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8 Essentials for Desert Camping

I’ve gotten smarter about packing for our annual camping trip in Borrego Springs over the years, though one of us still manages to forget something. A few things on my list aren’t your typical “toilet paper, firewood, and food” items, so if you go camping, add these to your list.

1. A Fork (But Not For Eating)


You hike at your own peril in the deserts of Southern California. Teddy bear cacti (which are not as sweet as their name would imply) and cholla cacti are waiting for you to walk by so they can latch into your skin and live there indefinitely.

Surprisingly, a fork is a great tool for removing cacti spines. A comb would work too. Just don’t forget to take it on your hike!

2. A Shovel

There is no toilet in the desert, other than Nature’s toilet, which consists of the hole you dig behind a rock for privacy. You bury your poop so that wild animals don’t dig it up and eat it. So bring a shovel, as well as toilet paper and a bag, because you don’t want to bury the toilet paper. Mother Nature does not like that.

(Yes, maybe this is TMI, but I didn’t know the protocol my first trip, so I’m saving you the embarrassment of doing it wrong if you go camping).

3. A Fingernail File

Just after arriving at our camp spot, my friend Christina asked to borrow my nail file. As if she knew I had one. But I didn’t. She pointed out that in my blog post “5 Things I Don’t Leave Home Without When Traveling,” I listed a fingernail file. A bit embarrassed, I replied, “Yea, that’s when traveling. Not camping.

And yet, by the end of the trip, I’d torn a nail and needed a file. So, yea. That’s on my list now.

4. Lots and Lots of Water

It’s easy to underestimate how dehydrated you get in the desert (especially when drinking copious amounts of beer each night). Budget one gallon of water per person per day. It’s better to come home with extra water than to go around parched in the desert. Not a good look.

5. A Fire Container


We’re in a drought in Southern California, so the powers that be don’t take too kindly to you setting up a fire on the desert floor. Instead, bring a fire container (like a large washbin) to — yep, that’s right — contain your fire and keep it from wreaking havoc on the dry desert plants.

6. Pillows

Before you roll your eyes and say “of course you should bring pillows,” I have to say: we’ve forgotten them twice when camping. When you’re sleeping on mats in sleeping bags, you might not think about your head comfort. But you’ll regret it if you don’t. Trust me: a pile of clothes does not a pillow make.

And hey, if you want to get into the camping theme, buy a log-shaped pillow.

7. Baby Wipes

They’re great for faces and bodies, not to mention butts. ‘Nuff said.

8. Coffee. Do NOT Forget the Coffee


Despite much back and forth about who would bring coffee and who would bring creamer, someone (I won’t say who) forgot the coffee this year. We grumbled. We teased. In the long run, we were fine, but unless you want a lifetime of poking from your friends, remember to pack the coffee.

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