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Surviving In The Desert

When you're stranded in the desert without anything, but the shirt on your back, it's important to know where to get water, how to conserve your energy, and what to do about getting back to civilization. Continue reading this section to learn these essential survival skills for making it out of the desert alive.

Disclaimer: The survival tips on this website are for informational purposes only. The authors take no responsibility for the reader's individual actions or usage of the information presented on this page.

1. STOP and Think

Use the Boy Scouts mnemonic device of "STOP", which stands for "Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan".
You've just discovered that you are stranded in the desert. You're unsure about whether or not rescue will be arriving. Here is the list of survival actions:

1. Collect drinking water.
2. Find shelter during the day.
3. Wait to see if rescure arrives.
4. Travel at night in one direction until you reach civilization.
5. Find a source of food.

Finding Water

Your first priority should be to find a source of drinking water. A human can survive over 3 weeks without food, but only 3 to 4 days without water. Any attempt you make at surviving in the desert is going to fail unless you can keep yourself properly hydrated.

Common sources of water:

Dried-Up River Beds:
If you are able to find a dried-up riverbed, check to see if the ground is still damp. Water can be easily acquired by digging a hole in the surface of the river bed.

Morning Dew:
Collect any dew that forms on plants in the early morning before the sun rises and it evaporates. Every drop counts and while this method doesn't provide much, it is still essential that you add whatever water you can to your reserves.

Collect Rain Water:
Catch rain water with any materials that can be laid out flat over a wide surface area. Use the material to funnel the water into your container.

Cactus Pulp:
Cacti can be a valuable source of water. By cutting open the cactus, the inside pulp can be sucked out and extracted to provide a source of water.

Solar Water Still:
If you have a sheet of plastic or tarp (no holes) available, then make a solar water still.

How to Create a Solar Water Still:
Step 1: Dig a hole in the sand or dirt that is deep and wide enough to hold your container.
Step 2: Place the container in the center of the hole.
Step 3: Fill the gaps surrounding the container with anything wet, such as cacti, plants, or even urine.
Step 4: Place your plastic sheet over the hole.
Step 5: Anchor the sheet in place with larger rocks around the edges of the hole.
Step 6: Place a small rock in the center of the plastic, just over the container.
Step 7: Condensation will occur on the underside of the plastic and run down to the center. It will drip into the container filling it with distilled drinking water.

3. Finding Food

Food requires the need for water, so unless youu have established an abundant source of water, it is recommended that you do not eat.

Cactus Fruit
Most cactus fruit is safe for eating. The fruit can be a source of food as well as a possible source of water.

4. Traveling/Resting

It's important to make sure that while you travel and look for the next town or civilization that you do not exhaust your energy or lose hydration through excessive perspiration.

Travel At Night:
Traveling during the day will expose you to the sun. This will increase your body temperature and as a result, you will sweat more, resulting in a loss of hydration. Make sure to only travel during sunset, at night, and in the early morning.

Rest During The Day:
If possible, find shade during the day to keep yourself out of the direct sunlight. This will keep you from sweating so you won't lose your hydration faster.

Walk In Same Direction:
If you don't have a compass and there is no chance of rescue, then the only possible solution is to walk out of the desert. Since the desert is so expansive, you may run the risk of walking in circles. While walking, be sure to use the sun as an indicator of west and east. Use distant landmarks (eg. rock formations, cliffs) to use as a reference guide. Use a distant landmark behind you, that you are walking away from, as further confirmation that you are heading in a straight direction.

5. Find a Shelter

Shelter plays an important role in keeping your body temperature regulated.
When it's daylight, try to stay out of sun and find shelter in the shade. Large rocks or hanging cliffs can help to block any direct sunlight.

The natural tendency in a hot environment is to remove clothing, but refrain from doing so. Your clothing will keep you from perspiring and losing hydration. It will also protect your skin from sunburn.

If you have a selection of clothing, always opt for lighter colors. Darker colors will absorb more heat.

6. Beware Predators

The desert can seem void of life during the day, however, most of the predators in the desert are nocturnal and only come out at night.

Predators to be cautious of:

Mammals
Bobcats, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, and Javelinas (Wild Pigs) are among the predators to watch out for. If you are able to create a weapon of any kind, it might help to have for self defense.

Insects/Spiders
In some regions, the desert is habitat to scorpions and brown recluse spiders. Always make sure to keep your shirt tucked in and your pant legs pinched. While sleeping at night, try to keep as much of your body clothed and off the ground as possible.

7. Getting Rescued

While you are waiting for rescue, the most important item you can have is a mirror. A mirror or any reflective surface can be used to signal planes as they fly over. The reflective surface of a mirror can be used to signal a plane from beyond the horizon.

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