How to Get “Off the Road Safely”

It has been some time since we have covered this subject and with the outdoor season starting now, it is a good time to go through the basics of off-roading so you can head out this season and enjoy the desert and mountains off the beaten tracks in the UAE and region.

It has been some time since we have covered this subject and with the outdoor season starting now, it is a good time to go through the basics of off-roading so you can head out and enjoy the desert and mountains off the beaten tracks in the UAE and region.

1. Research
The best way to learn any outdoor activity or get started is to be taught by someone who knows it. Since off-roading is very popular in the region it should be easy to find some friend who will take you off-road. If this is not the case, you can also join one of the many clubs. Joining a club is anyhow a good idea and all the good clubs offer free newbie drives which is the best way to learn. They have a fixed agenda to cover the most important steps, you go out with experts and you meet other like-minded people. You can find some clubs on or you can search for them on social media. Since we want to avoid missing mentioning any club, we will not give names at all. Just check this and the last issue and you will read about two of the biggest clubs in the region.

2. With whom to go?
This question is partially answered already but it is important to stress it that you should never attempt to go off-road alone as a beginner. Such an idea is stressed in this guide. Going alone is a great adventure but it requires a lot of experience and preparation – so certainly nothing for a beginner. Ideally, go with a minimum of 3 cars and there should be at least one experienced driver in the group.

3. Which car?
You need a proper 4×4 to hit the dunes. Most SUV even with 4×4 drive will not be ready for the dunes. Most of the time they lack ground clearance and/or enough horse power. You will find many different opinions for 4x4s. Which is the best off-road car is hard to answer, just check pictures on forums and social media and you will see the popular models. If you cannot see a car model in any of the photos, then most likely for a reason. If you want to get a bit more serious about off-roading all terrain tires are recommended since they can improve the performance a lot without having to make any modifications on the car. If you get bitten by the off-road bug, your car will certainly undergo some modification which is a topic of its own.

4. Car conditions
Going off-road means you might put your car to the limit. All parts are challenged if you are going off-road so it is very important that your car is in good condition and serviced regularly. Before every trip makes a quick visual inspection:

• Are all tires in good condition?
• Do you have a spare wheel which is in good condition?
• Are all fluids topped up?
• Are there no leaks of oil, grease or other fluids?
• Make sure your petrol tank is full before you go off-road (fuel consumption is much higher if you aren’t driving on a normal road surface)

5. Know your car
I have seen this many times – people get in the dunes and have no idea how their car works. Make yourself familiar with all the option in your car; how to change driving modes, switch off driving aids, and know where you have the recovery points on your car.

6. The route
Make sure you know where you are going. It is important for proper preparation to know in which terrain you are driving – dirt tracks, dunes, rocks. How long is the route? What is the grade of the route and are you prepared for that?

7. What do I need to take
You should never go off-road unprepared or rely on other people. Make sure you always have the essentials with you when you leave the road:
• Take enough drinks with you (3-5l/day per person). In case of a break down you might be stranded for hours, so have enough water with you for at least one day for all passengers
• Dress properly – take sun protection with you when you have to leave the car (hat, glasses), wear closed shoes (sand can get very hot and you burn your feet wearing slippers). You also might reach in remote areas with more traditional lifestyle, be respectful and cover your legs and shoulders
• Take recovery gear – you should have a shovel (get a sand shovel and not these tiny survival spades), gloves, a recovery strap with shackles (don’t use metal ropes – they can be dangerous if they break; buy a good quality strap – cheap one might break at the first recovery), make sure you have a lift jack in your car and know how to use it, bring a jacking board or strong piece of wood (otherwise the jack will sink in the sand and you cannot lift the car). At least one car in the group should have the jump start cables.
• Navigation – take a GPS with you since it is the best and safest way of navigation.
• Communication – take your fully charged phone with you.
• First aid – make sure you have a first aid kit in your car and check the contents. You will be remote, so first aid is important. It’s good to have some electrolytes in there and pain killers.
• Quick fix – take a roll of duct tape and cable straps with you, it’s cheap and does not take much space but is very versatile and can be used for countless small fixes.
• Fire extinguisher

8. Useful extras
• Ideal would be to have one satellite phone in the group
• Walkie-talkies are also great to communicate while on the drive between the cars
• Extra water for washing hands, face or to top up coolant,
• A petrol canister 20L, as well as 1L of engine oil and power steering fluid
• Deflators and a compressor is quite useful but not a must
• A flexible flag pole with a flag is good if you go regularly, since your car will be more visible even if hidden behind a dune.
• Take also a tool box with you – this makes only sense if you know how to use the tools and have the knowledge to fix a broken down car.
• Get some off-road guide books or GPS routes to follow which is easier than self-exploration. If you download routes only it is advisable to print a google earth map, so you know where the closest roads and settlements are in case you need to abort your trip and look for a quick escape route.
This list could go on forever but once you get more experienced you will have your own list of things you consider useful and essential to carry with you.
But the most important part, take some friends with you. Good company is not only a safety measure, it makes a trip fun and enjoyable.
In the next issues, we will give quick instructions on how to GO off road now that you know HOW to prepare. ■

Essentials Checklist:
 Make sure your car is in good condition
 Water / soft drinks
 Sun protection
 Shovel & gloves
 Recovery strap with shackles (2x)
 Car jack & jacking board
 Jump start cables
 Fully charge mobile phone
 First aid kit
 Fire extinguisher and tools

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Words by: Daniel Birkhofer