Living in the Middle East, dune bashing is an experience that begs to be tried. There are some, for whom the white-knuckled rollercoaster ride over dune after dune, sometimes at angles that have them virtually horizontal, is a ‘been-there, done-that, not-again, thank you’ affair. Others – many, many, others – will wax lyrical about how much fun it is to break through the soft sands and feel the pull of gravity on the vehicle.
If you fall amongst the latter group, and would like to ‘have a go’ in your own vehicle, read on.
Time of day
Dune bashing is best done in the hours before sunset, to truly appreciate the solitude of the desert as the setting sun casts long shadows, with no other sign of human life for miles.
Here are some tips to ensure that your desert adventure is fun and safe.
1. Prepare the car
If you’re going to tackle the desert, you need to have a decent off-road car. It is imperative that you prepare your vehicle in advance.
- Make sure your vehicle is fully serviced and that the cooling system is working properly so the car doesn’t overheat.
- It is also recommended that you install skid plates to save the undercarriage from abuse.
- Other essentials include a lift kit so that your SUV doesn’t scrape the sand when it’s moving.
- Ensure that your tool kit has all the requisites.
- Take a full tank of petrol. Fuel consumption increases when you’re off-roading. An extra can of petrol is also a good idea.
- A tow rope is non-negotiable – go for one that is at least 10 meters long, and elastic, because solid tow ropes don’t work as well.
- Some places tend to get busy, especially on weekends and public holidays, with cars, quad bikes and buggies coming from every direction. A big flag on top of your car will ensure that you can be spotted behind the dunes.
- Pay special attention to the tyres and the spare tyre. Large, all-terrain tyres that are in good condition are a must. Extra tyres, an air compressor, and a tyre pressure gauge are also an excellent idea.
- Once you get to the desert, drive with the tyre pressure at about 15psi. Any softer and you risk popping a tyre off the wheel.
- If you do pop a tyre, a standard car jack will sink in the sand. So you’ll need a big plank or piece of wood that will distribute the load of the car.
- The following are pretty much essentials:
- Tow rope and shackles
- Jump leads
- Foot pump
2. Prepare yourself
- Even after you get the hang of going out into the desert, going with at least one other car is always a good idea, because if you get stuck you may need extra help to pull you through.
- Phone signals can be a problem in many areas of the desert, so a satellite phone could come in handy.
- The dunes sometimes bash back so always wear your seat belt.
- Make sure your big, heavy items are strapped down in the back to prevent being hit by them if you take a nosedive.
- Desert adventures can be demanding and tiring so make sure you get adequate sleep before heading out.
- Keep your car stocked with food and water. Make sure you have more than enough water – at least three liters more than your usual drinking quota.
- Keep topographic maps and make use of Google Earth to ensure you don’t get lost.
- Keep a first aid kit on board.
- Keep your emergency contact info on the vehicle dashboard.
3. Choose a terrain with care
- When driving in the desert, you need to be a pretty skilled driver, capable of exercising precise control of your car. Practice your skills close to the city and work your way up in dune size.
- Off-road conditions are constantly changing. You need to continually monitor the trail in front of you and use your common sense to make safety a priority.
- When you cross the dunes do so in the safest possible manner, choosing the path of least resistance. If you’re going up a dune sideways and feel that the car is being pulled down, don’t fight it or try to go uphill. You’re either going to get stuck or flip the car sideways.
- If a trail looks tricky, go out on foot and gauge the obstacles before trying to tackle them. Above all, if the evidence and your instincts tell you to turn around or take a different route, don’t endanger your vehicle and life.
4. Stay within designated trails
- You shouldn’t just drive anywhere you want, for a variety of reasons. You could get lost. You could damage the fragile environment around the dirt roads. Moreover, it wouldn’t be good for your car because of the presence of logs, pits, boulders, mud, trees, and ditches.
- Also take your rubbish with you and don’t leave anything behind.
5. In case of emergency
- If you get stuck, stay with your car. You can be tracked by your phone signal, and if you don’t have any mobile-phone reception, the police can still track your phone by GPS.
- The sand can get so hot it could burn or blister your feet, so wear closed shoes, preferably over-the-ankle ones that are well sealed from the sand.
- If you do end up damaging your car in the desert, go to the nearest police station and get a report.