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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.
How to Pack A Survival Kit For Exploring the Desert
Honestly, every car should have a basic first aid kit with bandages and antibiotic cream to help reduce infection and aid in healing. When preparing for the desert though, there are things that go beyond just addressing accidents and "Survival Kit" limits the contents too much. For instance, your joints and muscles are going to be sore from hiking in extreme heat and so I'm including BENEGAY® Ultra Strength Cream in our kit. Even if your desert exploration is being done from the relative comfort of a 4x4 instead of on foot, your back is going to be a bit sore from being jostled as you climb over rocks and through washes, so this is a great way to sooth your sore spots and get powerful pain relief for aching joints and muscle pain.
Likewise, you are going to need other items in there that are unique to the exploring the desert such as Visine. To help help reduce eye irritation that comes from the extreme heat and dryness it is important that you think about the likelihood of blowing sand and grit, plus the plume that other trucks in front of you might be throwing into the air on the trail in front of you.
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
- 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.
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 at keeping ice and water cold all day long.
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.
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, make sure to wear a good hat with a wide brim as well as sunglasses that provide your eyes with UV protection and are polarized. Not only will this help protect your eyes but it will 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.
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 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.
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 with protection from hostile animals as well as 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 the most important thing to pack is your common sense. That means that you shouldn't follow unknown trails, or goof off since one wrong turn can quickly become
Luckily, Target has some great offers right now when you shop online and you can even click on the products in the image above to shop through the picture! Not only can you get a free Red Bag First Aid Kit from Johnson & Johnson when you purchase three participating items, but you can also get free pick up in store, or free delivery for orders over $35. Plus there are tons of other items beyond those that you'll want to use for preparing to go exploring off road in the desert.
We can't wait to go out in the desert now that we've packed up a great kit!
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