As temperatures begin to drop across the UAE, it's time to make the most of the opportunity to explore the outdoors.
Camping has always been a big pursuit in the region, thanks to the dramatic, picturesque landscapes, undulating dunes, beaches and wadis providing an array of destinations to suit everyone from adventurous types to families with small children.
“Camping is a great way to spend time as a family, get the kids off the sofa and off their devices of a weekend and explore different parts of the country,” says Lisa De Wet, who lives in Abu Dhabi and regularly goes camping with her two children. “You can be as social or as isolated as you like; either going with groups of friends, or heading out to lesser-known places by yourselves.”
Her husband Michael adds: “The initial outlay involves spending some money, although you can always borrow equipment from friends. But once you have everything, you save so much money and always have a weekend backup plan for something to do. Just pack the car and you’re off.”
Getting started – pick the right tent
While getting involved in a new hobby can be overwhelming at first, camping has plenty of aficionados to provide expertise and information.
“Whether you want to go alone or with friends or family, camping is a fantastic way to connect with nature and experience the outdoors,” says Ethan Ball, author and camping expert at Millets, a UK store. “However, for first-time campers we recommend taking some time to research and think about your future camping plans to ensure you’re purchasing the right equipment for you.”
When it comes to buying a tent, there are plenty of things to consider such as how many people need to sleep inside, what kind of terrain will you be camping on and what kind of weather you can expect.
“Capacity, size, location and weather conditions will all determine tent type,” says Amrit Chhetri, cluster manager at Adventure HQ. “Options include traditional, telescopic, backpack and pop-up tents. You also need to evaluate the features and advantages of the tent and consider budgetary constraints.”
If chosen correctly and well looked after, tents can last for years, and you should look for one that can grow with your needs, whether that’s expanding your family or trying out more extreme terrains.
“Tents are a home away from home when you are on a camp,” says Shadi Habib, category buyer-outdoor living at Al Futtaim Ace. “For the first-time camper, we recommend choosing an automatic or inflatable tent that requires minimum effort to set up, saves a lot of time due to its simplicity and is multi-use.
“When evaluating tent capacity, the advice would be to go bigger with your tent. If you seek more room, consider upsizing your tent capacity by one person. A three-person tent gives a couple a little extra breathing room, and a family of four can find more comfort in a six-person tent.”
Other must-have equipment: sleeping bags, bin bags and more
Once the tent is sorted, you can buy as little or as much equipment as you like, although experts agree that some purchases are a must.
“Sleeping bags are vital for a camping trip. They are compact and tend to take up less room than your usual duvet, so are a much better option when space is limited,” says Ball. “Depending on the terrain you’re camping on, a sleeping mat or an air mattress could be the difference between a lovely weekend or one with minimal sleep.”
He also suggests insect repellent and bin bags so you can take your rubbish home.
When it comes to cooking, a good-sized cool box with ice packs in which to store food and drink is a must, and campers can invest in anything from stoves to over-fire pots.
“Camping chairs, camping stove and cookware with cutlery, water carrier, torches, lanterns and a first-aid kit,” says Habib of his list of essentials.
Chhetri adds: “Lights are a critical component of camping and hiking – lamps and hand-held. These should come equipped with features such as an SOS signal, emergency crank charge, high-density beam and lowlight settings.”
Consider the terrain
Campers are spoilt for choice in the UAE, with sites spanning deserts, beaches, wadis and mountains.
Terrain and weather are important factors to consider not only when purchasing equipment, but also for the level of camping experience you have.
“It’s important to think about the time of year you will be camping and what the terrain and environment are like around you,” says Ball. “This will save you from having to buy more gear for your next trip. Similarly, a tent should last for at least five years of continuous use if properly taken care of.”
Different terrains and areas will also have different rules and regulations. Campers should familiarise themselves with what is permitted or prohibited in the area, such as campfires or proximity to local wildlife. Similarly, beach campers should be aware of tides.
“On rocky terrain, having a tarp or additional flooring can greatly enhance sleeping comfort and prolong the life of the tent,” says Chhetri.
Camping in the UAE: where to go, what to know
Along with exploring the country, camping offers many benefits. It allows for a break from usual routines, provides a connection with nature with its proven physical and mental health benefits, allows time spent with friends and family and helps develop new skills.
“When people think of camping, they often think of camping in the wild in harsh conditions, and while that is an option, it is not the only type of camping,” says Ball. “Camping is a great way to get outdoors and connect with others, be that through stargazing, or a campfire of outdoor activities. One of the great things about camping is that if it’s something you want to do, it can be adapted to suit your needs.”
Some of the most popular spots for camping in the UAE include the Ajman desert, Al Qudra Lakes and the Umm Al Quwain coast.
“Among my frequent destinations is Al Qudra, where I've come across three notable spots: Love Lakes, Al Marmoom Conservation Reserve and The Last Exit,” says Chhetri. “Additionally, there are other captivating camping spots like Wadi Shawka, Jebel Jais, Moreeb Dune Camp and Jebel Hafeet.”
One thing all the experts agree on is the importance of testing equipment before you go. Make sure the gas stove works, lights are functioning and inflatable mattresses don’t have any holes. Ensure you have enough water for the trip, and always practise putting up your tent in the garden first, so you know how to do it.
“Purchase the right gear, pack right, do your research about the site, regulations, weather conditions,” says Habib. “Choose the right time and place, put your adventurous spirit on and we guarantee you will have a memorable experience.”