How to Deal With Extreme Heat and Humidity in Doha, Qatar

Extreme Heat and Humidity, Qatar style

Where I live, in Doha, it rains maybe five days each year, sometimes less. The other 360 days tend to be sunny and for the six months from mid April to mid October, downright hot. Let's get the numbers out of the way. From June to August, daytime temperatures around 45C (113F) are normal, with occasional heat waves peaking up to 50C (122F). From mid August through September, as the fierce summer temperatures slowly drop from searing to merely roasting, the humidity ramps up to compensate, making it feel even hotter.

There are two ways of dealing with this climate. The way favoured by all the locals and most of the expat community is avoidance, by moving exclusively between air conditioned homes, malls, offices and cars. The other way is to learn to enjoy it. This is best done by getting out and walking. There are challenges, even dangers, in walking in extreme heat. But there are rewards too, such as keeping fit, getting to know the city in intimate detail and the feeling of union with, instead of escape from, the elements, however hostile they might appear.

I invite you to join me on an aimless ramble around Doha. We'll capture a few random pictures along the way and chat about such trivia as hats, shoes and good honest sweat.

It's a camel's life. Just sticking my neck out...
It's a camel's life. Just sticking my neck out... | Source

You could drive around Doha all day and never know about the camel paddock behind Souq Waqif. You can't see them from the road. These are the ceremonial camels, ridden out on special occasions by an elite uniformed police unit, Doha's equivalent of London's Royal Horse Guards.

Tip 1

To keep your camels cool in the sun, provide each with a light coloured blanket, remembering to cut a large hole in the middle and insert a loose bag to accommodate the hump. The bag may be of maroon fabric, the colour of the national flag.

this is not a baseball cap
this is not a baseball cap | Source

Tip 2

To keep your head camel-cool, keep the sun off with a good quality wide-brimmed hat. Take it off when in the shade. At drinking fountains, soak the hat with water. This cools your head for the next fifteen minutes as it evaporates. Cold rivulets down your neck and back are very refreshing and the rising steam cloud looks really cool.

Baseball caps worn normally give no protection to the back of the neck. Worn back to front, your face is fully exposed and your IQ drops by 14 points. They are as useful in the desert as a chocolate fireplace. They should never have been invented, not even for baseball. Anyone wearing one in the desert deserves sunstroke.

A fort by any other name. Peace, like beauty, is skin deep
A fort by any other name. Peace, like beauty, is skin deep | Source

Up the road about fifteen minutes from the camels is one of the bigger city centre electrical substations. At walking speed, you have time to look at the construction of that wall. For all its Arab ornateness, it's a fortification, pure and simple. These vertical pillars have slotted edges, H-section, if you like. The massive prefabricated concrete panels are dropped in by crane and would withstand a ram-raid assault by a fully laden HGV. They can be removed just as quickly if a main transformer has to be replaced. Qatar takes civil defence seriously. After all, the only land border is with Saudi Arabia. Nothing good is ever going to come from that quarter.

Tip 3

Sun block. Forget it. It's for the beach, when your skin is deliberately exposed to the sun. It's not half as effective as a decent hat, a T-shirt and knee-length shorts. It turns sweat into a chemical slurry. Get that in your eyes and you'll know all about it.

Some of Qatar's Asian girls, mainly Filipinas and Chinese, dispense with hats and carry brightly coloured parasols instead. They look chic and cheerful. (So do the parasols).

The sharp elbow of the law
The sharp elbow of the law | Source

Tip 4

Road safety. Walking in extreme heat, your reactions may be slower than you think, especially as fatigue or dehydration sets in. Be very careful of the baby driver lunatics in air conditioned, grossly overpowered 4x4s. They don't see you. As a mere walker, you don't feature in their cocooned Microverse. Pity them by all means, but stay out of their way and don't take chances. Seriously.

In Qatar, driving standards are very low. So low that the authorities, in desperation, have resorted to cartoon policemen (in ceremonial dress) bolted to the poles of warning signs and pointing to the message above. Apparently, drivers who habitually ignore traffic signals, and the signs warning of traffic signals, will change their ways out of respect for two-dimensional authority? What I can tell you is that the ubiquitous metal cutouts have sharp edges and are a genuine hazard to unsuspecting passers-by.

