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Desert Trekking "Updated" Packing Essentials Checklist
To enjoy a safe hike in the desert mountains such as the wadi pictured above in Ras Al Khaimah it is important to understand what to expect and how you can prepare in advance by packing the right kit.
I've broken it down into 11 sub headings; Food, Water, Fire, Shelter, Navigation, First Aid, Communication, Clothing, Illumination, Sun Protection and Optional Extras.
When considering what item to carry under each sub heading I consider the weight and bulk of the item to see if there is an alternative that is lighter or obviously less bulky.
If you travel with more than one person, to some extent the kit can be distributed between the group. For example one First Aid bag can be carried between four people, as can a Satellite Phone which are normally expensive to purchase. Other items such as water and food should be carried by all persons.
It is possible for one person to carry all items which is why this list is based on one person and the total pack weight has been provided at the end of this post.
The pack i've decided to use seen in the picture below is 35 LTR. I chose this size incase I decide on a 24 hour trip with tent, sleeping bag and ground mat additional to the essentials. The actual list is based on a day hike with addition for surviving overnight incase you get lost past sunset.
When purchasing a pack I recommend taking one with a padded waist strap to help take the strain off your shoulders. Also a rigid back plate to help with air circulation to prevent sweating and to stop bulky items digging into your back.
Another plus in my opinion is to have a pack with side pockets (for water bottles), a bottom access zip (for easy access to items at the bottom of your pack) and zip pockets at the top of the pack for storing ready use items such as mobile phone or map.
When considering what food to pack, try to pick high energy/ calorie items which is lightweight. I normally pack fresh food for the day such as sandwiches and fresh fruit and dry food for snacks/ emergency or overnight use.
Some examples of dry food are; cous cous, vacuum sealed meals in a bag (the only ones i've found in Dubai are curry or fried dal), dried potatoes, biltong, nuts, vacuum packed tuna, dried fruit, home made energy bars (see later post for recipe), pasta pots, noodle pots, coffee sachets, milk powder etc.
You can purchase a small camping stove with mini gas bottle and metal pot for heating water (see picture) or you can make a small fire doubled with the metal pot also. The gas option is more convenient for rest breaks and they are relatively cheap to buy.
Some of the dried food may need water adding to it so this should be taken into consideration when working out your water needs.
For serving the food you can use a plastic fork/ spork and plastic bowl (see picture).
Other items to be carried in a separate pouch; Knife, hand sanitiser, wet wipes, tissue paper, matches, stove shield made from tin foil, spice pot (use pill tub) and small trash bags for collecting rubbish.
Food and Cooking
At least 3 LTR'S per person per 24 hour period should be carried. I prefer to carry two 1.5 LTR disposable water bottles. The reason is because they are easy to store and less likely to damage than a camel back that can be punctured.
The more water you can carry, the better because you will probably end up using it anyway.
Some people like to add salt replacement to the water but you should be able to get enough salt from food products such as biltong.
Disposable Water Bottles
This is more relevant for camping but it's useful to have a means of making fire in any case.
It's not environmentally friendly to gather fire wood from the desert because there isn't much of it to start with. Most people bring fire wood from the petrol station if they plan to camp near the car. In a survival situation you would obviously collect wood to make a fire.
You can make fire tinder by melting Vaseline and soaking cotton wool until the Vaseline is absorbed. These can then be wrapped in parchment cooking paper and stored in a small container. When you use them, spread out the cotton and use as a fire starter.
To start the fire you can use waterproof matches, a lighter or a steel striker (see picture). All should be stored in a waterproof bag
If you plan to camp you can pack a small lightweight tent without the metal pegs, a self inflatable ground mat and a small sleeping bag. The metal pegs are pretty much useless in the desert or on a mountain anyway.
If you don't plan to camp but need an emergency shelter incase of an unplanned overnight stay, sand storm, rain or sun shelter you can use a plastic sheet, pre-packed orange shelter or emergency blanket as these are all lightweight.
You should also carry some string or cordage incase you need to tie the shelter to a tree or rock.
I also carry a lightweight sleeping bag in a compression sack for overnight trips. The bag and compression sack weighs 850g and is included in the total pack weight at the end of the page.
Detailed maps seem to be non existent here. I phoned the local mapping company to see if they printed any scaled maps other than road maps complete with contour lines. They asked me what a contour line was and I left it at that.
I've managed to print a map using Garmin Connect which basically uses Google Earth images. You can work out waypoints and distances using the scale tool and it works pretty well together with a compass.
Other than that I also use a Garmin Fenix 3 GPS watch which I can upload the map to. The watch tells you when you are on or off course and you can use the paper map for larger images. The watch is also useful as it contains an altimeter, barometer, compass, sunset/ sunrise times, thermometer and a storm alert.
