Home Knowledge Sun, Sand, and Safety: Sossusvlei Desert Survival Tale

Sun, Sand, and Safety: Sossusvlei Desert Survival Tale


Maybe not the most important, but one of the questions we discussed for the longest time when we started our hike through the Sossusvlei Desert National Park in Namibia.  Let me tell you a little about desert safety and what you can learn from our mistakes.

The relentless sun The biggest adversary in the desert is the sun. It has many effects:
Dehydration: Always take more water than you expect to need. A minimum of 4 litres per person per day is recommended. Remember that thirst is not a good indicator; you may already be dehydrated if you are thirsty.  I took 1.5 litres for a 2–3-hour hike. Others in our group took nothing. So I shared my water, and it was gone within 1 hour. So I didn’t climb the “Big Daddy” dune to avoid dehydration and cooled off in the shade of an old tree in Deadvlei to walk back to the car where we had enough water for everyone.

Sunburn: Direct sunlight can cause severe sunburns sooner than you think. Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to the skin. Everyone got this right!

Heat exhaustion: This is a precursor to heat stroke. Symptoms include profuse sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea and headache. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, they should stay in the shade, drink water, and cool down immediately. Some of our group decided to climb the dune “Big Daddy” and got symptoms of heat stroke. Even though the view is promising, turn around and seek shade if you feel dizzy or faint. Late effects such as headaches or vomiting should also be monitored. Check-in with your group the evening or morning after sun exposure and drink plenty of water. WATER, not beer!

Navigational nuances. The desert can be disorienting. Without clear landmarks, one dune may be indistinguishable from the next.
Time your trip: Travel during more relaxed times – early morning or late afternoon. Avoid trips during midday when the sun is most intense.

Guess what time we arrived at the dunes? Yep! 12:00 noon. Not good!
Landmarks and navigation aids: Take a reliable compass or GPS device with you. Always inform someone of your planned route and estimated time of return. We did this right by having a downloaded GPS map on our phone and not leaving the designated routes.

Mirages: Realise that the shimmering water you see in the distance may be an optical illusion created by bending light rays. Do not deviate from your planned path to pursue them. As a rider, we, or at least I, also used polarised sunglasses to minimise this illusion effect and protect my eyes.


Flora, fauna and flash floods


The desert is not devoid of life. Respect the ecosystem and be aware of the dangers:


Wildlife and Plants: Many desert animals are nocturnal and do not come out until the more relaxed night. Beware of poisonous snakes, scorpions, and other animals. Some desert plants, such as cacti, can be prickly or poisonous. Avoid touching unfamiliar plants or animals. Wear closed-toed shoes and avoid putting your hands or feet where you cannot see.


We saw various animals on our way to Sossusvlei, but none were poisonous. You sink into the sand with heavy boots but can burn your feet on the hot sand without shoes. So, at least wear socks when walking through the desert. Lightweight, comfortable sneakers are better, and the optimum is desert boots that are lightweight and closed to keep sand out.

Flash floods: Desert rains, even if infrequent, can cause sudden and severe floods. Avoid camping in dry riverbeds, and always use caution when the sky looks threatening. In general, camp only in official campgrounds to avoid raids, fines for wild camping, and natural hazards. Even if it looks like all the campgrounds are booked, call and ask. Sometimes, they can still find a spot for you and your tent.

I hope you learned something today! If you want to learn more about my work as a Security Risk Manager at FOXPEDITION, connect with me on LinkedIn or Instagram under inga_faust.

These articles might interest you: