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Desert Survival Know-How

If you’re thinking of going on an outrageous adventure then try travelling in the arid stretches of the Namib Desert? This is not everyone’s fancy or an idea of a holiday safari and only for the true hard-knock adventurist’s out there. So to help you plan ahead, you may want to study up on some desert survival skills before you take any decisions. Even the most experienced traveller can end up in a dire and severe situation for such an undertaking. Professionals have the tendency to usually arrive prepared for emergencies, so they survive these harsh undertakings. In general, these individuals have learned from past errors. With serious gained knowledge and a lot of common sense, tragedies will be avoided. That’s where the saying comes in “there is no such thing as being too prepared” holds true value when you are in a dangerous and underestimated environment like the Namib Desert. Please be aware, this small guide is intended for the pure “deep Desert” environment and not the Desert outskirts where bushes and trees are present. By sticking to certain guidelines, survival within the Namib desert is nothing more than a background with well understood plain old common sense with a few added hints, tips and good recommendations.

     + Here are Hippo’s basic and so with best Tip’s:

The biggest common mistake:

In this digital modern age, people rely too much on their cell phones or digital devices. But imagine the unfortunate event of a crash landing in the middle of the Namib Desert where no roaming is available. So we can agree that these devices don’t always work in such remote areas. If you are in doubt, don’t even bother to check with your service provider or any link to confirm coverage areas. Best idea would be, as long as you have battery life is to contact any service providing rescue (download .pdf link with coastal emergency numbers here). Professionals don’t even take such an option into account. It is wise to be sceptical of promises made about battery life and coverage area in regards to Cellphones/Mobiles.

Calling America’s Hotline “911” is impossible, and maps will not download to your phone. Especially in certain areas of the Namib Desert, you can completely forget about it. A GPS gadget will work as long as the battery life will hold, but one will have to settle with is a blue dot on a blank screen. Without directions, many of us will end up walking in a large circle, apparently hence to one leg being stronger than the other, or not the exact same length – debateable (?). A good way to test this theory is to stroll within a large open area by walking with your eyes focused on the ground approximately 2 metres in front of you. Observe what happens.

So how to guarantee that your walking in a straight line? The most simple rule to be followed which is true for the Namib Desert would be the following: In the morning walk away from the sun, rest in the afternoon when the Sun is above you and then continue walking towards the Sun once setting. Hence in Namibia the Sundowner occurs by setting “in the Atlantic Ocean“, you will surely reach a highway connected with various Namibian Towns/Cities. So without Compass or Cellphone (basically nothing), this is one of the best rules to follow to ensure your survival. In other words – try to follow and travel towards the West! If you climb from one dune to another and feeling a slight breeze you should be on the right way. Follow the breezy. A very BIG however is that this fact is vice versa in Namibian during Winter times (!). Air from the inland rushes towards the coast, passing over the Namib Desert making it the most famous yearly Desert Storm which can be expected during the time period. Below a small Clip taken on the highway connecting Swakopmund and Walvisbaai – those poor folks on the bikes must have been exhausted once upon arrival.

These Winter Desert Storms are not to be underestimated. The power from these Storm creates problems for coastal cities, year after year, sandblasting Vehicles right down to pure sheet metal.

As an all-around insider Joke from many hardcore adventurers/hikers: “Desert’s and circles is a match made in hell” – no pun intended.

So, how about Water?

In such an extreme survival situation, try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and hike only during the cooler hours of the evening or morning heading West. Most lost hikers (or other) have lasted up to two days without water in the extreme conditions of the Namib Desert. While many individuals, trying to find water in the middle of the day, have perished within three hours or less. One thing is for certain, you will never find an Oasis within the Namib Desert (except Namib Desert outskirts), so don’t bother looking for it. You will cough dust before you find an Oasis. This is not like Americas Deserts or the Sahara. In case you should have to abandon your Vehicle try to gather all the liquids in your Vehicle (eg. Water for the Window wipers or Radiator should it not contain any chemicals like eg. Anti-Freeze). You will need the supply, guaranteed! Also true for the Namib Desert, don’t bother looking for trees feeding on ground-water reserves. But if you do encounter some, expect them to be bone dry. Digging for water inside the Namib Desert is also a big waste of time and energy. You won’t find any guaranteed! This landscape is rough, dry, harsh and unforgiving! One needs have a serious survival plan for sure.

