Desert clothing and health

Health in the desert

Most desert illnesses are caused by excessive exposure to sun and heat. They can be avoided by keeping head and body covered and remaining in shade until sundown. Constipation and pain in passing urine are common and salt-deficiency can lead to cramps.

Continued heavy sweating on the body coupled with rubbing by clothing can produce blockages in the sweat glands and an uncomfortable skin irritation known as prickly heat.

Heat cramps, leading to heat exhaustion, heat stroke and serious sunburn are all dangers. A gradual increase in activity and daily exposure to the sun will build up a defense- provided that plenty of drinking water is available.

Various microorganisms attack the moist areas of the body- the crevices of the armpits, groin and between the toes. Prevention and treatments are to keep these areas clean and dry.

Warning : 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.

Clothing for desert survival

Do not strip off your clothes. Apart from the risk of severe sunburn, an uncovered body will lose sweat through evaporation requiring even more 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.


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.


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.

3 Responses

  1. Amratya Saraswat says:

    Should have more information

  2. Tom Poteet says:

    I am 77. I need to be active. In this hot weather I want some clothing from the skin out. What is available?
    Thank you for your kind consideration.

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