What is desert survival navigation?. Navigating safely in a desert wilderness requires a combination of preparedness, knowledge, and constant awareness of your surroundings. If you find yourself lost or are planning an excursion into desert terrain, consider these guidelines to ensure your safety:
Desert survival navigation
Preparation Before the Journey
- Know Your Route: Familiarize yourself with the planned route. Use maps, GPS, and gather information from local sources.
- Inform Someone: Always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
- Water is Vital: The desert is arid, so dehydration is a primary concern. Carry more water than you think you’ll need. A general rule is to drink at least one gallon (4 liters) of water per day in a desert environment, more if you’re physically active.
- Clothing: Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing to reflect sunlight. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must.
- Emergency Kit: Bring a first aid kit, multi-tool or knife, whistle, mirror (for signaling), flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries, and fire-starting tools.
- Avoid Traveling During Peak Heat: Travel during the cooler parts of the day (early morning or late afternoon). If possible, rest in shade during peak sun hours.
- Compass and Map: Even if you have a GPS, a traditional compass and topographical map are essential backup tools.
- GPS Device: Ensure it’s fully charged and you have extra batteries or power sources.
- Mark Your Starting Point: If you have a GPS device, mark your starting point. This will help you return if you get lost.
While You’re Out There
- Stay Oriented: Regularly check your map and surroundings to ensure you know where you are.
- Follow Landmarks: Use distant landmarks (like mountains or distinct rock formations) to maintain a straight path and avoid walking in circles.
- Avoid Canyons or Low-lying Areas: Flash floods are a danger in desert terrains. The weather can be clear where you are, but a storm miles away can send torrents of water rushing through canyons.
- Conserve Water: Sip water regularly but don’t gulp. Avoid alcohol or caffeine as they can dehydrate you faster.
If You Get Lost
- Stay Calm: Panic can impair judgment. Sit down, drink some water, and assess the situation.
- Stay Put: If you’re not sure of your direction, it’s often better to stay put, especially if someone knows your intended route or location.
- Signal for Help: Use mirrors, whistles, or any bright materials you have to signal for help. Three of anything (whistle blows, fires, signals) is a universal distress signal.
- Find Shade: Protect yourself from the sun by staying in the shade or creating shade using your available resources.
- Conserve Energy: Rest and avoid unnecessary movement during the hottest parts of the day.
Hazards to Watch
- Wildlife: Be aware of venomous snakes and other desert creatures. Never put your hands or feet where you can’t see them.
- Cacti: Some cacti can be dangerous if touched or consumed. Familiarize yourself with the local flora before your journey.
- Heat Illness: Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms can include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headache. If these occur, find shade, sip water, and cool your body down.
If Rescued or When Returning
- Hydrate and Monitor Your Health: Continue to hydrate and monitor for signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or other health issues for a few days after your journey.
- Inform Your Contact: Let the person you informed about your trip know that you have returned or have been found safe.
Understanding Desert Climate
- Temperature Fluctuations: Deserts can have dramatic temperature changes between day and night. Nights can be surprisingly cold. Layer your clothing to adapt.
- Monsoon Seasons: Some deserts, like the American Southwest, have monsoon seasons with heavy rain. Know the seasons of the region you’re in.
- Natural Shelters: Look for rock overhangs or natural depressions for shelter. They can provide shade and a break from the wind.
- Tent: If you bring a tent, make sure it’s well-ventilated. A ground tarp can prevent moisture from the cold ground.
- Avoid Valleys: Setting up camp in a valley can expose you to cold drafts at night.
Food and Nourishment
- Sand Dunes: Walking on sand requires more energy. If navigating dunes, aim to walk along the ridges where the sand is more compact.
- Salt Flats: These can be deceiving. They might look solid but can sometimes be a thin crust over mud.
- Satellite Phones: In remote desert areas, cell reception might be non-existent. Consider renting or purchasing a satellite phone for emergencies.
- Personal Locator Beacons (PLB): These can send out a distress signal with your location to rescue agencies.
- Indigenous Communities: Many desert areas are home to indigenous communities. Be respectful, and if you plan to pass through, seek permission if required.
- Leave No Trace: Respect the environment by packing out all trash and minimizing your impact.
- Walking Technique: In sandy areas, it’s best to drag your feet slightly. This conserves energy and helps with stability.
- Avoiding Quicksand: It’s rare but can be found in some desert terrains near water sources. If you find yourself in quicksand, try to lean backward to distribute your weight and move your legs slowly to create pockets of water, making it easier to pull them out.
- Optical Illusion: In the heat, light rays get bent, causing mirages. What seems like a water body in the distance might just be a mirage. Don’t always trust what you see and rely more on your map and navigation tools.
- Strength in Numbers: If one person becomes injured or ill, others can assist or go for help.
- By being vigilant, prepared, and respectful of the desert environment, you can ensure a safer journey, whether you’re on a day hike or a prolonged expedition.
Skills and Training
- Survival Course: Before embarking on a desert expedition, consider taking a desert survival course. These courses often cover essential skills, from navigation to emergency first aid.
- First Aid Knowledge: In remote areas, immediate medical assistance may not be available. Knowing how to treat minor injuries, bites, and heat-related ailments is essential.
- Regular Inspection: Before and during your trip, regularly inspect all equipment. A minor issue with gear can become a major problem in harsh environments.
- Spare Equipment: Carry essential spare parts. This could include things like tent pegs, extra laces, or repair kits for inflatable sleeping pads.
- Weather Forecasts: Deserts can sometimes experience sudden weather changes. Regularly check weather updates, especially if you have access to a radio or satellite device.
- Local Knowledge: Speak with locals or park rangers about any recent changes in the terrain, water sources, or animal sightings.
- Natural Indicators: Vegetation, birds, or insect activity can sometimes indicate a nearby water source. However, always filter and purify any water you find.
- Solar Stills: In emergencies, solar stills can extract moisture from the ground, although they provide limited water.
- Camels: In some desert regions, camels are used as they can carry heavy loads and go days without water.
- Vehicles: If using vehicles, ensure they are desert-ready. Bring spare parts, extra fuel, and know basic repair techniques.
- Stay Positive: Mental stamina is as vital as physical endurance. In challenging situations, morale and a positive mindset can make a significant difference.
- Routine: Establishing a daily routine, like setting up camp or meal times, can provide a sense of normality.
Documenting Your Journey
- Journal: Keeping a journal can be both therapeutic and practical. You can note down locations of water sources, landmarks, or any hazards for future reference.
- Photographs: Capture your journey but be cautious. Avoid using flash at night, as it can attract unwanted wildlife.
Rest and Recovery
- Foot Care: Your feet are vital. Check them daily for blisters, cuts, or sores. Keep them dry and aired out.
- Rest: Don’t push yourself too hard. Regular breaks and adequate nightly rest are essential to keep you alert and energized.
- Stars: Familiarize yourself with desert-specific constellations. Stars can serve as reliable navigation markers at night.
- Shadow Stick Method: By placing a stick upright in the ground and marking the tip of its shadow, you can determine east and west by noting the shadow’s movement.
- For Extended Trips: If you’re planning a particularly long journey through a desert, consider caching supplies at various points. This can lighten your load and provide essential replenishment along the way.
- Navigating the desert is as much about respecting its vastness and unpredictability as it is about the thrill of exploration. By being diligent, informed, and prepared, you not only ensure your safety but also enhance the overall experience of your desert journey.
Navigating the desert is as much about respecting its vastness and unpredictability as it is about the thrill of exploration. By being diligent, informed, and prepared, you not only ensure your safety but also enhance the overall experience of your desert journey.