The Blog of Daniel

Just my place to write without any delusions of self-importance.

Desert Hiking 101

To continue on about my hiking obsession…

Today I went on a ranger led Desert Hiking 101 class and 2.5 mile hike.  Considering how much hiking I've done in the desert over the years, I figured I may as well see if I'm doing it right.  One new fact I learned is that the ground temperature in the Sonoran desert can reach 170f on a balmy 105f degree day.  I knew this to be true in the city, even hotter in fact, but I had no idea it was so high outside of the city too.  Last summer a young lady died less than a hundred feet from one of the easiest trails here because she misjudged the heat.

So what did Ranger B recommend for people hiking in our regional desert parks?  Well, my list was a little longer but I'll start with what we agreed on.

Water.  Drink a glass when you wake up and then more while you're headed to your starting point.  For the trail, take at least twice what you think you will need.  Personally, I always take at least 3 times what I think i'll need.

Map and Compass.  Some people think this is really silly for small hikes but they really do come in handy and they weigh next to nothing.    I would really love to have a hikers GPS but they are no replacement for a map and compass.

Proper Footwear.  Unless you really like pain, get some real hiking boots.  Even an expensive pair of sneakers are worthless on trails.  They have no real traction, little support on rocky terrain, and a fallen Cholla cactus ball will quite happily make its way the sole of a shoe.  Get real hiking boots.  While you're at it, get a pair of thin silk or synthetic liner socks and an a pair of thicker wool or synthetic cushioned socks.  No cotton!  Wearing the two pairs will prevent blisters.  First put on the liner sock, then the cushioned sock.  To be confortable with the extra sockness, get boots 1/2 size larger than your normal shoe size.

Proper Clothing.  For those freaky textile lovers who insist on wearing clothes when hiking…  Ever since I started hiking I've heard the phrase "Cotton Kills" but for desert day hikes in good weather, you can safely ignore this.  If the temperature varies a lot and you have to layer, then still avoid cotton.  The reason cotton is bad for extended hikes is that it absorbs sweat which doesn't dry fast and when it cools off it sucks your heat away and you could very well get hypothermia.  This is also why you should never cover your mouth or nose inside your sleeping bag.  The moisture will condense and freeze and your life will suck.  Do not wear black t-shirts when its warm because it can add up to 40f degrees to your body temperature.

Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.  Not just a baseball cap, but something with a rim all the way around it.  I have an Aussie Breezer Hat.  Use lots of sunscreen too.

A Comb.  Yes, a cheap 25 cent hair comb.  Not only will it keep you pretty, it's the best way to get Cholla cactus out of your skin.

Flashlight.  You can get really small LED flashlights these days.  I got a 3 pack from for $12.  Not everyone intends to be out after dark but it sometimes happens.

First Aid Kit.  For the budget minded, you can get a useful one at Wal-Mart for about $5.  I have a more advanced one but cheap is okay for short hikes.

Whistle.  People actually laugh at this until they get hurt, are dehydrated and their throat is dry and they can't yell.  A whistle can be heard for miles.

Plan ahead.  Sometimes I come off as obsessive compulsive about hiking planning.  Even on the short ones, I find as much information as possible about the trail and terrain beforehand.  I look at topo maps, satellite images, hiker taken photographs and I ask lots of questions from people who have already done it. 

Know your limitations.  When planning, know your limitations.  Start out small and work your way up.  I myself have a physical disability (Arthrgryppsis Multiplex Congenita) that adds a whole new and sometimes dangerous aspect to my hiking abilities.  Still, I know my limits and work with and around them when I can.  In short, don't let your ego write any checks that your body can't cash because in a survival situation you are putting other people in danger too.

Tell a friend.  Tell people where you're going.  Leave a written note at home and in your vehicle with details about your hike.  Do this even when hiking with others.

Daniel's extended list that Ranger B did not cover.

Chapstick.  Trust me, use Chapstick and your lips will love you.  Stay kissably soft on the harshest of days!

Gum.  Not only is it yummy, gum has other benefits too.  Studies have shown that chewing gum keeps you more alert and thinking.  Also, when the flavor runs out it sometimes makes your mouth feel dry which encourages you to drink more water.  Staying alert and hydrated is important.

Hiking poles.  A pair of telescopic hiking poles will do wonders for going up and down hills.  I've had the same pair for 20 years and they've saved my knees and even my life once or twice.  I was in Wal-Mart the other day and they had a pair for the unbelievable price of $15, which is $100 cheaper than I paid.  I recommend removing the ski cups and using steel tips, not rubber tips.  Rubber will slip if wet and you could die!

Pocket knife or Leatherman tool.  Well, this is just a good idea all the time.

Medication.  Don't forget your asthma inhaler if you have asthma.  Also, take aspirin or some other NSAID.  If it's going to be hot and you're drinking way more than usual, take Thermotabs to keep your electrolytes balanced.  Just don't over do them.  If you use nitroglycerin capsules, hiking is probably not for you.

This is the basics.  It may seem like overkill to some but it makes things even more enjoyable, which is what hiking is supposed to be all about.  Oh, don't forget your camera!

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