When driving through the desert, the road seems endless. There is nothing around for miles and miles. Nothing but desert plants, dry sand, and heat. If your car should break down, and you find yourself stuck in the desert, there are methods of surviving, until someone stops to help or you are able to reach the next town.

Stay as hydrated as possible before going out. That means water, not alcohol or soft drinks. Make sure you have lots of water! The same goes for what you take with you. Water may not be the most enjoyable drink out there, but every gram of carbohydrates and salts must be compensated for with more water.

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    Take along food that packs the most nutrition in the least size and weight.For some, that might be granola bars, while others will swear by pemmican or ****y. Trail mix is a very popular choice. Do your research, experiment beforehand, and be prepared. When wheeled vehicles break down, it's just your two legs and the path to the next town, and you don't want to be carrying anything nonessential.

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    Wear wicking fabrics with a UPF of at least 30 as a base layer, and take along one warming layer (wool or fleece) and one windbreak layer. Light colors are recommended both for reflecting (rather than absorbing) light and its associated heat, and in order to be seen at night. While the chances are slim that anyone will stop to help you, at minimum you want to be seen so that you aren't run over. Long sleeves and pant legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, can reduce or eliminate the need for sunblock.

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    Many deserts are prone to dust storms: take goggles (not mask-type, but rather those that cover each eye individually) and a dust mask, gas mask, bandanna, or anything to keep the dust out of your lungs.

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    Travel at night when possible; the cooler air enables you to travel farther and faster with minimum danger of heat exhaustion. A headlight and taillight on your head or clothing will minimize danger from traffic.

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    Try to stay as warm as possible at night. Bring along a good goose-down sleeping bag; it can become quite cold in the desert at night.
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    Be wary of nocturnal animals that can harm you:
    • Coyotes individually should not present a problem unless rabid, but in a pack they can be a problem if they become curious about your food. Coyotes will generally be far more scared of you than you are of them.
    • In some areas, wolves have been re-introduced; even one hungry wolf can be a formidable enemy.
    • Even wild pigs can cause trouble; they are small but have tusks that can tear into flesh.
    • Brown recluse spiders and scorpions can also present a danger far exceeding their size. While some recommend bringing along a 'snake-bite kit,' there is some dispute as to their effectiveness, and they can increase the chances of a dangerous infection. Travelers in areas with venomous critters should pay close attention to prevention, e.g. tucking in shirts and pant legs, avoiding areas where these animals nest, etc. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and epinephrine (Epi-pen) can help to slow or stop allergic reactions to venom, but require some training. If stuck on finding water, create a hole in a cactus, as cacti hold gallons of water.


    • As a last resort, cacti (cactus) when crushed can provide enough water to quench your thirst for a while; but the juice, having carbohydrates and/or salts in it, may have a net dehydrating effect over time.
    • When close to a mountain, walk along the north side for the shade; direct sunlight can cause you to die of heat stroke faster than if you were in the shade.
    • Make sure you know the symptoms of dehydration--if you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated.
    • Expose yourself to high temperatures before heading to the desert so you become more used to the heat: stop using air conditioning, and train your body to appreciate a natural breeze on a hot day (A breeze in an actual survival situation will sap you body of water, keep covered up).
    • If you have the necessary materials, then it may be possible to distill good water from undrinkable water (unclean or salty, etc.) by setting up either: (1) a heating pot in a shady place if you can cool the steam in pipe or tubing at night or in cool/cold weather then the drinkable water condenses and drips (distills) into a clean and clear container. (2) There is a method using solar/sun heat for evaporation from a water source onto the bottom of a plastic sheet covering the source and with a small stone/large pebble in the middle of the plastic to cause it to sag (form a cone) and hope for condensation if conditions are right and drops can be captured in a clean container placed just below the pebble.
      • Neither distillation method will work if weather is not cool enough for condensation, even at night (of course the solar system is possible only in day-time). Plus wind and dry air can "steal/blow away" much of the moisture even if it is condensing on the plastic, if not sheltered from wind/breeze.

    • Bring lots of water: a half gallon a day is a bare minimum, and it's quite possible to dehydrate even with that much. If you sleep during the day, and walk all night, you might make 20 miles per night, assuming you know where you're going; so if it's 60 miles to the next town, you'd better have 1.5 gallons of water minimum. drink your water, don't hoard it--people have died of dehydration with water still in their bottles. If you run out of water, process your urine using a condensation pit (see Make-Water-in-the-Desert). Urine contains toxins - do not drink directly.
    • If you're on a road -- which is ordinarily the case unless you've deliberately set out on foot -- take a rolling suitcase or luggage carrier with which you can carry your essential food and water. Your spine will appreciate it.


    • If you are on, or are able to reach, a highway, don't expect anyone to stop and help. Expend all your energy on reaching the next source of water.
    • If you absolutely can't make it, make an SOS signal for help.
    • Remember, if you are lost in the desert and you took a vehicle, try to use it as a shelter or a den. Don't leave your vehicle, and use anything within your possession to aid your survival, until you are running low on water; at which point you must move on to survive.

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