And speaking of cartoons . . . I'm popeye the sailor man...
And speaking of cartoons . . . I'm popeye the sailor man... | Source

There's nothing to tell you from the outside, but this Popeye 'Restaurant, Snack Bar & Cafeteria' (what, all three?) is actually Sri Lankan and serves an interesting range of western, oriental and far eastern fare. Last time I ate there I had spiced sweetbreads with glass noodles. I didn't see any spinach though. When I first came to the Gulf, I used to wonder why shop signboards always had the English name first and the Arabic second. They don't of course. If you read right to left, it's the other way around. It's a win-win.

Tip 5

Underwear. Leave it at home. If it's tight, it will be uncomfortable when you sweat. If you're male it will also foil the body's need to carry the testicles lower in the scrotum in hot weather. On the other hand, if it's loose, it serves no purpose at all, except to complicate the waistband area and make you hotter. Think about it: underwear is for sacrificial soiling under normal conditions. That is, you wash it every day so you don't have to wash outer garments quite so often. But in extreme heat, you are going to sweat through the whole lot, so the underwear is just something else to wash.

Note: Tip 5 above referred to lower body underwear only. I'm not qualified to offer advice on bras, never having worn one. Ladies, you're on your own with that decision. I have my own views but I'll keep them to myself.

Something is Afoot

For thousands of years, people in hot countries have known that sandals are the best footwear for walking. Modern running or training shoes are far too warm for these climates and have far more padding than you need for walking. However, real leather sandals take a lot of breaking in. My own preference is for the extremely lightweight (and cheap) flip-flops made by Lee Cooper. I wear out a pair every six months or so, just kicking about town.


Teeth, Anyone?

I did warn you that the photographs would be a bit random. Whatever caught my eye on my last walk. In Qatar, dental surgeries are just like any other shop. You don't have to register on anyone's panel. If you want some treatment, you just pick your surgery and walk in. If it's not urgent, you can ask for a quote and shop around.

We have a couple of famous namesake dentists, among them Dr Mahmoud Abbas (President of Palestine and leader of Fatah and the PLO). Or if your tastes are more cinematic, we have Dr Susan George who has recently relocated because of the inner city demolition and reconstruction project.

Water tower with karate kids - in the run-up to the doha asia games, 2006, the many water towers around town were painted with sporting themes to promote the games.
Water tower with karate kids - in the run-up to the doha asia games, 2006, the many water towers around town were painted with sporting themes to promote the games. | Source

Water and Sweat

Above 37 Celsius (body temperature) different rules apply. Compared with the surrounding air, you are cold. You might feel hot, but the air doesn't care about that. It sees you as a place to dump heat. You are also a place to dump water. When you first step outside on a hot, humid day, you might think you immediately break sweat. You don't. That comes later after some exertion. The water that first coats your body is just condensation. It coats your watch and sunglasses too and a moment's reflection tells you these don't sweat. As already mentioned, a proper hat prevents sunstroke but does nothing to ward off heatstroke. You avoid that by walking at a moderate pace and drinking warm water.

Tip 6

Never pass a drinking fountain without partaking. A little and often is the key. In the Gulf, there is a water fountain outside every mosque and many of the bigger walled villas provide an outside water point as a gesture of hospitality to passing strangers. But when you are very hot, don't drink chilled water as the risk of stomach spasms is quite high.

Tip 7

When you get home, remove your sweat-saturated clothes and wrap yourself in a bath towel. 'Warm down' gradually, drinking plenty water and snacking to replace depleted energy. Don't lie down until you have stabilised, rehydrated and stopped sweating.

The Lesson of the Toast

Conventional wisdom says to favour the morning and evening and to avoid the heat of the day. I disagree with that. I'm not an early morning person and the evenings tend to be the most humid time of the day. Besides which, I know how to make toast. Now, listen:

To make toast, you present the full face of the bread to the radiant element to capture as much heat as you can as quickly as you can. You don't present the edge of the slice to the heat. When folk say that the midday sun is strongest, they are talking about sunbathing, or toasting themselves, not standing upright. For a walker, it's completely different.

