A picture of Jordan, the primary location used by Bushmasters to teach people how to survive in the desert

How to Survive in the Desert

Would you know how to survive in the desert?

To survive in the desert, there are a few fundamental points that are essential to remember: remain calm, conserve energy, find water, find cover, and stay away from dangerous wildlife. While there is a lot more to consider than these five points, following them will greatly increase your chances.

Below, Bushmasters will take you through some of the most important, fundamental points concerned with how to survive in the desert. While it’s not possible to cover every eventuality you might be faced with in a desert environment, we can take you through some of the most useful checkpoints. Sometimes, it’s useful to have a set of clear instructions in your head, even if you end up having to adapt and change them.


1. Remain calm

At the top of our list is the ability to remain calm. It is an absolutely essential ingredient of success for anyone needing to know how to survive in the desert. You’re going to need to think clearly and rationally, and being able to think on your feet is also vital. It will be extremely difficult to carry out the necessary tasks, and to follow our subsequent points, if you’re not calm.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to act immediately. It’s not a race to the nearest source of water, and you don’t have to have left the desert within a number of hours, although such an approach might seem tempting at the time. Reminding yourself of this throughout your venture can, in itself, be an effective way of remaining calm. Taking the time to breathe, slow down, and collect your thoughts gives you the best possible chance of succeeding when it comes down to it.

A picture of sand dunes in the desert

2. Conserve energy

Conserving energy can be done in a number of ways, and is crucial. Overspending in terms of energy output can quickly lead to dehydration, and that isn’t something that needs encouraging when trying to survive in the desert. Chief among these conservation methods is picking your moments; during the hottest parts of the day (from the late morning to the early evening), try to remain covered up and still. When it gets cooler, you can travel and move around more, as you search for water and journey out of the desert environment.

As a general rule, unless you’re aware of the exact direction in which you need to travel, it’s safer to stay put. Gambling in terms of direction is far too risky and not worth it, as it takes a lot of energy to move any distance in the heat of the desert. Either staying put and waiting to be rescued, or taking your time to establish the way to travel, are much safer and more effective courses of action.

A picture of someone resting inside a tent in the desert

3. Find water

Finally, we’ve arrived at the most well-known of our desert survival tips. One of the first things that comes into most people’s minds when they’re considering how to survive in the desert is the need for water. It’s one of the main reasons the desert can be so lethal: lack of hydration combined with searing heat.

When it comes to searching out water, life of any kind is a good indicator. Desert animals and desert plants will often be most heavily concentrated in areas where water is less scarce. Following animals and looking for areas with more plant life generally leads to a water source of some description. Be wary when it comes to plants you can’t identify, though, and proceed with extreme caution. If these methods fail, then canyons are often fruitful areas for water, especially in more shaded areas.

If the searching fails, or you’re struggling too much to cope with the demands of any physical exercise, then digging during the cooler parts of the day can prove very effective. Either find a cool, covered area and dig below the surface for any signs of moisture, or dig a hole and wait for dew or rainwater (yes, if you’re lucky then it might rain) to collect there. Staying where you are and setting up a number of these water collection points can be very effective, as placing them in different areas allows you to cover more ground.

Picture of a water drop landing

4. Find Cover

Exposure can be just as dangerous as dehydration. While it’s often considered to be of secondary importance, it shouldn’t be. Not only can exposure lead directly to dehydration, but it can also cause a number of other severe problems, such as serious burning, blistering and nausea. All of these would, without a doubt, make surviving in the desert much more difficult.

Sometimes, natural cover simply isn’t available. Large areas of the desert are vast, open, and desolate. Should you find yourself in one of these areas, it’s essential to prioritise your head in terms of cover. With the sun directly above, beating down on you, your head is the first thing it’s likely to hit. If you’ve got any supplies, use what you can to keep your head protected, fashioning a hat in any way you can.

It’s not just protection from the sun that finding cover is important for. During the night, the temperature in the desert plummets. For this reason, having some sort of cover at night is important in avoiding afflictions such as hypothermia. Again, where natural cover is less readily available, use what you have wisely. Supplies, bags, and even rocks can provide warmth when used properly; again, your head is important, as it can lose heat quickly compared with the rest of your body.

A picture of someone covering up and wearing a hat in the desert

5. Avoid dangerous wildlife

Unfortunately, the temperature isn’t the only danger to consider when working out how to survive in the desert. The harsh environment is also home to a number of potentially dangerous animals. Knowing how to identify what’s dangerous and what isn’t could prove invaluable. Snakes, scorpions, spiders, and wild dogs all occupy the sandier reaches of the world, and all have the capacity to be dangerous to humans. How do you know what’s dangerous and what isn’t, though? Often, bright markings denote danger, so stay well away from anything that falls under this category. Equally, some predators are very effectively camouflaged, so familiarising yourself with desert animals is a worthwhile exercise.

As a rule, though, avoiding these animals should be enough to keep you safe. A reassuring number of the dangerous creatures in the desert are largely shy, and afraid of humans. Only when threatened do most of them begin to live up to their reputations as harmful. By avoiding them altogether, you take provoking them completely out of the equation. Keep your eyes peeled for wild animals and, where you can, steer clear of them. We know that following desert animals can lead to water, but in these situations it’s best to stay out of their way until they’ve gone. There’s no point in finding water if you’re only putting yourself in more danger.

A picture of a rattlesnake, one of the more potentially dangerous desert animals


As we’ve said many times, these five points explaining how to survive in the desert are not an exhaustive list. There are a great number of other considerations to take into account should you find yourself in such a situation, but hopefully we’ve explained the fundamentals in a good amount of detail. Our five points to take away remain the same: remain calm, conserve energy, find water, find cover, and stay away from dangerous wildlife. Remember these, and you’ll give yourself a better chance of desert survival.

The world is full of dangerous, wild places, and the desert is just one of a number of these testing and challenging habitats. For more information on how to survive in the desert, and in a number of other environments, take a look through the rest of our website. There, you will find information about surviving in the jungle and on remote islands, similar to the advice we’ve given here. The site also holds a number of survival stories, told by people with real life survival experiences.

an image of a person standing underneath a sand dune on the Bushmasters desert venture trip