Desert Hazards

By Adrienne Hall.

The 2 most important considerations in the desert are water and shade. It is critical that the desert hiker remain hydrated at all times, and limit her exposure to the sun with either shade or long clothing, to avoid heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Heat exhaustion is caused by the loss of water and salt through sweating. It results in the body's inability to regulate its temperature. A person experiencing heat exhaustion will sweat profusely, have pale and clammy skin and rapid and shallow breathing, and may complain of dizziness, weakness, and a headache. When treating heat exhaustion, move the victim to a cool area and wipe the victim's face and neck with a damp bandanna. Elevate the victim's feet and have her sip water.
  • Heat stroke is a more severe condition. The victim will have a flushed face and hot, dry skin. She may have a strong and rapid pulse and slow and loud breath, and may become unconscious. Have the victim lie down with her head and shoulders propped up and maintain an open airway. Cover her body and head with wet clothes and fan the victim. Transport the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible.
  • Refer to Health sections for more information: Avoid heat illness, Sunburn, Dehydration and Heat-related illness.
Prevention of heat-related illnesses.
  • Make sure water is readily available and drink often.
  • Drink before you get thirsty.
  • Salts are rapidly depleted through sweating. Eating salty foods will help your body retain water and replenish lost electrolytes. Dried fruits, chocolate, nuts, and salty seeds will help you restore your electrolyte balance.
  • Wear appropriate clothing: a thin, long-sleeved, light-colored shirt; sunglasses; a hat or visor.
  • Dip a bandanna in a stream every chance you get and use it to cool your face.
  • Dunk your head in cool water.
  • Rest often in shady spots and don't do anything too strenuous. Conserve your energy.
  • Avoid walking in the heat of the day. Hike in the morning and evening and find a cool spot to rest during the day.
  • Like Kodiak, if you stop frequently in the shade, drink often, and don't over-exert yourself, you can have an enjoyable trip despite the heat.

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