Context Wild cats (Felis spp.) are difficult to monitor because of their cryptic lifestyle and usually low numbers. Hair-snaring is a promising non-invasive method being used increasingly to estimate mammal populations. Aims Our aim was to carry out pilot trials of a simple hair-snare designed to capture hair from wild cats in arid environments. Methods Roughened wooden stakes were set at multiple sites on the crests of sand dunes and in swales in western Queensland, Australia, and in mostly sandy habitats of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts, Namibia. In Australia, stakes were sprayed with cat urine, extracts of catnip or valerian herbs as lures, or left untreated; in Namibia, alternate stakes were sprayed with a food lure of tuna emulsion oil. The stakes were checked for hair, usually daily, for 2-14 days, and the surrounding ground was inspected for tracks. Remote cameras also were used at some sites to confirm the identity of visitors to stakes. Key results In Australia, feral cats (Felis catus) were attracted to, and left hairs on, stakes sprayed with cat urine six times more frequently than to unsprayed stakes irrespective of whether snares were on dune crests or in swales, and showed no response to catnip or valerian. Tracks and photos showed that cats, dingoes or wild dogs (Canis lupus ssp.) and foxes (Vulpes vulpes) also approached and sniffed the stakes. In Namibia, F. catus, F. lybica and F. nigripes left hair on stakes, with deposition rates two and a half-fold higher at stakes with the food lure than without it. At least five other species of predators visited the hair-snare sites. Conclusions Simple wooden stakes provide a cheap and simple method of snaring hairs from wild cats, especially if used in conjunction with appropriate lures. Our results broadly support previous work, and extend the utility of the method to different Felis spp. in arid habitats. Implications Further research is needed on snares to investigate the seasonal efficiency of different lures. If DNA also is to be extracted to identify individuals, more work is needed to confirm that snares yield hair of sufficient quality to allow this.