Kit for a Multi-Day Trek in the Dunes - useful for ladies signed up for the Women's Heritage Walk
Updated: Feb 6
Trekking in the desert dunes can be a magical experience, all rolling sand and expansive skies. But you need to be prepared.
Kirsty, Toni and I are often to be found in the desert with Escape Events. Last year we organised dune fitness training sessions twice a week through the winter and this is our second year as Guides for the wonderful Women's Heritage Walk, which takes ladies on a magical trek 120km through the UAE desert. I have also led groups on multi day treks through the Sahara Desert a number of times through my other work as a freelance trek and cycle leader and have explored the Wahiba sands in Oman, the empty quarter in Saudi and the Atacama Desert in Peru on personal expeditions.
All of these experiences could have been quite the opposite to a magical experience without the proper gear. The desert is harsh as it is beautiful and needs respectful preparation. So here are our top tips.
Gaiters: These are crucial to the comfort of your feet, keeping the sand out and saving you from certain blisters. Below is a great gaiter arrangement as preferred by one of our guides Toni:
These gaiters come with a velcro strip which can be sewn along the bottom of your shoe by a tailor. Don't be tempted to glue them because the sand and heat will lift the glue.
The gaiter has the other side of the velcro strip attached and then the 2 pieces stick the gaiter in place. Perfect!
Adventure HQ in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stock the Raidlight Sand Gaiters gaiters but phone and check availability before making the trip as they only had large the last time Toni looked. If not you can get them from www.myracekit.com and they do deliver to UAE. We have a discount code for myracekit which is Toni10, but just a heads up if you order more kit than the gaiters and your bill comes over 1000AED make 2 separate orders as you’ll be charged customs tax on any package worth over 1000AED.
You can then get the velcro sewn on at a sandal makers for a good price. There are many around Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This service was most recently spotted in a shop called Just a Minute downstairs from Adventure HQ in Times Square Dubai where they charge 110 Dhs + VAT for a 3 day service. Good to know.
An alternative to these gaiters if you have a shoe or boot which it would be difficult to sew onto would be a gaiter which hooks around the bottom lace with a strap for underneath the boot. Only use this arrangement if your shoes are not porous. You will particularly need the Raidlight gaiter type if you have a Gortex boot. Sand can go between the layers of Gortex and be extremely difficult to get out, creating uncomfortable lumps.
Head Torch and batteries: Harsh sunlight throughout the day can give you a false sense of security. Bring a headlamp in case you stay out a little longer than you planned and also for that 2am trip to the toilet!
Trekking Poles: So many to choose from. But what you need is a pair that fits you. Think perfect ski pole position. A right angle bend on the elbow when the pole touches the floor. Then it should adjust to be longer when you're going down a dune and shorter when you're going up. And, BIG baskets. That's the part at the bottom of the pole that stops you sinking into the sand. Comfy wrist straps and not too heavy. You can get these from www.desertcart.ae and www.amazon.ae You could also try the new Decathlon in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi. Poles reduce the pressure on your knees and hips and also give your upper arms a work out. They can also help to steady you on uneven ground, like dunes.
Backpack with a bladder: Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to take a sip. Many people only begin to feel thirsty when they are already dehydrated. A water bladder lets you easily get to your water and keeps your hands free for the poles. Your back pack should have a wide waist strap to take some of the weight on your hips comfortably. Our favourite brand at the moment is Osprey, stocked by Adventure HQ here in the UAE.
Cotton Sleeping Bag Liner: It can be a bit cold in the winter in the UAE desert and a sleeping bag can be improved (by a season) with a cotton liner. These can be made out of an old cotton sheet, plenty of great tailors here in Abu Dhabi and Dubai or you could spend a few pennies on a ready made one.
Sleeping Bag: You need to decide whether it's worth investing in a bag for lots of trips or if it's just for your adventure of a lifetime. If your stuff is being carried for you on your trip and you have plenty of space then you don't need to spend a lot on a light-weight sleeping bag. It just has to keep you warm enough. A 2 season together with a cotton liner (taking it to a 3 season) will usually be sufficient in the UAE desert in winter.
