Desert Hiking Essentials: 10 Must-Have Items for Desert Treks

From hiking poles to wide-brim sun hats to dry wick shirts, desert hiking essentials can do wonders to make your treks through the arid landscape and extreme temperatures of the desert more comfortable.

Careful planning and preparation are required to fully enjoy the beauty and ruggedness of desert environments like Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Even if you’re not planning to anything more than some shorts strolls near the visitor centers, having certain kinds of gear is necessary to handle the heavy sun and dry air.

This guide describes a handful of must-have items and gear for hiking in any desert region, with a special focus on the Guadalupe Mountains.

desert hiking essentials
Having desert hiking essentials will make any trek in Guadalupe Mountains NP easier.

Factors to Consider When Purchasing Desert Hiking Gear

The hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains NP are outstanding, but they provide challenging conditions, so being prepared is critical.

Factors such as exposure to intense sun, dramatic temperature fluctuations, and dusty or sandy environments all play a significant role in selecting the right gear. Prioritize items that help to regulate your body temperature, provide adequate sun protection, and ensure proper hydration.

When choosing gear, pay close attention to materials, size, and weight. Lightweight gear is always ideal, as it minimizes the strain on your body. Opt for sturdy, durable materials, and consider the packability and functionality of the items to save space.

This selection of desert hiking products is perfect for those looking to safely and comfortably tackle desert trails. Here’s our Top 10 list.

The Top 10 Desert Hiking Essentials

TrailBuddy Trekking Poles

trekking poles


  • Provides stability for uphill hikes and treks on uneven terrain
  • Lightweight, affordable, and reliable
  • Comes in a wide variety of colors

For hiking trails with a lot of elevation gain or a lot of rocky sections – the hikes in the Guadalupe Mountains meet both criteria – hiking poles are essential for safety and support.

It’s so much easier hiking uphill when you can use your arms to help lessen the burden. They’ll come in handy on high-elevation hikes like Guadalupe Peak and the Bush Mountain Trail.

These TrailBuddy Trekking Poles can be adjusted to almost any height, making them versatile for folks of all ages and genders. They also come with various types of tips that are suitable for hiking in dirt, mud, or snow.

These are a good investment, because you can use them for years to come, on just about any hiking trail. I’ve already gotten more than my money’s worth from the poles I purchased.

General Medi 2-in-1 First Aid Kit

hiking First Aid Kit


  • 215 hospital-grade items in main kit with an additional 43-piece mini kit
  • Durable, lightweight design weighing only 1.5 pounds
  • Highly organized with extra space for adding more items

This General Medi 2-in-1 First Aid Kit is an essential addition to your desert hiking gear. With 215 hospital-grade items in the main kit and an additional 43-piece mini kit, you’ll be prepared for various incidents that may occur during your adventures.

This comprehensive first aid kit is well-organized with multiple compartments, making it easy to locate the items you need and providing additional space to add more items if needed. The durable design of the bag ensures that it can withstand the harsh desert environment while being lightweight and easy to carry, weighing only 1.5 pounds.

The main criticism is that the kit could use a few more items such as antibiotic ointment and additional gauze pads, and it may not be suitable for extreme emergencies that require more advanced medical equipment.

Alternative: If you’re so inclined, you could go all-in on an extremely packed and thorough Survival Kit, which contains everything in a normal first aid kit, plus additional survival tools. Just be careful, because that kit contains a knife that you wouldn’t be able to bring in carry-on luggage on a plane.

Merrell Men’s Moab 3 Hiking Shoe

Merrell Men's Moab 3 Hiking Shoe


  • Exceptional out-of-the-box comfort
  • High-quality materials and construction
  • Versatile for various terrains and activities

The hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park are quite rocky, with small boulders and loose scree. Wearing poor footwear here is a good way to sprain an ankle.

