Updated on March 5, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
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 desert trip checklist will have to prepped and ready for any kind of desert adventure! At the end we also include a section on what to wear in the desert, what NOT to bring and other important frequently asked questions.
What to Pack for Desert trip – 17 Essentials
1. Neck Wallet
Using a neck wallet is an awesome way to keep your valuables secure and organized during your desert trip. Keep your phone, wallet, map, keys and anything else you might need safely tucked away in this handy pouch around your neck. It’s a great way to keep your belongings secure during a day of desert trekking!
If you’re doing any hiking or exploring on foot, you’ll be glad you brought a Camelbak water bottle. This will keep you hydrated during hot days in the desert and you’ll be happy you have it if you plan on trekking under the hot sun. A Camelbak is awesome because you wear it on your back and sip from the straw when you’re thirsty so you don’t have to stop to take a drink.
Use packing cubes to keep yourself organized and avoid overpacking for your trip to the desert! With separate cases for laundry and shoes, this particular set of packing cubes has everything you need to have a successful and easy trip.
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.
Bringing a lipstick-sized portable charger will be especially useful during your desert trip. If you plan to use your camera or smartphone for music, navigation, communication, photos, videos, or anything else, you’ll want to make sure you don’t run out of battery at an inconvenient time. Toss this charger in your pack and always have a backup battery when you need one.
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 sand, dirt, and dust. Invest in a waterproof tarp like this one, which is tried and tested to be durable.
Nothing will 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 while you’re in the sun.
These are likely the only 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 sandals fit the bill, and will stay super comfortable all day long.
9. Water Jugs
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.
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 snacks. Stick it in your trunk and you’re ready to go. There’s nothing better than a nice cold drink after a long, hot day in the desert!
Some deserts have bugs, and if you’re not careful, you might be their dinner! Keep away those mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers with these handy insect repelling wristbands. These are perfect for the outdoors and can provide up to 300 hours of protection against mosquitoes.
If your desert of choice is more than 100 miles from home, you’ll definitely want to make sure you have reliable travel insurance before you leave for your trip. There’s a lot that can go wrong any time you travel, and you’ll want to be protected in case of emergency. World Nomads has a ton of great plans and is a favorite of avid travelers.
A bandana is a multi-use desert must-have. Use your bandana as a headband, face mask, camp flag, and so much more. This basic bandana comes in several different colors, and will be a welcome addition to your daypack.
14. Quick Dry Towel
A microfiber travel towel is an absolute essential for any desert trip. Use it as a bath towel, to keep you cool during a hike, or to dry off after a dip in a fresh desert oasis. It’s lightweight, compact, and dries quickly so you can easily toss it in your daypack before and after use.
If you’re in the desert in a foreign country and you eat something your body isn’t used to, there may not be too many options for using the bathroom. Avoid the uncomfortable symptoms of food poisoning or an upset stomach by using activated charcoal to quickly absorb and expel the toxins in your body.
16. Solar shower
During your desert vacation, you’ll likely need a 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.
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 first aid kit in your car or backpack so that you can easily whip it on in case of emergency.
Other desert packing list items not to forget
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
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.
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.