Last Updated on December 17, 2023

Traveling in the desert has its unquestionable appeal, crossing expanses of sand and dunes driving your 4×4 vehicle gives a priceless thrill and thrilling bumpy ride.

But once you’re immersed in these seas of dunes, it is not easy to get out, especially if you stay silted up to the hatch.

Dune riding in the desert requires the edeguate equipment and a technique you can only hone ride after ride.

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Dune riding with ATV offroad vehicles in the desert.
Off-roaders riding dunes in the desert.

Riding on sand

Imagine you’re driving in a hot, sandy desert. You’re on tracks made up of rocks, stones, sand, and dust. When you’re riding a 4×4 ATV off-road in the desert, it’s crucial to plot an ideal trajectory in your mind. This trajectory should start a few miles ahead of where you are. It helps you avoid the deepest potholes and ruts. Remember, even the simplest breakdown can cause significant delays and problems.

Off-road driving in the desert requires caution. Avoid impetuous driving and special trials. Don’t attempt “dune bashing” unless you’re very familiar with the area and terrain.

In the desert, you’ll often encounter very soft sand dunes. These dunes slowly encroach on visible tracks if vehicle transit is low. In such cases, slow down and face the dune at its lowest part. Expect an abrupt slowdown of the ATV vehicle as soon as the wheels sink into the sand.

Before overtaking, downshift at least one gear. Face the dunes with the engine revving, to compensate for any drops in rpm due to sand resistance. Be mindful of the impact speed. You usually come from a smooth section of track and might not notice the sand curb in time.

If the sandy section becomes long and there’s no space available at the edge of the track, it’s useful to squeeze into the ruts left by previous vehicles. Follow a fairly sharp one to take advantage of the “track effect.” Off-road jolts to the right and left are guaranteed, but if you don’t overspeed, you won’t have any surprises until you reach the hardest section.

However, when you have a chance to turn around these curbs, given the width of the track, it’s a different matter. In this case, we’re always traveling on a quite hard surface. Our only task is to follow the myriad of tracks in front of us. Not one in particular, but rather the track “defined” by a majority of them. Remember, we must be flexible in our assessment of the trajectory and not be fooled by sudden, seemingly meaningless turns.

Riding the dune

First rule for overcoming sand dunes is to avoid concentrating immediately on the most scenic trajectory i.e. the direct one, also because with sand you hardly win on the power plane.

Instead, give it a double tap around you because there will almost certainly be a gentler trajectory to overcome the obstacle, remembering that the bottom of the sand hill is always formed by sand brought back by the wind, so it is very yielding. Adapt well in dosing the vehicle’s throttle.

Another very important factor in overcoming the sand dune is to see which way the wind is blowing. It is crucial is to learn to recognize the windswept side of the dune, because it is the one with the most compact and heavy sand

If while going over the sand hill you feel that the engine drops in rpm, try not to downshift, because the sudden decrease in speed of the ATV at the moment of shifting is enough to cause you to stall on the uphill.

Instead, a shrewd move is to steer a little downhill as you lose revs, so that you can gain a few feet in height by taking advantage of the lower incline, hoping to conquer the top of the dunon before the engine shuts off. In this maneuver it is a must to be careful of the side slope you take on, which in some cases is very high and insidious for the off-road car to tip over sideways.

Desert Travel: Ras al Khaimah - United Arab Emirates
Dune riding cars in the Dubai desert.

Getting out of the sand

When you realize that the vehicle is inexorably digging in, it is critical to get off the gas immediately. The moment you feel that you are getting stuck means that, having lost buoyancy, the ATV car is digging into the sand. At this point if you do not take off the gas immediately, the vehicle will easily sink to the decks, and getting out will require some rescuing!

Once stuck in the sand, the only maneuver to attempt is to engage reverse gear and gently back on your tracks, taking advantage of the previously dug tracks, until you reach a more compact stretch of sand. From there, you start again, again dosing the throttle gently, trying to take advantage of the engine in order to float, or looking for another trajectory.

Even the standing start in the sand has its little secrets. In the start it is essential to use ratios that are not too short, so recommended a reduced 2nd/3rd, quickly releasing the clutch (not to run the risk of burning it in a few seconds), working only with the throttle very gently, increasing the engine revs slowly. All this is done to avoid at the start to create that small pothole, between the tire and the sand, which the use of the gas excessively can easily make bigger and bury the off-road car.

Useful Gear

  • Snatch straps – this will require a second vehicle, but it’s always useful to bring one along for other rescuing others or being rescued. You attach the strap to the recovery point of the bogged car and use the other vehicle to drag it out of the sand.
  • Lifting shackles – you will need some rather strong tow shackles that can handle heavy weight lifting. You use these to attach your snatch strap to your recovery point.
  • Sand ladder recovery boards – you place these under your wheels after you clear the sand beneath them so that you can get out. Kind of a portable pavement, useful in any kind of off-road environment, but essential on sand.
  • Long handled shovel – so that you can start digging and try to get as much sand out of the way. Clear the back wheels first and attempt to drive backwards. Any sturdy shovel will do, but make sure to wear gloves if they have a metal handle as they can get hot in the sun.
  • Plenty of water – you are likely to spend hours working hard in a hot beach or desert, so remember to stay hydrated.

Clothing for ATV Dune Riding

  1. Enduro jacket
  2. Light Fullface Helmet
  3. Merino wool socks
  4. Dust-proof goggles
  5. 100% cotton shemagh


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