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Desert Survival: Everything You Need To Know To Make It Out Alive

Do you ever wonder if you’ll survive in the desert? If you don’t know where to start when it comes to desert survival, then read on!

The desert is a harsh environment. There’s no water, food, shelter, or even shade. It’s a place where life is hard to come by.

If you want to live long enough to see the sun rise again, then you need to prepare yourself for survival in the desert.

Preparing For A Trip Through The Desert: Be Prepared

Sunset in the Desert
Beautiful sand dunes in the Sahara desert.

If you want to survive in the desert, you need to be prepared for anything. The desert is a harsh place that has taken the lives of many who were seemingly well prepared for this environment. 

  • Water is life.
  • Food can be found in the desert.
  • You need shelter.
  • You need fire.
  • You need a way to get out if you get lost.
  • You should always have a plan before you go into the desert.
  • Be prepared with the right gear.
  • Take an emergency kit with you.
  • Sunscreen is essential.

The first thing you should do is pack plenty of water. Water is essential whether you are driving through the desert, hiking, or anything else, you never know when the unexpected may happen and you find yourself stranded.

Then, you need to find shelter from the sun and wind. Staying out of the hot sun and dry air will help you stay hydrated and conserve energy. 

Finally, you need to be prepared with food. High calorie, light weight, non-spoiling food is always your best option to pack for emergency situations. 

The best way to survive in the desert is to stay hydrated and eat food. If you do not drink water, you will dehydrate and eventually die. Also, you should carry some snacks with you, like nuts, raisins, chocolate bars, etc.

Desert Survival: Getting Stranded With Your Car In The Desert

Every year millions of tourists venture out on road trips often searching our scenic routes through natural parks and undiscovered back country. But if you’re in the middle of nowhere, in an unforgiving environment and your vehicle breaks down, the results could be catastrophic. If you ever find yourself in this worst case scenario, here are a few key points to remember:

  • Before any trip, be sure of your vehicles condition. Going into the desert with a car that can break down is asking for trouble.
  • Call 911 for help
  • Stay with your vehicle. You’ve got a much better chance of being discovered by your car, than alone in the desert.
  • Don’t waste vital resources on your engine. Reserve water for yourself, and family members.
  • Use makeshift tools like a licence plate if you need to dig for water or create a ground shelter.
  • No matter how hot you get, keep your skin covered at all times. Your sweat will help keep your body cool.
  • Use your mirrors to signal for help.
  • Create an SOS sign (low flying aircraft will recognize it as a distress signal).
  • If you have to spend the night in the desert, create a fire using whatever resources you can find.
  • Burn a tire to signal your location to someone far away. But puncture it first to allow hot air to escape.

The Most Important Key In Desert Survival: Finding Water In The Desert

Finding water in the desert is easy when you know where to look. If you’re traveling through the Sahara, for example, you should be able to find plenty of water sources. However, if you’re looking for water in the middle of the dessert, then finding water may be difficult.

An old trick is to turn over half-buried stones in the desert just before sun up. Their coolness causes dew to form on their surface.

Desert grass will also form dew in the pre-dawn with your tongue. It can be soaked up with a cloth and wrung out into a container.

Where sand dunes meet the sea digging above the high tide mark might reveal a thin layer of fresh water sitting atop a heavier layer of salt water.

Flies and mosquito’s are a giveaway for a water source and bees fly in a straight line to and from water up to 1000 meters away.

Look out for pigeons and doves – they can only exist near fresh water.

Water seepage in canyons, small pockets of water in sandstone rock formations and digging at the base of rocks and mountains can produce water

Even contaminated water has its uses. It can be used to soak your clothing and reduce water loss from perspiration.

Making Water In The Desert

Recycling Urine

Desert Shelters

When trying to plan out a shelter in the desert, your first thought has to be to look towards natural shelters such as caves, depressions, bushes, large rocks and trees. These can make the foundation to any shelter and give you a major head start on providing yourself shelter from the hot sun or cold nights. 

You must also consider how much energy you will be speding on building your shelter. Burning too many calories and resources building an elaborate shelter may not be worth it. Instead, building a minimal shelter and conserving your energy may be your best bet. 

