While we had the luxury of being able to head back to a resort at the end of the day, even just taking a quick hike in the desert requires proper planning. For example, the days I spent last month in Borrego Springs averaged 115-degree highs, and the minute you stepped out of the Jeep it immediately felt like an oven. While this is certainly extreme, there's no reason why you can't still have a fantastic experience spending a day exploring this amazing landscape.
Have a Plan!
Never go out into the desert without a plan. These are not the conditions that you want to be stuck in because it got dark or you ran out of gas.
Tell Someone Your Plans and When You'll Get Back!
Shit happens and if we had even a mechanical breakdown, that could quickly turn into a life-threatening situation. Before heading out, make sure to tell someone where you are going and when you'll be back. Let them know where you are going and who to contact in case you don't check in. This way, if something does happen they can send a rescue team to help find you. When you get back to the road, make sure to call them and let your friend know you are safe.
These came in very handy and despite the ridicule, I got about wearing a fanny pack, it was a lot more comfortable than having a full backpack when doing quick walks away from the vehicle. Even without the summer heat, being able to put my lens filters, phone and other items in there makes it so much easier than wearing a backpack.
Equally important to having a good belt was great socks. Socks serve an important role in keeping your feet comfortable. Not only do they help with adding an extra layer of padding but they can also help wick moisture away from the feet. You actually have more than 125,000 sweat glands in your feet and everyone knows the discomfort of having swampy shoes. Having good socks helps keep them dry and that act of bringing the moisture away will actually help keep them cool too.
While it might sound counterintuitive, you'll also want to wear long pants since you never know what you are going to brush up against. I also brought a face mask to keep out the dust and gloves since the steering wheel was extremely hot when we got back. I really should have also worn a long sleeve shirt since it's always good to protect your exposed skin from the sun and blowing sand. A long-sleeved shirt can provide much better sun protection than even the best sunscreen.
My absolute favorite product though was the Tilly Hat and it's critical to have a good hat if you are going to be walking in the desert. In this case, I chose one with a wide brim, with sun protection UPF 50+ and it even has a cooling mesh around the head to help with ventilation. That's one of the things I hate about many hats - they can actually heat you up since your head can't sweat properly.
Finally, make sure you have good UV protecting polarized sunglasses. This is extremely critical since even though you might think your normal tinted shades are ok, the sun is extremely bright in the desert and can bounce off the sand to make it even more damaging for your eyes. By investing in a good pair of polarized lenses you can see better and keep your eyes happier.
Bring Lots of Water!
Sometimes bringing plastic bottles is unavoidable but where possible I like to bring my Stanley vacuum growler. Yes, it's designed for storing beer and keeping it cold - but it works GREAT for water as well. I have two of these 64-oz growlers and as a test, I kept one of them in the Jeep unopened. even the next morning, it still had plenty of ice and was extremely cold.
On this trip, we brought with us some Golden Islands Jerky since it wasn't likely to melt in the hot sun but provided plenty of protein.
Other Items To Pack ...
Other items to pack in the car include a solar-powered flashlight, a knife, first aid kit, a blanket (it can get very cold at night). The key here is to remember what you learned as a Boy Scout: Always Be Prepared!
If you do, you are sure to have a great time on your adventure exploring the desert.