Know Before You GoDESERT INSTITUTE
Activity Level Scale
Although we have done our best to objectively measure levels of activity by developing this scale, please take into consideration your personal health and physical condition when determining whether an activity is appropriate for you. The rating of our activities are based on terrain type, distance to be covered, and elevation gains and/or losses–which can dramatically increase physical exertion. We have also factored in the unique conditions of the desert, which may include constant exposure to the sun and wind with minimal shade/shelter, and extreme temperature swings. Please remember that regular exercise performed at home may not translate to the wilderness environment; hiking through a sandy wash with a backpack and without shade will be more taxing than running the same distance on paved roads on a cool and cloudy day. Prior conditioning or training programs may be recommended for strenuous or extreme activities.
Participants can expect to walk up to two miles on maintained pathways at a comfortable pace, with elevation gains/losses of no more than 100 feet.
Examples include astrophotography and writing workshops, field classes involving car caravaning, and wildlife monitoring classes.
Participants can expect to walk up to five miles, primarily on maintained trails, but might have the opportunity to explore off-trail and encounter patches of uneven, rocky, or sandy terrain. Elevation gains of up to 500 feet are possible.
Examples include wildlife monitoring classes, hiking excursions, weekend retreats, map and compass navigation, and other combined activities.
Participants can expect to walk up to 8 miles both on- and off-trail. Terrain may be steep, rocky, and require good coordination to maintain balance. Elevation gains/losses of up to 1000 feet are possible.
Examples include recreational hikes, rock climbing, trail running, and cycling trips.
Participants should be in good physical condition and have experience walking distances up to 10 miles over uneven, rocky terrain. Sections of rock scrambling might be involved, and this requires excellent coordination and balance. Elevation gains/losses of up to 2000 feet are possible.
Examples include adventure programs, recreational hikes, trail running, and rock climbing
This is the max on our scale! This is where we put our overnight backpacking trips and other endurance activities. Participants should be physically conditioned to walk 12 miles a day while carrying a backpack that weighs between 30 and 40 pounds, over uneven, rocky, or sandy terrain. There may be sections of rock scrambling. Excellent balance and coordination are required. Elevation gains and losses can exceed 2000 feet in one day…this is rare in our desert, but we can make it happen!
Examples include overnight backpacking trips and multi-day adventure outings in the back country.
The desert area is a very dry location and requires proper hydration at all times. This is especially the case during the extremely hot months in the late spring to early fall. The general rule to follow is that if you’re sweating, you should be drinking between 1 and 2 gallons (3.8 to 7.6 liters) of water per day, so bring ample supply. Please bring electrolyte solutions or powders to mix into water, as critical minerals can be diluted when drinking only water while exerting energy. The general rule of thumb for high-exertion activities is for every three liters of water intake, one of those should be infused with electrolytes.
Eat A Proper Meal and Bring Snacks
A day out in the field can be demanding on the body and requires consistent nutrient intake–it’s not a time to skimp on calories! Jerkies, nuts and seeds, sturdy fruits, and non-perishable, high-calorie foods are recommended to bring in your pack. Salty foods and electrolyte beverages help maintain a proper balance of sodium and other critical minerals that are lost through sweat.
The Blistering Sun
UV levels in the national park can cause skin damage if proper protection is not applied. Wide-brimmed hats, light-colored clothing, sunglasses, and clothes that fully cover arms and legs are a good way to avoid the damaging effects of the sun. Although it may be counterintuitive, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt may keep you much cooler than a sleeveless one!
Keep The Wild Animals Wilds
Do not feed the animals. Do not touch the animals. Leave any animal you find alone. Human interaction with the wildlife can cause the animals to become aggressive. There are several venomous animals in the park such as rattlesnakes and scorpions. Some animals carry diseases that can be dangerous to humans. The park is also home to creatures such as mountain lions. Most animals just want to be left alone. Be sure to educate yourself on the proper ways to avoid getting bit, stung, or sick.
Flash Floods Are Dangerous
If it is raining, be prepared to avoid flooded roads. The water flow might seem tame, but a wave of fast-flowing water-carrying debris might be just around the bend. If you see water flowing in a wash on the road, turn around and get to safety. This is true even if it doesn’t seem like it is raining anymore. It might be raining in the distance. It is safer to wait it out.
Hot, Cold, And Everything In Between
Although deserts have a reputation for being hot and sunny, this is not always the case. We see Although deserts have a reputation for being hot and sunny, this is not always the case. We see the whole spectrum of conditions, often many in the same day. It can be extremely cold, windy, and even rainy, especially at higher elevations in the park where classes often take place. It’s not unheard of to see temperatures below freezing, particularly after dark in late fall, winter, and early spring. Hypothermia is a very real concern. Most of our courses take place outdoors, so please dress accordingly and check weather.gov for conditions in the park for the duration of your activity. Be prepared for extreme temperature differences by wearing layers and bring ample sun protection.the whole spectrum of conditions, often many in the same day. It can be extremely cold, windy, and even rainy, especially at higher elevations in the park where classes often take place. It’s not unheard of to see temperatures below freezing, particularly after dark in late fall, winter, and early spring. Hypothermia is a very real concern. Most of our courses take place outdoors, so please dress accordingly and check weather.gov for conditions in the park for the duration of your activity. Be prepared for extreme temperature differences by wearing layers and bring ample sun protection.
For all activities outside, whether they involve hiking or not, please wear appropriate, sturdy footwear such as hiking boots or athletic sneakers–cactus buds love to find their way to feet. (This means no open-toed shoes and no sandals–nope, not even athletic sandals.)
What Else Should I Bring?
After you register, Desert Institute will provide you with everything you need to know about your activity, including a packing list. This information can also be found on the individual activity information page on our website. Some activities may require specific equipment. To find out if that equipment is included, you can look at the “what’s included” and “what’s not included” sections on our activity pages or in our Eventbrite listings.
Many of our classes take place in the park or other remote areas without access to amenities. Make sure your gas tank is full (or you’re charged all the way up in your EV) before entering the park. There is no potable water in the park, only pit toilets. Always carry extra food and at least 4 liters of water per person, per day. There is no cell service in the park. Turn phones into airplane mode to conserve battery power, and make sure you have a clear idea of where you are heading before you enter the park.