Knowing when to consume water is a good survival insight if you want to survive the endure. Don’t just consume all your liquid at the first sign of thirst. A better tactic is to ration it for yourself, taking smaller sips throughout the day if possible. Try to assess your dehydration by the colour of your urine – if it’s light-coloured, you’re mostly doing okay, however, if your passing is darkish, you should consider rehydration.

Also, a good insider is to carry a small piece of plastic or any form of a polymer. At night the Namib Desert is generally clouded with fog. Placing a sheet of plastic (or any non-absorbing water material) within an open Desert space throughout the night will condense fog into some drinking water on the material. Try to place the sheet/other on a higher ground but not on the top of a Dune. You don’t want the daily wind to disperse every droplet gathered. Although it might not be much, it will definitely come in handy. Rocks will also help out if you can find some(?). This is a severe measure, but nevertheless! A good teacher to explain what we are talking about here is to observe the Namib Desert Gecko (see Clip below).



Is it safe to drink urine when things get tough? This is a very debated topic but take a look at this article for more insight on urine hydration!

Keep cool!

On this matter, we have only one simple insider trick. As we all know, most heat from the body is being radiated and consumed via the human head or skin. Taken from practices adopted by Nomads in the Sahara this one works like a bomb! Take a piece of cloth which fits your entire head and drench, or at least dampen the cloth in water, should you have some water to spare (!).

You will notice that once you start walking that the always constant Namibian Desert wind cools it down drastically. Even with the slightest breeze! The harsh Namibian Sun is on a full check-mate and will add many miles or kilometres towards your gained distance. Also, it will keep Sand and Dust out of your mouth in case of heavy winds or storms. If you never tried this one then do yourself the favour and test it. This very simple method turns your entire cranium space into an Ice-Box, literally! You can always thank us later for this one. 🙂

Also, keep warm and more!

Many unfortunate events with people forced into a desert survival situation have the tendency to only be aware of the Desert heat. The Namib Desert (depending on the month) reaches seriously cold nights once the sun sets. Do not leave your warm gear behind, you will need them. Take them off during the day but have them along for the night. The Namib Desert offers you extreme contrast’s regarding temperature, there rarely is an “in-between measure”. If you ignore this one, be assured to freeze your socks off, …as they say (or freeze to death). Also Note, travelling at night is a bad idea. After sundowner, the Desert Reptiles start wandering and so with the Namib Desert comes alive. Accidentally stepping on something venomous is very likely! Another thing is Sunscreen. There isn’t much to write about this matter because in general, this one is self-explanatory. Without sunscreen, depending on your skin type, you will burn up sooner or later. Trekking for survival with skin-blisters is definitely a nightmare. Secondly, try to climb each Dune sideways and not on a direct angle. You will consume less energy hence the sand displacement with each step is much lower. On a direct climbing approach of a Dune with heavy sand displacement properties, one can put a general rough estimate of about one step equaling three steps as a whole. Conserve your energy, you will need it later!

Watch your step

Contrary to the belief, the Namib Desert is filled with venomous reptiles.

One worth mentioning is the hairy thick-tailed scorpion (Parabuthus villosus) which are active at night but also moves during the day. These scorpions can reach lengths of 18cm and can survive without food for 12 months. Highly venomous! Another one would be the Namib sand snake (Psammophis namibensis) a very slender and fast moving snake. In the Namib Desert, we have another exception to the rule, the sidewinder or Peringuey’s adder (Bitis peringueyi). This snake’s eyes are situated on top of its head, which means it can bury totally into the sand but still be able to see you, this is a sneaky little being. So be aware, to the untrained individual this snake is hard to detect hence it loves hiding below the Namib Desert sand. If thirst won’t kill you, these reptiles definitely will if taken lightly. (Image by Africa Geographic)

An interesting video about the Sidewinder (Bitis peringueyi) :

A nice documentary of the Namib Desert by Richard Klug (German):

Just for Fun, a small online quiz. Will you make it out alive?: 

Check out this small desert survival quiz. More based on other Deserts not relevant to the Namib Desert, so just for fun!

Also read this past Blog Post:

• 4 Desert Race Namibia

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