Extreme Survival: Living through the Heat

To most people, there are few survival situations more frightening than being stranded in a hot, arid desert environment. These are indeed hostile enough to come under the category of “extreme survival”. However, there are many environments that can be much worse, and deserts are actually manageable with a little wisdom in the use of one’s resources.

The key to desert survival is to never, ever, expose yourself directly to the sun. Extreme heat can cause exhaustion, dehydration and sunburn, none of which would help your chances of survival. Also, the difference between a sunny area and a shaded area in a desert can be up to fifty degrees! This is because the sand gets much, much more heated than the surrounding air. Never sit down on the hot sand but try to have an insulating layer between yourself and the ground that will protect you from direct heat.  Restrict movement and travel during the day to a minimum. Sleep through the day instead and move during the night, when temperatures drop abruptly, feeling actually cold at times! Night travel is usually well suited to the desert environment as the moon is very bright. However, on an unlit nigh, do not risk traveling as you will probably lose any sense of direction you had to begin with. Choose early morning instead.

Second urgent need is water. In such extreme heat, your body needs far more water than usual to perform its routine tasks. Procuring water in the desert is no easy task, so if you do not have water supplies with you already, then try to conserve your body’s water as much as possible. Also, when you do find water, fill as many containers as you can carry to take with you and clearly mark the spot in case you need to return in a hurry. Usually water will be found in places at lower altitude, and some of the indications are more than usual vegetation, damp sand, flocks of birds and converging animal tracks.

One of the many dangers in deserts is a sandstorm. These can completely disorient you and also physically harm you as the sand enters your eyes, nose or mouth. The only option in a sandstorm is to wait it out. If you have a shelter, use it. If you do not, then cover your face and lie down, after marking any directions you know. Only move once the storm is over.

As far as food is concerned, you will find that the heat often takes your appetite away. Do not force yourself to eat in such circumstances, because digestion of food requires water, and in case you are already dehydrated, eating is a bad idea. If you are lucky enough to stumble on to an oasis, then you will find palm trees such as dates that will solve your food problem. Dates are highly nutritious and even a few a day can keep you energetic. However, if you do not find such vegetation then you will have to live on the insects, rats or lizards that you can catch and cook. This isn’t very tempting, but there aren’t a lot of options to choose from.

Survival in deserts and extreme heat is mostly about conserving your energy and using your food and water, as well as physical resources, wisely and sparingly. Try to escape as fast as you can by signaling as much as possible or navigating towards civilization – a fast escape is the only really surefire way to ensure survival in an environment this hostile.

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  • Mike Franklin

    If you watch Old Westerns, the guys trapped in a desert would drink the last drop from their canteen then throw it away. A good visual effect in a movie but really dumb if you then found a water source.

  • barbarakelly

    And above all else wear light colored clothes. And if you have to go out side in the day by all means wear a broad rim hat.With a head uncovered it makes it easier to pass out. It also protects your eyes from the glare.

  • Frank Staples

    I actually thought about this recently when we made the last sixty miles to Green River with no cellphone signal and over a hundred degrees out…and we passed only two cars in the whole sixty miles. Good thing we own a Tacoma!!!

  • eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee78

    I was born and raised in the Arizona desert, and its unbelievable how many things that are right in front of you that you can eat. Just make sure to have a few well made knives and a machete available with you. A few that i will let you know are like the Foothills palo verde tree, the yellow flowers and soft bean pods from this tree are ready to eat, but dont eat them from palo verde trees in the city, they’re too polluted. The dried bean pods from this tree can be ground up into a flour for making a meal too.

  • Paul Smith

    Fortunately for us today, civilization is almost always overhead at about 60,000 feet. Along with a 4x, Fresnel lens for fire making, I keep a signaling mirror in my wallet – learn to use it and don’t leave home without it!