t forget to lather up with sun block with a high UV protection factor. Leave the sun burn to the experts like John Candy did in the movie Summer Rental. There is a reason we have listed this as the first in our list of desert hiking tips … it is of vital importance and is one of the most underestimated challenges of hiking in the desert.
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Day Hiking Desert Tips #2: Expect Temperature Swings, Dress In Layers
In the Arizona desert, it is not uncommon to have a 30 degree difference between the high and low in a single day. So, when hiking in the desert, clothing choices are critical! Wearing multiple layers that you can peel off as the day goes on is a brilliant idea (ok, not really brilliant … just a really good idea). Then, as the sun begins setting, the temperature will start declining and you will begin adding your layers back on your body. Your goal: Wear three layers starting with the Base Layer (next to your skin), topped by the Mid Layer and ending with the Outer Layer. As much as you might like natural fabrics (like cotton) they absorb water (including body sweat) and don’t dry well so wear synthetic, lightweight and breathable clothing for your desert hiking base layer.
Day Hiking Desert Tips #3: Load Up With Water
You are not a camel so don’t try to ration your water intake. Getting dehydrated is EASY and NOT FUN! Drink plenty of water; bring more than you think you need. Recommendations of between ½ – 1 gallon per person per day at temperatures below 80 degrees are common … I recommend more! If the temperatures are hot enough you might not only drink the water, but also use it to cool your body by pouring it over your head and wrists. I have seen visitors hit the trail with a 12 oz. bottle of water thinking they are good to go. Then I have seen them rushed off the side of a mountain by EMTs! If there was only one piece of desert hiking gear you need to carry, it is a water supply adequate enough for your desert hike. Short local desert hikes won’t require as much as day-long hikes with lots of elevation changes. Plan accordingly and stay safe!
Desert Day Hiking Tips #4: Energize With Food
As much as I love eating gourmet at the campsite, on hikes it is important to pack foods that are easy to transport and filled with energy. On a side note, desert hiking tips and techniques related to eating make me smile! LOL 🙂 Try dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, jerky, tuna packs in sealed pouches … think ready-to-eat, lightweight, non-perishable and no cooking required. Then go all-out gourmet when you get back to camp! Also, if you are stopping to eat a leisurely lunch, look for a spot with some shade and give your body a rest from the sun. Oh, one more thing … if you need camp cooking ideas and recipes for the campsite … you know I have them here!
Desert Day Hiking Tips #5: Wear Good Hiking Boots
If fashion-forward is your thing, that’s ok as long as your desert hiking boots are function-forward too. Good footwear is a must! That includes hiking boots with solid soles, superior traction and ankle support. Desert hiking usually includes mountains, rocks and sometimes loose gravel with the potential to be slippery when wet or dry. Also, if you encounter a rattlesnake along your desert hike, don’t freak out. If they hear you coming, they will shake their rattle giving you fair warning to hear them and pass at a safe distance. They usually don’t strike unless they are provoked or frightened. If that happens, they usually bite near the ankle. You will be REALLY HAPPY you are wearing hiking boots that cover your ankles if you encounter one of those things! Invest in your boots … your feet (and ankles) will thank you for it. 😉
Day Desert Hiking Tips #6: Bring A First Aid Kit
There are small, easily portable first aid kits with the essentials for a desert day hike … make sure to bring one. You don’t want to have to go into MacGyver mode if you scrape yourself and need a little ointment and band aid. Minimally your mini kit should contain antiseptic cream, cotton, band aid, some medicines for common problems like nausea, stomach upset, dizziness, fever and headache.
Day Desert Hiking Tips #7: Watch The Weather
When I first moved to Arizona I saw a road sign warning of “flash floods” and I thought it was a joke. I found out … No Joke … when it rains in the desert there is always a chance of flooding! When hiking, always be mindful of the fast-changing weather and be familiar with your surroundings so you are ready to divert to safety if necessary.
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Desert Day Hiking Tips #8: Get Lost (but not too lost)
Hiking is all about enjoying the outdoors. ‘Not all those who wander are lost’ is one of my favorite lines in the “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter” poem written by J. R. R. Tolkien. Hiking is an epic way to clear your head and unplug from city life but that does not mean you should get so lost in the moment that you literally get lost. Get a trail map to plan your route and try using a GPS device that tracks your path so you can find your way home.
Day Hiking Desert Tips #9: Watch Your Step
It is easy to get distracted by the beautiful desert scenery but don’t let that keep you from watching where you step. Some desert plants have needles that are unforgiving if accidentally bumped and snakes do love to sunbathe on the warm rocks. Thankfully, they are usually more afraid of you than anything so just don’t provoke them and give them time to slither away from your hike path so we can share their natural habitat with them peacefully. Using hiking poles helps to warn critters you are coming before you meet face to face and also helps with balance on uneven gravel. I consider them to be desert hiking essentials!
If your desert hike has anything to do with keeping a promise to yourself to stay healthy, you may want to check out this post for a little encouragement … Hike Tips: Keeping A Healthy Hiking New Year’s Resolution.
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I love sharing my recipes and tips for enjoying the great outdoors while camping, RV adventuring and relaxing in your own backyard. I’d love to hear what you think and if you’d like to share some of your secrets, I’d love to hear them too! Please leave a comment below and let’s chat.
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