Thru hiking the Bedouin Trail involves travelling 1200km between the biggest continents on earth, crossing the international border between Jordan and Egypt and traversing the territories of seven Bedouin tribes along the way. It is for the most part a remote desert wilderness route but urban sections through gateway towns and the green agricultural heartlands of Egypt's Nile Valley are traversed on the way too. The Bedouin Trail is one of the most unique and extraordinary journeys that can be undertaken not just in the Middle East but anywhere on earth and to ensure everything goes smoothly and hikers get as much out of the route as it truly has to give, careful planning will be required from the outset. Guidance on travel, organising Bedouin support from one tribal territory to the next and other useful practicalities are outlined in different sections of this website. What follows is a high level outline of key things to think about in preparing for the more remote, wilderness sections of the route. What to bring is one important consideration for walking the Bedouin Trail and whilst the equipment required will remain broadly similar between different regions hikers must be aware some sections may require specialist safety gear for scrambling. Perhaps the most important decision of all is when to come. With most of the journey spent outside, few things will have such a big impact on a hike as the weather and each region of the path has its own, distinctive climate, even during the same season of the year. Only broad guidance is given below; the individual websites of the Wadi Rum Trail, Sinai Trail and Red Sea Mountain contain more detailed, region-specific information about hiking their home deserts and it will be important for all hikers to consult these comprehensively in planning a journey.
When to visit
The Bedouin Trail is mostly a wilderness route. Most of the way, day and night, hikers will be under the big, open desert skies, exposed to the elements, whatever the weather. Lowland and highland sections of the Bedouin Trail have significantly different climates and with a full thru hike taking around 65 days the seasons will also shift noticeably during a passage along the route. Thru hikers should avoid the hotter months between June and September entirely, when temperatures can be uncomfortably and sometimes even hazardously hot. The Nile Valley has the warmest climate of the route across all seasons, with the highlands of St Katherine in the Sinai - whose high peaks reach over 2500m - having the coldest. Wintery cold snaps in the uplands of the Sinai and sometimes other parts of the route - including the high summits of the Red Sea Mountains and the deserts of Wadi Rum and Petra - can bring sub-zero temperatures and even snowfalls. The coldest months are December, January and February and anybody wanting to avoid the Sinai's winter should aim to pass St Katherine's highlands outside these months. Hikers traversing the Bedouin Trail from Petra will take around 15 days to reach Aqaba with the Sinai Trail section an additional 20 days meaning the thru hike could be started up to the last week of October or from mid February to avoid the coldest periods of the Sinai's winter whilst finishing other sections of the intercontinental passage in the best weather window. For hikers who are prepared for the cold, winter is a beautiful season in all regions including the Sinai. For more on when to visit, including other considerations like the holy month of Ramadan, see each the website for each individual trail.
Whatever footwear is chosen, do not bring anything old or near the end of its life. Paths followed by the Bedouin Trail are broken and rugged and its smooth, sloping sandstone and granite crags put stresses on every part of a shoe. Anything old might not make it through the hike. Boots give the best protection but can feel hot, heavy and cumbersome in the desert, with specialist hiking or trail-running shoes a better all-round option. Hiking sandals are excellent for walking open wadis and plains and are comfortable for wearing around evening camps but are not suited to the mountaineering sections of the route. Bring warm socks for colder times of the year and remember blisters are a common affliction for many hikers, airing feet at regular rest stops and taping up any newly-developing hot spots as soon as you find them.
What to bring
A golden rule of hiking is to go light. Whatever you bring, stick to essentials. It can be surprising to see how little you really need, especially when accompanied by Bedouin guides who typically travel with a minimum of possessions, relying on their natural resourcefulness to find what they need along the way or to otherwise improvise. Carrying less helps when hiking the Bedouin Trail; loose paths and tricky scrambles along the route are all easier with smaller, lighter loads and camels will appreciate hikers keeping baggage to a minimum too. Camels support most hikes on the Bedouin Trail and hikers will typically need to bring two backpacks; a daypack and a camel bag. Hikers will carry a daypack most of the way, from the time a hike is started in the morning to the evening camp. Camel bags are typically carried on a different, usually easier route and will not usually be accessible to hikers during the day. 25-30 litres is sufficient for all the daypack essentials: a daily supply of water, snacks, lunch and a warm, waterproof layer, along with a small personal first aid kit, a flashlight and other useful odds and ends like spare batteries, a penknife and whatever personal items might be required. Sleeping gear, extra clothes, wash kits and other gear required in the evenings can be packed in camel bags. Camel bags should not be angular or hard-framed; luggage of this kind can rub painful sores into a camel's back over a long journey. A 40-50 litre backpack is the best option for a camel bag and it can also double as the bag used for sections on which hikers will carry all they need for overnight bivvies, including three separate sections on the Red Sea Mountain Trail and one each on the Sinai Trail and Wadi Rum Trail parts of the route.
