How to survive in the desert
If you could have three items when stranded in the desert what would they be (besides a lot of water)?
A personal locator beacon to be used in an emergency so search teams will know I need immediate assistance and will come to my exact location for aid. Also a GPS to know where I am and to enable me to track routes on a featureless terrain. And a satellite phone to call in search teams and arrange a vehicle pick up. Personally the most important thing you can have is a positive mindset. You never really know what will be thrown at you when exploring, so having belief in your abilities and knowing how to react in difficult circumstances is essential.
How can you orient without a compass when lost in the desert?
You can use your watch to find true north. If it isn’t noon and you want to find your directions during daylight, an analogue watch with minute and hour hands can act as a makeshift compass. First, make sure the watch displays the correct time, then point the hour hand at the sun. Next, holding the watch in place, imagine an angle formed by the hour hand and a line from the 12 o’clock position to the centre of the watch. Then draw an imaginary line bisecting that angle. That line indicates south in the northern hemisphere. During daylight savings time, create the angle from the one o’clock position instead of the 12 o’clock position.
In the southern hemisphere, point the 12 at the sun, instead of the hour hand. Then, form an imaginary angle between the hour hand and a line from the 12 to the centre of the watch. The line bisecting that angle represents north (see diagram 1).
You can also use the stars at night by using the Plough (Big Dipper) to find the North Star (see diagram 2).
How do you deal with the heat when exposed to the sun?
The key thing is to minimise your sweat. Keep all your skin covered up, even though you probably think wearing next to nothing will keep you cooler. If you have to travel any distance do it early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s not as hot. From 11am to 2pm you should rest in the shade when the sun is at its strongest.
If I don’t know where I am, should I try to go north, south, east or west? Should I always stay in the same direction?
The first thing you should do is mark the point on the ground where you find yourself lost and use this as a starting point. You are far better to head back in the direction from where you came rather than going forward in the hope that you will find where you are going again. Try to find some high ground so you can see as much as possible. Look for signs of life, be it vehicle or wildlife tracks. All wildlife tracks will eventually lead to water, something you will definitely need. Once at a water source you then have to decide whether to stay and wait for search teams (search teams will head to water sources as they will think like you) or to carry on following the animal tracks in the hope they lead to humans.
What kind of food should I take on a trip to the desert?
First, you should think about how much water is needed to make a meal. Rice and pasta need lots of water to hydrate and will also make you even thirstier when you eat them. Obviously you should take tinned food with you such as corned beef and spam, along with tuna and vegetables. In case of emergency, I always carry several energy bars, an army ration meal that can be eaten cold and beef jerky that doesn’t have to be prepared, along with boiled sweets.
Is there any way to find some food, and how do I know if it is edible?
Food will be limited. The desert is such a harsh environment that wildlife and plants are minimal. If you are lucky you might be able to kill a snake, however for obvious reasons this may cause you more harm than good. Look for footprints in the morning as this will show where animals have been active at night. You might have the possibility of setting a small trap for the following night.
Where can I find water (and purify it if found)?
Finding water will be a huge challenge. Look for green vegetation as this is a sign that water could be deep down in the ground. Dig down and collect as much as possible. To purify it you can filter out the dirt using a cloth such as your shirt. Then boil it up if you can. If the water is really bad collect the steam in a cloth and wring it out into a separate container. Another way to obtain water is by building a solar still with plastic sheeting (an opened-up carrier bag will do) and some form of container (see diagram 3).
If I only have five litres of water left, how much water should I drink per day?
Finding yourself in a survival situation will be very stressful, which will make you even more thirsty. Ration your water. However, if you do not drink for the first 24 hours you may become so dehydrated and delirious that the water you do have has no positive effect on you.
Personally, I would try to ration 1.5 litres a day, however I would be resting up in the daytime when it is hot. Anything strenuous would be done in the cooler parts of the day in which the body would sweat less. Find shade and rest up.