Tip 8

Between eleven a.m. and one p.m. when the sun is almost overhead, your hat and clothed shoulders shade your whole body. Earlier and later, the sun's slanting rays beat on you mercilessly. (The afternoon is worst because the air temperature lags behind the sun by a few hours).

don't be fooled by the name - it's just a car wash
don't be fooled by the name - it's just a car wash | Source

End Bit

Every country has its tough season, whether it's a northern winter or a desert summer. But there is nothing worse than giving in to it, hiding indoors from the weather. Our ancestors were nomadic, hunter-gatherers. We are built for walking. All it takes is a little determination, a little knowledge and a healthy respect for the power of the elements. If you sit indoors, nothing is going to happen; step outside and something just might. Life is good, when you live it.

Thanks for reading!

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Comments 36 comments

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

Funny and fascinating! I don't think I care to visit Qatar to experience the 122° heat, but, if by chance I find myself there, I'll be sure to leave my silly baseball hat at home and bring a wide brim hat! (don't know about the underwear, though...) Voted up across the board.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Stephanie - thanks for the visit. That's right about the hat. Think sombrero and you won't go far wrong!

robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

My goodness Paraglider-- Kudos to you for walking around in that heat-- I think I would pick up the local custom of moving from one air conditioner to another and oh well, if I missed out on the Camel paddock tant pis. Just reading about that heat makes me wilt but you do have a way with words and I do enjoy armchair travel so this was a great adventure-- thanks as always and thumbs up up up

amillar profile image

amillar 5 years ago from Scotland, UK

That's a good analogy about the toast paraglider; it makes sense put like that. I doubt if I'll ever get the chance to put it to the test though - I've never been out the UK.

You could have two baseball hats, one facing front and one facing back, but then you’d just have to wash two caps. Mind you, I have to wash two pairs of long johns in winter - we all have our cross to bear.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Robie - it's worse in Ramadan when you're not allowed to be seen drinking (even water) in public in the daylight hours. On the other hand, exceptions are made for invalids, which is what you'd become after an hour without water. If challenged, my defence is prevention is better than cure :)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Amillar - It might be a tad cooler in the Scottish Borders, but you've got hills to negotiate. Qatar is more or less dead flat. Instead of two baseball caps, can I suggest one deerstalker?

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

This is absolutely fascinating. I knew next to nothing about camels before reading this, except that they have humps. Thanks for a great read...really enjoyed it.

SerLeon profile image

SerLeon 5 years ago from Pakistan

Hey nice article. . . . . Voted up . . .Hav a nice fasting season man . . . But tel me. . . . .u ACtuALly own a camel ??!

Jessie T. Ponce 5 years ago

Very informative and a pleasant read with lots of humor. Thanks Paraglider.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Alekhouse - I'm no camel expert either, but I see more of them than I used to in Scotland!

SerLron - One week to go of this Ramadan. But no, I don't own a camel! Racing camels fetch racehorse prices in this area.

Hi Jessie - thaks for the visit and comment :)

quicksand profile image

quicksand 5 years ago

"Qatar's Asian girls, mainly Filipinas and Chinese ..." Well, Paraglider, I scrolled down for pictures and I came to a point beyond which you cannot scroll any more! Still no pix!

Well I was not aware that heat affects the IQ. Methinks I should trek my way slowly towards the north pole. Do you think that would help? ... LOL!

Jokes apart this was an interesting presentation indeed. Thanks.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

quicksand - just for you, I'll add a picture of some of Qatar's Asian girls. Call back in an hour or so! Thanks for the read :)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

quicksand - job done. It's not the heat that affects the IQ. It's just a correlation with reversed baseball caps!

quicksand profile image

quicksand 5 years ago

Thanks Paraglider! Wow, how did you get Ani, Juli, and Peilei to pose together in the scorching heat? :)

... and, you mean "chilling out" will not raise my IQ? :)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Maybe that was indoors, the last time we had a drink together ;)

funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

Incredible. A close friend who is a Filipina grew up there and her parents live there. I knew it was hot, but this is incredible.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

If Qatar's the hottest place I've lived, Montreal is certainly the coldest! I spent one December there with temperatures of minus thirty odd. Impressive! Thanks for the visit :)

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

Interesting read. I love the part about "going commando," and I hadn't thought about the oblique rays of the sun earlier and later in the day being tougher to deal with than midday sun when walking (especially if you're wearing a wide-brimmed hat).