Therefore, we recommend the Merrell Men’s Moab 3 Hiking Shoe. Its comfortable design, featuring a supportive insole and cushioned midsole, makes it easy for you to enjoy desert hiking adventures without worrying about breaking them in first.

The Moab 3 is a reliable and comfortable option for trail hiking in any environment. The partially recycled fabrics and premium construction showcase Merrell’s dedication to quality and sustainability.

For those with specific foot conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, it’s essential to consult a professional before choosing this shoe.

Merrell Women’s Moab 3 Hiking Shoe

Merrell Women's Moab 3 Hiking Shoe


  • Exceptional out-of-the-box comfort
  • Durable materials for long-lasting wear
  • Versatile for various terrains and conditions

Here’s the women’s version of the same shoe. The Merrell Women’s Moab 3 Hiking Shoe has been a popular choice for hikers over the past decade, so it’s a trustworthy and quality product. These shoes are designed for immediate wear, with minimal break-in time required.

One of the major advantages of the Moab 3 is the durable design, featuring a grippy Vibram outsole that can withstand the harsh conditions of a desert hike.

When it comes to sizing, some customers recommend going half a size up for the ideal fit. Another concern mentioned by a few users is the arch placement, which may feel slightly awkward at first but can be resolved with an insole replacement if necessary.

The Women’s Moab 3 is a solid choice for any woman in need of a reliable, comfortable, and durable shoe for their desert hiking adventures.

Vekkia Ultra-Bright LED Headlamp

desert hiking essentials - headlamp


  • Lightweight and small
  • Provides up to 60 hours of light with one set of batteries
  • Very affordable price

A lot of flashlights and headlamps these days are powered solely from USB charge, but that feels risky, because once the charge dies, your light is gone for good.

I prefer to go old-school with a device powered by batteries, like the Vekkia Ultra-Bright LED Headlamp. Bring a few extra batteries, and you never have to worry about running out of headlamp power.

Even if you don’t plan to hike at night, you never know when you might get caught out past sunset. When the sun sets in the desert, it goes fast, and then suddenly everything is pitch black.

This affordable headlamp weighs only 2.5 ounces, so it can fit inside any pack. It requires three AA batteries, which can provide up to 60 hours of soft light.

Postropaky Men’s Hiking Quick Dry Lightweight Pants

Postropaky Pants


  • Quick-drying and elastic fabric for optimal comfort
  • Multiple durable pockets to securely hold belongings
  • Water resistant and rip & tear resistant

Heading out for a desert hike? You’ll want to prioritize comfort and protection from both the sun and prickly plants. These Postropaky Quick Dry Lightweight Pants deliver on that front.

The stretchy and breathable nylon-spandex blend ensures that your skin remains covered while allowing fresh air to circulate. Forget the idea of hiking in shorts—you’ll thank yourself later for choosing these versatile pants.

Not only do these pants offer protection from the elements, but they also provide ample storage. The design includes two zippered rear pockets, two open hand pockets, and two thigh pockets lined with mesh. These pockets are great for keeping your essentials safe and within reach while you explore.

Einskey Unisex Wide-Brim Sun Hat

wide brim sun hat


  • Durable and lightweight materials
  • Keep the intense rays of the sun off your face and neck
  • More than two dozen color and design options

When hiking in the desert, it’s crucial to stay protected from the harsh sun. No matter how much sunscreen you use, your face and neck are going to take a beating. That’s where the Einskey Unisex Wide-Brim Sun Hat comes in, designed specifically to help you handle the intense sunshine of desert trails.

Constructed with lightweight and durable materials, this sun hat comes in more than 20 color and design options, so you can find one that actually looks cool instead of being stuck with a boring color.

I’ve had this hat for a few years now, and it’s been invaluable on sunny days on the trail. And they have a lot more color options than they did when I bought mine!

