What to bring
One of the golden rules of hiking is to go light. Whatever you bring, stick to the essentials you need to stay safe and comfortable. It can be surprising to see how little is really needed in the mountains, especially when accompanied by ever-resourceful Bedouin guides. Carrying less helps when hiking – loose paths and tricky scrambles are easier with lighter loads – and camels will appreciate hikers keeping luggage to a minimum too. Think about how you'll carry whatever you bring. Typically, two bags are needed on overnight hikes: a 'daypack' and a 'camel bag'. Daypacks are carried by hikers from morning to evening. Camel bags are carried by camels or 4x4s on a different, easier route and will be ready for hikers at the campiste.
Daypacks are what will be carried most of the time. 35 litres is usually enough. If you intend to support overnight hikes without a camel you'll need a bigger capacity of 45-65 litres. Carry essentials in a daypack like water - 3-4.5 litres per day is what most hikers drink on a typical spring or autumn day - plus lunch and snacks. Warm layers and a waterproof shell must always be kept in a daypack too, along with a small personal first aid kit, personal medication and a flashlight. Other useful odds and ends to consider include a camera, binoculars, penknife, spare batteries, whistle, survival bag, cigarette lighter for fires etc.
Backpacks or duffel bags are best. Avoid suitcase type bags with hard, angular frames, as they hurt the camels and sometimes cause painful sores. Whatever you bring, make sure it's tough. Bags are tied onto camel saddles by straps and handles, which often break as they're continuously rocked on a long desert journey. Pack a sleeping bag and mat and possibly a tent; also spare clothes, a wash kit and other essentials in your camel bag. Seal everything inside your camel bag in waterproof bags in case it rains. It's important to keep your sleeping gear and extra clothes dry.
A word to the wise: the Sinai is rough on footwear. Really rough. Rugged trails, steep gradients and hot granite rocks – which make soles all-the-more vulnerable to nicks and tears – inflict damage. Don’t bring footwear near the end of its life. It might break mid-hike. If you’ll be staying a long time, bring two pairs of footwear. Blisters are common so be sure footwear is well-fitting and thoroughly broken-in before you come. Boots give the best protection in the mountains and help prevent twisted ankles, but can feel hot, heavy and cumbersome. Specialist hiking or trail-running shoes are more comfortable and are widely used. Hiking sandals are also good in dry desert regions, especially when walking wide wadis and plains, but they're not suitable for tough mountaineering routes. A good option is to bring both either boots or shoes and sandals, switching to sandals on easier days and at evening camps and using boots or shoes on more demanding terrain.
Bring a combination of clothing layers which you can add or remove according to conditions. Thermal under garments are important in colder seasons. Clothes covering 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 to higher footholds when scrambling. Protecting your head isalso important. A wide brimmed hat is good for sunny weather and a woolly hat for cold 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 the Bedouin are almost never seen without and it has many other uses aside from a headwrap.
There are no guesthouses in the mountains. It is a wilderness and hikers usually sleep outside, under the stars. A good night’s sleep is important. Feeling rested makes a big difference on long hikes. Bring a sleeping bag with a sub-zero rating as temperatures can dip below freezing in colder seasons. Temperatures of minus 15 degrees celsius have been reported on top of Jebel Katherina in winter. Sleeping mats will give a warmer, more comfortable sleep, but avoid inflatable 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 desert critters, plus the sense of privacy over a long hike with other people. Another good alternative is a bivvy bag.
Cigarette lighters are important. You must always be able to start a fire. Windproof, blowtorch-type lighters are best. Bring two or three; breakages are common. A penknife should always be carried too. Flashlights are essential and headlamps are best. These leave hands free for eating, rummaging in bags etc. Bring spare batteries for all devices. Durable water bottles with a combined capacity of at least 4.5 litres are important. Bladder bottles with drinking hoses encourage regular drinking but it is hard to see how much water is left. A toothbrush, toothpaste and wet wipes are important. Pocket tissues should be carried for toilet trips. A first aid kit with plasters, anti-diarrhoeals, rehydration salts, painkillers and a few other items is esssential. A whistle helps attract attention in an emergency. Always carry an emergency hiking shelter, or a heavy duty plastic survival bag in your daypack in case of bad weather.
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. Avoid cottons.
Trousers - Avoid shorts, for cultural reasons. Full length trousers are best. Ensure they do not restrict leg-reach when scrambling. Plenty of pockets on trousers help 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 is too thin to give adequate protection from sun or cold.
Cooking is handled by Bedouin guides, who will buy the food too. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, or have special dietary needs, tell them early. Fresh bread is usually made daily and eaten for breakfast and lunch. White cheese, salad and tuna are all common for lunch. Rice, pasta or lentils with vegetables are more typical for dinner. Tea is made several times a day by the Bedouin, often with sugar measured in by the handful. Between meals, you will need plenty of high-energy snacks and you must bring these yourself. Nibble on these throughout the day, including on rest stops. Nuts, dates, raisins and dried fruits are good options. Halawa is a sweet that keeps well in hot or cold weather. Hikers should bring their own plate, mug and cutlery. Cooking pots are not necessary.
Solar panels can be used to charge phones, tablets, cameras etc. It's worth bringing a mobile telephone, even if it remains switched off most of the time. Old Nokia phones have a longer battery life and get a bigger signal than smartphones in the Sinai. A telephone signal is available on some summits, but the internet signal is usually non-existent. Having a telephone allows you to send updates home or call people off-trail to check weather forecasts. In an emergency, it can be used to summon help. GPS devices are good navigational aids and some can even send/ receive messages without a telephone signal, making them a good safety back up. Spot location devices also send SOS messages. A pair of pocket binoculars is good for admiring wildlife and faraway mountain landscapes. Hiking poles are a good option for hikers with painful knees.