Best tips for desert camping

Here’s a list of things to take along, and some essential tips that'll come in handy
Image courtesy: ©Tom Mackie/Lonely Planet

Beat the winter blues by hitting the sand. Desert landscapes offer plenty of sunshine, colourful local villages, green oases and crafts and endless opportunities for adventure. You can trek on foot, drive over dunes or ride on a camel; experience amazing desert cultures, and indulge in some serious stargazing under clear skies.

Here’s a checklist of essentials, and some essential tips that’ll come in handy.

Essential gear

Tent: You may be in a tented accommodation as part of a desert camp or you may want to bring along your own. Bring some extra-long stakes for the tent. These will help withstand strong winds. Try pitching the tent in shade, or use an opaque tarp as shade from the sun.

Sleeping bag: Choose a light, well-insulated one for a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping pad or a pillow: You can never go wrong if you carry a pillow – if a pad, an inflatable one’s best.

Ground cloth or tarp to go under your tent.

Backpack: Deserts are hot so get a lightweight one with an airflow system which will ensure some space between your back and the backpack.

Navigational aids: These come in handy especially if you are not on a guided tour. We are talking about a compass, a GPS unit and maps of the area (include topography and important geological features).

Signaling gear like whistles and mirrors. Olive Planet has a good range of signalling and navigation gear.

Multi-functional knife: Try a handy pocketknife. Swiss Military ones are legend, of course. Or check out the huge collection of specialised camping knives at Knife India. The Camp Tanto with fire starter is popular.


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A pair of good binoculars: I prefer the ones from Olympus.

Flashlight with extra batteries

And chargers and USB cables. That said, a mobile phone may not work in a remote area. Check with your service provider to find out about coverage area. Load apps that will help you in an emergency like the Red Cross First Aid App that gives expert advice for first aid emergencies.

Clothes and accessories: Sun and sand abound but this isn’t the beach. There are some serious sun rays. So take a page from the people who live in the desert heat. The first rule of desert camping – cover up. Most times, clothes will be your only protection.

For your feet, get boots or hiking shoes with high ankles – the sand, gravel can injure your skin and the desert surface can be very hot. Tiny sand grains tend to stick to everything but gaiters could prevent sand getting in.

Shade your eyes with a pair of dark tinted sunglasses for protection against the sun and sand; ones that offer UV protection are highly recommended.


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A wide brim hat is great as a cover from the sun’s rays.

Get a large (and thin) scarf. Cotton or muslin will best protect your face, neck and head from the sun, and sand. Wrap meters of muslin around your head and neck and then over your mouth. It lets air circulate and has a cooling effect.

Personal care items: Don’t forget to pack daily essentials. The highest SPF (and sweatproof) sunblock; toothbrush; toothpaste; toilet paper; a washcloth; a microfibre towel; wet wipes; talcum powder to absorb sweat; lip balm and /or sunblock; toilet paper; a mirror; hand sanitiser.

Basics: Nylon line to hang clothes; zip-lock bags for used or fresh clothes and for cameras / iPods / electronics/food item; a notepad and pen; candles and matches; safety pins; and duct tape. Since you can’t carry your kitchen with you, we recommend Knife India’s Eat’N tool which works as a bottle opener, spoon, fork, screwdriver and metric wrench. Or the KA-BAR Hobo, a slide-apart kit with spoon, lock-back knife, fork and ballistic nylon sheath.

For when you feel like munching on something, pack dried fruits, electrolytes, lemons, good quality organic sugar, nuts and protein bars, herbal tea sachets and crackers.

Medicines: Keep a saline nasal spray handy – all that wind and sand can dry out your nose; anti-diarrhoea medicine and rehydration sachets; painkillers; insect repellent; and band aids.

Staying hydrated: This is an important one. You are headed to the desert, after all. Bring lightweight water bottles or hydration bladders (can be bought from specialised trekking sites). Get a filtering pump or purification tablets or drops. Also pack some sports drinks or even lemons.

Research: Before stepping out, learn about desert creatures that can harm (like some species of snakes, spiders, scorpions, lizards). Know what to watch out for and how to treat bites. Some plants can be poisonous too.

When in Rome… don’t travel during peak sun hours. Early mornings, late afternoons and evenings are best for any activity.

Explore, observe and record and remain alert at all times. Better yet, travel with company since sand dunes can be easy to get lost in.


AUTHOR'S BIO: Anuradha Sengupta is a freelance writer and founder-editor of Jalebi Ink, an award-winning media collective for children and youth. A compulsive city-walker, she loves exploring urban cultures and is a columnist for NY-based Karta, a collaborative urban mapping project. Her most memorable adventure was in Afghanistan as digital media advisor, setting up citizens' media centres.