Your ultimate guide to camping in the desert; top places to pitch a tent

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Once the scorching heat of summer wanes and winter arrives, locals and tourists from around the world descend upon the deserts of the UAE.

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Cooler climes provide an opportunity to explore the iconic desert of the Middle East.

The desert has strange settings; stark and complicated, hot and cold, beautiful and barren.

The other-worldly landscapes, the golden sands, the wildlife and the stars can be mesmerising, yet the desert can pose a unique set of risks for hikers and campers.

So, if you want to awaken the sleepy Bear Grylls in you and go camping in the desert, make sure you know how to survive this Man vs Wild adventure.

Here are some of the basic rules of camping in the UAE:

 

Best time to go camping

We live in a desert country where the weather, for most of the year, is hot and humid to dry.

So, when winter peeps in, it’s the season to bring out the daredevil in you and go hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and desert camping.

The best camping season is from October to March.

The government authorities regulate long term camping, and people require a permit. Regulation for long term camping also varies depending on the location. Overnight campers may camp at any place that takes their fancy.

Safe places to camp in the UAE

Most desert areas in the UAE are safe and suitable for camping.

The owner and lead adventurer for The Camping Box, Joe Earley, said: “The location you choose depends on your familiarity with camping and off-road driving.

“The safest and most accessible desert would have to be Al Qudra, especially for amateurs or less experienced campers. The desert spaces near Al Madam in Sharjah are also easy to access but further from the city.

“For a real desert experience, Liwa in Abu Dhabi is a must, but you need time and an experienced group to camp along. The drive is certainly rewarding when you see the beauty of the endless dunes.”

(Photo courtesy: Robert Haandrikman)
(Photo courtesy: Robert Haandrikman)

Setting up your tent

Robert Haandrikman, a system engineer and an avid desert camper, said: “Setting up a camp, especially the right way, takes some time, so give yourself ample time and set up your tent during daylight.” This will also allow you to survey the surroundings.

Haandrikman also recommended finding a flat surface where you can sleep better. “Take the high ground when camping in the desert and avoid the wadis. Make sure to check the weather forecast in case of unexpected rain.”

When it rains in the desert, the entire landscape can change dramatically. In a wadi, your tent and camp can get flooded.

It’s not always hot

Haandrikman, who has been living in the UAE since 2016, alerted campers: “Be prepared for cold temperatures in the mountains and in the desert during nighttime.”

After the sun goes down, in a matter of minutes, you can expect temperature change from a hot 35 degrees Celsius during the day to sometimes even as low as 10 degrees Celsius at night.

Ensure you have extra clothing and adequate sleeping bags and blankets to keep warm.

(Photo courtesy: Robert Haandrikman)
(Photo courtesy: Robert Haandrikman)

Wearing the right kind of clothes

Wear light-coloured clothes and avoid black outfits, for the simple reason that black absorbs sunlight, while white and lighter colours reflect sunlight.

It is advisable to pack according to the expected temperature swings.

If you are packing sunscreens, make sure to add thermal layers and woolly socks to your backpack.

Joe Earley suggested campers to wear loose, lightweight clothing for the daytime with a sun cap. He added: “Take jogger pants, jumpers and warm caps for winter desert nights.”

Haandrikman said: “It’s recommended not to wear flip-flops if you go on an outdoor trip; wear good shoes with a good grip. In the desert, shoes can protect you against hot sand and also against unwanted creatures like snakes and scorpions.”

Water can save your life

One cannot stress enough how important it is to take ample water during desert camping. Keep sipping water regularly rather than guzzling it down when thirsty.

Being dehydrated in the desert is extremely dangerous, so stay safe by always being hydrated.

Keep a cooler with cold drinks in the car and carry more water than you think you will need.

(Photo courtesy: Robert Haandrikman)
(Photo courtesy: Robert Haandrikman)

Must carry equipment list

UAE resident Marina Bruce, also known as the Desert Diva, has spent 50 consecutive days in the desert and so far has clocked 110 nights camping in 2021. She gave us an extensive list of things one must carry.