1) How to choose desert footwear
Looking after your feet is paramount to any desert expedition and this starts with a lightweight and breathable pair of walking boots. Here’s some of our top tips for desert boot selection:
They should be well broken in but not too old.
Make sure they’re still a good fit after a long day on your feet, feet tend to swell in the heat!
They should have a structured sole unit that is not too soft, you need some protection.
A gusseted tongue helps to keep sand out of the boot and reduce rubbing.
Beware that a gore-tex lining in a boot (for waterproofing) can reduce breathability.
We prefer fabric boots to leather for maximum breathability and minimum weight.
Some brands worn on our expeditions include include Magnum, Lowa and Meindl.
It’s well worth getting your feet measured and finding a boot that you’re really happy with. A desert expedition can be hard on your feet so take the time to find the best desert boot for you.
2) Socks for deserts
Socks are a very personal thing and something you will really only get right after trying a few options. Choose something that keeps your sweating to a minimum and is capable of wicking away moisture. Whilst it may seem counterintuitive, wool is actually a very good option, thanks to its natural wicking properties. Blisters commonly occur because moisture sits on the skin and combines with friction – reducing the number of blisters you might experience is a really good idea!
We prefer a sock that is made of natural fibres but avoid cotton as it retains moisture. A synthetic liner sock for wicking and reduction of friction is another option, just remember to see if it works for you and specifically in your desert boot.
3) Trousers and underwear
The best type of trousers are lightweight cotton combat trousers. These are the most comfortable in desert conditions and the additional pockets on the sides provide really handy places to keep bits of kit within easy reach. There are also some alternative nylon options with elastane for extra stretch. A convertible pant (zip off) does give the option of shorts which can be handy if you want to cool off, however bear in mind the zips can often fail when filled with sand.Above all you will want to consider sun protection by covering your skin; imagine you are walking in the permanent shade offered by your loose fitting clothes..
Think breathable and ventilated but with some toughness in the material, as deserts tend to be full of abrasive rocks and prickly things! As with all your gear, give them a good test and make sure they don’t rub in unexpected places or sit awkwardly on your boots.
Cotton underwear may be comfortable, however beware that it also retains moisture and may increase chafing. Another alternative is a synthetic material with moisture-wicking properties. Much like socks, it’s a personal thing and one that should definitely be tested before any hiking situation. Just remember the most comfortable underwear for sitting at a desk may not translate to desert hiking!
4) Shirts and t-shirts and insulation
Cotton has a bad name in the outdoor clothing industry because it can retain moisture, but the desert is one place where cotton comes into its element as it is comfortable and its moisture retention can really help keep you cool.
All t-shirts should be made of cotton and preferably be long-sleeved which gives additional sun protection and is also a bit warmer in the evenings. Many of the more technical shirts give a UPF rating which can be a good guide, and some come with mesh ventilation flaps. Flat lock seams can also be great for reducing abrasion when you’re carrying a backpack for long periods.
It’s also a must to take a jumper or jacket for the evenings as it does get really cold in the desert once the sun has gone down. There’s some great synthetic fill, or down filled insulated jackets that pack down really small and have a really good warmth to weight ratio. You’ll be glad to pull one of these on when the temperature drops at night.
These should be of a good quality with category 4 lenses. Here’s a guide to how categories for lenses work. Choose a reputable brand and remember price isn’t an indication of protection. Brands such as Bloc are relatively inexpensive but have clear category labelling.
Desert hats must be wide-brimmed and made of cotton or breathable natural fibres. Do not bring a baseball cap as they do not provide enough sun protection. A hat can be a huge relief when there’s no option of shade from the sun. Check the UPF rating and it’s always an advantage to have a wind cord to keep it in place when the desert winds pick up. Remember, even heads expand in the heat so don’t go too tight on the fit.