Desert Hiking with Babies

After 25 years as Floridians, my wife and I never thought we’d become desert rats, but the moment we moved to Arizona, we fell in love. When our son was born, our adventures centered around our high desert home meaning he spent a ton of time early on exploring the desert. While this winter baby was bundled up for a couple months, it didn’t take long for our son to discover the joys and pains of “it’s just a dry heat.” That first summer, he experienced 106 days over 90°F and 30 days over 100°F…and yet, we somehow managed to safely explore and even enjoy the deserts of Saguaro NP, Mesa Verde NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Glen Canyon NRA/Lake Powell, and more!

Below, I have compiled what we have learned along the way to safely enjoy our hottest, driest adventures with the hopes that it will help others to enjoy the desert as well.

Quick Disclaimer: Do not take anything on this page as a professional, medical opinion. If you ever have questions or concerns about sun exposure, overheating, your plans to hike, camp, or do whatever else with your child in the desert, please consult with your child’s pediatrician.

  1. Babies & Thermoregulation
  2. Best Practices
  3. What to Bring
    1. Sunscreen
    2. Clothing
    3. Carriers
    4. Shade
    5. Extras
  4. Other Desert Weather
    1. When It’s Actually Cold
    2. Flash Floods
    3. Wind
  5. Need Some Desert Inspiration?

Babies & Thermoregulation

Babies are at a greater risk for heat and sun exposure related conditions. This is caused by a few things: their greater surface area/volume ratio which allows their body temperature to fluctuate more easily, their under developed sweat glands, their thinner skin that produces less melanin, and their increased risk of SIDS due to overheating.

Because of these things, it is imperative that parents and care givers take extra precautions to protect their children while enjoying hot desert climates.

Best Practices

Ironically, most suggestions for hiking in a hot desert are some form of “avoid doing it:”

Beyond “avoiding the sun” and “avoiding the heat,” the most important consideration is to STAY HYDRATED.

Finally, you should be prepared to identify and treat symptoms of heat or sun exposure related issues. According to the AADA: “If your baby is fussy, crying excessively or has redness on any exposed skin, take him or her indoors immediately.”

In general, if your child is turning red, is hot to the touch, is lethargic or vomiting, has a fever or elevated heart beat, or if you just suspect something is off with your child, get them where it is shaded and cool as quickly as possible. Consider a cool cloth or a luke warm bath to cool them down.

See below for a few of Seattle Children’s Hospital notes and recommendations for when things get more serious:

What to Bring


According to the FDA and the AADA, you should wait to use sunscreen on your child until after 6 months if possible. However, if shade and appropriate clothing are not available, the AADA also advises to use “a minimal amount of broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30…Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are less likely to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.” If you are unsure how to best protect your infant’s skin, please speak with your child’s pediatrician.

We love Tubby Todd’s mineral sunscreen, sunstick, and chapstick (affiliate link). Our son has sensitive skin that irritates easily and Tubby Todd products have been the best at keeping his rashes under control. The stick is especially great to throw into our hip pouch to easily reapply on the go.

Mineral sunscreen is great because it is effective immediately upon application rather than 15-30 minutes after application of chemical sunscreen…meaning we can apply it and get going right away and not worry about sun exposure. While chemical sunscreen is water resistant, it’s not really needed in the dry air or on a child’s mostly sweatless skin.

When applying, don’t forget to apply to EVERY little bit of exposed skin. This includes the tops of their hands, face, lips (with SPF chapstick), and even the bit of skin that often peeks through above their socks when their pants ride up.

Finally, according to Nemours Children’s health, avoid sunscreens with PABA or oxybenzone. For more information about children’s sunscreen, Nemours Children’s Health has a a wonderfully detailed article about effectively protecting young skin from he sun.


Cover as much skin as possible with long sleeves and long pants. These layers should be light colored, light weight, and loose fitting.

Many are familiar with the saying, “Cotton Kills” which is true in many outdoor situations because it retains moisture so well. However, in hot, dry climates, you want your clothing to retain moisture. Moisture conducts heat better meaning it will absorb the heat from your body better. A shirt that wicks away your sweat quickly means the moisture will evaporate before it has a chance to absorb your body heat. The downside to cotton is that it has a UPF rating of about 5 which puts your skin at risk.

Synthetics like polyester are popular among outdoor enthusiasts because it typically has the highest UPF ratings and because they wick away moisture so well. Many parents also love rash guards for their your children because of their UPF ratings and full body coverage. For reasons discussed above, these wicking qualities are great for hot, humid climates, but not necessarily in dry climates.

Finally, what about wool? Isn’t wool for winter? We definitely prefer wool in the winter but we also prefer lightweight wool in the summer as well…and here’s why: Wool retains about the same amount of moisture as cotton or possibly more. While cotton does retain moisture longer, wool holds moisture longer than polyester. What’s neat about wool, though, is that the moisture in it is chemically bonded with the fibers and therefore doesn’t feel wet like cotton! Finally, wool typically has a natural UPF rating up to 50! Our son has worn wool for every backpacking trip and nearly every hike.

