Desert Test: Lessons And Gear That Saved Me

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has been on my bucket list for a few years, but to be honest, parts of it have me trembling in my boots. Since we will begin our trek with 700 miles through the desert, we decided to move to Arizona to test out desert hiking.

For the past ten months we have experienced living in hot, dry conditions. We quickly learned that desert hiking takes a lot more preparation than our usual East Coast hiking.

  1. Sleeping in is not an option; the afternoon sun is brutal.
  2. Sunblock, hats, and sunglasses are essential.
  3. Good traction shoes are helpful on the sandy pebbled trails, especially downhill.
  4. Water is no joke; bring more than you think you’ll need.
  5. Shade is hard to come by, so take breaks when you see it.

To help us finalize our PCT gear, we decided to do three-day backpacking trip in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. This test run gave me more confidence with the gear I chose.

Here are a couple of key pieces that I found work for me.

1) Osprey Exos 48 Pack

I was skeptical going from a 65 L to 48L, but it has been the best decision. It forced me to take a closer look at each item in my pack. It is a couple pounds lighter than my old pack, making a huge difference to me. In my opinion, the best desert feature it has is the airy mesh back, giving me excellent air circulation instead of sweat stains.

2) Outdoor Research Oasis Sombrero Hat

If you want to feel like you’re in a little oasis of shade, this hat is a lifesaver.

Con: The back of the hat is extra long to guard the neck; it was so long it hit my pack. I ended up rolling up the back of the hat so it sat atop of my pack. That solved the issue, though it may look dorky.

3) Tweezers 

During our trip I fell into a thorn bush and experienced a slightly bruised ego and a few battle wounds. As I pulled out an array of cactus thorns on many occasions, I’m glad I remembered such a small, important piece of gear.

4) REI Co-op Women’s Lightweight Base Layer Tights

These are great for the desert because they are airy yet warm. They stretch a lot, so in the morning I put them right over my shorts. When it is warm enough they stretch right over my shoes to take them off, easy peasy.

5) Sea To Summit Silk Sleeping Bag Liner

I’ve always enjoyed sleeping bag liners because they give me more temperature options. It adds a little warmth for cold nights. As for the warmer nights, I slip into my liner with my sleeping bag draped over me. They also make for a guilt-free sweat session in my sleeping bag because I can easily throw the liner in the wash vs. my sleeping bag.

Needless to say the desert isn’t that bad as long as you’re prepared. Living in Arizona has been eye-opening and I’m glad to have this experience.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 4

  • Eva : Jan 16th

    Nice article. The desert makes me nervous as well, thanks for these tips!

  • Andy K : Jan 17th

    Nice article! Which type of sleeping bag liner did you use? They come in a variety from the ultralight (tho not warm) silk ones to the Reactor. Thanks!

    • April : Jan 17th

      I went back and forth but i ended up getting the ultralight. Even though they say it doesnt add much warmth, I feel like it did a nice job. Though I am a fairly warm sleeper.

  • Susan : Jan 18th

    Great post! You make me less regretful that I live here : )

    Your hat comments reminded me of why I have the Sunday Afternoons hat (there are lots of different brands now) with the fabric back brim. Bought it when I was carrying my kid in a backpack. For some reason he didn’t like having his nose chopped off by my hat.


What Do You Think?