Every year, hundreds of people are found dead in the deserts of the American Southwest.
We don’t want you to be one of them. So we asked three wilderness survival experts for tips on not dying in our nation’s big dry places.
1. Tell someone before you go
If no one knows you’re lost in the desert, no one will come looking for you.
“Lost civilians are typically found within 72 hours,” says Steve Dessinger, who runs the renowned Boulder Outdoor Survival School. “[That’s] well within the bounds of when the need for water becomes critical.” But most of those lost hikers are reported missing by a friend, family member, or group member.
Email or text your route to a friend or relative before you leave on a solo adventure, even if it’s a simple day hike or remote drive. Failing all else, put a note on the dashboard of your car with an estimated return date.
2. Go prepared
Obviously, you’ll never plan to get lost in the desert. But you should still prepare to.
Pack extra water. “Carry as much as possible,” says Mel Otten, MD, former president of the Wilderness Medical Society. Otten personally carries a full two gallons of water of each of his desert hikes. Even if you’re hesitant to carry that weight, be sure to stock your car with a few gallons.
Otten also recommends that desert hikers pack an emergency whistle and signal mirror. A mirror’s flash can be seen for miles in the desert, and a whistle will allow you to signal faraway hikers even if your throat is parched. (We sell a clip-on emergency whistle for $10.95).