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hello is it possible to survive in an extremely arid desert like area's of the Sahara desert where there is nothing but sand dunes for miles with no tools, water, or supplies?

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Hi there,

It is possible to survive in what appears to be extremely arid, barren deserts.  There are many groups of indigenous people that have been able to thrive in these areas.  The secret is that what appears to be barren may actually be abundant if you know where to look and if you manage the land the way native people did for thousands of years.  Humans require a lot of food and water to live long term on a piece of land and there is no way around that. But often what native people ate might not be obvious to us when we look out onto a landscape.  Unfortunately most landscapes are WAY less productive than they once were when hunter-gatherers were managing them.  

Good question.

- Connor

interesting, thank you, do you know of any place to find more info on how to do this? I am interested more specifically in arid sand deserts like the ones I describe. If you can survive in places like this you can survive anywhere. the closest I have to being able to survive in the desert with no extra tools is keeping 3 ft by 3ft sheets of plastic to make multiple solar stills in my wallet at all times. From what I studied, one can get water from this even in the most arid of desert climates.

Here is one book that has a lot of good information on survival skills in dry climates of California: http://www.amazon.com/Survival-Skills-Native-California-Campbell/dp...

Always practice what you read.  There is a ton of false information out there.  I've experienced solar stills producing WAY less water than I was hoping for, even in wet ground close to the water table.  I would not expect one to produce any substantial amount of water at all if the ground was really dry.  

There is a difference between surviving for a couple days in a place and living off the land long term.  I recommend looking to the native people that lived in a region similar to what you want to survive in.  Search anthropological text on those people and see what they did to survive.  Good luck, let me know if you have any other questions.

Connor 

interesting, I was under the impression that one could not live off of the land in the desert. if you were out unintentionally in a sand dune covered desert what would you do?

There are many different peoples that have lived in and continue to live in arid lands around the world.  Some of the more well known are the Berber and Taureg peoples of Saharan Africa.  Or the Bedouin peoples of the highly arid middle east regions. 

Various Aboriginal tribes lived in very arid, sandy areas in Australia. 


What would you do if you were in a sand dune covered desert? There is no quick answer to that.

Depends on what was available to you, what you had with you, what the current temperatures were, and what you could see around you, and so on...

As Connor pointed out, there is a distinction to be made between surviving temporarily, and living for extended periods, in very arid regions.  Look in to the ways of living of some of the Native peoples mentioned here, and you will find lots of fascinating information about extended living in such environments.  Native people are the true masters of surviving in such landscapes...

My experience with having explored and research the extensive sand dune areas in North America, is that generally such sandy deserts generally have other land features within sight of the dunes... such as mountains, lakes, forests, etc.  The vision of sand dunes stretching from horizon to horizon is something that can only be found in limited areas of the world such as parts of the Gobi or Sahara, and a select few other locations.


Desert survival is about minimizing water loss, avoiding time of high heat, having very precise knowledge of the land (i.e. where food and water can be found, what kinds of plants can be eaten and when, what kinds of animals can be eaten or should be avoided) and so on.  Such knowledge must be earned through persistence and hard work.  Native people gained such knowledge through tons of field time and through learning which was passed down through the generations. 

One of the best places to start learning about desert survival (outside of what was already mentioned here) is to study its ecology as a naturalist.  Another words, learning the plants, animals, fungi, geology, weather of the area.

Ultimately, knowledge of the land is what keeps you alive...

what would you do if you were in the sahara with no tools or water?

Soldier1, did you read my message above?

If you are looking for specific methods used by people to survive in that environment I recommend following up the suggestions Connor and I gave you.  Our knowledge of the Sahara region is limited, but there are people that live there permanently and who know how to survive.  See above message for the names of some of those peoples.

If you are speaking generally...

Depends on what is around you.  First, stop and assess the situation.  Look for an oasis, if possible.  Look for the tracks of a camel caravan, road or similar signs of human traffic and seek help as soon as possible.  Also, it might help to know what animals in that environment require water regularly, learn to recognize their tracks, and follow them to water.


If you are unable to locate water within a few days, or at the most extreme times within 1 day, you will likely collapse from dehydration and heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  I can't speak for you as an individual as far as your endurance or physical limits, but generally 3 days without water in an extreme desert environment is fatal to the average human.   

That kind of environment is so extreme that if you are unable to acquire any water and get out of the extreme heat, your body will be sucked dry by the very air itself within a relatively short time.  Your body will end up mummified within a week or two.

yes I am taking your advise seriously. I am researching berber and more specifically Tuareg culture. but the actual techniques they use is information that is difficult to come by. I appreciate the help, Do you know if the center of the Sahara is one that applies to the deserts that seem barren, but hold resources?

for the solar still I have read a theory that if instead on making a circular hole, make shell shaped hole, or a half circle, with one side of the hole being circular and the other side just a flat wall side, and the slope inside of the hole leads down to the flat wall side instead of the center, this is where the cup will go as well, the weighted slope in the plastic must follow to where the cup is too. Then pile the dirt, sand along the straight flat wall to make consistent shade all day over the cup portion of the plastic, so to keep the water in the collection cup from evaporating as quickly, what do you guys think?

yes I am taking your advise seriously. I am researching berber and more specifically Tuareg culture. but the actual techniques they use is information that is difficult to come by. I appreciate the help, Do you know if the center of the Sahara is one that applies to the deserts that seem barren, but hold resources?

Great.  I believe that there are some resources in the center of the Sahara.  If you look at the Sahara on Google Maps,you can see a diversity of different landscapes including arid mountains, sand dunes, oasis areas, arid flats, and so on.  Again, not knowing the plants there very well, I would not know how many edibles there are in that area. 

But, water is certainly limited and very localized.  Also, there are likely areas in the desert that are mostly avoided even by the most skilled Native people because it is to dangerous (low in resources, etc.)

for the solar still I have read a theory that if instead on making a circular hole, make shell shaped hole, or a half circle, with one side of the hole being circular and the other side just a flat wall side, and the slope inside of the hole leads down to the flat wall side instead of the center, this is where the cup will go as well, the weighted slope in the plastic must follow to where the cup is too. Then pile the dirt, sand along the straight flat wall to make consistent shade all day over the cup portion of the plastic, so to keep the water in the collection cup from evaporating as quickly, what do you guys think?

I think you should experiment and let us know how it goes! 

In super-arid regions, the actual amount of water in the soil per square meter might be very low.  So a single still may only provide a rather meager amount of water.  Peeing near the still might help raise the water content temporarily, but that is still only recycling and at best, your only re-using a fraction of the water you expel.  The rest is lost to the soil and the air.

Additional thoughts...

Check out HUMAN PLANET and watch the episode on people living in the Sahara.  Gives you are real sense of what it takes.

Also, check out these books:

Sahara Unveiled

Skeletons on the Zahara

They both look interesting.

if one were caught in a sand desert like the sahara, do you think it would be worth looking for water in the ground? I know to look in dry lakes  and dry rivers and at the bottom of cliffs and drop offs, but what about just straight sand dunes for miles?

I would not look for water in such a place, unless there were some obvious indicators of water near the surface.  Randomly digging in a giant stretch of sand dunes is a good way to expire quickly from water loss and heat stroke. 

In certain sand regions, water will collect near the surface in flats near the edge of dunes, or in flat spots where several dunes converge. Or so I have read.  I personally have never found water this way.


Consider that when rain does fall in a super-arid land like the sand dunes in the central Sahara (which is very infrequently), it is not very much water and so even if you can locate such a spot it might have already been dry for some time...

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