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

Awaken the sleepy Bear Grylls in you and embark on this Man vs Wild adventure


Ajanta Paul

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Published: Sat 20 Nov 2021, 9:33 AM

Last updated: Mon 20 Nov 2023, 11:11 AM

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

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.

  • Tent and sand pegs (longer and stronger than standard metal tent pegs)
  • Mattress – or a blanket/rug – plus pillow blanket/sleeping bag
  • Folding table, camping chairs or a rug
  • Head-torches, small lantern
  • BBQ, charcoal/wood, tongs
  • Coolbox with food
  • Paper plates/cutlery
  • Garbage bags
  • Toothbrush and a change of clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Sense of adventure!

Marina said: "If you bought a new kit bag, do test it out at home first."

"Firepits are also essential as you should not light a bonfire directly on the sand," added Joe Earley.

Make a checklist and ensure you already have them loaded in the car and double-checked before actually heading out.

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

Your mode of transport

You might be miles away from the nearest gas station, so make sure to fill up your tank to the top.

It is advisable to have a spare tire, as it can be absolutely life-saving if one of yours goes flat.

Earley said: "Whether you should drive a 4*4 car for camping depends on the location; some desert camps are accessible via saloon car as you can park at the side of the road and walk up and over a dune to your campsite. However, I would typically advise that for proper desert camping, a 4x4 is essential."


Marina said: "I have a Toyota Prado which is fitted out for overlanding; it is lifted, has two batteries, drawer storage system, inbuilt table and lots more extras which make staying away from home so much easier."

Wild animals and the creepy crawlies

After living in the UAE for over a decade, Marina is well-versed in its landscape and desert inhabitants.

"The desert is full of nature, much of it nocturnal, just waiting for the sun to go down before they venture out," she said. "During the day, you might spot gazelle, desert hares, lizards, escaped falcons and of course camels, including baby camels, during the winter months. None of these will harm you, but give mummy camels with their young ones plenty of space."

Her advice? Always wear covered shoes, such as desert boots that come up to the ankle.

"There are quite a few insects and reptiles out there, and although they are pretty shy and unlikely to attack you, they will retaliate if you accidentally stand on them. I have seen two types of scorpions in the desert, the fat-tailed black one and the deathstalker – a sting from either of these is unlikely to kill you, but it will hurt terribly, and you should seek medical attention without delay," she said.

"You might also see camel spiders, who, despite their grotesque appearance, are neither venomous nor poisonous. If you get bitten, clean the wound with antiseptic and keep an eye on it for a few days – camel spider jaws are laden with bacteria. Incidentally, you will never see camel spiders and scorpions at the same camp, as the former eats the latter."

In case of a medical emergency

Joe Earley said: "You should ensure you save your exact location pin and share with the person you have informed of your camping plan back in the city. If you can get the casualty to the roadside without further injury being caused, this will make access to emergency services more accessible. Call the emergency services should your injury require immediate medical attention."

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

Top tips from seasoned desert campers

  • Choose your location carefully. Research where you are going – don't go off the beaten track on your own. Check local laws, entry points.
  • Plan and tell people who aren't joining you where you are planning to be
  • Avoid camping alone and join experienced campers.
  • Take a fully charged mobile phone.
  • Make sure to fill up your fuel tank to the top.
  • Bring offline navigation tools or a map
  • Take more food and water than what you think you will need.
  • Don't get too adventurous on your first attempt, and ensure to keep all fires and BBQs well away from the tents.
  • Keep your tent door closed at all times unless you are using it. It's not just you that enjoys the warmth your tent provides – other creatures will like it too.
  • Respect the desert, the creatures and the other people who use it. After camping, always clean up your spot and take all the garbage with you, including fire and food waste.

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