Undergarments: I so prefer a natural fibre down and around there. Especially whilst exercising. But you need to consider breathability, chafing, moisture wicking and seams. Runderwear is pretty good for all of that www.runderwear.ae Toni has a discount code that you can use if you like TONI15
Socks: There are many types of sports/ hiking socks out there and if you already have a sock/shoe combination that works for you then that’s great. My feet are far from pretty now after 20 years of expeditions and more or less anything works now. Some Guides would advise that you stay clear of cotton, which holds moisture and dries slowly. Toni's favourites are Stance socks and they currently have a big range at Brands For Less in the UAE for 14dhs a pair! Our other favourites are the Runderwear anti-blister socks. You can get them online in the UAE at www.runderwear.ae and remember that discount code that you can use, TONI15 if you decide you like the look of them.
Warm Pyjamas: A comfortable night of sleep is important when you are on any adventure.
Fleece Sweater or Jacket: Don’t forgo a jacket just because it’s hot when you set out. Always be prepared for the weather to change. Fleece or wool will keep you warm.
Waterproof Jacket:Remember, it does rain in the desert. And we have been caught in the odd sand storm where a bit of protection from a waterproof jacket works well. Carry a lightweight rain jacket in your day sack in case you get caught in a storm. There are many options for waterproof and breathable jackets, so take your pick.
Hiking boots: Your desert hiking shoes or boots should be light, durable and breathable.
You have 2 options depending on personal choice.
- Walking Boots can be leather/pleather or gortex. These can be paired with gaiters to stop the sand getting in. There are many places to buy walking boots including Adventure HQ, Decathlon, Jack wolfskin, Columbia. As above be very careful if you buy Gortex boots to ensure that sand does not penetrate the outer layer and get stuck between the layers of the fabric. This will cause balls of hard sand which will certainly cause discomfort.
- Running or trekking shoes (but not flyknit or similar) and full cover sand gaiters are another option.
Whichever shoes you choose make sure that they are a great fit and comfortable. And get them ASAP before your adventure and do your training in them.
Camp Sandals: Totally essential to get your feet into a comfy pair of shoes for the evening around camp. Nothing fancy required although it would be sensible if these have closed toes if you plan to wander from camp because of local desert wildlife and spiky plants
Sunglasses: Opt for polarized sunglasses to reduce glare.
Wide-brimmed hat: The more sun protection you have, the better. A wide-brimmed hat will keep those harsh rays out of your eyes and off your face.
Buff or bandana: The desert can get awfully dusty or windy at times. Cover your face and neck with a UV-protection Buff or a simple bandana or traditional Arabic headscarf. You can even wet this and keep it around your neck to stay cooler.
Sunscreen: Prevent sunburn by lathering on sunscreen frequently (broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher) and cover all exposed skin, including your ears.
Step Counter/Watch: Up to you, but you'll be surprised at how great a work out a walk in the desert is.
Toiletries and personal sanitary: We almost need a whole separate section for this part. You need to decide how much you want to carry and rummage through. The only absolute essential in my opinion is a bar of soap to keep your hands clean, toothpaste and a toothbrush.
Toilet Paper: Yup, you're going to be at one with nature on this. Also take small bags so that you don't litter the beautiful natural environment.
Wet Wipes: A wash at the end of the day is always bliss, but especially when you've mixed sunscreen and sand for the day.
Lip balm with SPF: Keep those lips protected, too. This is particularly important if you have ever suffered from cold sores which can be activated by sun damaged skin.
Personal Medication: Very very important. Put this at the top of your rucksack or somewhere accessible.
Ziploc Bags: Who doesn't like to be organised.
Personal Snacks: Lots of them. Always good to share a bag of jelly babies with your new expedition family too.
Phone Batteries/Chargers: You could also try out a solar panel and catch the rays.
Journal: One of my favorite things about getting off the grid and away from the distractions of technology is just taking the time to slow down to think about the experience. Rambles into the desert offer moments to reflect without answering any emails, posting to Instagram or chasing a dopamine rush from the latest Facebook news flares.
This kit list is the list provided to the ladies taking part in the Women's Heritage Walk with some additional explanation and advice but it may be useful to anyone embarking on a multi-day desert trek.