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What To Wear Hiking In The Desert


by Joly Alcala



Embarking on a hiking adventure in the desert can be an exhilarating experience. From vast golden dunes to stunning rock formations, the desert offers a unique and captivating landscape to explore. However, proper preparation is essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable excursion. One crucial aspect of desert hiking that should never be overlooked is choosing the right clothing.


The desert environment presents unique challenges when it comes to clothing choices. With scorching temperatures, intense sunlight, and minimal shade, it’s important to dress in a way that protects you from the elements while keeping you cool and comfortable.


This comprehensive guide will walk you through the essentials of desert hiking attire, helping you make informed decisions that will enhance your hiking experience. From head to toe, we’ll cover everything you need to know to stay protected and stylish on your desert adventure.


So, whether you’re embarking on a day hike or planning a multi-day trek in the desert, keep reading to discover the key clothing items you need to pack, the best fabrics to choose, and how to layer your clothing for optimal comfort.


Importance of Proper Clothing for Desert Hiking

When it comes to desert hiking, proper clothing is more than just a matter of fashion. It plays a critical role in ensuring your safety, comfort, and overall enjoyment of your hiking adventure. Here are a few reasons why choosing the right clothing for desert hiking is so important:

  1. Protection from the Sun: The sun can be relentless in the desert, and prolonged sun exposure can lead to sunburns, heat exhaustion, and even heatstroke. Select clothing that provides adequate coverage and protection from harmful UV rays. Look for garments with a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating and opt for long-sleeved shirts and pants to shield your skin from the sun.
  2. Temperature Regulation: The temperatures in the desert can vary significantly, with scorching hot days and chilly nights. Choosing clothing that helps regulate your body temperature is crucial. Opt for lightweight, breathable fabrics that wick away sweat and allow for airflow. Additionally, consider layering your clothing to adjust to changing temperatures throughout the day.
  3. Protection from Abrasive Elements: Deserts are known for their rough terrain, with rocks, thorns, and abrasive sand that can easily damage your skin and clothing. Opt for rugged and durable clothing made from materials that can withstand such conditions. Look for garments with reinforced stitching and abrasion-resistant fabric to protect yourself from any potential scrapes or cuts.
  4. Insect Protection: Desert environments are also home to various insects and bugs. Protect yourself from insect bites by wearing clothing that covers your skin. Opt for lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks to minimize exposure.

Remember, choosing the right clothing for your desert hiking adventure can significantly impact your comfort, safety, and overall experience. By prioritizing protection from the sun, temperature regulation, protection from abrasive elements, and insect protection, you’ll be able to fully enjoy your time in the desert and focus on the breathtaking sights and sounds around you.


Clothing Essentials for Desert Hiking

When it comes to desert hiking, packing the right clothing essentials is crucial. Here are the must-have items to include in your desert hiking wardrobe:

  1. Long-sleeved Shirts: Opt for lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking long-sleeved shirts. Look for materials like nylon or polyester that provide UPF protection. These shirts will protect your skin from the sun and help regulate your body temperature.
  2. Pants: Choose lightweight pants that offer protection from the sun and desert elements. Look for options made from quick-drying materials that offer durability and comfort. Consider pants with zip-off legs to easily convert them into shorts during hot days.
  3. Sun Hat: Protect your head, face, and neck from the scorching sun with a wide-brimmed hat. Look for hats with UPF protection and breathable materials. A hat with a chin strap will ensure it stays secure during windy hikes.
  4. Bandana or Buff: Carry a lightweight bandana or buff that can be used as a neck gaiter, face cover, or headband. It provides additional protection from the sun, helps cool down your neck, and can be soaked in water for evaporative cooling.
  5. Lightweight Jacket or Windbreaker: Evenings in the desert can get chilly, so pack a lightweight jacket or windbreaker to stay warm. Look for jackets that are windproof and water-resistant, but still breathable, to protect against sudden temperature drops and wind gusts.
  6. Socks: Invest in moisture-wicking and cushioned hiking socks that protect your feet from blisters and provide extra comfort on rugged terrains. Avoid cotton socks as they retain moisture. Instead, choose synthetic or wool socks.
  7. Hiking Boots or Shoes: Opt for sturdy and comfortable hiking boots or shoes with good ankle support for desert treks. Look for breathable options with a slip-resistant sole to navigate sandy and rocky terrains effectively.
  8. Gaiters: Gaiters are a great addition to your hiking gear, especially in sandy or dusty regions. They protect your ankles and lower legs from debris, sand, and dust, keeping your boots and socks clean and preventing irritation.

