How To Survive In The Desert

An emergency situation may strike in a wide range of different ways and places. It could catch you off guard while you are involved in some pleasant activities, like hiking, camping, or bushcrafting.

The environment itself dictates the laws of survival, along with other factors such as:

  • temperature
  • weather conditions
  • gear
  • knowledge
  • mental and physical preparedness

It is surely a sum of factors that make certain scenarios are more dangerous than others. Within each of them, survival chances are drastically reduced to a very low percentage.

One example above all are the deserts spread all over the world, from the North American Great Desert to the Gobi Desert.

Surviving in such a hostile and hopeless environment is far from being an easy venture.

The well-known story of Aron Ralston speaks for itself. Inside his book “Between a rock and a hard place” (2005), he talks about the crucial moment he had to chose between his arm and surviving:

aron ralston
Aron Ralston

That boulder did what it was there to do. Boulders fall. That’s their nature. It did the only natural thing it could do. It was set up, but it was waiting for you. Without you coming along and pulling it, it would still be stuck where it had been for who knows how long. You did this, Aron. You created it. You chose to come here today; you chose to do this descent into the slot canyon by yourself. You chose not to tell anyone where you were going. You chose to turn away from the women who were there to keep you from getting in this trouble. You created this accident. You wanted it to be like this. You have been heading for this situation for a long time. Look how far you came to find this spot. It’s not that you’re getting what you deserve – you’re getting what you wanted.

In this article, we will cover some essential topics in order to learn what you need to do if you get stranded in the desert.

Reginald Foggerdy – a survival story

The desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it.”

Robert Edison Fulton, Jr.

Besides the famous story of Aron Ralston, there is another one barely known, which nonetheless deserves our attention.

2015, Laverton, located in Western Australia. The site is quite on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert.

Reginald Foggerdy is a 62-year-old hunter who left his town in order to reach a camp that was located almost one hundred and seventy kilometers away.

He wanted to join his brother for “a wild camel hunt.”

Foggerdy went out wearing just flip flops, a shirt, and short trousers. He carried a rifle. He left his place taking no water nor food

Foggerdy was pretty much known to be a great outdoors lover. He used to know the West Australian Goldfields, the temperatures, and the features of the terrain.

His brother waited for him in vain for a couple of days, and then he contacted the local Search and Rescue team.

The hopes to find Foggerdy alive were drastically low due to some typical pathologies that anyone can develop in such a scenario: dehydration and nocturnal hypothermia.

The TRG (Tactical Response Group), consisting of expert trackers, intertwined their researches along with air support provided by helicopters.

They actually managed to track him down for nearly 10 miles. They attempted to cut the time–distance gap, hoping to determine his salvation.

They found Reginal Foggerdy after six days. The hunter was all covered in dust, terribly dehydrated, and in a confusional state.

But even after all he went through, he was alive, and his physical condition did not cause any additional concern when he was transported by air rescue to Kalgoorlie hospital.

How Reginal Foggerdy survived 

how reginal foggerdy survived

Once he realized he got stranded somewhere in the middle of the Great Victoria Desert, Reginald began to apply all the survival skills he gained over the years to keep himself alive.

He started to catch and eat ants, and he tried to avoid the ruthless and harsh temperatures by constantly seeking shelter beneath all the trees he was able to spot.

He had no water, and his brain was heavily damaged by that, putting him in an advanced state of delirium. Foggerdy had no clue of where he was, and he made reasonings and considerations on how to survive just following his instinct and his previously gained knowledge.

Police Inspector Andy Greatwood lately said that Reginald Foggerdy “[…] hadn’t had a drop of water for six days. It is surprising that he managed to survive by eating only ants. He was extremely dehydrated and quite delusional but was able to speak after receiving first aid.” […] “.

This story is surely far from being a miracle. Foggerdy worked his survival out even in a state of physical deprivation and mental dizziness.

Let’s dig into how we can be prepared for the worst and which are the skills that can save our life in the desert.

freedom water system

Never underestimate the merciless desert

A forest is a mystery, but the desert is truth. Life pared to the bone.

– Keith Miller

Staying stick to the great motto “Better be safe than sorry” before dedicating yourself to any activity inside a desert area, you need to prepare yourself and your relatives in the best way possible.

Bring accurate maps, not just a GPS

As a matter of fact, satellite or mobile connection in the desert is extremely poor. Some areas aren’t covered at all.

For this reason, bring with you some maps of the area you will be in, and mark:

  • your complete itinerary
  • your destination
  • waypoints
  • reference points (they could be mountains, small basins, signals, and so on)

Stay on the trails! 

At visitors centers, you can have plenty of maps to resort to, and you can ask for exhaustive information about your itinerary.

Stay on the trail isn’t an option. It is pretty much mandatory due to the complexity of the environment.

Even if you call yourself an expert, you need to stick to your plan.

Bring enough water and food.

bring enough water

I couldn’t stress this enough. Water is essential. And in general, water and foods are top priorities. 

Store some heavy clothes in the unfortunate case, you need to spend the night out; remember that temperatures may easily drop below zero in a short amount of time after the sun sets.

TLW2b2That being said, be sure you carry:

    • a sweater
    • a fleece
    • wool socks
    • wool hat
    • a sleeping bag
    • a tent (possibly, a bivy tent, as it retains even better the body temperature)

Don’t forget your fire kit at home

Your survival kit should always come with you. In the desert, having a fire kit is mandatory. In fact, you need to start a fire in case you face the possibility of spending the night out.

Make sure to have some good tinder with you, like cotton, birch bark, et cetera, along with a Ferro rod, a striker, or a knife.

Put knowledge and common sense at the top of your backpack! 

An emergency situation can catch you off guard even if you are an experienced hiker, climber, or survivalist.

Following this reasoning, in order to be 100% able to face an emergency in a proper way, you need to be prepared and have at least one of the following skills:

  • making a fire
  • navigation
  • improvising rescue signals

Watching some videos on Youtube is not an option. The best way to go about this is to attend some survival courses and be trained by a real expert.

You could also ask his/her help in order to plan your next adventure, as well as sharing your itinerary, your intentions, and even your concerns.

Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help!

It’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

When SHTF strikes in the desert, keep this in mind 

stranded in the desert

I will fill myself with the desert and the sky. I will be stone and stars, unchanging and strong and safe. The desert is complete; it is spare and alone but perfect in its solitude. I will be the desert.

-Kiersten White

In the unlucky case, you need to face the desert for any other reason (like a vehicle malfunction when you are crossing it), be sure to not let panic take over you.

Stay in shady areas as much as possible during the day. Avoid walking with no direction in mind and any clue of what you are expecting to reach. 

Stay away from canyons since flash floods are a serious danger in the desert. 

Keep your clothes on, as they offer natural insulation from heat, and they provide a cover for sunburns. Try to protect your eyes and face with a shirt or a scarf. 

Don’t sit on the ground, but if you have to, use your backpack. You don’t want to get burned!

Don’t get water from cactuses, as the water proved to be quite toxic if not processed. 

Start a fire to prevent hypothermia.

Kyt Lyn Walken has written this article for Prepper’s Will.

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