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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Hot Desert Gear Checklist

From New Mexico to the Sahara, this gear checklist will have to prepped for any desert adventure.

by: The Backpacker Editors


Outerwear Base Layer Accessories
  • wool or fleece hat
  • synthetic liner gloves
Footwear Extras
  • sun hat
  • personal locator beacon (optional)
  • bandanna

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Jan 08, 2014

Only 2L of water in the desert!?

Sep 25, 2011

Ha, sorry, I didn't proof read my comment below. I'm aware of the grammatical errors. Thank you grammar police.

Sep 25, 2011

I don't know how many people know this who've never been there. There's are mountains in the middle of El Paso, I didn't know this till I went there. It basically cuts the city in half.

There's a trail that cuts across the southern mountains from a canyon in one side of the city to a highway on the other side, that sort of connects you in a crappy manner to a camp ground.

I haven't tried to camp there yet, but I have walked the Ron Coleman trail. The trail is about 3-4 miles, and you have to ascend vertically about 2000 feet. I did the walk one way, I had my girlfriend drop me off in the canyon, I walked across the mountain, and called her to pick me up at the other side.

I carried this:
A UV Shielding, moisture wicking breathable shirt.
A similar pair of zippy trousers.
A felt hat with a pair of sun goggles on top.
A pair of steel-toed combat boots.
A 3.5L Insulated Camelbak, with icewater (ice can give you about 9% less water, but it's worth it in a Texas summer), it also had an energy bar and some random survival items in it.
Some wool socks.
An Iphone with a full battery.

I intended to cross this thing as quickly as possible. I set off in the morning on an El Paso summer day. About 3 hours give or take I was done. (about 1 mph)

I'm in pretty good shape, but fighting 90-100 degree temps and rugged terrain will take a lot out of anyone. The water lasted exactly until the end of the trail. Had I brought less I would've been very annoyed waiting for my ride.

That is not backpacking, that is walking a trail. A rocky, desert trail, in a mountain, but a trail enough not to make this mountaineering. I didn't stay overnight or camp. I consumed about twice was this list asks for in water. Purification pills? I had some, what would I use them on though? It's the desert, there is no water, because that is what defines a desert.

This trail is one way, if I had stayed in a campsite or used my own car, I might've needed double water to get back. If i was camping off my back, I would be carrying a heavy load and thus want even more water, especially if food because involved.

I'm not being extravagant with water, I'm just drinking it. This is not a particularly strenuous landscape (I'm not free climbing or anything, but there were some chains), just hot and dry. I would wager that someone walking in sand dunes all day in the Sahara would want more water, because I know that sandy ground take a lot out of you trudging through it. I think the rule of thumb is 1 gallon per person, per day.

It make it's really hard to backpack in the desert to need to carry so much water. Your two quarts of water on this list might keep someone alive with rationing, but they are not going to be pleased. Especially having brought water tablets to a place with no water anyways. At least in the case of higher elevation desert places, you can't get to the ground water. Maybe distill a cactus, but this year the prickly pear was dying of dehydration.

Andrew M. (Mesa, AZ)
Apr 23, 2011

Gear list waaaaaay underestimates the amount of water you would need. At a minimum, go with 3L per day. Depending on where you are, might be able to find a riparian area with a creek. Otherwise, just gonna have to hump it all in with you.

Aug 31, 2010

it should read GPS, compass and map, take all 3 and know how to use them all!

secret utah
Jul 09, 2010

If you take the personal beacon why not have a toe tag and a copy of your life insurance policy with you as well so when they find yer stinkin' carcass, they can start the paper chase. Personal beacon - Bah!!!

Jul 01, 2010

Jul 01, 2010

canyon man
Mar 10, 2010

if you end up getting stuck under a giant bolder you can always pee in a jar and drink it, then later down the road you can cut your arm off.

Jan 21, 2009

To carry more water without carrying it, bring a filtration pump or a bottle of iodine water purifying tablets.

Jan 21, 2009

At least 2 bottles of water one for hot choclate, tea, lemonade, and other sugary drinks. And one for water. Additional bottles are helpful for emergencies.

May 27, 2008

The inflatable sleeping, a shorty like the Prolite 3 (Cascade Designs-Thermarest) can make all the difference on hard desert pan or rock. My Prolite 4 short comes in at less than a pound with 1 1/2" of foam.

I grew up in Arizona. Desert hiking on public lands often meant connecting the dots between stock or Game and Fish water holes or wells. Contact either the FS, BLM, or AZ Game and Fish to get locations of improvements, tanks, or guzzlers in the areas.

Apr 29, 2008


Jojn Zeller
Apr 17, 2008

I have been hiking in the Arizona desert for 38 years and still can not find a way to carry enough water. Any ideas?

Mar 16, 2008

The inflantable sleeping pad is an optional luxury because at 2-3 lbs. it really could make or break the trip.

Mar 13, 2008

Don't forget, food and water (about a gallon a day).


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