By packing these essential clothing items, you’ll be well-prepared for the challenges that the desert environment presents. Remember to choose lightweight, breathable, and protective materials to ensure your comfort and safety during your desert hiking adventure.


Footwear Options for Desert Hiking

Choosing the right footwear for desert hiking is essential for a comfortable and safe experience. The desert terrain can be unforgiving, with shifting sand, rocky surfaces, and uneven trails. Here are the top footwear options to consider:

  1. Hiking Boots: Sturdy hiking boots are an excellent choice for desert hiking, especially for longer treks or challenging terrain. Look for boots with ankle support, a rugged outsole for traction, and a water-resistant or waterproof upper. Opt for breathable materials to keep your feet cool and dry.
  2. Hiking Shoes: If you prefer a lighter and more flexible option, hiking shoes are a great alternative. They provide good traction, comfort, and protection on various terrains. Look for shoes with a durable sole, ample cushioning, and breathable materials.
  3. Trail Runners: For those who prefer a more lightweight and nimble option, trail runners can be a suitable choice for desert hiking. They offer a balance between comfort, grip, and breathability, making them ideal for shorter hikes or less technical trails.
  4. Sandals: In certain desert environments, such as those with predominantly sandy or hot conditions, hiking sandals may be a viable option. Look for sandals with adjustable straps, a durable outsole, and good arch support. Keep in mind that sandals may provide less protection against rocks, thorns, and other potential hazards.
  5. Gaiters: Regardless of the footwear option you choose, consider pairing it with gaiters. Gaiters cover the lower leg and protect against sand, debris, and critters entering your shoes. They also provide an extra layer of protection from the elements.

Regardless of the footwear option you select, ensure proper fit by trying them on with hiking socks and allowing room for toe movement. Break in your footwear before embarking on a long hike to prevent blisters and discomfort. Remember, the right footwear will provide stability, traction, and protection, allowing you to tackle the desert trails with confidence.


Headwear and Sun Protection

When hiking in the desert, protecting your head and face from the intense sun is crucial. The harsh desert sun can lead to sunburns, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses. Here are some essential headwear and sun protection options to consider:

  1. Wide-Brimmed Hat: A wide-brimmed hat is an absolute must when hiking in the desert. Look for a hat with a brim that is at least 3 inches wide to provide ample shade for your face, neck, and ears. Opt for lightweight, breathable materials that offer UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) to shield you from harmful UV rays.
  2. Neck Gaiter or Buff: A neck gaiter or buff is a versatile accessory that can protect your neck and face from the sun’s rays. It can be worn around your neck, pulled up to cover your lower face, or used as a headband. Look for one made from moisture-wicking and breathable fabric to keep you cool and provide UPF protection.
  3. Sunglasses: Protecting your eyes from the glaring desert sun is crucial. Opt for sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection to shield your eyes from harmful rays. Look for wraparound styles that provide maximum coverage and polarized lenses to reduce glare.
  4. Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to all exposed skin. Choose a water-resistant and sweat-resistant formula, and reapply regularly according to the instructions. Pay extra attention to areas prone to sunburn, such as your face, neck, ears, and hands.
  5. Lip Balm with SPF: Don’t forget to protect your lips from the desert sun. Choose a lip balm with SPF to keep your lips moisturized and shielded from UV rays. Look for lip balms with natural ingredients to avoid any potential allergic reactions.

Remember to wear your wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, apply sunscreen, and use your neck gaiter or buff to protect your head, face, and neck from the sun’s harmful rays. By taking these precautions, you’ll reduce your risk of sunburn and heat-related illnesses, allowing you to fully enjoy your desert hiking adventure.


Layering and Fabrics for Desert Hiking

Layering your clothing appropriately is key to staying comfortable and protected during desert hiking. The desert climate can experience drastic temperature changes throughout the day, with scorching hot days and chilly nights. Here are some tips on layering and the best fabrics to choose for desert hiking:




Layering your clothing allows you to adjust your attire based on temperature fluctuations. Here’s a recommended layering system for desert hiking:

  1. Base Layer: Start with a moisture-wicking base layer made from synthetic materials like nylon or polyester. This layer should keep you dry by wicking away sweat from your body.
  2. Mid Layer: Depending on the expected temperature, add a lightweight and breathable mid layer such as a long-sleeved shirt or a lightweight fleece. This layer provides insulation when it’s cooler or can be removed when it gets warmer.
  3. Outer Layer: The outer layer should protect you from wind, dust, and cooler evening temperatures. Opt for a lightweight and wind-resistant jacket or a windbreaker. Look for a breathable fabric that allows sweat to escape while keeping you protected from the elements.