Nalgene BPA-Free 32 Ounce Water Bottle

nalgene bottle - desert hiking


  • Large 32-ounce capacity
  • Durable construction
  • Leak-proof design

Absolutely nothing is more important on a desert hike than sufficient water. Leave the small water bottles at home and get yourself a large container like this Nalgene BPA-Free 32 Ounce Water Bottle.

The ample capacity ensures that you stay hydrated during your journey, and its durable construction can withstand the rough conditions of the desert environment.

This Nalgene water bottle comes with a leak-proof design, ensuring your precious water supply stays safely within the bottle throughout any desert hike.

You’ll want at least one of these large water bottles for any desert hike – perhaps two, depending on the heat and the length of your hike. Always take far more water than you think you’ll need!

MAGCOMSEN Men’s Long Sleeve Dry Wick Shirt

MAGCOMSEN Men's Long Sleeve Shirt


  • 100% Polyester material, wrinkle-free and soft
  • UPF 50+ UV Sun Protection
  • Quick dry and breathable fabric

The MAGCOMSEN Long Sleeve Dry Wick Shirt is an excellent choice for desert hiking enthusiasts in search of a long sleeve shirt with UPF 50+ UV Sun Protection.

Wearing a long sleeve shirt on a hot desert hike may seem counterintuitive, but trust me, you’ll quickly learn to appreciate these shirts. You’ll sweat a bit more, but the dry wick material cools you down and dries quickly, ensuring you’re never uncomfortable.

The fabric is soft and wrinkle-free, and the sun protection is superb – much better than having to stop and reapply sunscreen every hour.

The shirt features quick-dry technology, making it ideal for desert hiking and other outdoor activities. Its breathable fabric wicks moisture away from your skin, allowing it to evaporate freely and dry swiftly. You’ll appreciate this feature on those particularly hot days in the desert.

Rainleaf Microfiber Towel

microfiber towel


  • Extremely absorbent, lightweight, and quick-drying
  • Folds up small inside any pack, perfect for hiking or travel
  • Very affordable

The last of our desert hiking essentials is this Rainleaf Microfiber Towel. I bought one of these a few years ago (for less than $10!), and it was one of my best purchases ever.

The 2 feet x 4 feet towel is very absorbent and dries fast, so you can wick away sweat or water quickly. The microfiber material is soft on the skin, and it’s very lightweight, so it can travel in any pack.

I’ve taken my towel on many desert hikes, and all over the world on my travels. It can even serve as a beach or shower towel. The price is very low, and it comes in nearly every color.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much water should you carry for desert hikes?

When hiking in the desert, it’s crucial to stay hydrated. Generally, you should carry at least 1 gallon (4 liters) of water per person. It’s always better to carry extra than risking dehydration. Remember, individual needs can vary, so adjust your water supply accordingly.

What wildlife do I need to watch out for on a desert hike?

Deserts have a diverse range of wildlife. Some common threats you might encounter include venomous snakes, scorpions, and spiders. Keep an eye out for these critters and give them space.

Avoid reaching into crevices or holes, as these might be hiding spots for wildlife. In case of bites or stings, always have a first aid kit handy and know how to use it.

How can you stay cool on a desert hike?

To stay cool during desert hikes, start your journey early in the morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler. Wear loose, light-colored clothing that covers your skin, and a wide-brimmed hat for sun protection.

Use sunscreen with high SPF and reapply frequently. Take frequent breaks in shaded areas and stay hydrated by sipping water regularly, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

What food and snacks are suitable for desert treks?

Pack high-energy, lightweight, and non-perishable food for your desert trek. Choose food items that don’t require much preparation or cooking, like trail mix, nuts, dried fruits, protein bars, and jerky.

Avoid heavy, salty, and greasy foods that can leave you feeling thirsty, or very sugary foods that can lead to energy crashes when the sugar rush wears off. Stay on the lighter and healthier side, as these types of food are easier to digest and will help maintain your energy levels throughout the hike.

Do you have any other suggestions for must-have desert hiking essentials?

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