Hiking has gained immense popularity in the United Arab Emirates since the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among residents who were seeking respite from being confined indoors after the lockdown.
Two years on from the health crisis, the outdoor activity remains a favorite pastime for many nature lovers looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
“2020 was really something,” founder of hiking tour operator UAE Trekkers, Amy Subaey, told Al Arabiya English, crediting the pandemic to the growth of their operation.
“[Hiking was] the only safe thing to do and it was the only thing to do [back then] because everything else was closed. People couldn’t go to the movies or go to a restaurant, so what could we do? It is an outdoor activity, so people felt safe and they were happy to get outside.”
While hiking can seem appealing to many, the activity is physically demanding and requires careful preparation. Subaey emphasized the need for hikers to consider several precautions before setting out on their first trek.
Assess your fitness level
“People still really don’t know what hiking means here. They think it’s like walking through a park. If they [usually] go to the gym every day for an hour, then they’re good to go,” Subaey explained.
Many people who decide to try out hiking for the first time must understand that it “takes a different kind of fitness,” she said, as it often involves walking on uneven ground and away from sources of drinking water.
“We find that people’s endurance corresponds to their normal workouts. If you normally work out for an hour in the gym, if you go on a hike for three hours, you’ll feel your energy drop. We see that happen, it just kind of drops after an hour because that’s what their body is used to.”
“Then if you put some hills in after that, and then add that you have to carry three kilograms of water on your back… it’s really hard on people,” she said.
“Physical exhaustion can be an emergency. If people are too exhausted, then it’s a problem. You have to get them back.”
Bringing as much water as possible on your hike is very important, said Subaey.
Water is essential for maintaining proper body function. It helps regulate body temperature and transport nutrients to cells. Since hiking can often be a strenuous activity that results in loss of fluids, dehydration is a danger.
Dehydration can cause complications including muscle cramps, fatigue, and dizziness, and can be dangerous if left unchecked. To prevent dehydration, it is important to bring enough water for the duration of the hike, taking into consideration the length and difficulty, weather conditions, and personal hydration needs.
Bring more water than expected for the duration of the hike, Subaey recommended: “Think about the worst case scenario, then pack your bag.”
Consider the needs of others
Being prepared for any type of emergency is an integral part of hiking culture. Ensuring the safety of yourself and others during a hike should be a key priority for those involved.
“Let’s say you just kind of wing it and go out for the day. One of your friends that is with you said they were fit… but are just too exhausted or tired, what would you do?,” she asked rhetorically.
She advised hikers to think about all possibilities when planning a trip with multiple people, including the possibility of not receiving a mobile signal or unexpected injuries that can increase the total time required to complete the hike.
“Think about the simple problems and how that could impact your hike,” she cautioned.
Creating a hiking culture of ‘smart’ people who are ‘prepared’
Set up in 2011, UAE Trekkers cater to adventurous residents who are curious to explore the country’s beautiful desert landscape. It also operates tours outside the UAE, including in Oman, another go-to destination in the Gulf region for nature lovers.
Subaey said that she established the company to ensure that people are safe and guided by trained professionals who know the trails well. She continues to encourage hikers to take learn from professionals who can offer the tips needed to stay safe.
Hiking with a group of people who are all trained is one step closer to creating a safer community, she said.
“When people are out, and there’s a culture of people being smart and prepared with hiking shoes and water, that’s a great community.”
She believes that if there are enough people who are experienced and prepared, they can cover the ones who are not.
The UAE is home to numerous hiking spots that are scattered across all seven emirates, offering stunning views of soaring mountain peaks, valleys and the coast, as well as lots of animal and plant life.
Some of the most popular trails are Wadi Shawka, Hatta Mountain, Rainbow Valley, al-Hajar Mountains, Jabal Jais, and Jabal Hafeet.
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