Best desert hiking gear for 2021

my plus recent trip to Death Valley was normal for the desert trek route. We figured out a route we wanted to do, followed the directions to ‘go’ and found ourselves parked on the shoulder of an empty, winding road near milepost 104. There was no parking lot. trail, no trailhead designation. Just an expanse of rock-strewn desert with distant canyons rippling behind a mirage of heat.

“Sounds like the start of a documentary about ‘The Last Time They Were Seen Alive’,” I said, giggling as my partner and I walked through the wash, our car fading into a green dot. behind us.

Strange as it sounds, it was not an uncommon start on a desert road. The weather was fairly typical for early spring in Death Valley, with days dating back to the 90s and nights to the 40s. While many hikers have experienced undefined sections or routes, following cairns and when crossing scree, the majority of hiking takes place on defined trails. The wilderness is an exception to this – you rely more on navigation and gear, with much higher stakes if you get lost or your water filter breaks.

Aside from my home terrain in the Northern Rockies, most of my backpacking trips have been in the desert. I escape the slush of mid-season Montana with trips to the desert each fall and spring, mostly to Arizona, Utah, and Death Valley National Park. From slippery rock to canyons to deep, shifting sand, I never tire of this ever-changing landscape.

My Desert Kit provides protection from the sun and keeps me comfortable in everything from the blazing daytime heat to cooler nighttime temperatures. I wear loose, light-colored clothing with as much coverage as possible. I’m looking for clothes with UPF protection, so I use less sunscreen and still have extra water capacity. The nights are chilly which means a 30 degree sleeping bag for many trips and a baggy to put on after the sun goes down. I hesitate to recommend shoes (everyone has their favorite), but for desert trekking, look for lightweight, non-insulated, breathable shoes that will feel comfortable in rough, shifting terrain. Here are my 7 essential choices for planning your next trip to the desert.

Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long Sleeve Shirt

Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long Sleeve Shirt (Photo: Columbia Sportswear)

Sunshirts have become my go-to for the sunniest and most exposed hikes, whether it’s high on ridges or on the desert floor. I go for hoodies like the Outdoor research echo Pullover Hoodie on alpine hikes, but I like a loose shirt for the desert floor, an environment that can feel more stuffy. This buttoning tends to ventilate better and not stick to my body. It’s made of Columbia’s sweat-wicking polyester rated at 40 UPF, more protection than my alpine hoodie. It also comes with antimicrobial treatment because you are probably sweating the entire time you wear it. It’s a popular style and model for Arizona trail hikers, and it’s on my gear list for future desert hikes.
$ 55; Dranky now

Smartwool Sun Hat

Smartwool Sun Hat
Smartwool Sun Hat (Photo: Smartwool)

A wide-brimmed hat can emit some grill-dad vibes, but this style offers more protection than a standard cap. I was skeptical of using merino, which lines the entire underside of this beanie, as I associate the wool with insulating layers. Turns out, merino isn’t just for insulation – natural fibers are amazing for moisture management and temperature regulation in all climates. The Smartwool Sun Hat is a familiar wide-brimmed sun hat style, and comes with a drawstring and side vents for air circulation. The full, flexible foam edge won’t wrinkle if you store it in a side pocket and fits smaller than my fist. I used this hat during the summer on long, exposed trail sections and appreciated the extra coverage on the sides and back of my head.
$ 45; Buy now

Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Mini
Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Mini (Photo: Six moon designs)

Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Mini

Weighing in at just 6.8 ounces, the 38-inch-wide Silver Shadow Mini is packed with shade. While most people opt for a sun shirt and hat combo, umbrellas can block over 75 percent of UV rays and bring the shaded temperature down to 15 ° F. Besides the higher level of sun protection, it also covers everything up to your legs. It has a reflective top surface paired with a dark underside, which helps absorb sunlight coming from the sides. It is the most compact of The range of umbrellas from Six Moon Designs, measuring only 10 inches long and fitting easily into the side pocket of a backpack. A parasol has kept my sanity while hiking in the desert, especially during lunch breaks when there is no natural protection to be found.

$ 35; Buy now

NEMO Switchback sleeping pad

NEMO Switchback sleeping pad
NEMO Switchback sleeping pad (Photo: Nemo)

The desert is full of sharp objects, from cacti to jagged rocks, which means the durability of a foam pad is unbeatable. Most closed cell foam pads are quite similar, but this offering from NEMO has wider and higher knots than something like The popular ZLite from Therm-a-Restwhich means they compress less at night. The pillow is only 0.9 inch thick, but the knot dimensions make it thicker – I never feel like I’m sleeping directly on the floor. With an R-value of 2 I’m comfortable on this cushion up to 35 degrees with my bag at 30 degrees. (Keep in mind that everyone has a different temperature comfort level).

$ 49.95; Buy now

2 liter HydraPak Seeker tank

2 liter HydraPak Seeker tank
2 liter HydraPak Seeker tank (Photo: Hydrapak)

Additional water capacity is essential for trips where springs are few and far between. HydraPak is an easy-to-fill reservoir that shrinks to the size of a Snickers bar when not filled. It is made from durable and flexible polyurethane which can endure being wrinkled and crushed, does not taste like plastic and is abrasion resistant, useful in harsh desert environments. Its 42 millimeter screw cap adapts to the Katadyn BeFree filter, a model for which it may be more difficult to find compatible cylinders than the Squeeze Sawyer Where Platypus QuickDraw (there is an adapter included for these other filters). The handle makes it easy to fill the tank, but the bag can feel soft when it’s less than half full.

$ 20; Buy now

Gnarly Nutrition Fuel2o

Gnarly Nutrition Fuel2o
Gnarly Nutrition Fuel2o (Photo: Gnarly)

Electrolyte loss is particularly high in the desert, and mixtures like this Fuel2o from Gnarly help replace lost sodium and chloride more effectively than just drinking water. With 100 calories and 4 grams of sugar per serving, the balanced formula works to fuel my body without dropping sugar. Mixtures like Gatorade powder are higher in sugar and calories, while brands like Nuun have very few calories; the Fuel2o is a good compromise. Each flavor (Tropical is my favorite) comes in a larger bag or in individual ‘sticks’ for easier serving.

$ 28.95 (box of 10 sticks); Buy now

Gaia GPS and a map and a compass

Gaia GPS
Gaia GPS (Photo: Gaïa GPS)

Desert trekking helped me understand the importance of reliable navigation, as well as having emergency navigation. There are often fewer trails and signs to follow on desert roads, and landmarks can seem confusingly similar. I use the Gaia GPS app on my phone, downloading maps from their database before the trip. I have used Gaia a lot in recent years: its interface is intuitive, it offers a wide range of maps for desert landscapes and allows detailed route planning in advance. A map and compass (and the knowledge to use it) completes this category; running out of juice when you are lost in the desert is a dangerous situation. Free for the basic app, $ 39.99 for a premium subscription; Buy now