How to survive in the desert


Rules and concepts for survival in a hot desert


The temperatures in the desert can reach values that travel from 55 to 60 degrees in the shade, while at the ground level the sand can even reach up to 80 degrees. The heat coming from below, which is perceived when walking in the desert is indescribable.
On a normal day in the desert temperatures are suffocating (around an average of 45 to 50 degrees), with these temperatures death occurs mainly by heat stroke and dehydration.

Both phenomena occur very quickly, that’s why if you find yourself having to survive in the desert the ideal solution is to move as little as possible and not to make efforts, you need to find a place in the shade where to shelter from the scorching sun and wait for help .

Example of refuge in the desert with air gap:

If you are on board a disaster vehicle it is advisable to wait inside the cabin, so that there are more chances to be glimpsed and survive.
But if you are not sure that the rescuers arrive, it is advisable to start the march only walking in the early morning (from 4 to 10) and late afternoon and evening (from 17 to 22), when the temperatures are less hot.

Hardly in the desert you can find waterways, but if you see a dry river following it you could reach a real river, and finally the civilization.

If you are in a rocky desert you can use the shadow projected by a rock formation.

For example you can find some shade and relief in the bottom of a canyon and if you have a little ‘luck even water, in fact at the foot of a canyon sometimes you can spot some stream that brings water to some small river.


Always cover the head and the nape to keep the brain shiny and avoid insolations.

If you do not own a hat, use any cloth or piece of cloth (even torn from your clothes), preferably light or white (dark colors, especially black, capture the sun’s rays and heat up earlier).

To avoid burns it is necessary to cover the whole body without leaving areas of skin exposed to sunlight.
If the heat on your head becomes unbearable you can urinate on the headgear.

It is useful to stop often to remove the sand of your shoes, especially if it is hot or if there are small stones, so as not to ruin your only means of movement: your feet!


The lack of any reference point such as trees, buildings, light poles, etc. .. makes any measure of distance illusory. In fact, as when you are at sea, you must multiply distances at least 3 times.

In a sandy dune desert, the dunes constantly change due to the wind, so you should never take them as a totally reliable reference point.

When you find green areas in the desert you can certainly find water and food, and many times even human settlements.

There are some Cactuses in America that can be relied upon for orientation.

The so-called “compass cactus” always tend to grow oriented / bent towards the south-west.


  • The internal temperature of the human body is about 37 degrees, when it reaches 40.5 degrees you go to the so-called heat stroke, the brain goes into confusion and the body is shaken by convulsions, in these conditions you can risk the coma .
    If when urinating is very dark, it means that the body is dehydrating.
  • When you find areas of shade to protect yourself from the sun it is always advisable to check that there are no snakes or other poisonous animals (even during the hottest hours they seek shade relief).
  • To check if there are any animals just throw some pebbles in the affected area and see if there are any movements. For example, snakes hate strong vibrations and it is not enough to put them on the run.
  • Dawn is the ideal time to move around in the desert (the cold of the night will also have cooled the ground).
  • When you wake up it is always advisable to check footwear, clothing and equipment as the scorpions adore to hide in shady and cool places.
  • If a SCORPIO walks on you, there is only one way to grab it, and it is of the tail keeping the sting under control, but you must be very fast; the end of the tail of the scorpion is composed of very small hairs that detect even the slightest movement in the surrounding air. However the sting is his only weapon, once neutralized the arthropod becomes harmless. 


The nights in the desert are very cold because of the very strong temperature range, which distinguishes these areas.

Nighttime temperatures can even reach close to zero, so it is necessary to try to light a fire, to be able to heat and keep away any predators, before it gets dark.

The temperature difference between day and night can even be 40 degrees.

At night it is necessary to wear other clothes and cover as much as possible.

If the internal temperature lowers below 35 degrees, hypothermia risks.

In any survival situation, lighting a fire has always been a huge psychological help.

To light a fire you can use weeds, twigs and dry plants.

If you do not have a lighter, a matchstick, a flint or a flintlock, you can use an eyeglass lens or the dial of the watch or a bottle bottom or a piece of glass, or anything that can concentrate the sun’s rays sull’esca. If you find wood and you have a piece of string you can improvise a bow. (See how to light a fire)


At temperatures around 40 and 50 degrees, the human body loses about 1 liter of water per hour through the perspiration even without great effort.

Plants need water to survive, which is why even the slightest signs of vegetation can make you understand that water could be near.

If you notice a tamericio (tamerix) plant in an Asian desert, you might find it useful to know that this plant needs a lot of water to survive, so nearby you could find an aquifer or water. The same applies to the cypress.

Be careful if you find large pools of water at the base of canyons and rock formations, they could be contaminated, as they are stagnant (perhaps they have accumulated during the last rains and stagnated there for months). You can check with a stick and see if there are any dead animals in the pool of water, if you find it will be confirmed the theory that the water is decomposed and is not drinkable.

Drinking contaminated water could cause you dysentery, if not worse, and a gastrointestinal problem like that in the desert would kill you safe, as it would lead to immediate dehydration.

Remember that bees and mosquitoes always live near water sources, if you encounter some, follow their direction.

When you are dehydrated you have to drink slowly and in small sips because you ingest too much water and very quickly it may cause vomiting, dehydrating you further.

If you fortunately find a stream or a lake, pay close attention to the quicksand; before diving then check with a stick.

When you fall into the quicksand the more you move and you shake the more you sink, if you try to pull out the legs pushing upwards the effect you will get will be pulled more and more towards the bottom.

The only way to get out of it is to stop struggling and try to lift the body slowly upwards, then you have to try to reach the surface by changing the inclination of the body, pull up the arms and then the legs trying to reach the position horizontal and finally drag slowly crawling parallel to the surface to the shore.


The food in the desert is very scarce, from time to time you can see animals such as rabbits, lizards, rats, prairie dogs, snakes and it is easier to find them near sources of water, even small or hidden in the rare bushes.

Some plants are edible and you can consume fruits, seeds, flowers, shoots and bark.

In a rocky desert, in the cracks of the highest rocks you can find nests of birds and then eggs.

Finding shells of eggs, defecations of birds and feathers indicate the presence and also the position of a nest.

If you find a controlled egg is not pierced and then eat it, you can also ingest the egg shell that is very rich in calcium. It is however advisable to cook it and never eat it raw as you could take salmonella.

Cook an egg in the desert is very simple, the temperature of the soil can reach even 80 degrees, if you find a rock or a large stone, it will certainly be hot, then hatch the egg over it will cook in a moment.

Twilight is the perfect time to go hunting. Snakes are nocturnal predators and at sunset they leave their fresh shelters to look for some prey.

To capture a snake you can hit it on the head with stones to stun it, when it appears disoriented you approach lightning and with a stick you hold it just below the head, then with a large stone the skull shattered.