Phill, from Pokipsy North Dakota, wrote us this letter:
“Dear NegevTrails, I really love hiking, and I really want to visit the desert, but I’m afraid it’s too hot… what should I do?”
Well, Phill, The answer, as always, is – Have no fear.
Whatever season you choose to come to the desert, there is always what to see and where to go. Different plants bloom, sources of water change, and the lighting and landscape produce a different atmosphere at different times of year.
Your biggest challenge, in the summer, is, as you mentioned, the Heat, and it is important to adjust your hiking schedule so you do get to enjoy the landscape and scenery, one one hand, and stay safe, on the other.
Israel is pretty small, and yet it is important to remember that there are, in fact, two different deserts in country. The Judaean desert and the Negev desert are two different regions with different characteristics.
The Judeaen desert is a narrow and long strip, defined on the west by the mountain range of Jerusalem (the Judaean mountains) and the dead sea on the east. It is a rain shadow desert. and relatively low in elevation- with most parts of it below sea level. Temperatures in the canyons of this harsh desert can easily reach the 40s Celsius in the summer and even nights stay warm. Hiking in the Judean desert almost always will involve steep climbs or descends- but you might be rewarded with a dip into a cool spring.
The Negev Desert:
The Negev desert, on the other hand, is a vast region, taking up about 60% of the area of Israel. It is part of the global desert belt located along the 30latitude all around the globe. Parts of the Negev are rocky and mountainous and other parts sandy and flat. The terrain is very diverse and elevation changes considerably as well. Because of that there are many parts of the Negev that are very arid on one hand (desert, remember?), but at the same time are cool and even cold due to their elevation- up to 1000 meters above sea level.
This means that even in the summer you’ll find comfortable spots to hike in, with rewarding vistas and views.
It still can get hot in the middle of the day, so long breaks are important for safe and enjoyable hikes.
It is highly recommended to head out on your hike early in the morning, right for sunrise about 6am. Hie for up to 5 hours, till 11am, and stop. Either go back to your hostel and relax, or find a tree and pull out that book you’ve been meaning to read during your trip.
By 4pm temperatures should start cooling off, and can start walking again, for 2 or 3 hours more. Essentially you should plan to hike twice a day – either on two different trails, or along the same trail with a long, shady break in the middle.
Heat stroke and dehydration are the most common dangers for hikers along the trails of the Negev, but are also relatively simple to avoid. It is important to remember that most visitors are not acclimatized to this climate, and should take extra precautions. Drink a lot of water, more than you are used to- for sure, but also more than you fell thirsty for. In the dry air and direct sun, you loose water without even feeling it- so drink on a schedule and not based on thirst. Take a couple sips of water every 10-15 minutes and keep an eye on your urine. If it is anything but clear- you’re not drinking enough.
Generally you should plan to carry 3 litters on short hikes and at leat 4.5 litters on longer hikes. This way you can drink freely with some extra water in case of a delay or taking a wrong turn.
Heat stroke happens when your body builds up heat faster than it can get rid of it. This happens during physical activity and in hot weather, but not only.
Take plenty of brakes along your hike, cover your body from the sun with loose breathable clothing and wear a wide hat. Drink a lot and mostly- avoid hiking during the peak hours of the day.
What to take?
Additionally to water (lots of it), and a hat, always carry some food, even a small snack, to maintain your levels of energy. DO NOT hike without a map and make sure you can read it (walking out with a map in a language you do not understand is not likely to help much). you don’t necessarily need proper hiking boots, but closed shoes will protect you from sharp rocks and uneven terrain. Since reception is surprisingly good even in remote hiking trails, A cellphone and list of emergency numbers is also recommended. However, this won’t always work, so make sure someone knows where you’ve gone and when you are expecting to get back. Carry a flashlight or a head lamp, and for the sake of cleanliness – take a garbage bag.
What to wear?
We already covered most of this, but to sum up- Closed shoes, a wide hat and loose but long clothing to protect you from the sun. Some people prefer short sleeves and apply generous amounts of sunscreen, but this will only protect you from the sun if you keep reapplying sunscreen every 40 minutes or so. Long sleeves and a collar will do the job much more efficiently- just make sure your shirt is made of light breathable material.
It is always a good idea to keep one extra layer in your backpack, in case you get stuck in the dark, as temperatures generally drop at night.