Desert Hiking Gear Reviews | Backpacker Magazine - Backpacker

The Best Gear for Desert Hiking

Heading into the hot zone this summer? Use these gear picks to stay comfy, safe, and cool.
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Desert hiking gear picks

Native Eyewear Ashdown   

These shades protect your eyes without dulling the scenery. With 13 percent visual light transmission and a curved shape that blocks peripheral rays, they kept our tester comfortable on hikes in Zion, while the brown tint enhanced reds and oranges. Our tester praised the rubber nose and temple grips, which kept the Ashdowns on her face when she got sweaty. $119; 1.5 oz.; Buy Native Eyewear Ashdown Now

KÜHL Sun Blade

On a trip down the Colorado River, our tester only took the Sun Blade off when she slept. A stiff brim provides full face coverage and extends up to 4 inches on one side (swivel the hat to fine-tune your shade). The UPF 50 nylon dries fast, and mesh around the crown enhances airflow. $45; 4.8 oz. (S/M); S/M, L/XL; Buy KÜHL Sun Blade Now 

prAna Stretch Zion/ Halle Convertible Pant

The Zion’s tightly-woven nylon is light, but it can survive the desert’s tough terrain. “I’ve slid down sandstone and walked through briars, but these pants haven’t suffered a tear,” our tester says. Three-percent spandex construction aids in mobility on slickrock scrambles. The Zion zips off at the knee, and the Halle below it. Ding: Metal snaps on the Halle’s backside are uncomfortable when sitting on rock. $95; 1 lb. (m’s 34); m’s 28-40, w’s 0-18; Buy prAna Stretch Zion/ Halle Convertible Pant Now

PRO TIP: Bring a watercolor brush with you to get sand out of stoves, water bottle tops, and electronics.

tasc Charge LS/Sprinter LS

Cotton kills—except in the desert. That’s why our tester wore this 52-percent cotton shirt for two weeks in Joshua Tree. “It retained moisture well, which felt great whenever there was a breeze, and the underarm mesh vents provided extra airflow,” he says. Bonus: The UPF 50-plus material contains 43 percent odor-fighting rayon, and it works. $58; 5.6 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; Buy tasc Charge LS/Sprinter LS Now

MSR DromLite 6LTR

When the itinerary called for hauling in all our water, testers reached for the DromLite. The bladder carries 6 liters, but packs down to the size of a tuna can when empty. The tough PU withstood cactus spines and a 6-foot fall from one tester’s moving car in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. $33; 5.7 oz.;  MSR DromLite 6LTR Now

Rab Scree Gaiter

These softshell gaiters keep the grit out of low-cut boots and trail runners. Silicone at the top of the cuff holds fast to legs without ripping out hair, and a length of cord affixes the gaiter below your shoe. “While hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park, my feet never felt too sweaty thanks to the breathable material,” one tester says. $45; 2.3 oz. (L); M-L; Buy Rab Scree Gaiter Now

Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Fleece Liner (not pictured)

On mild desert nights, you’ll sleep better with a single breathable layer than in a stuffy sleeping bag. Our park ranger tester swears by this liner, which is made of soft fleece and weighs less than a pound. Used alone, it kept him comfy in temps from 40°F to 60°F. $85; 15 oz.; Buy Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Fleece Liner Now

PRO TIP: Ditch the waterproof boots. Not only do they make your feet hotter, but sand can sneak in and wreck the membrane. 

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