I think this is especially important since some sun is critically important for your body to create vitamin D, and even though walking outside might feel punishing except during nighttime, it's important to do some of it during the day.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi livelonger - some of the locals here avoid the sun so determinedly that they look almost etiolated as a result. That's certainly not healthy. (I've often wondered where the phrase 'going commando' comes from - any ideas?)

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

There's some speculation in the Wikipedia article on the topic (as good a source as any, I suppose) that college students used it first in the 70s, referring to Vietnam war soldiers:

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Interesting, thanks. I think the term is less well known in UK, which would make sense if it has Vietnam origins.

CASE1WORKER profile image


When you think about it, people were living in Qatar before the advent of electric air conditioning and air conditioned cars- they went about their daily lives somehow. Not sure about the underwear bit, I know it makes sense but..................

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

They were, but not in business suits! Also, it seems that the extreme heat of the Gulf is relatively new. Temperatures were milder as little as 59 years ago, or so I'm told by some of the older locals.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Typo above - should read as little as 50 years ago.

marwan asmar profile image

marwan asmar 4 years ago from Amman, Jordan

Good piece, like the humor

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks marwan :)

twodawgs 4 years ago

It gets pretty hot here in the summer - long spells of highs in the 100-110's. I used to try to stay out of the heat as much as possible, but decided to try a different approach (similar to yours) when I just got tired of feeling miserable every time I had to go outside in the heat. In addition to things like wearing protective clothing, drinking plenty of water, etc., I've discovered there is also a mental game involved. Every time I step out into the heat, I say to myself, "Ahhh, this feels good," and oddly, it somehow convinces my body that it really does feel good, and I immediately feel more comfortable. Everybody thinks I'm crazy when I do that. But when you think about it, in a way, it does feel good. And in a way, it doesn't. Both aspects are present; it's what we choose to focus on that is more real to us. Most people choose to think more about what doesn't feel good about it.

Also, turning up the thermostat on my home's air conditioner helps, I think by lessening the difference between the inside and outside temperatures, so going outside isn't quite as much of a shock to my system. After a week or two acclimating to the warmer inside temperatures, I find it perfectly comfortable, and it saves me about $50/mo. on the cooling bill.

I appreciate the tip about the slow cool-down, I did not know about that before. Voted funny because of Tip#4. (Too bad there is no "hysterical" vote, or I would have used that.) Thanks for a great article.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Twodawgs - I understand that completely. I am pushing 60, and although the heat here is extreme, it also relaxes and 'softens' all the joints. Back home in UK, I find all sorts of 'arthritic' stiffness in places that just bend naturally here in the Gulf. I think it's no surprise that human life seems to have originated in N. Africa and the Middle East. It could never have started in Montreal!

Steve LePoidevin profile image

Steve LePoidevin 4 years ago from Thailand

Here in Wuhan, we're in one of the four furnaces of China but still not close to your stats! Often 100% humidity and in the high 30's and low 40's for three or four months. Why did I never think of no makes perfect sense!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I've not been to China yet but I've promised myself to visit before I leave the Middle East. Maybe next year. Thanks for the read.

mike 4 years ago

Enjoyed reading this. I love to walk in the middle east as well (last year Saudi, this year Abu Dhabi. The heat I can handle, the humidity is the killer. Still as you say it's the challenge (though if I ever did fell heatstrokey, sunstrokey a taxi wouldn't be expensive. Can't agree with flip flops though - grit and stones can easily get in under the feet - somehow I just feel vulnerable in those things

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Mike - humidity, yes. It's more or less at its peak now, here in Qatar. But in another couple of weeks the humidity will drop out and the temperature will become sensible again. That's the real walking season!

tastiger04 profile image

tastiger04 3 years ago

If there is one thing that stands out in an Asian climate, it is definitely the humidity!!! It's like walking into a sauna once you leave the airport. Flip flops are the best, I've been stuck on them ever since :) voted up and useful!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

tastiger - absolutely. In Qatar the humidity is worst through August/September. Which is just around the corner...

tastiger04 profile image

tastiger04 3 years ago

I bet...brace yourself! It will be interesting when the World Cup is in Qatar 2018, although I'm sure it won't stop the fans from attending...:)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Qatar got 2022 for the World Cup. They've still got a long way to go building stadiums and accommodation. And, I hope, a huge casualty unit for extreme sunburn and heatstroke cases!

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