Hiking in the Karoo: best practice tips

04.08.23 04:12 PM Comment(s)
Hiking in any desert carries certain dangers, and the Karoo is no different. Advice comes from veteran hikers who want to warn of the issues you may face, but at the same time motivate a keenness to participate in the most intense enjoyment of scenery and sensation you might ever experience. The desert has its own beauty, unique sense of isolation, and mesmerising power. 

Tips to take care – and enjoy your hike

Choose your hiking time with care

Begin your hike as early as possible – before dawn – to get the best of the cool hours to kickstart your walk, and to get good distance under your belt before the heat of the day. So make sure you carry a good headlamp so you can pack up camp in the dark, and continue to hike in the evening if you have the energy. Hiking into the evening or even at night can be a fun and productive way to get miles in while temperatures are more tolerable, and your body doesn’t have to work as hard or require as much water. Hiking under moonlight can be enchanting in the Karoo.

The time to rest

An afternoon rest should be taken during the hottest hours of the day – 11am to 3pm. Rather than fighting against the heat, schedule your day so you miss it. As the angle of the sun increases and the temperature soars, you may notice that your energy is dwindling by late morning or early afternoon. But don’t push on into the sweltering heat. Rather conserve your energy and restore your stamina in a shady place, ideally near water if possible; eat lunch, nap, air out feet, and plan the next moves in the late afternoon. If you can, always seek out shade for any stop you need to make.

Keep your skin as cool as you can

Soak your shirt and bandana or hat with water whenever you get the chance. Even if the water isn’t cold, the latent heat in your skin will cool through the process of vaporisation. Tying a wet bandana around your neck is also an effective way to help lower your temperature as your blood passes through a major artery.

Plan your water supplies meticulously

Dehydration in the desert is a serious enemy. To survive in a harsh environment like this it is critical to drink a lot more water than you likely would at home. You will need replacement water of at least four litres per day. Aim to take small sips of water regularly throughout the day. You will also need to factor in how much additional water you will need for preparing meals and camping where you may not have easy access to water. You will need to plan spots to stop where you will be able to replenish your water supply. Carry supplies that include preparation for the worst. 

Replenishing salt

As you sweat, you are losing valuable salts and liquid. Ingesting a healthy amount of salt will allow your body to retain and use water more efficiently and slow the process of elimination through urination. It’s a time when salty snacks and such, are really good for you! Energy bars, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, biltong and chocolate are all good sources of quick energy and sodium. Snacking continuously will help to replenish vital electrolytes lost through sweat and keep your systems running strong.

Keep your skin covered wherever possible

Hats and breathable, lightweight, light-coloured (and therefore heat reflectant), loose-fitting clothing are essential when hiking in the desert. Make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and apply regularly, paying special attention to face, lips, ears, hands, and neck. It is important to be mindful of the angle of the sun. Getting badly sunburned can ruin your trip really quickly.

Protect your eyes

Too much exposure to bright sun, heat, dryness, and dust can cause irritation, headaches, temporary blindness, and permanent damage like sun spots. Wearing a hat and sunglasses protects much of your face and your eyes. Choose a hat that is breathable, quick-drying, and has a wide brim or long bill that will cut the sun out of your view.

Moisturise your skin

The desert is really tough on skin. Keeping your skin hydrated will keep it comfortable and healthy, and make a world of difference on your hike. If you are experiencing chafing or rawness, apply lotion before it gets bad. A key tip would be to take a jar of Vaseline to combat the dryness of the desert. Use it on hands, nose and mouth at night to soothe any cracks. Also use it blister prevention and apply liberally to your feet in hot spots before putting on socks and hiking boots. Use one with an SPF factor as a lip balm to protect lips during the day.


Make sure you are well prepared with maps, compass, a GPS if needed, and a phone with a spare battery pack. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.

Heuningland: African & Karoo tours to stir the heart and lift the soul

We are proudly South African and have a fervent love of the Great Karoo, its people and its unique vegetation and animals. We are passionate conservationists of nature and would like to share our knowledge acquired through years of travel and touring experience. We are therefore able to offer custom-designed and distinctively different tour options:
  • Hiking/camping trails or guided self-driving tours through the ancient landscape of the Karoo.
  • Tailor-made safaris to any destination in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana.

Find out more at: www.heuningland.com