Find your Way and Manage Your Water in the Israeli Negev Desert

Carrying a heavy pack and water that has to last for at least two days does not leave you a big wondering around margin. Your navigation skills and your ability to spot and follow the trail blazing on the rocks have an even bigger significance when you’re trekking in the desert…

Having that said, finding your way around the Negev Desert (which is a rocky desert – not a sandy one!) shouldn’t be that complicated. The Negev, which comprises approximately 60% of the land of Israel, has plenty of well marked trails which are a part of the national trail-marking project. Each marked trail is also marked on a map of that area fit to a 1:50,000 scale.

Water coming out of the rock at the source of the Ein-Akev spring near Sde-Boker

According to the rule of thumb that guides the trail blazers, a hiker should be able to easily spot the next blaze from the one he’s/she’s standing on, so theoretically speaking, navigation ability isn’t a must. But like I said, that’s in theory… Practically, what would you do if for some reason you just can’t find the next blaze on the trail!?

You may be thinking “well, I’ll just follow the beaten path and it’ll probably lead me to where I’m headed”. That would be the right and simple answer when trekking in a lush, forested area where the trail stands out from its green surroundings. But in the Negev Desert, recognizing the path won’t be that simple. Yeah, after some experience, your awareness will be tuned-in to notice the small differences on the rocky desert surface and you’ll be able to find your way even through short gaps without a blaze, but developing this expertise takes time. For this reason, basic navigation skills, a topographical map of the trail and a descent compass are a must for the amateur trekker in this type of terrain. When these are in your tool box, you will easily find your way and won’t have to waste extra sweat and muscle on wrong turns. Keep in mind that because the desert is low on vegetation and trees, the view is always open and the topography is easy to follow.

To sum up the above: a combination of the blazed trails&maps plus basic navigation skills will make trekking, hiking & backpacking in the Israeli desert a challenge that can be met.

So you’ve brought your compass, bought your trail map (around 80 Shekels) and planned your route. What more is there to know?? well, just a bit more – starting with how to manage your water supply!

We know that water = life. We know that desert = scarce water. So how do we hike or trek in the Negev and live to tell about it? Basically, we carry more on our backs… the calculation for your needed amount of water is about 5 liters (around 1.3 American gallons) per full day, per person – just for drinking (not taking in account cooking, washing etc’). Now If you’re going on a two day trek, let’s say in the Ramon-Crater area, carrying this amount of water is still practical, but if you’re going deeper in to the desert, the amount of water you’ll need would make your pack too heavy and turn it into a disturbing burden.

Tmille – a Bedouin word for a small hand-dug pit that reaches underground water good for drinking. You have to know where to dig…


There are two ways, basically, to tackle this problem. The first one is to consult a local desert hiking guide for information on natural – permanent water sources (for example, Oded-Wells near the Ramon-Crater) and seasonal water holes and cisterns (like Gevi-Hava) in the area you plan to walk through (these water sources usually need simple purification like chlorine tablets). This will allow you to plan your trek so, that you’ll reach a natural water source every other day along your trail, and carry water for no more than two consecutive days. The second solution is to have a local off-road tour operator stash water bottles for you at your planned night camp area. Then, you’ll only have to carry water for one day.

And most important of all – be happy, keep safe, and enjoy your desert Trekking!

For further guidance, help and information about hiking, trekking and other outdoor activities in the Israeli desert – contact us!

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