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Crossing Sand Dunes: How To Do It Right?

Off-road desert driving is one of the most popular activities for tourists, as well as UAE natives. Crossing sand dunes in the deserts around Dubai and Abu Dhabi is nothing but pure adventure for everyone, regardless of their previous experience or skill level. There are even options to 4WD vehicles or take courses on off-road driving.

Off-road Desert Driving In The Uae: The Basics

Crossing sand dunes in the desert is always fun, but there are some precautions you should consider. If you are planning on going with your own car, you should obviously make sure that it is properly serviced, that you have a first-aid kit, and a spare tyre. Our honest advice is that if you have never done off-roading before, you go with an expert or someone more skilled – in reality, dune crossing is much more complex than what it looks like. Also, there is a proper code of conduct for off-road driving, so make sure to take a look at it.

Tackling the desert requires you to have a proper 4x4 with good tyres, and the right recovery equipment (air compressor and a spare tyre) if things go wrong and you get stuck. Deflating and inflating tyres is a common practice when driving through the deserts in the UAE, and you’ll likely need a full tank of petrol, too.

Experts also recommend to always wear your seat belt, and know that there are areas where you might not get a phone signal. Make sure your big and heavy items are strapped down in the back, and keep in mind of the tyre pressure. Once all of these boxes are ticked, it’s time to see how to cross sand dunes in the right way.

Different Strategies For Crossing Sand Dunes

Believe it or not, crossing sand dunes is something you can do in many different ways. There are techniques known to off-roaders that work best in any given situation. While each comes with its own risks, learning and understanding the technicalities can help you get more confidence in executing them. So, let’s get started.

1. Straight Up And Straight Down

First on our list is the straight up – straight down technique which should be your first when learning offroading. Here, it is important to approach the dune straight up with just enough momentum to make it through, but also be careful with the gas pedal. Overdoing it can damage your bumpers or cause you to jump or lose balance. Also, know that most dunes have two sides – the windward side and the slip-face side. The windward one is the one the prevailing wind blows on (can be recognized by the wavy lines on the sand), while the slip-face one is the softer one. If you run out of momentum when going upwards, don’t panic – this is known as a refusal in the offroading dictionary, and what you should do is gently reverse and slowly come back in a straight line as you have climbed up.

2. Side-sloping

Fun and addictive are some of the best ways to describe this technique. However, also know that it needs to be performed with a clear mind and decent experience or knowledge of the car. The goal is to not fight gravity but carry enough momentum when approaching the dune you want to side-slope on. The more momentum you carry, the further you will get, but going higher up the dune is not recommended. Braking at this point can also be generous, so try to choose a smooth path and avoid stepping on rocks, bushes, or bumps.

3. Criss-crossing

Crisscrossing is basically riding the dune's edge and crossing over to the other side. Here, it is essential to be smooth and careful when going towards the ridge and crossing over it. The movement should be done in a half-moon way – when approaching the dune along the length, you can stay on the ridge for as long as you want. However, you should not lose momentum at this point because you might flip over in the middle. The trick here is to balance and choose the exact point at which you will cross to the other side, which might feel scary, but is more and more interesting once you get the hang of it.

4. Hill Climbing

Last on our list is a technique which is popular, but not a must if you want to cross dunes. It is a great way to boost the adrenaline, but also a scary thing if your car cannot handle it. That is why it is only recommended to try it with an expert (just like most other techniques) and be sure that you are making a safe attempt. The half-moon movement is again a primary focus here – if you run out of momentum and come to a standstill, do not try to make a turn but instead, very slowly reverse down the dune while keeping the wheels straight.


We hope this guide helped you learn some of the best ways to cross dunes and gave you some beginner knowledge on off-roading in the UAE. If you are looking for the best places to go off-road in the country, visit this blog where we expand on that topic, listing all the areas (with coordinates) perfect for beginners, intermediate, and expert off-roaders alike.

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