A good night’s sleep is key to a successful journey on the Bedouin Trail. Feeling well rested and recuperated makes a big difference over a long wilderness hike. With wild camping the only option on most of the route, a good sleeping bag is key. One with a sub-zero rating is important in colder seasons, when temperatures can dip below freezing, especially in highland regions of the trail. Sleeping mats give a warmer, more comfortable sleep, but inflatable Thermarest-style options are best avoided; the desert is full of thorny vegetation and they usually puncture quickly. Ordinary closed-cell foam mats are the best option. Whilst it will be possible to sleep under the stars most nights, tents give security in bad weather, a barrier against snakes, scorpions and other critters and the feeling of a private space and are fully recommended.
Bring a combination of different layers to add or remove according to the conditions experienced. Clothes that cover the full length of your arms and legs give the best protection against the desert sun. They are more culturally appropriate in a Bedouin setting too, for both men and women. With trousers, be sure they do not constrict your leg movements or prevent you reaching up to high footholds. Headgear is important too. A baseball cap or wide brimmed hat is a decent option for sunny weather and a woolly hat for colder times, but the traditional Bedouin headwrap or shemagh is perhaps the best of all. It is warm in the cold, gives protection from the sun and can be wrapped around the face in a sandstorm. From an arm sling to a canopy and a short rope it has may other uses too and is one item of clothing the Bedouin are almost never seen without.
Whilst most of the Bedouin Trail is a hiking passage, sections of scrambling are found across all its regions, with the most challenging and exposed ones coming on the Wadi Rum Trail and Red Sea Mountain Trail. Whilst some hikers will feel comfortable unroped others will prefer protection. Hikers intending to do these sections should bring one 30m rope, 3 x 240cm and 3 x 120cm slings, a climbing sit harness, descending device and a few screw carabiners. Hikers who want to integrate more serious rock climbing into the Bedouin Trail can follow the Wadi Rum Trail west over Jebel Rum, instead of going east on the standard thru hike but this will require more extensive climbing gear. More guidance on scrambling and climbing sections are given on the trail websites. Hikers should be aware all scrambling sections along the Bedouin Trail are 100% avoidable.
Thermals - For legs & upper body, in colder seasons. Avoid cotton thermals, which can get wet & soggy on strenuous hikes.
T-shirts - Ideally long-sleeved. Shirts whose collars can be turned up against the sun work well too. Expect to use one for every 3-4 days on-trail. As with thermals, avoid cottons.
Warm layer - 3 warm layers e.g. thin & thick fleece & down jacket.
Waterproof - Breathable materials like GORE-TEX are best. Always keep in daypacks in case of rain.
Trousers - Avoid shorts. Full length trousers are best. Make sure they give your legs full flexibility when scrambling.
Socks & underwear - One pair per 2-3 days on trail.
Headwear - Baseball cap/ wide brimmed sun hat/ warm hat in winter or a Bedouin shemagh. Avoid Buff type headwear which is too thin to give adequate protection from the sun or cold.
Starting a fire is always important, so bring cigarette lighters. Windproof, blowtorch-type models that stay strong in gusty weather are best. A penknife has many uses and should always be carried. Flashlights are essential, with headlamps the best option; these leave hands free for eating, unzipping tents, rummaging in bags etc. Do not forget spare batteries. Tough, durable water bottles with a combined capacity of at least 4.5 litres should be bought. Bladder bottles with drinking hoses encourage regular drinking but it's hard to know how much water is left. The Bedouin will carry cooking equipment but bring a personal plate, mug and cutlery. A toothbrush, toothpaste and perhaps wet wipes for cleaning are essential. Pocket tissues will suffice for toilet trips. A first aid kit with plasters, painkillers, anti-diarrhoeals and rehydration salts is another must-have.
Bring any specialist food or snacks from home or re-stock at gateway towns along the route. Pocket binoculars are good for getting a closer look at climbing lines, admiring desert wildlife and faraway vistas. Many hikers bring DSLR cameras, but windblown sand can damage these beyond repair so keep them in cases and carry enough spare batteries and memory cards. Portable solar panels are best for charging small electrical gadgets like phones or tablets in the desert. On most wilderness sections of the Bedouin Trail there is no phone signal so hikers wanting to stay in touch with home should consider other options. Satellite phones are illegal in Egypt and should be avoided but some GPS units can send and receive messages without an internet connection. Small spot devices can send SOS messages out to contacts in an emergency.
Baggage - 25-30 litre capacity daypack; 40-50 litre backpack for use as a camel bag & for carrying on overnight bivvy sections of the route.
Footwear - specialist hiking shoes or trail runners; hiking sandals for easy walking terrain & camps. Zinc oxide tape to avoid blisters.
Sleeping gear - sleeping bag, with sub zero rating. Non-inflatable sleeping mat, plus tent. Bivvy bags can also be considered.
Climbing gear - climbing sit harness, descending device & 3-4 screw carabiners plus 1 x 30m rope & 3 x 240cm & 3 x 120cm slings between the party. More gear required for rock climbing sections.
Other essentials - Cigarette lighters, penknife, headlamp & spare batteries, water bottles, plate, mug, cutlery, wash kit, paper tissues & a well-stocked first-aid kit with any personal medication.
Other desirables - specialist food & snacks, pocket binoculars, camera plus spare batteries & memory cards, solar panels, GPS unit perhaps with communication capacity & a spot device.