Clothing in the Desert

Clothing helps reduce fluid loss and gives protection from sunburn – as well as warmth at night and a barrier against insect bites and thorns. In the desert it should be light and loose-fitting, with air space between the garments and the body to provide insulation. Copy the flowing, layered garments of the Arab world. Trousers give more protection from insects than shorts (and guard against serious burns on the legs if forced into daytime exposure). Cover the head and feet.

The flowing, layered garments worn by desert dwellers provide excellent examples of clothing appropriate for expeditions into arid climates. Light and loose-fitting clothes protect from sunburn and fluid loss, while also allowing for cooling pockets of air.

Any hat with a piece of cloth attached to the back will give some protection to the head and back of the neck but it is better to copy the headgear of desert peoples. You need a piece of material about 120cm (4ft) square, a smaller piece, such as a handkerchief, and a piece of cord or cloth (a tie is ideal) to keep them in position.

Make the handkerchief into a wad on top of the head. Fold the large cloth diagonally, place it over the handkerchief, the long edge forward. Tie cord or cloth around the head to secure them.

Allowed to fall freely this will protect from the sun, trap pockets of air, take advantage of breezes and protect from sandstorms. At night wrap it around the face for warmth.

Sunglasses or goggles will help – though many made for use in temperate climes may offer insufficient protection. Soot from the fire smeared below the eyes will reduce glare reflected from the skin. Shield the eyes from glare and wind-borne sand with a strip of material. Cut narrow slits to see through.

Do not walk barefoot on hot sand until your feet have become hardened. It will burn and cause blisters. Do not wear sandals which leave the top of the foot exposed. Improvise coverings if you have none. Leggings will help keep sand out of boots or could be extended to wrap round the foot over open sandals.


Do not strip off your clothes. Apart from the risk of severe sunburn, an uncovered body will lose sweat through evaporation requiring even more fluid to cool it – but keep the covering as loose as possible so that there is a layer of insulating air. Sweating will then cool you more efficiently.


In the desert even the most trivial wound is likely to become infected if not dealt with straight away. Thorns are easily picked up and should be pulled out as soon as possible. Where the skin is broken a large and painful sore may develop which could prevent walking. Bandage all cuts with clean dressings and use what medical aids are available.