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Packing and Preparation Tips

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Before heading out into the desert, there are certain things you will need. Food, water, etc. Packing requires a bit of planning if you want the trip to be as smooth as possible.

Bring sufficient Water

OK, this may seem obvious, but it is also immensely important. In the Sahara, you will be drinking much more than you would at home. And remember, you're not just bringing the water needed for the trip, you are also bringing a reserve in case of an emergency. Water consumption will be at it's highest should you end up stuck in the middle of nowhere, and you should have enough to make several days on your own. You might also have to use water for certain vehicle breakdowns, such as a radiator leaks.

Washing clothes and cleaning dishes also use a lot of water, so try to do these things when you are in an oasis.

Eat Canned Food

Some people consider canned food a waste of space and weight. However, eating canned food requires no cooking, which can save you the trouble of bringing your kerosene stove and all the accompanying fuels. No cooking means no extra water to prepare the food. By drinking the stock which includes salts and potentially minerals, you can easily justify the extra weight. The simplicity of opening a can will be appreciated after a long day's journey. Besides, cans seldom leak. A kerosene leak can ruin a lot.

Sleeping Accommodations

There are various ways to accommodate sleeping during your voyage. In the past, many people have used camping sites, but these have become rarer these days. In countries like Algeria and Niger, many campsites have closed due to the decrease in tourists in the desert areas. These will perhaps be revived, should times get better, but for the time being, you will have to consider other possibilities. Open hotels can be found in almost every major oasis / town, although some of them can be expensive, and don't expect luxury. Arlit (Niger) would be an exception here, with neither hotel, nor campsite. It is still possible to raise a tent for the night, provided you find an appropriate spot, but the ideal would be to be able to sleep in the car. One way is to remove the head rests, then flip back the front seats until they reach the middle seats, forming a bench long enough to sleep on. This may not work on all car models.   
  Another way is to mount a tent on the roof-rack. Several different models for this exist, and you can even create your own if you're good at practical stuff. By combining these two methods, you will be able to accommodate 'beds' for 4 persons in one car. 
Sleeping in the car does bring up one more issue: fresh air. In order to get fresh air into the car, you will want to sleep with open windows. Whilst insects may not be your main concern in central Sahara, they will start annoying you as soon as you reach the Sahel. You will therefore need mosquito nets. The simplest way to add a mosquito net to your window is to cut out a large enough chunk, attach it to the panel on the inside of your door, stretch it over the top and both sides, then slam the door. Another way is to use Velcro strips along the windows' borders and attach a matching piece of mosquito net.

All the General Stuff

Torches, gas lamps, mattresses, spoons, cups, sleeping bags, spades, car music...

Spare Tyres, Fuel, Oil...

Don't forget to bring your spare tyres (at least 2 would be recommended), extra oil, jerrycans with fuel (if your fuel tank is not particularly large). Your tool kit must also be remembered, in case you need to do some minor fixes to the vehicle, along with the pump and the jack. A sturdy rope for towing might come in handy...

Sand Storm Protection

Some people recommend applying grease of some sort to the lights and the windows of the car in the case of a sand storm. This would protect the glass from becoming 'frosted'. It will also be difficult to remove afterwards. Light-racks on the roof can often be protected by their plastic covers.

If you get Stuck

Sand ladders are commonly used when cars get stuck. You place them under the wheels of your vehicle to get a hard surface to drive on when you're trapped in the sand. You will need spades as well, as you will have to do some digging. The downside with sand ladders is that they are heavy and cumbersome. If you have a strong winch, you should consider using a sand anchor. This is described in further detail on the Interesting Equipment page.

Appropriate Clothing

It is hot in the Sahara, but this does not mean you should come in swimming suits. Clothes may protect from the cold, but they can also protect from the sun. A simple look at the nomads in the region will give you an idea. You should wear light clothes, that cover most of the body. Combine this with a hat or a 'chèche', and you will be protected from sunburns. Remember as well to dress appropriately, in order not to offend the local inhabitants.

Maps and Navigation

Good maps are essential to travelling, both on and off-road. A part from the Michelin road maps, there are also more detailed maps available on the areas. These are from the 60s and the 70s, and even though certain elements, such as sand dunes, have changed somewhat since then, they are still quite accurate. In Niger, they can be obtained from the local authorities in the major cities. You must also bring your compass (make sure it is properly calibrated for your car) and, if possible, a GPS (Satellite Navigator). The GPS is described in further detail in the Interesting Equipment page.

Packing Advice

One thing your luggage will do is jump around. So keep in mind that when you reach the off-road sections, your car will be bumping a lot. Therefore, you must make sure that everything is firmly in place. Use your common sense not to put heavy objects on top of fragile stuff, etc. Always put things that can leak (i.e. water and petrol) at the bottom, and things that are sensitive to moisture at the top. Things you'll be needing often, such as food, should be close to the door. Avoid bringing stuff like chocolate, that can melt. If you have a big luggage compartment, you may find it practical to split it into several smaller ones.   


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