Home > Survival Situations > Surviving in the Desert

Surviving in the Desert

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 11 Jul 2015 | comments*Discuss
Water Desert Survival Heat Sun Shade

Whilst the need for food is something that is common to all survival situations, it matters far less in the desert. There may well be snakes, other small lizards and insects which you might be able to catch and eat but the key principles of surviving in desert terrain surround your understanding of the relationship between air temperature, water consumption and physical activity.For the purposes of this article, it’s assumed that you have a limited supply of water. Without even that basic commodity, the heat is likely to be so intense that you’ll not be able to survive for very long.

Finding Shade

Intense heat in the desert is going to be your major concern. The more you sweat, the more your body is going to lose water. If you’re faced with a desert survival situation, your first priority must be to find some shade from the intense sun. Unless you’re absolutely certain that you know how to navigate to safety within a reasonable distance and time scale, you need to stay put and hope that you will be rescued. Once you have found shade, place something underneath you and the hot ground and limit your physical activity. This will all help to minimise the amount you sweat which will help your body to conserve water better for far longer, thus making your water supply last longer which buys you added survival time.


It might be so hot that you’re tempted to remove clothing but you should avoid doing so. Get into the habit of learning how to conserve your sweat. Wear long sleeves if you have them and cover your head and neck with a scarf or similar. Not only will this protect you from the punishing rays of the sun and hot winds but the clothing will absorb your sweat and keep it against your skin so that you’ll ultimately benefit from its cooling effect.

Conserve Your Food

If you have some food available but only a limited supply of water, try to ration your food intake because digestion requires water and, therefore, eating food will use up valuable water rations which you’ll require for cooling your body’s core temperature.

The Importance Of Regular Hydration

Sipping water at regular intervals is going to be far more beneficial than drinking a lot in one go then having to go without for a while due to a limited supply. One of the biggest mistakes people make is using thirst as an indicator as to when they should take a drink. This is due to the fact that if you only have a limited supply, then psychologically, you’ll tend to end up drinking less than your body needs to be able to survive.

As a rough guide, you should get into the habit of drinking a litre of water every hour if the temperature is hotter than 38C and half a litre every hour if it’s below 38C . Whilst rationing your water supply might be at the forefront of your mind, if you fail to drink the recommended amounts above, you’re highly likely to become a casualty of heat stroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion which can lead to death.

Remember that if your urine is light in colour, you are drinking enough water but if it’s a deep yellow or even a darker colour, you need to increase your water intake. There is more information about heat related illnesses in this article onsurviving extreme heat

Limit Your Movements Until After Sundown

It’s important that you limit any physical activity until the evenings or after dark when the air will be cooler and you’re less likely to sweat. Surprisingly, the desert can be quite cold after the sun goes down so if you have warm clothing, now’s the time to wear it.

Other Considerations

Your best hope of being rescued in the desert is to stay put unless you know your way out and have enough water to last you until you get out. Signal markers in the sand, mirror signalling and, if you’re lucky enough to find vegetation to burn – a signal fire are going to be your best options.

Be alert to sandstorms. If you have goggles, put them on and cover your nose and mouth with an item of clothing or a piece of cloth. A major sandstorm can cause you to become disorientated so try to escape to shelter but if that’s not possible, the best thing is to lie down, mark your direction of travel and simply sit out the storm.

Food is less of a priority in a desert survival situation but if desert environments are going to be something you find yourself in fairly regularly, it’s useful to learn all about the vegetation that grows in the area and the creatures that live in it in order to be able to identify what is and isn’t edible.

In general, however, water is going to be your biggest concern and if you’re absolutely stranded and need to wait for rescue to reach you, you need to do all you can to stay hydrated as well as taking some of the actions above to make your water supply last as long as possible which gives you the best chance of survival.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hi I am in the process of doing research for a novel. The main characters are trapped in a desert and there is an on coming sandstorm. One of them has a tent are there any tents that can help from a sandstorm. Its midday so its scorching hot, are reflective blankets effective in this situation? I have tried to use google to do some research but articles are quite inconsistent and I want to get this part of the story right. If you could help that would be great. Thanks Max
Maxibon - 11-Jul-15 @ 1:36 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word: