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 are always light-weighted and resourceful in the desert. Carrying less helps when hiking – loose paths and tricky scrambles are always easier with lighter loads – and your camel will also appreciate you keeping luggage to a minimum. Think about how you'll carry whatever you bring too. Typically, you'll need two bags on the Red Sea Mountain Trail: a 'daypack' and a 'camel bag'. You'll walk with the daypack most of the time, from when you start hiking in the morning, to when you reach your evening campsite. Your camel bag will be carried on a different, easier route, so you will be without it in the day. Occasionally, on the 170km thru hike, you will need to carry sleeping gear for short overnight sections. There are three unsupported overnight sections on the thru hike, so any hiker attempting it should bring a bigger bag - ideally a backpack - with enough carrying capacity for overnights. Nevertheless, overnight sections can be avoided to ensure daily support if needed.
You'll walk with a daypack most of the time. 35 litres is usually enough, but consider increasing it to 45-65 litres if you intend to do unsupported overnight bivvies on the 170km thru hike. You'll need to carry essentials in your daypack like water - 3-4.5 litres per day is what most hikers drink - plus food; usually lunch, split between you and your guide. You'll also need a warm, waterproof layer along with a small personal first aid kit and a flashlight. Remember other useful odds and ends like a camera, binoculars, penknife, spare batteries etc.
Backpacks or duffel bags are best. Avoid bags with hard, angular frames, which can hurt the camels. Whatever you bring, it should be tough. These bags are tied onto camel saddles by straps and handles, which often break as they're rocked over a long journey. Pack a sleeping bag and mat, spare clothes, a wash kit and other essentials for the long hike in your camel bag. If you bring a backpack as a camel bag you can use it when doing unsupported overnights. Pack everything in your camel bag - especially sleeping bag and clothes - in waterproof bags in case it rains.
Bring a combination of layers to add or remove according to conditions. Bring thermals during colder seasons, along with t-shirts, plus one or two warmer layers and a waterproof. Clothes that cover the full length of your arms and legs give the best sun protection. They're also more culturally appropriate in a Bedouin setting, for both men and women. With trousers, be sure they do not constrict your leg movements or prevent you reaching up to higher footholds when scrambling. Protecting your head is important. A 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 best of all. This protects your head whatever the conditions - hot or cold - and can be wrapped around your face to protect against dust and sunburn. It is one item of clothing that the Bedouin of the mountains are almost never seen without and hikers are advised to follow their example.
A word to the wise: the Red Sea Mountains are rough on footwear. Really rough. Rugged, untrodden trails, steep gradients and hot granite – which make soles vulnerable to nicks and tears – inflict damage. Don’t bring anything near the end of its life. If you’ll be staying a long time, bring two pairs. Blisters are common amongst hikers so be sure footwear is well-fitting and thoroughly broken in. Boots give the best protection and help prevent twisted ankles, but can feel hot, heavy and cumbersome. Specialist hiking or trail-running shoes are more comfortable. Hiking sandals are good when walking easy terrain like wide wadis and plains, but they're not suitable for tough mountaineering scrambles. A good option is to bring both shoes and sandals, switching to sandals at evening camps and using shoes on more demanding terrain.
The Red Sea Mountain Trail involves scrambling most of the way. The most challenging scrambling comes on Jebel Shayib el Banat, where several steep, exposed sections must be traversed, including a short vertical step just below the summit. Whilst some hikers feel comfortable doing these sections without a rope, safey gear is still recommended for all parties. Bring a 30m rope, along with three 120cm slings and three 240cm slings for making natural anchors if required. Every hiker should bring a harness, descending device, and two screw carabiners, allowing their ascents to be protected with abseils made instead of down-scrambles if chosen. The Red Sea Mountain Trail worked with climbers to install bolted anchors on Jebel Shayib but check before use as they can deteriorate over time and if in doubt use natural anchors.
Cigarette lighters are important. You must always be able to start a fire. Windproof, blowtorch-type lighters are best. A penknife has many uses and should always be carried. Flashlights are essential and headlamps are the best option. These leave hands free for eating, unzipping tents, rummaging in bags etc. Don't 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 monitor how much water is left. A toothbrush, toothpaste and wet wipes - good for cleaning in dry environments - are essential. Pocket tissues are important for toilet trips. A first aid kit with plasters, painkillers, anti-diarrhoeals, rehydration salts etc is a must-have.
Thermals - For legs & upper body, in colder seasons. Avoid cottons, which get wet & soggy on strenuous hikes.
T-shirts - Ideally long-sleeved. Or a shirt, whose collar can be turned up against the sun. Expect to use one t-shirt for every 3-4 days on-trail. As with thermals, avoid cottons.
Trousers - Avoid shorts. Full length trousers are best. Plenty of pockets keep bits and bobs handy when needed.
Warm layer - 1-2 warm layers e.g. fleece & down jacket.
Waterproof - Breatheable materials like GORE-TEX are best. Always keep in daypacks in case of rain
Socks & underwear - One pair per 2-3 days on trail.
Headwear - Wide brimmed sun hat/ warm hat or a Bedouin shemagh. Avoid Buff type headwear which will be too thin to give adequate protection from the sun or cold.
There are no guesthouses, lodges or easy conveniences on the Red Sea Mountain Trail. This is a wilderness route where you will walk like the Bedouin, sleeping under the stars. A good night’s sleep is always important. Feeling rested and recuperated makes a big difference on a hike. Bring a good sleeping bag with a sub zero rating as temperatures can dip a few degrees below freezing in colder seasons. Sleeping mats will give a warmer, more comfortable sleep, but avoid infatable options; the desert is full of thorny vegetation and they're susceptible to punctures. Ordinary foam mats are best. Tents give security in bad weather and many hikers appreciate the feeling of a barrier against snakes, scorpions and other critters, along with the privacy. Nevertheless, they're not essential. Another alternative is a bivvy bag.
Cooking is handled by the Bedouin and they will buy food before you begin. Fresh bread will be made daily and eaten for breakfast and lunch. White cheese, salad, tuna, corned beef and Egyptian broths like molokheya are common accompaniments. Pots of rice, pasta or lentils are usually prepared for dinner, often with vegetables. Chicken might be cooked on the first day of a trip. Afterwards, Bedouin guides may buy fresh meat - usually goat or mutton - from nomadic families on trail. Nuts, dates and biscuits are the typical sweets. Freshly pounded coffee and tea are drunk through the day and mineral water will be provided to all hikers. Special snacks should be brought from home, along with a plate, mug and cutlery. The Bedouin can prepare vegetarian, vegan and meals for other kinds of diets when notified in advance.
Solar panels will charge phones, tablets, cameras etc. It's always worth bringing a telephone, even if it's switched off most of the time. It can be used to check forecasts and make emergency calls from signal areas. GPS devices are also popular and some can send/ receive messages without a telephone signal, making them a good safety back up. Spot devices can also send SOS messages. A pair of pocket binoculars is good for admiring wildlife and faraway mountain vistas. A short rope gives a sense of security on some sections of trail. On the secondary trails of some hiking hubs it will be essential for abseiling short sections. Any hikers who enjoy climbing might also bring a climbing harness and trad gear for exploring interesting looking crags, which are many along the trail.