Beginner’s guide to hiking in the UAE: seven things to consider before hitting the trails

From what equipment to buy to easing your way in, here's everything a first-time rambler needs to know

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As the weather cools, hiking season returns.

Nature lovers and outdoorsy types will be hitting the UAE’s many hiking trails over the coming months to enjoy a highly social and fitness-building activity, which people of all ages and abilities can enjoy.

“Being in nature can boost your mood and improve mental health,” says Nasar Husain at Greenway Adventures. “Spending quality time in the great outdoors reduces stress, calms anxiety and can lead to a lower risk of depression.”

For anyone new to hiking, here are seven things to factor in before embarking on your new hobby.

Scroll through the gallery above to see the UAE's top hiking spots

1. Evaluate your fitness levels

As with that January 1 trip to the gym when you want to go all out for your New Year’s resolutions, it can be easy to overdo your first walk by picking a hike that’s too long or has too much climbing.

First-time hikers should stick to short trails of 3 to 5 kilometres with minimal slopes and climbs. Also bear in mind that a 5km walk uphill is vastly different to the same distance on the flat.

“Unlike many other sports, hiking doesn’t require a high level of fitness. However, you should first consider trying some outdoor walking to get to understand your body's physical condition,” says Yaseen Tayyab, founder of UAE Backpackers, who has been hiking for more than 15 years.

First-timers can start by going out on strolls in their neighbourhood, gradually increasing the distance and changing up the terrain to build stamina and awareness of their abilities and limitations.

“Decent fitness and good body balance is always an advantage for hiking in the UAE,” says Husain. “Most of the trails are rocky, with a lot of loose rocks which can make for a slippery walk. But with a little planning and preparation, it’s an activity that almost anyone can do.”

2. Join a hiking group

Whether new to hiking or a seasoned pro, joining a group is a great idea to meet like-minded people and benefit from their expertise and experiences.

In the UAE, there are plenty of groups to be found online and on social media, including UAE Trekkers, Dubai Hiking and Adventurati.

“The benefits of hiking are countless,” says Tayyab. “You can get away from city life and spend time in nature surrounded by like-minded people, which allows for social connections, and get involved in physical activities at the same time. You also get a chance to explore the beauty and wild side of the UAE.”

3. Start by going on a guided hike

Through your hiking group, you’ll discover lots of organised walks which are a great way to start with your new hobby.

“We always recommend starting your hikes with an experienced guide at first,” says Husain. “Make sure you always travel in a group. Some new hikers may be slow; some may be fast. But the group should always hike together. Do not get dispersed and no one should leave the trail. Always follow the instructions of the guide and wait for others to catch up.”

“Due to the nature of the terrain, unmarked trail and sometimes harsh weather conditions, guided hikes are strongly recommended," adds Tayyab. "A guide would have expert knowledge of the trail and could manage emergency situations.”

4. Make sure you have the right equipment

“You don’t need a bunch of technical gear as a beginner,” says Husain. “Just a few essential items such as good hiking shoes, sun protection including sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and a top with long sleeves.”

Hikers should carry a small backpack with comfortable straps, containing a first aid kit, food and water in a thermal bottle to keep it cool. Clothes should be made of breathable materials, such as cotton and cotton mix.

“Avoid black coloured clothing,” says Tayyab.

5. Water, water, water

The effects of dehydration can be swift. Feelings of dizziness, light-headedness, fatigue and disorientation can occur if you don’t stay hydrated on your hike.

Hikers should avoid alcohol and salty foods the day before their hike and stick to water on the day. Steer clear of beverages such as colas and iced coffee as the caffeine can cause dehydration.

Sports drinks containing carbohydrates or electrolytes can also help retain fluid but should not be the sole source of fluid and should be alternated with water.

Foods such as bananas and citrus fruits are an additional source of hydration on the trail. Remember to drink lots of water after you’ve finished your hike, too.

6. Find trails suitable to your level

“There are plenty of beginner trails in Hatta in Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah,” says Husain. “Beginners can try the green trails in Hatta Wadi Hub, which is a very popular destination for families and kids. There are more than 50 trails with various difficulty levels and all are well marked with signage and maps. You can also download the map online.”

Fujairah’s Al Rabi Towers, which overlooks the beach on one side and Khor Fakkan city on the other, is another great option for beginners. “It’s really photogenic,” adds Husain.

Stick to the more popular trails in the UAE such as in Hatta and Al Ain where they are clearly marked as being for beginners, intermediate or difficult, along with trail length.

In Hatta, there are 17 trails for different levels and you’ll also find easier routes at Al Ain’s Showka Dam. Fujairah’s Wadi Tayyibah has plenty of easy hikes that are perfect for beginners and families.

7. Other things to consider

While we all carry a portable map around on our phone, you never know when you might lose signal or battery power, so don’t rely wholly on your mobile and keep an eye out for familiar landmarks on your walk.

“The terrains of UAE mountains are very unforgiving,” says Husain. “It is easy to get lost and cell phone network coverage is zero on these mountains. Any small mistake can get you hurt or cause injury.”

If you’re hiking alone, tell someone where you’re going and your estimated timings, and recognise that some trails may have steep parts or boulders and rocks to climb over.

“Some of the trails in the UAE are not accessible to saloon cars and need an SUV or crossover to reach the start point,” says Tayyab. “Also factor in any health conditions such as asthma or major injury from the past.”

Hikers should start early in the morning to avoid long exposure to the sun. Late afternoon hikes should be done as part of a guided hikes so walkers don’t get lost at sundown.

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Updated: October 19, 2022, 3:15 AM