What you need to know before taking a walk on the wild side, plus best hiking spots in the UAE
Walking out into the wild is one of the most rewarding things that any of us could do. Some forms of exercise require a great amount of commitment and even financial investment to undertake, as well as a suitable arena.
Walking, on the other hand, requires baseline financial investment and can be done almost anywhere, making it possibly the most practical form of exercise.
Strolling around a city park, hiking the fells of the English Lake District or even trekking across the Himalayas are great ways to clear your mind, get closer to nature and, of course, socialise with like-minded souls.
This slow pace and lack of pressure is a tonic all of us should sip on from time to time. If you’re hankering for more intense physical activity or adrenaline, then that’s easy; good old Mother Nature has it in bucket loads at every turn in the form of mountains.
Unless you plan to take on a multi-day trek through the mountains, hiking requires minimal financial investment and preparation, and your feet do come first.
Regular gym shoes are fine for single-day hikes on smooth trails, but for anything more strenuous, investing in a pair of trail running or hiking shoes is essential. Expect to pay about US$60 to $130 (Dh220 to Dh477) for a quality pair (Salomon, Berghaus, Merrell or similar), which will offer stability and grip when covering rough grounds.
For hiking on rocky mountain trails, a pair of lightweight boots offers more ankle support, and costs a few hundred dirhams more. The only time you may need anything more serious is if you will require crampons for tackling icy peaks – which is a whole different league.
Be sure to buy footwear in person and from a reputable outlet, as online purchases can be substandard and sizes vary between brands.
Check that the shoes are comfortable when wearing socks, and that they have a little toe room to accommodate on downhill sections.
In the sack
For any hike more than two hours long, or in variable conditions, you will need a backpack.
Size will depend on the length of the hike and what you need to carry. For most single-day outings, a small, lightweight pack is fine. Overnight packs need a bit more space for gear.
Try before you buy, and stick to quality brands such as Lowe Alpine, Deuter, Berghaus etc. Make sure that the shoulder strapping and the back are padded and ventilated.
Internal-hydration systems are OK in colder and dirty conditions, but in clammy weather they make for an unpleasant, warm drink.
Using the pack correctly is essential; do not let it hang way off your shoulders and below the small of your back – keep it close and stable. Pack softer contents at the bottom, and solid valuables between them.
For single-day hikes you should always pack a lightweight waterproof jacket, a sun hat, a fleece top (for high ground), sunscreen, a basic first-aid kit, foil emergency blanket, a small whistle, plenty of water and snacks (such as dried fruit or energy bars), a small torch and any medication you may need. A mobile phone and either a GPS device or a trail map, as well as some form of ID and cash, are also advisable.
Quality walking poles (such as Leki) can be invaluable on steep terrain, more so for taking the strain off your knees on downhill sections than anything else.
Try to wear lightweight shorts (or long trousers if cold) and a sweat-wicking T-shirt (and maybe carry a change of shirt, too).
Before you undertake anything more than a stroll in the park you should get yourself into basic hiking condition – it will make the experience more enjoyable.
Be sure that you break in your shoes (which may take a few weeks), and ensure that your backpack is comfortable when loaded – and then take a few non-essentials out to lighten the load.
If you plan on a mountain hike, or a multi-day trek, be sure to put in some extra preparation work. Going up and, particularly, down steps, and walking on uneven terrain can leave you in a lot of pain if you’re not accustomed to it. Simply taking the stairs instead of the lift (up and down) and varying your strides for a couple of weeks will make a huge difference.
As long as you are basically prepared, the freedom and pace of the open trail is hard to match, and opportunities you never even considered will leap out before you. It could well transform your life.
If you want to get hiking locally, check out www.meetup.com/Abu-Dhabi-Hikers/
Hiking in the UAE
There are some great places to hike around the UAE, and even more so just over the border in Oman. However, the terrain can be hard-going, very hot and, as it often looks similar, navigation can be an issue. Here are four of the best hiking spots in the UAE. Guides or a knowledgeable company are recommended – hooking up with UAE Trekkers or UAE Hiking would be a good start.
90km east of Dubai
With mellow scenery and easy- to moderate-grade trails, Wadi Shawka offers some of the most accessible and attainable hiking in the UAE. You will need a four-wheel drive for the journey into the trailhead and plenty of water, and knowledge of the trail is a definite recommendation.
Close to Ras Al Khaimah
This is a superb, but tough, hike of five to seven hours. It has a long and rough climb and descent, which can be very hard-going, especially when it’s hot, so plenty of water is essential, as well as good levels of fitness and a guide or somebody who knows the trail well. Great views reward the effort.
120km north of Dubai
A very demanding climb to the highest point in the UAE, Jebel Jais is a full day’s hike in favourable conditions. Some of the best views in the region can be scored here, but you do need to be fit and well-prepared, and preferably have trail knowledge at hand.
Stairway to Heaven
Close to Ras Al Khaimah
This iconic UAE adventure deserves a mention, as it may often pop up when discussing hiking in the UAE. But it must also come with a stern warning as it is a very tough and potentially dangerous climb, which should not be attempted solo, or by inexperienced hikers.
* Steve Thomas
Updated: April 20, 2016 04:00 AM