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Firm sand driving

Seemingly easier driving conditions can give you false confidence

We made our first trip of this season Al Wagan dunes beyond Al Ain this last weekend. After the unprecedented amount of rainfall these last few weeks we found dunes that were firmer than ever. This made for some fun driving and routes that would usually see a few cars dig in were made with surprisingly little effort. 


We were reminded though of the perils of getting carried away. With firmer sand, ascents were made with greater speed... and then so were some descents. The compacted sand is slippery and when carrying speed on the leeward slope, the terrain offers very little braking resistance. Usually all you need is to lift off the accelerator and the soft sand slows the vehicle. Dab the brake and the cars dig in. But in these conditions, braking was ineffective when going at higher speeds and that caught out a couple of drivers. 


The changed conditions meant that: 

  • Cars that usually drive in soft sand in low gear could negotiate the dunes easily in high gear 

  • Tyres did not need to be deflated as much to get through difficult terrain

  • The same level of acceleration to approach high dunes resulted in much more speed

When driving on firm sands: 

  • Moderate speeds and plan ahead so you are not going too fast when going downhill. This is especially the case when following another vehicle. 

  • Keep plenty of distance from the car in front and plan your own route ahead mentally, even if following other peoples' tracks.

A dangerous approach is often taken when drivers are following others to capture GoPro footage. To get the right frame, drivers go too close to the car in front and can get target fixation so they repeat the mistakes of the driver ahead. This can also mean rear ending them if they come to an unexpected halt or encounter an obstacle that the car behind has not seen.


Shift into low gear when going down a very steep slope. The higher gears offer little braking assistance and brakes alone can be insufficient. Go a little slower than usual even though the sand is firmer.


Take a slightly different line to the car in front in case you do get too close and are taking footage in easier terrain (to the outside of where they may be turning). But try and avoid this and never descend a slope directly behind another vehicle.

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