Tips and guide to walking Australia's deserts (without doing a Burke and Wills)

Maddy Stopp has been a walking guide with Australian Walking holidays since 2016. She spends the summers guiding in Tasmania; and winters guiding the 223-kilometre stretch of trail running throughout the West MacDonnell Ranges of the Red Centre. See


The most obvious first: avoid summer. We walk the Larapinta Trail, outside Alice Springs, between April and September, but still the shoulder seasons can get really hot, with temperatures above 35 degrees in the shade. Everything melts, including mobile phones and chocolate (I eat confectionery snakes for that extra sugar hit). In winter, daytime temperatures average about 22 degrees.


The biggest thing people find when they come to the desert is the dry humidity. In Alice Springs, the humidity gets as low as 3 per cent, so the big shock factor is how dry and dehydrated you feel, yet you don't notice how much you're sweating  because it wicks away immediately. Hydrating before any activity is really important: the night before, load up on electrolytes. 


I wear moisture-wicking fabrics such as nylon and merino wool, and long sleeves are great for sun protection. Be wise, use sunscreen, even on the backs of your hands, with a broad-brimmed hat and sunnies. If it's really hot, change your itinerary. Start walking really early in the morning to finish by midday, or spend the day at a waterhole. People are often caught out by the cold nights: add a down jacket, beanie and gloves to the packing list.


The rocky terrain here is jagged underfoot, so boots with good tread and ankle support are essential. When I'm guiding in Tassie I wear full leather boots, but in the NT, my Salomon Gore-Tex boots are lighter and more breathable. Avoid cotton socks, which get wet and stay wet. Merino socks sound full-on, but thin ones let your feet breathe. And you're going to get blisters: be aware and tape them up immediately to save yourself future grief. Some guides use powders to reduce friction, and always air your feet in breaks and at night.


Keep moisture nearby. I recommend water bladders over water bottles, as you're constantly sipping, rather than occasionally gulping. And keep lip balm with SPF close by. On the Larapinta, we talk about the early European explorers who travelled here: John McDouall Stuart was educated by the local Arrernte people how to source water and nutrients here – the likes of Burke and Wills just didn't take the information on board. (They died.)