Graveyard Shift

How To Survive When You're Stranded In The Desert  

Quinn Armstrong
15 items

The desert can be a fascinating yet unfriendly spot for adventure. Unless you're in Palm Springs with pools, air conditioning, and an ample water supply, the desert is incredibly inhospitable, especially if you become lost or stranded. The sun is fierce, the sand is coarse, and there's not a drop of water for miles around.

Don't panic; you won't dry up and disappear.

One-third of the Earth's land mass is desert, and there are many different types: high deserts, temperate deserts, and even some areas of the Antarctic. Officially, the definiton of a desert is any area that sees less rainfall per year than it gives up through evaporation. This list will focus on the classic hot, dry desert, a place like the Sahara, Mojave, or basically all of Australia.

Conditions are tough, but don't worry. This list, just like the best survivor TV shows, will give you the know-how you need to survive in even the harshest deserts.

Disclaimer: This list is meant for entertainment purposes only.

Conserve Sweat, Not Water
Conserve Sweat, Not Water is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list How To Survive When You're Stranded In The Desert
Photo:  Akban/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the key mistakes desert travelers make is to over-ration water, drinking less than they need in an effort to prolong the water supply. Dehydration, however, will rob you of strength and clarity, making your body less efficient. Out in the desert, that can be fatal.

Instead, focus on rationing sweat. That is, avoid raising your core temperature as much as possible. Keep the moisture in as much as possible by avoiding strenuous travel during the daytime and restricting your activities to the cool hours of the night and early morning.

Focus On Signals That Can Be Seen, Not Heard
Focus On Signals That Can Be S... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list How To Survive When You're Stranded In The Desert
Photo: Indrajit Das/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

Screaming your lungs out is physically taxing. You lose moisture with every exhalation, and sound doesn't carry a long way. Instead, try to create signals that can be seen. A single fire burning in the desert may not be seen as a cry for help, but three fires in a triangle is the international symbol for distress.

If you know people are going to be looking for you, setting up three fires at night will help them find you. Another visual distress signal is a signal mirror, which can reflect the sun and be seen over 10 miles away under certain conditions.

Do Not Strip Down
Do Not Strip Down is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list How To Survive When You're Stranded In The Desert
Photo: Yosarian/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

In the full heat of the desert sun, your clothes can make you feel like you're cooking in an oven. It might be tempting to take them off for some relief from the heat.

But clothing helps you conserve moisture, not to mention avoid sunstroke. Clothes help to hold in your body heat. If you're wandering around the Sahara, chances are the temperature is 100 degrees or higher. So keep your pants and long-sleeve shirt on for protection.

Don't Drink Cactus Liquid
Don't Drink Cactus Liquid is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list How To Survive When You're Stranded In The Desert
Photo:  Matthew Hayes/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Chopping off the top off of a barrel cactus and drinking the liquid inside will lead to problems worse than thirst. The water inside cactuses are highly acidic, with many compounds that are dangerous to humans.

You could get diarrhea, which will make you even more dehydrated, or suffer from temporary paralysis.