The desert is one of the harshest environments on earth. Hot and dry, you'll struggle finding water during the day and a way to keep warm at night as the temperatures plummet. Making it through a desert unscathed is not for the faint of heart, but in a survival situation you may not have a lot of choice. Perhaps all that's standing between you and a successful bug out is a wide expanse of sand, that you need to cross to survive.
But without proper preparation, your chances of survival are slim. To cross this unforgiving landscape, you need to plan ahead, and have the right resources and skills on hand.
Here's what you need to know.
Get your car packed with food and water
It goes without saying the most important things are going to be food and water. In the desert you will struggle to find any of these, so make sure you've got more than enough on board with you. At least two gallons of water, per person, per day, and plenty of food that can be consumed without needing to be cooked. You may struggle to even find enough wood for a small campfire, and if you're bugging out remember the light from your fire may give away your camp. You don't want that when the SHTF.
Be your own rescue team
If your group can travel in two 4WD cars, this is ideal. Because the other car can serve as the rescue vehicle if you get caught up in a sandy bog or a ditch, and pull you out. I'd also recommend having plenty of spare gas on hand, as you don't want to run out halfway through the drive. Along these same lines I'd throw in jumper cables, spare tires and some tow ropes, just in case, along with some spare radiator coolant, oil, and brake fluid. Small fixes may keep your car running just long enough to make it through.
But life doesn't always go to plan, and if you find yourself stranded, in the desert, there's a few things you can do instead of sitting by your car, waiting for help. Because while this is your smartest option in everyday life, in a crisis no one is going to be looking for you.
Know where you're going and how far it is
If you've made the decision to leave the safety of your car and venture into the desert, you need to plan ahead. Use your maps to figure out how far it is to civilization, and pack your kit accordingly. You will need plenty of water, and a smart way to carry it. One particular piece of gear that comes with me every time I venture into the desert is my trolley cart. It's got thick, all-terrain wheels, and makes it a breeze to pull behind me.
Be prepared to rest and take shelter
Travelling any great distance through the desert will take it out of you, the heat of the day will dry you out fast and your water needs will skyrocket. Take the time to make camp and create a little shade, especially when the sun is at its peak. You're better off conserving your energy during the hottest part of the day, and move in the early mornings or late evenings. Natural shelters, like a cave, rock ledge or even a boulder are great resting spots.
Look for non-obvious water sources
Eventually, you're going to need to find more water. Using a tarp, rocks and a small cup, you can dig out a solar still in the ground, letting the heat from the sun pull condensation from any green leaves you've found to stuff inside the still to collect in the cup. It's best to set this up around noon and only open it up to drink the collected water after night falls. In the desert, this is your best bet for a reliable water source. Unless you want to be digging in dry creek beds under green plants looking for a spring.
Don't let yourself get cold at night
One particular trap that catches many survivalists unaware is just how cold the desert becomes once night falls. With temperatures normally falling to just below zero, you need to have enough warm layers to fight back the chills. It's also smart to have a fire making kit in case you've been able to collect enough wood for a fire, but I'd always recommend protective clothing first, the glow from a fire in the desert carries for miles, and a way to insulate yourself from the ground and surrounding air.
Watch out for the wildlife
Just because it doesn't seem like anything could survive in the dusty landscape, you'd be surprised at just how much life is in the desert. Rattlesnakes are a problem, along with other snakes, centipedes and even scorpions. Get yourself stung, and not only is it uncomfortable, you could be in a deadly situation fast. Look where you're walking, and always give the area a quick scout before sitting down. You don't want to get bit.
Know how to make a signal
While a crisis may typically require stealth, there are certain situations where it may be in your best interest to signal for help. Remember the rule of threes, and create your signals accordingly, three piles of rocks, three signal fires, or even three short bursts on your survival whistle. Fires work exceptionally well at night, but should only be lit when you see a rescue vehicle in your immediate area.
The desert is a landscape like no other, and to survive you need to be prepared. Not only with enough water, food and equipment to make it through unscathed, but by making smart decisions, staying warm at night and not burning your precious water trying to cover ground in the hottest part of the day. That's how you'll survive.