Packing Tips for a Day Exploring Off Road in the Desert

The desert is an amazing place to explore but it requires proper planning and preparation in ways that most other hikes or off road excursions don't. This is an extreme endeavor where you are going to be miles away from help if something goes wrong and in the summer, temperatures regularly exceed 110 degrees. Oh and there are dangerous animals to avoid like scorpions, snakes, and coyotes too! With a bit of planning and proper packing though, you'll be able to survive and have an amazing experience.

emergency kit

How to Pack A Survival Kit For Exploring the Desert

When planning a survival kit for desert emergencies, there are several important factors to consider. First, you should take into account the harsh climate and extreme temperatures of the desert, which can reach highs of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and drop below freezing at night. You should also consider the lack of water and food sources, as well as the potential for encounters with dangerous wildlife.

Packing List for a Desert First Aid and Survival Kit

  • Band-Aid Bandages in assorted size
  • BENGAY® Ultra Strength Cream
  • Visine Dry Eye Tears
  • Neosporin antibiotic ointment
  • Motrin pain reliever
  • Scissors
  • Alcohol Swabs
  • Non-latex gloves
  • Emergency Whistle
  • 100 Foot bundle of paracord
  • Waterproof Matches
  • Reflective Thermal Blankets - these are important for keeping warm at night if you are stranded but also serve as a reflective surface to catch the attention of rescue teams if that's needed.
  • Signal Mirror
  • Tweezers for removing thorns or splinters

In addition to having the First Aid kit, I also recommend bringing a backpack with you so it is easy to take the gear as well as extra food and water with you if you need to leave your vehicle for a hike. However, in an emergency situation in the desert, you should only abandon your vehicle as the absolutely last resort. Your chances of surviving as well as being found quickly are higher if you stay in the relative shade and conserve your energy while relying on radio and reflective devices to signal for help. 

water jug

Pack Extra Food and Water

While it is critical to have at least a day's worth of water and food available in case of emergency, you'll also want some for comfort too. Even if you are sitting inside a cool, air-conditioned truck the air is try and the air from your car blowing on you is even drier. When I go into the desert, I try to always bring a cooler of water bottles as well as sports drinks. I also have a vacuum-insulated bottle that I fill with ice and water. It was originally intended as a growler to keep beer cold, but I find it does a great job keeping ice and water cold all day.

For food, food bars with plenty of protein are a great choice as are snacks such as dried coconut and banana chips that won't go bad in the heat. While chocolate bars and candy might be tasty, anything that can melt is not a good choice here.

hat mask glasses gloves

Dress Properly: Driving Gloves, Face Mask, and Boots

Gloves are a good idea any time of year because you never know when you might need them, but in the summer it's essential. Your steering wheel is going to be hot even after just a few minutes of sitting in the sun. Also, you need to be prepared for blowing sand and grit so I always take a face mask to protect me when walking around. If you are traveling in an open Jeep it goes from a good idea to an essential piece of gear though since you're going to get dusty and you'll want to keep that out of your lungs. You'll also want to make sure to wear a good pair of boots that are comfortable for driving but have thick soles and good support for walking on rocks and other obstacles.

Protect Yourself from The Sun

Not only is it going to be hot in the desert, but there's often a complete lack of shade. To help protect yourself from the sun, wear a good hat with a wide brim and sunglasses that provide your eyes with UV protection and are polarized. Not only will this help protect your eyes, but it will also reduce glare and allow you to see better since quartz found in sand can be highly reflective. Additionally, you'll want to make sure to wear sunscreen - even in the car since you can get a sunburn through the car window just like you can walking around outside.

t71vp radios from midland

2-Way Radios With NOAA Weather Alerts

You're going way outside of cell phone reception range so it's critical to have a way of communicating between vehicles. Luckily good radios aren't that expensive today and there are lots of options ranging from handheld radios ones to those that have magnetic antennas for the exterior of the vehicle. These vehicle radios can even have ranges as long as 50 miles! 

Radios such as these X-Talker T71VP3 from Midland also have NOAA Weather Alert functionality so you'll be able to be alerted of inclement weather. In the desert rain can be a huge issue - even if it does't rain near you. Unlike the ground in other areas, the desert land is so dry and hard that water wont soak in and can travel from miles causing flash floods even miles away. This makes it very important that you always pay attention to the weather and you should also check the forecast before you even head out too.

checking a paper map for directions

Hard Copy of Maps, Directions and Emergency Frequencies

While I love apps on my phone for navigation, we're going off the grid here so you need to have hard copies of the trail maps too. Additionally, you should have the emergency frequency codes for park rangers and emergency services in the area where you'll be going off-road. You can typically find this by calling the park ranger ahead of time or here's a list of frequencies for national parks in the United States. Additionally, I like to have a PDF version of those documents available on my phone as well.

Emergency Kit for the Vehicle

Passengers aren't the only ones that can have an accident and all off-road trips can be extremely tough on your truck. That's why it is extremely important to pack emergency supplies for the truck as well and check it before heading out.

Packing List for Vehicle Emergency Kit

  • Flare Gun
  • Utility Knife
  • Tow Straps
  • Foldable Shovel
  • Road Flares
  • Portable Air Compressor
  • Duct Tape
  • Wooden Pencil and paper pad - this will allow you to easily leave a note if you need to abandon your vehicle and tell people where you are headed.
  • Tool Kit with screwdrivers, plyers, and an adjustable wrench
  • Extra Cash - You should keep extra cash in your emergency kit as well as change. You never know when you might need it!
  • Firearm and Extra Ammunition - if you get stranded in the desert, having a gun with you can help protect you from hostile animals and potentially bad people.
  • Also make sure that you have a spare tire and tools to replace your tires before you leave!

Any adventure exploring the desert can be dangerous, so your common sense is the most important thing to pack. That means that you shouldn't follow unknown trails, or goof off since one wrong turn can quickly become