If you can’t find any natural resources to start your shelter, then building a below ground shelter may be your best bet. 

A below ground shelter or a Scout Pit Shelter can lower the mid day heat by as much as 30-40 degrees. 

To build a Scout Pit Shelter, you will need to be able to dig dirt or sand away until you get roughly 1-2′ deep. Your pit should be dug in a long rectangular shape that is at least big enough for a human body.  Next, you’ll place a small roof over the top of you and anchor it down with sand or rocks. The roof can be made of sticks laid across your rectangular pit, it can be a tarp or even extra clothing. 

If you do happen to have a tarp, a simple tarp shelter can be easy to set up and keep the sun off you during the hottest times of the day. 

Desert Plants: What Can Be Used, What Can’t

Desert plants may seem like a poor choice for eating, but there are actually quite a few edible desert plants. Many desert plants are toxic or poisonous, but others are safe to eat. Some desert plants even contain vitamin C!

Prickly Pear Cactus

The prickly pear is a cactus that grows in the deserts of North America. It is a very useful plant because it provides a lot of nutrition. It is also used as a vegetable and fruit.


Mesquite beans provide essential nutrients including protein, iron, manganese and potassium. It also contains a low GI making it a good choice for diabetic patients.

Desert Chia

Chia seeds are high in fiber, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, E, K, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and alpha-tocopherol. Chia seeds are easy to digest and absorb nutrients quickly. They’re great for energy, and muscle recovery.


Agave isn’t a great option, but the leaves, stalks, flowers, and even the seeds are all edible. Agave is hard to chew and digest unless it is first boiled, so if you have water and a fire, agave can be a great source of food. 

Piñon Pine

Pinon pine nuts are delicous and nutritious. If you happen to come across one of these trees in season, you are in luck.

Desert Dangers

Ending up in a survival situation in the desert contains inherent risks. Besides just the brutal heat, there are many other warning / dangers in the desert::

  • Dehydration
  • Hyponatremia
  • Extreme heat and intense sunlight
  • Heat Stroke
  • Creatures (rattlesnakes, gila monsters, scorpions, etc.)
  • Lack of water
  • Wide and fast temperature ranges
  • Sandstorms
  • Mirages
  • Navigation (vegetation is often sparse, the openness makes it hard to get and keep your bearings)
  • Flash Floods
  • Lightning
  • Injuries (twists, sprains, blisters)

Night Time In The Desert

If you want to survive the night in a desert, you need to prepare yourself for extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the possibility of getting lost. The best way to do this is to pack light, sleep under a blanket, and drink plenty of water. Also, carry a compass, flashlight, and matches.

Desert Climate

List of Deserts, Sizes, and Locations

Types of Deserts

Deserts are classified by their location and weather pattern.

High-Pressure Deserts

High-pressure deserts occur at the polar regions and between 20 and 30 degrees latitude on both sides of the equator. These deserts are located in areas of high atmospheric pressure where ongoing weather patterns cause dry air to descend. As the dry air descends, it warms up and absorbs much of the moisture in the area.

Rain-Shadow Deserts

Rain-shadow deserts occur as a result of a mountain range’s effects on the prevailing winds. As wind travels over a mountain range, it cools and dumps its moisture in the form of rain or snow. As it descends to over elevations on the other side of the mountain range, the wind becomes very dry and warm. Unless moisture is provided in some other form, a rain-shadow desert will form on the protected side of the mountain range as a result.

Continental Deserts

Continental deserts occur in the centers of large continents. As inland winds travel from the sea over land, they lose moisture in the form of rain, and by the time they reach the center of a large continent, they are very dry.

Cool Coastal Deserts

Cool coastal deserts are the result of the cold ocean currents that parallel the western coastline near the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. At these locations, the cold ocean current touches a warm landmass, and as a result almost no moisture is transferred from the ocean’s cold water to the air that flows over the adjoining coastline. The descending air mass, which is already dry, becomes even drier. These deserts are some of the driest in the world.

List Of Deserts Across The World

This is a list of deserts sorted by the region of the world in which the desert is located.