If you don't have GPS you can get by on just the map and compass, however a GPS is advisable.
It's also worth purchasing a mini scope to view landmarks from a distance.
Probably the most used will be just a plaster and alcohol wipe but it's also advisable to carry the following; Disposable gloves, anti diarrhoea tablets, aspirin, paracetamol, anti inflammatory, blister pads or zinc oxide tape, mini disinfectant spray bottle, mini tweezers, gauze swabs, steri strips and small bandage.
You can also carry mini eye wash bottles incase of sand in the eyes or just rinse with clean water.
The contents should be stored in a waterproof bag.
First Aid Bag
The main point here is to fully charge your mobile before you leave. You probably won't have phone signal in the mountains so you may wish to invest in a satellite phone if you do trekking regularly.
I also like to carry a portable solar powered phone charger and spare phone credit. You can leave a copy of the map with a friend and tell them that you will contact them at predetermined times. Probably not going to happen if you don't have a satellite phone unless you can find an elevated location with reception.
Again, you can leave everything in a waterproof bag.
The solar charger can also be used to re-charge the GPS unit/watch.
Mobile Phone and Charger
With clothing, you need to wear light coloured and lightweight. Carry a hat, desert scarf, sunglasses, gardening gloves for rock scrambling and a thin rain jacket. You probably won't need the rain jacket until the evening as the temperature can drop on the mountains. You can also carry a lightweight down jacket. Store in a dry waterproof bag such as the ones used for boating. Or just use a bin liner.
With regards to footwear it depends on personal preference. I like to wear trail running shoes with a good bottom grip that are lightweight and non waterproof. The reason I say this is because I have previously worn "waterproof" socks and boots, and my feet still got wet. Because the boots were so big it was impossible to dry them out in time and the extra weight on my feet slowed me down.
You may wish to have boots that offer more ankle support. Boots will also offer you more protection from snakes and scorpions.
They normally say to avoid cotton materials because they are difficult to dry and don't offer much warmth. This is true but in the desert you are trying to stay cool rather than warm so during the day a cotton t-shirt wouldn't be such a problem. You can use other, warmer materials for the evening such as a down jacket.
Clothing and Footwear
If you are camping then this is definitely required. I would also carry some kind of flashlight incase you stay out past sunset and loose track of time.
I like to carry a long range flashlight, head light for hands free, glow sticks (12 hour) and some kind of lantern. I managed to find a solar powered inflatable lantern that is super light and last forever. For camping, the lantern can be clipped inside the tent.
Make sure that all the torches have fresh or working batteries.
The torches can be used for signalling. To signal with a glow stick, tie a piece of string about one metre in length, snap the stick to activate and swing in a circular motion to create a light disk. Glow sticks are ideal because they require no batteries and are waterproof.
If you decide to only take one light source, I recommend taking a LED head torch.
Sun protection pretty much goes without saying so i'm going to include toiletries in this section. You can find sun cream in the 110 SPF range here so I would go for that to be safe.
Other toiletries include; Travel roll on deodorant, mini toothbrush, mini toothpaste, lip balm with SPF, mini comb, burt's bees wax, mosquitoes repellent and a small mirror (also used as a signalling mirror)
Put the sun cream and mosquito repellent in washed out hand sanitiser bottles to save on weight and storage space. Place all items in a waterproof bag.
Sun Protection and Toiletries
I've included this list as optional extras as these are useful to me; Passport and photocopy incase of border crossing and issues with police, A whistle, pencil & sharpener, small paper pad, folding knife, needle & thread, inflatable pillow and travel wallet with local currency.
Water Filtration & Purification
Trekking in the desert requires all persons to carry their own water supply for the duration of the trip unless potable water is available.
Water can be filtered using a portable filter such as the Grayl water filter or a home made sand filter. Sea water requires to be de-salinated using a solar still or boiling and collecting the steam with a cloth which can then be rung into a cup.
To fully purify and disinfect water, chlorine dioxide tablets should be added to the water for a period of 4 hours (30 minutes minimum).
Unless there has been a recent storm it is unlikely any potential water supply will be available and lakes with no entry or exit point should be avoided.
Feedback & Pack Weight
I hope that you found this information useful and i welcome any comments or questions that you may have.
Please comment if you have any suggestions that you feel should be added to the list
Total base weight of pack (not including fresh food, water & the gas canister) comes to 7,450g
Water comes in at 3,000g and the gas canister is 360g. Food is estimated at around 1,000g.
Total base wight and estimated extra weight comes in at a total of 11,810g (11.81 KG)