Desert Hiking Tips: Tucson, AZ

Travel in the desert can be an adventure. It can also be a disaster if a breakdown or a sudden change in weather catches you unprepared. Be aware of the hazards of desert travel both in winter and summer. Be aware of the limitations of GPS devices. Harsh weather conditions can turn a desert outing into a tragedy. Acquire a knowledge of desert survival skills. Travel in pairs for safety in backcountry areas.

Carry Plenty of Water


1 gallon per day, per person There are no dependable sources of water in the desert regions. One gallon of water per person, per day is the absolute minimum that should be carried. When planning a hike, remember that water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon. When the water is half gone, it is time to turn back. Don’t forget extra water for your vehicle. DO NOT RATION YOUR WATER. It will only do you good if you drink it.

Plan Your Trip Carefully

Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Stick with your itinerary, and let them know when you return. Do not travel in the desert backcountry without taking along appropriate maps such as USGS topographic maps, which show land contours and specific features. Learn how to use a topographic map and a compass before you hike cross-country or on trails that are not well defined. It is easy to become disoriented in the desert where many landmarks and rock formations look similar.

Dress Properly

In summer, layered clothing slows dehydration and minimizes exposure. Good hiking shoes, loose fitting natural-fiber clothing, a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must. Desert temperatures can reach over 90° F. and drop below 50° F. in one day. Summer temperatures can reach 125° F. in some locations. In winter, temperatures can often drop below freezing. Bring extra warm clothing.

Minimum Impact Hiking Desert soils are fragile and take a long time to recover if disturbed. Darker soil surfaces that crumble easily indicate cryptogamic soils. Mosses, lichens and bacteria bind together to form a crust that prevents wind and water erosion and protects seeds that fall into the soil. Take special care to avoid these areas.

Know Your Limits

Essential Hiking & Walking Equipment – Sturdy walking/hiking shoes and proper clothing. Wear long pants to protect yourself from rocks and cactus. Carry a small waist or back packto carry water, food, first aid kit, sunscreen, jacket, and a flash light.

Make sure you carry a map of the trail and surrounding areas. It is also a good idea to carry waterproof matches, a pocket knife, and a fine-tooth plastic comb for removing cactus needles.

Always carry plenty of water!