Desert Survival: Simple Tips That Could Save Your Life

First, let me give you the reason why I decided to write something up on subject of how to survive in the desert. There are lot of articles and videos covering aspects of desert survival and they do a decent job, but when I looked at them they seemed to cover a limited view of what it is and the methods appeared to be relying for too much of manmade tech.

The Case for Primitive Desert Survival

If you really want to learn how to survive in the desert, you need to start thinking primitive. The reason being that if you are in a true survival situation is because you went on a day hike, for instance, got turned around and now risking death by exposure.

Another scenario would be that you are taking the scenic route, say, in Utah (like I did many times when I lived in Las Vegas) and your car blows a coolant hose. Now you are stuck dozens of miles from anything remotely resembling civilization.

In either case, you have limited resources and probably nothing that will last any longer than a day.

The only way to go about ensuring your survival is to learn how to live off the land. ‘Primitive survival’ just means that you have to find everything yourself from what’s available and make everything from scratch.

How to Survive in the Desert Basics:

Especially, if it’s the hot summer months, try to avoid doing anything during the day. I know you probably saw Bear Grylls trot about the Sahara in broad daylight, but that’s just reckless and that’s not how to survive in the desert. Lay low in the shade of anything until it starts to cool off toward the end of the day (also just right after sunset) and if you must travel do it at night.

How to Survive in the Desert: Shelter

Shelter is always number one in any survival situation. Keeping yourself out of the sun when it’s hot and avoiding hypothermia at night will ensure that you last more than a day in the summer.

In the early 2000s, three German hikers went missing in the Grand Canyon and they perished in 24 hours. There is plenty of water at the bottom of the canyon and anyone can go several days without food, so I’m guessing exposure got the best of them.

A cave always comes in handy, but they may come in short supply. In the American South West, there is plenty of sage brush at lower elevations. The only problem is that they are in the ground good and they are designed to be pretty rough on your hands. Use a knife if you got one to cut them and dig them out and just build a wall to keep the sun off you. If you are in an area where there is dead wood available, you can try to build some kind of a structure (a lean-to or even a teepee) and pile the bushes up around it.

Water is your next big thing on your list obviously you want to know how to survive in the desert.

How to Survive in the Desert: Water

If there is a clean source of water nearby (fast-flowing creek or river perhaps), of course you should drink before even you start building your shelter. If there is no flowing or even stagnant water anywhere look for a dry riverbed.

Even though the river maybe seasonal, if you dig down 3-4 feet, you may be able to get water to pool in the hole. If so, you are set because the water was filtered through a lot of sediment and as such it is clean.

Now, if the water doesn’t start collecting, don’t panic and don’t be like the guy from Survivorman. I saw an episode where he was in the Utah desert, dug down waist deep into a creek bed to find water and almost flipped out, because he could only get wet sand.

Get a bunch of that wet sand, put it in your t-shirt and wring the water directly into your mouth. That guy is such a tool.

How to Survive in the Desert: Food

This can be tricky, because vegetation tends to be scarce and you have to be careful about what plants you eat, because some stuff can even kill you.

Animals on the other hand try to run away from you even if you can find them, but they are safe to eat if you cook them over the fire toughly. Do research on primitive traps as they are the least exerting method of harvesting animals.

The only problem is that hand-made traps are illegal in all 50 states and perhaps for good reason. Lots of idiots set them up, forget about them and animals end up dying a horrible and often slow and painful death for nothing. But if I was in a tough situation that would be the least of my concerns if I faced death.

How to Survive in the Desert: Fire

If you can do fire by friction, it will come in handy. You can purify water this way, make containers to put the water in to be purified and cook your tasty animals where you don’t have to worry about microbial diseases like the plague which can still be an issue in desert animals.

            Starting a fire with a bow drill can be tricky. You won’t figure this out right on the spot, so I would try to get good at it so you can use it when you need it the most.

Emergency Survival Kit

Your Emergency Survival Kit; there are many different types (primary, personal, vehicle, backpacking etc.), but no matter what type of kit you need, you basically have 3 options:

1. Buy an off-the-shelf kit.
2. Buy an off-the-shelf kit and add your specific gear to it.
3. Build your own kit.

Which option you choose is largely a matter of how much time you want to invest, and how prepared you want to be. Here’s some things to think about…

Survival Rifles

When it comes to Survival Rifles, the best option will largely depend on the intended use for the rifle. This page will discuss some of the options available in the context of wilderness survival and personal survival situations.

There are essentially only two uses for a survival rifle:

1) To kill game for food.
2) For use as a personal protection weapon.

For hiking, backpacking, canoeing, or even flying over remote areas for example, or situations where you dont actually intend to use the rifle except in an emergency, smaller and lighter is usually better.  A lot of people choose to carry a handgun, which is ok for personal protection, but in most cases not a very good choice as a survival weapon.  Chances are, if you have to use this weapon in this scenario, you will be trying to feed yourself.  If you have to hit a squirrel or other small game from any sort of distance, you need the accuracy that only a rifle can provide.  The best choice for this situation would be a lightweight compact .22LR caliber rifle.  Here are some good choices to fulfill this need:

marlin 30 30

Henry Survival Rifle.

Henry Survival rifle

Springfield Armory M6 survival rifle / CZ M6 survival rifle


M6 survival rifle

Marlin model 70PSS All weather “Papoose”.


Marlin Papoose

Ruger 10/22 CRR


Ruger 10-22 crr

Ruger Charger


Ruger Charger
Choose the best survival knife for you.
When you are considering what type of knife will be the best survival knife for you to buy, there are some key factors to consider:

there are basically three types of “survival knives”, each has its own place and purpose.

1. Fixed Blade Survival Knives.
2. Folding Survival Knives.
3. Multi-tool knives.

Here are some of our favorite, reasonably priced, quality fixed blade survival knives:

Tops Dawn Warrior USMC Ka-bar. SOG seal pup. Kershaw Roughneck.


If you want to know how to survive in the desert, you will need some preparation beforehand. Heck, that’s true for any survival situation, but in the desert your options are even more limited and you have very little room for error.



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