17 Top Desert Trip Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2019)

Updated on April 25, 2019 by Asher Fergusson

There are so many stunning deserts around the world, from New Mexico to the Sahara. Whether you’re headed on a trip to the Chihuahuan Desert of South Texas, or Joshua Tree National Park, don’t let the stress of packing stop you from enjoying your trip.

This checklist will have to prepped and ready for any desert adventure!

What to bring to the desert:

1) Water – First rule of the desert: bring LOTS of your own drinking water. It’s extremely easy to accidentally get dehydrated during hot and dusty desert days. The general rule of thumb is to drink one gallon per day, per person! Fill your trunk with a few huge tanks before you go.

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2) Shade Structure – If you’re camping out in the desert, or at spending a day or two in one spot, one of the most important things you could possibly bring is a sun shade for your site. Obviously, it can get super hot and sunny during afternoons in the desert, so be prepared with a canopy of some sort. This one is easy to set up and has excellent reviews.

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3) Toiletries – Don’t skimp on your regular hygiene routine just because you’re in the middle of a desert. Bring all the regular necessary toiletries like face wash, shampoo, body wash and anything else. Or, at the very least, bring some wet wipes and deodorant! To keep everything in order so that you’re not hunting for bottles at the bottom of your bag, bring along a toiletry organizer like this one.

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4) Picnic Blanket or Tarp – If you’re camping or spending the day in one spot, you will need to lay something on the ground at your site since there will likely be a lot of loose dirt and dust. A simple blue tarp from the hardware store works perfectly, or your could invest in a waterproof tarp specifically for camping. This one is tried and tested to be durable.

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5) Sunscreen – Nothing can ruin your perfect trip like a red hot sunburn. Bringing sunscreen to the desert is almost as important as bringing water. Bring some with major SPF, and apply it every couple hours that you’re in the sun.

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6) Camelbak – If you’re doing any hiking or exploring on food, you’ll be glad you brought a daypack with you to stash your water, snacks and first aid kit. Finding the right fit is key, and if you want to go the extra mile to stay ultra hydrated, try a Camelbak-style backpack with a water bladder like this one.

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7) GPS Apps – Apps like Google Maps can help you find your way during your trip. Sometimes you can lose service in remote areas, so make sure to download Google Maps for offline, or use an app like Maps.me, which can also guide you using GPS when you don’t have any bars. The Roadtrippers app is also a personal favorite of mine because it will show you cool points of interest along your route!

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8) Sunglasses – The sun rays that bounce off of sand can seriously damage your eyes. Therefore, it’s very important to bring polarized sunglasses with you on your trip to the desert. Make sure that the ones that you decide to wear are well-fitted to your head, or come with a strap so that they don’t fall off while you’re exploring.

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9) Swimsuit: Women’s and Men’s – Maybe you just want to get a tan while you’re chilling in the desert, or maybe that spring in the middle of the sand isn’t a mirage after all. Bring a swimsuit just in case, because you don’t want to miss out on water in a desert!

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10) Hiking Sandals: Women’s and Men’s – These are the only other shoes you’ll need during a trip to the desert. Especially if you’re doing any hiking, you’ll need sturdy sandals that have good grip and an excellent fit with arch support. These Chacos fit the bill, and will stay super comfortable all day.

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11) Cooler – Definitely bring a large cooler to keep all your food and beverages nice and cold during your trip. Pack it with lots of water bottles, ice, and fruit. Stick it in your trunk and you’re ready to go.

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12) Synthetic Hiking Shorts – Desert exploring calls for a solid pair of shorts. You’ll need some that don’t chafe, fit well, and are water-resistant. These ones have awesome reviews and come from a very reputable outdoor company.

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13) Screen Tent – If you’re going to be camping during your desert trip, you are going to need somewhere to sleep. A breezy tent with mesh panels is the ideal option. This one can fit up to two people, and has a wide entrance for easy entry and exit.

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14) Bug spray – Some deserts have bugs, and if you’re not careful, you might be their dinner. Keep away those mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers with a long-lasting bug spray. This one is perfect for the outdoors and can provide up to 8 hours of protection against mosquitoes.

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15) Bandana – A bandana is a desert multi-use must-have. Use your bandana as a headbands, face mask, camp flag, and so much more. This basic bandana comes in several different colors, and will be a welcome addition to your rucksack.

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16) Solar Shower – During your desert vacation, you might want to shower at some point. A solar shower will come in very handy, and feel great after spending the day in the hot sun. This one packs down small and is easy to use. Make sure to read the instructions and do a test run at home before you head off.

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17) First Aid Kit – Any time you’re in the great outdoors, it’s necessary to bring along a first aid kit. Whether it’s a scraped knee or a headache, you should be prepared for anything. Keep this compact little first aid kit in your car or backpack so that you can easily whip it on in case of emergency.

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Other packing list items for the desert:

What to wear to the desert:

Stay cool and dry with clothing that is labeled as synthetic, quick-dry or moisture-wicking. A hat and sunglasses are excellent ideas. Pants are good to protect your legs if you’re prone to sunburning. Wear hiking boots with SmartWool socks if you’re going hiking. Pro tip: wear a wet bandana around your neck when hiking in the intense heat.

What NOT to take to the desert:

1) 🚫 Jeans – Don’t encumber yourself with stiff, inhibiting jeans, especially in the hot desert! Denim and hiking don’t mix well.
2) 🚫 Jewelry/ Nice clothing – There’s no need to impress on an adventure like this one.
3) 🚫 Unnecessary electronics – You definitely will not need your computer, x box or ipad while you’re in the desert.
4) 🚫 Valuables – Unless you’re at a busy national park during peak season, you don’t need to worry about thieves. You do, however, need to worry about the elements ruining anything too valuable.
5) 🚫 Your whole kitchen

FAQs about going to the desert:

1) What are some good travel reads?

We all have different taste in books, but if you’re in the mood for a juicy but light-hearted vacation read, check out this list.

2) How do I find a cool desert to explore near me?

Simply google “desert near me.” A map will pop up with locations that are close to you! You can read the descriptions and see if they are part of a national or state park, and if they require an entrance or parking fee.

3) Is there anything special I should bring when going on a desert trip with kids?

Extra snacks are always a good idea. If you’ll be in the water at an point, bring water diapers, a playpen, water wings (floaties), pool noodles, and anything that will keep the kids entertained! Definitely bring an umbrella and plenty of liquids to avoid heat exhaustion, as well.

4) Can I bring my dog to the desert?

Some places are dog-friendly, while others are a little tricky. For example, Big Bend National Park in the Chihuahuan Desert allows dogs, but not on the trails. If the spot you are going to happens to allow dogs, there will most likely be a strict leash policy. Research your particular destination online to get specifics.

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