Kid rocking his Iksplor wool in Chile

In summary: cotton keeps you cool in hot dry climates, most polyesters protect well from the sun, and lightweight wool does both extremely well!

Our son’s favorite wool is from Iksplor (affiliate link). Not only does it have a UPF rating of 50 and regulate his body temperature well, it’s incredibly comfortable and doesn’t get stinky! He’s worn these layers all over the desert and even abroad on the Tour du Mont Blanc and the W Trek in Chile.

Get a wide brimmed sun hat with a chin strap to ensure it always stays on their head! We do have sunglasses and use them from time to time, but we are still practicing with our little one…they are definitely valuable and worth using while walking on highly reflective sand and rocks. If your child walks, get them shoes. Sand gets incredibly hot and can seriously burn the skin of a barefoot child. We never thought it would happen, but we’ve become a Croc family. He just looks so stinking cute in ’em and they are perfect for the desert!


If you’re using a soft side carrier, look for an all season carrier that has extra vents or mesh panels. If you’re using a structured carrier, find one with a sunshade.


Sun Umbrella – We don’t use or have a sun umbrella, but many parents online swear by these. Give it a try and maybe you’ll become a fan too!

KidCo PeaPod Tent – We’ve only really used this when sitting on the beach along Lake Powell or the Colorado River or when backpacking.

A note about the PeaPod and tents in general. During the day, tents easily become ovens. Do not think setting it up quickly will create a cool place to relax in and beat the heat. It just doesn’t work that way. Find some other shade that’s not enclosed and find the breeze. If your child must be in the tent or PeaPod, open all the flaps and create as much air flow as possible. Possibly also consider a fan. Finally, for the same reasons, do NOT cover a child in a stroller with a blanket to shield them from the sun. Again, this will turn the stroller into an oven and can be very dangerous.


Sit Pad, Changing Pad, or Sleeping Pad – Sand is hot and babies need diaper changes. Be sure you have something to cover the ground for your child.

Good Lotion and Aquaphor for afterwards. Your child’s skin will dry out and may easily become irritated. Be sure to lotion multiple times a day and use ointment for rashes. Again, we love Tubby Todd’s lotions (affiliate link) for our son.

Cooling Towel‘s are great to help your child cool off quickly or stay cool if you’re hiking in areas with less shade.

Stroller Fan‘s are great for on the go. We don’t carry this when hiking backpacking but always have one handy for the car after a hot hike and in the stroller for more casual stroller friendly hikes.

Garmin InReach Mini – Ever since my parents and in-laws put their own minds at ease by getting us an emergency GPS, we have taken it on every single adventure. It’s just an extra bit of comfort knowing we can get help if need be, especially now with a small child in tow.

Other Desert Weather

When It’s Actually Cold

3 times to consider when temperatures will drop:

Obviously, winter is cold. However, many people forget that the desert isn’t always hot. So far, this winter (’22-’23), my home has received maybe 6 or 7 inches of snow. It’s not a ton, but it’s still shocking to many.

Our desert home this winter

For those spending a night out in the desert, know that sand and dry air do not retain heat well. Because of this, nights can get cool, even in the summer. Be sure to bring a good insulating sleeping pad and a couple layers to wear in the evening.

Finally, slot canyons are often way cooler than their surrounding areas. Because they receive less sunlight throughout the day, they become a bit of an oasis from the sweltering heat just above. Definitely consider bringing an extra light layer or wind breaker for your little one (and yourself) if you plan to play in the canyons!

Flash Floods

If you are entering a canyon, especially a slot canyon, pay close attention to the weather…but not necessarily where you are. Watch for rain up canyon from you. Rain many, many miles away can drain into your canyon and put you in danger of a flash flood. While in the canyon, pay close attention to the closest high grounds or places to exit the canyon. If you are not in a canyon but come upon a wash that is flashing, do not attempt to cross, either by foot or by car. Canyons and washes flash most often during the summer monsoon season, so always pay close attention to the weather, speak to rangers about current risks, and heed any warnings you receive.


You don’t want your baby breathing in anything extra besides clean air. That being said, when it gets windy in the desert, sand and dust are picked up and tossed about. Besides breathing in these particles, you and your child can easily get sand in your eyes which can be very irritating. Also, during summer when forest fires in places like California are more prevalent, the smoke and ash are oftentimes brought all the way to the desert by the wind. If the air is too polluted by sand, dust, smoke, or ash, consider an indoor activity that day and hope the wind dies down tomorrow.

Need Some Desert Inspiration?

Overnight in Coyote Gulch with a 14 month old.
Overnight in Bryce Canyon’s backcountry with a 5 month old.
Day hike to Mount Ellen’s summit in Southern Utah
Colorado River Rafting, Rim to Rim, and Havasu Falls…with no kid 🙂

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