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5 surprising things to carry hiking in the desert

If you’re relatively new to desert hiking, you may be a bit surprised at these five items you’ll routinely see on the trail.


I bet you’d see more umbrellas hiking in sunny weather on desert trails than when it’s raining. That’s because umbrellas are a great way to provide some portable shade during your hike. They notably make lunch breaks far more enjoyable. Don’t worry about getting an expensive ultralight one—chances are high that various pokey desert plants will add a rip or two after a few trips out. Cheap ones work just as well.


There’s not much need to comb your hair during a desert hike—especially if you’re wearing a hat. So why would I recommend carrying one in your first aid kit? Two words: cholla cactus. The comb is king when it comes to removing the fierce cholla that inexplicably snagged your leg. Just be careful not to fling it onto anyone else. The pliers in a multi-tool can work well, too.

Foam gardening kneeling pad

Unlike forests, where you’re bound to find an occasional fallen log or tree stump, the desert offers few comfortable places to sit down. A high density foam gardening pad solves that. Leave your Crazy Creek or blow-up sit pad at home—they won’t last long in this sharp environment. Foam gardening pads are cheap and small enough to carry in your pack. Once you enjoy a comfortable rest on one while you watch your hiking partner wiggle and squirm trying in vain to get comfortable on that awkward rock, you’ll never leave it at home.

Long-sleeved shirt and pants

This won’t be a surprise for any veteran desert hiker, but it might be for out-of-towners expecting to get some sun on their hike. Save the tanning for the pool instead. Smart desert hikers wear light, loose-fitting long sleeve shirts and long pants. Not only do these keep you protected from the sun’s intense rays (and save you from reapplying sunscreen throughout the day), but it also saves your arms and legs from unnecessary cuts and scrapes from spinet and excessively “friendly” desert plants. Trust me here, you’ll appreciate it.


If any scrambling might be involved in your hike, be sure to bring some gloves. The harsh rocks in the desert can easily cut up your hands. Oh, and they can get rather hot, too. Yes, your hands will get sweaty—but the glove-free alternative is worse.

What other surprising items do you bring on desert hikes?

Let me know in the comments.

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