Tips For Summer Desert Rockhounding

When it gets above 100 degrees (37 Celsius), I focus more on reconnaissance than mining. Of course, if there is a decent amount of gold somewhere, then things change immediately. Let me stay, though, with what I do more often in the summer: look for promising areas I can come back to later and do a little light collecting at the same time.

My hikes are shorter, far earlier in the morning, with a cutoff or return time to the trailhead of noon or just a little later.

Most areas I am now hiking have absolutely no shade unless you can find a friendly tunnel you can slip into. Good luck with that, especially in areas with little mining history.


Sunglasses are absolutely imperative. They must wrap around the side of your eyes or you will be a hurting puppy. Years ago I had a pair of glacier glasses like this and they were extremely expensive. These Vaurnets will now run you $280!

Much better for those of us who wear regular glasses already are these big glasses, sometimes called “Glaucoma Glasses.”

These are usually $25 to $30 in many grocery and pharmacy stores. You can get them in a darker shade. You can treat them roughly in the field and not cry when they break. If they break. I’ve had lenses pop out of them from time to time and they pop right back in. These scratch fairly easily but, again, this is field work you are doing and when you want to see something clearly, you’ll take them off. Again, it’s the side shielding that’s important  

You can buy ten of these for what those Vaurnets will cost you. You can buy those the next time you attempt Everest. Although I haven’t checked, I am sure marine and boating supply stores may have good choices as well. Expect, though, to pay handsomely for anything connected to sea going.


Here’s what I generally look like on the desert. Full coverage, heavy sunglasses, a cap with a bandana or a cap with a tail. In this case, I didn’t have my regular cap. I like everything produced by Pacific Dorfman. (unsponsored link) You can make a ball cap work, though, with a bandana. If I want to protect my hands from the sun I may wear gloves with open fingers. Gloves also help you slide over rocks if you are scrambling. Know, though, that every rock in the desert has some small and invisible thorns blown onto the rock from somewhere. 

Notice that I am overweight. That’s not too important if you are in good hiking condition. I am 62, too heavy, and have a bad left leg. But I can manage in the summer just fine, even if I can only hike with light weight. With the right clothing, good boots, and enough water, you can manage, too.


There’s a certain look to long distance hikers. I watch out for anyone who shows up on a long, hot hike without that look. Too much skin showing, shorts, perhaps a short-sleeve shirt. This is crazy clothing for the desert and I know I am going to be offering them water along the way and sunscreen. Sometimes, I almost force these things on people. I generally get two reactions.

If I encounter a couple in the middle of nowhere who are dressed inappropriately and look tired, I will offer them some water. If it’s a man and a woman, the guy invariably hesitates while the woman will look eagerly at the offering. It’s a macho thing, I suppose, and something that gets people killed. If they seem slow to answer, make sure you ask them if they need help. If they turn you down, note their location in case they slip into heat exhaustion later on. An SAR crew may be eventually looking for them.  If they need help then drop everything you are doing to help them get out  Don’t just make a phone call if you are in cell phone range, stay with them until you can get them back to services or until assistance arrives  

Take water, take lots of water. Cache it along the way if you have been in the area before and you know with absolute certainty that you are coming back on the same trail. No sense packing up all your water up a steep hill, only to bring it all the way back down.

Bladders are far preferable for hiking when you are putting on lots of miles and not stopping. If you are making a number of stops, you can get by with individual water bottles since you will be constantly into your pack. Still, a bladder encourages drinking more water by having it available right at your mouth. You will drink more with a bladder. I’ve used Camebackl products but have no favorite anymore. All leak at some point, usually where you screw down the connection to the bag. I carry bladders in the truck upside down before a hike so there is little chance of them leaking beforehand. Many people carry seven or eight ounces of reserve water in a bottle in case of a leak on the trail or a kink in a hose that lets water continue to flow out. All of us have had the sickening feeling of a backpack and shirt suddenly soaked with water from a leaking bladder.


I prefer heavier clothing when mining but for exploring and recon, lightweight nylon is really the way to go. It isn’t cheap but the better brands are more durable than you might think. I long resisted nylon because it had to be hotter than cotton. Which it is, in a way.

Tight fitting nylon shirts are indeed uncomfortable. Loose fitting nylon is much more comfortable and on a hot desert day you can pour water on your shirt to cool you down. That’s unlike cotton where the same trick will instead result in a clammy piece of clothing stuck to your back, taking forever to dry off. Full coverage pants and shirts reduce or eliminate the need for sunscreen, as much of this clothing has SPF ratings starting in the high 40s.

I like Columbia gear and I save money by buying at their discount stores or at Marshalls or other discount outlets. It takes searching to find any good clothing on discount, never-the-less, bargains are out there. If you are shopping for the next weekend, you’ll be out of luck. But if you shop throughout the year you will pick up good clothing at a good price. It may be an odd color but it will be less expensive.

I avoid REI except for their discount racks. Their house brand is excellent as well as the Mountain Hardware and North Face brands, but the best value for money remains Columbia. My friend says Columbia makes little in larger sizes for women.


Accessory belts are the worst. Make sure any pants you buy have a dead simple and lightweight belt system. Do not get a belt to fit the pant. They are all wrong, they hang down, they get in the way, they are complicated. Just make sure the belt comes with the pants.


Despite their vulnerability to thorns, canvas and nylon boots rule the day in the desert. Unless you are mining with heavy tools, full leather boots are just too hot over 100 degrees. Some brands may make Kevlar constructed boots these days, I don’t know. Nylon and canvas boots do not wear in, they are as comfortable as they are going to be the minute you put them on. Or as uncomfortable. The real trick with boots is to buy an expensive insole called Superfeet. (unsponsored link) Get the green color. They will cost as least $60, last no more than a year, and are worth every penny. They will most probably cure or reduce any strange foot pain with your sole that you’ve been having. I have them in every one of my shoes as well as my boots. Bootlaces break before your boots will.

The unhappy part of every hiker’s life is when their boots give out and they have to find a new pair. You won’t find your old model when you go looking. I guarantee it. Well made leather boots can be resoled at great expense, I gave up on my my very comfortable leather Pivetta Italian Hiking boots when new soles cost over $100 each year. And you need to find a good bookmaker  


Keep a dedicated pair or two for your boots, don’t bring them inside the house except to wash them. Always keep them with your boots in your vehicle. You never know when a distant peak calls and you must go. Have them ready. Lightweight, good quality wool is not scratchy and very comfortable. Think of a cashmere sweater, that is not scratchy wool. Problem is finding those comfortable wool socks. Don’t ever think of using cotton, it gets wet and rubs and will blister you far quicker than any other material.

Darn Tough socks are the best I have ever had. (unsponsored link). For three years now I have worn their everyday socks for my everyday wear here in Las Vegas. Yes, wool socks for 100 to 115 degree temps. This is not as odd as you might think, all the old school cyclists back in the 1960s and 1970s wore Merino wool jerseys and shorts. Far more comfortable than cotton and a Merino wool jersey is actually comfortable and a little warmth in a rain when temps are in the 50s to 60s.


Every pack has a loop at the top .  Add a locking carabiner to it. You can now carry all sorts of things when needed, like another backpack or ore commonly, some clothing to dry out or perhaps a tripod. Things will swing wildly from it but this is usually for short term use. I don’t use luggage when I have to fly, I use backpacks, sometimes tied together with the biner for a short while.  Get a real, climbing rated biner on the very remote chance you may need one and find you that you have instead a toy biner.  Daypacks should have a chest strap and a waitsbelt to better carry weight



That’s it for today, more later. I am moving to Pahrump, Nevada. Furniture moves in two days and it is chaos here.