Choosing the right fabrics for desert hiking is vital for breathability, moisture-wicking, and protection from the sun. Here are some recommended fabric options:

  1. Nylon: Nylon is a durable and water-resistant fabric that dries quickly. It is ideal for outer layers, protecting you from wind and occasional precipitation.
  2. Polyester: Polyester is known for its moisture-wicking properties, which help keep you dry and comfortable during intense physical activities. Look for polyester blends that offer breathability and UPF protection.
  3. Merino Wool: Merino wool is a natural fabric that regulates body temperature, keeping you cool in hot weather and warm in colder temperatures. It is moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, and offers natural UV protection.
  4. Rayon: Rayon, derived from natural materials, is lightweight and breathable. It is an excellent choice for base layers, as it wicks away moisture from the body and dries quickly.

When layering your clothing for desert hiking, prioritize lightweight, breathable fabrics that provide moisture-wicking properties and protection from the sun and wind. By following these tips, you’ll be prepared for the temperature changes and keep comfortable throughout your desert adventure.


Choosing the Right Accessories for Desert Hiking

When heading out for a desert hiking adventure, it’s essential to choose the right accessories to enhance your comfort, safety, and convenience. Here are some important accessories to consider packing:

  1. Hydration System: Staying hydrated is crucial in the desert due to the high temperatures and dry air. Invest in a sturdy hydration system, such as a hydration bladder or water bottles, to ensure easy access to water during your hike. Consider carrying electrolyte supplements to replenish minerals lost through sweating.
  2. Hiking Backpack: A well-fitted hiking backpack is essential for carrying your supplies and gear. Look for a backpack with a capacity suitable for your trip duration and consider features like multiple compartments, adjustable straps, and a hip belt for added comfort and weight distribution.
  3. Trekking Poles: Trekking poles provide stability and support on uneven terrain, reducing strain on your legs and knees. Opt for collapsible poles that are lightweight and easily adjustable to match your height and terrain requirements.
  4. Sun Protection Accessories: In addition to a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, consider other sun protection accessories. A neck gaiter or buff can protect your face and neck from the sun, wind, and dust. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen regularly and carry a small travel-sized bottle for reapplication.
  5. First Aid Kit: Pack a comprehensive first aid kit that includes essentials like band-aids, antiseptic wipes, blister treatment, pain relievers, and any necessary medications. Customize your kit to cater to any specific personal medical needs or allergies.
  6. Navigation Tools: Depending on the complexity of your hike, consider carrying navigation tools such as a map, compass, and GPS device or smartphone app with offline maps. Familiarize yourself with the route before setting out and keep a backup power source for electronic devices.
  7. Emergency Whistle and Signal Mirror: In case of emergencies or getting lost, carry a whistle to attract attention and a signal mirror to signal for help. These small and lightweight accessories can be invaluable in critical situations.
  8. Insect Repellent: Protect yourself from insect bites by packing insect repellent. Look for one that is effective against desert-specific insects such as mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. Consider using natural or DEET-free options if you prefer alternatives to traditional repellents.

Don’t overlook the importance of these accessories when planning your desert hiking trip. They can greatly contribute to your comfort, safety, and overall enjoyment of the journey. Remember to pack them in a way that distributes weight evenly and consider the specific needs of your hike to ensure a successful and memorable experience.



Proper clothing is paramount when embarking on a desert hiking adventure. The desert environment presents unique challenges, including scorching temperatures, intense sunlight, and rough terrains. By selecting the right clothing and accessories, you will not only stay protected but also enhance your comfort and overall experience.


Ensure you have the essential clothing items for desert hiking, including long-sleeved shirts, lightweight pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and proper footwear. Layer your clothing to adjust to temperature changes throughout the day. Choose fabrics like nylon, polyester, merino wool, and rayon for their breathability, moisture-wicking, and sun protection properties.


Additionally, don’t forget about the importance of headwear and sun protection. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a neck gaiter or buff will shield you from the intense desert sun. Pack the necessary accessories, such as a hydration system, a hiking backpack, trekking poles, and a first aid kit, to enhance your comfort and safety on the trail.


By embracing these clothing and accessory recommendations, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle the challenges of the desert environment and make the most out of your hiking adventure. Remember to always prioritize your safety, stay hydrated, and respect the natural environment. Now you can confidently embark on your desert hiking journey, allowing the breathtaking beauty of the desert to captivate you every step of the way.