  • Algerian Desert – part of the Sahara located in Algeria
  • Arabian Desert – a desert stretching from Eastern Egypt to Iraq
  • Blue Desert – a desert in Egypt
  • Kalahari Desert – covering much of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa
  • Karoo – a semi-desert region in South Africa
  • Libyan Desert – part of the Sahara located in Libya
  • Namib Desert – a desert in present day Namibia
  • Nubian Desert – a desert in present day Sudan
  • Owami Desert – a desert in Nigeria
  • Sahara Desert – the world’s largest hot desert
  • Sinai Desert – a desert located on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt
  • White Desert – a desert in Egypt


  • Antarctica Desert – largest tundra/desert in the world.

Arctic Basin

  • Arctic Desert – large tundra
  • Russian Arctic – the large tundra in Russia
  • North American Arctic – large tundra on the North America


  • Badain Jaran – a desert located in China
  • Betpak-Dala – a desert located in Kazakhstan
  • Cholistan – a desert in India and Pakistan
  • Dasht-e Kavir – a desert in center
  • Dasht-e Lut – a large salt desert in southeastern Iran
  • Gobi – a desert in Mongolia and China
  • Indus Valley Desert – a desert located in Pakistan
  • Kara Kum – a large Central Asian desert
  • Kharan desert – a desert located in Pakistan
  • Kyzyl Kum – a desert in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan
  • Lop Desert – a desert in China
  • Ordos – a desert in northern China
  • Rub’ al Khali – a desert located at Saudi Arabia
  • Taklamakan – a desert located in China
  • Thal Desert – a desert in Punjab of Pakistan
  • Thar Desert – a desert in Pakistan and India
  • Akshi Desert – a desert in India

Australia & New Zealand

  • Central Desert – a central Australian desert
  • Gibson Desert – a central Australian desert
  • Great Sandy Desert – a northwestern Australian desert
  • Great Victoria Desert
  • Little Sandy Desert – a western Australian desert
  • Rangipo Desert – a barren desert-like plateau (with 1.5-2.5 m/yr rainfall) on the North Island Volcanic Plateau in New Zealand
  • Simpson Desert – a central Australian desert
  • Strzelecki Desert – a south-central Australian desert
  • Tanami Desert – a northern Australian desert


  • Accona Desert – a semi-Desert in Southern Italy
  • Bardenas Reales – a semi-desert in Navarra, Spain (455 km²)
  • Błędowska Desert – a desert located in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland (32 km²)
  • Deliblatska Peščara – a desert located in Vojvodina, Serbia (300 km²)
  • Highlands of Iceland – the interior plateau of Iceland; not a desert by climate, but effectively one because precipitation penetrates the volcanic soil so quickly that it is unavailable to plants
  • Monegros Desert – a semi-desert in Aragón, Spain
  • Oleshky Sands – a desert located in Ukraine near Askania-Nova biosphere reserve (15 km in diameter)
  • Oltenian Sahara – a desert spanning approximately 80.000 hectares or 800 km² in the Romanian historical province of Oltenia
  • Piscinas – a desert located in South-West Sardinia, Italy; is one of the biggest in Europe (5 km²)
  • Tabernas Desert – a desert in Almería, Spain (280 km²)

Middle East

  • Arabian Desert – a vast desert complex on the Arabian Peninsula comprising the Al-Dahna Desert, Empty Quarter, Nefud Desert and other deserts
  • Dasht-e Kavir – a desert in central Iran
  • Dasht-e Lut – a large salt desert in southeastern Iran
  • Judean Desert – a desert in eastern Israel and in the West Bank
  • Maranjab Desert – a desert in central Iran
  • Negev – a desert located in southern Israel
  • Ramlat al-Sab`atayn- a sand desert in central & northeastern Yemen, part of the Empty Quarter
  • Wahiba Sands – a desert in Oman

North America

  • Chihuahuan Desert
  • Colorado Desert
  • Mojave Desert
  • Sonoran Desert

South America

  • Atacama – a desert in Chile and Peru, the driest place on Earth
  • La Guajira Desert – a desert in northern Colombia
  • Monte Desert – in Argentina, a smaller desert above the Patagonian
  • Patagonian Desert – the largest desert by area in the Americas, located in Argentina and Chile
  • Sechura Desert – a desert located along a portion of the northwestern coast in Peru