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The 8 things you must have in case you get stranded in the outback

If you're heading into remote areas, make sure you have these 8 things on board so that you'll be well equipped to survive if you breakdown or get stuck.

Australia has a reputation for being a pretty scary place . . .

Usually it is our wildlife like snakes and crocs that people are most worried about but with more and more people getting out and exploring remote regions of Australia, it's actually headlines like these below that we see more of.

Worse still, in almost every case they could have been easily avoided with just a little bit of preparation.

Too many people go barrelling off into the outback assuming everything will be fine and then when something goes wrong, they are in trouble. 

The golden rule if you breakdown or get stuck is . . .


The reason is that your vehicle has resources, shelter and is easier to find by the people looking for you.

With this in mind, let's make sure that when you do get stuck, your vehicle does have the resources you'll need to stay alive and and get rescued quickly.

I've put a list of the 8 things that I think you should always have on board so that if you do get stuck (and it happened to us) you will end up with an interesting story to tell your friends, instead of becoming another tragic headline.

Note - when I say 'on board' I mean in your vehicle. If you leave your camp to go for a day trip then make sure these things go with you. No use being 100km away from all your emergency gear when you need it most.

1.  5 Days Supply of Water

How much water this is will depend on how many of you there are and how hot it is.

Assuming 2 litres per person for a cool day and 4 litres per person for a hot day (you won't be exercising and will be in the shade so this should be enough)

Mild weather: 4 people x 2 litres x 5 days = 40 litres (2 jerry cans)
Hot weather: 4 people x 4 litres x 5 days = 80 litres (4 jerry cans)

Ideally, have a water tank built into your vehicle and make sure it's full before you go.

Another easy option are the 10 litres boxes of water you get from supermarkets for $3 or $4 - they are an easy and cheap way to carry extra water as well as being compact and easy to store. When we are going on a road trip I'll often get 6 or 8 of them and stack them in the back of the Landcruiser up against the safety cage out of the way.

2. Sleeping Bags or Blankets

Many people are surprised by how cold it gets in the outback. It can be 30+ degrees in the day time and get to freezing or below at night.

If you head off in the morning in t-shirt and shorts and breakdown that afternoon, you could be in for a very cold night.

And you can't assume that you can always light a fire as there are vast areas of the Aussie outback that have no firewood or anything else of any consequence that will burn.

Sure you could start burning your car seats and spare tyre, petrol etc. but do you really want to be doing that on the first night when you'll probably be rescued tomorrow?

Just throw a sleeping bag for each person in the boot before you go and you can cuddle up in the car and keep warm and relatively comfortable.

Camping shops like Snowys Outdoors and even Kmart have cheap sleeping bags for around $20 to $30 that will do the job. It would be worth finding a place to store them permanently in your rig so they are always there when you need them, rather than having to remember to grab the ones off the bed in the caravan or camper trailer when you head out for a day trip.

3. Waterproof matches and lighter

If there is wood available around where you've broken down then you'll want a fire, both to keep warm and to signal for help.

Just keep in mind that wood and grass fires are pretty common in the outback and their smoke is usually white - to get attention you'll want black smoke and lots of it, so have a supply of plastic and rubber stuff on hand to throw on your fire to possibly alert passing planes or helicopters.

For the few dollars it will cost, the best bet is to keep a full box of waterproof matches and a spare lighter in your glovebox all the time for the time you need them. Alternatively you could put them in a zip lock bag like the photo above.

4. First aid kit (including snake bite bandage)

You probably have a good first aid kit in your caravan or camper but do you have one in your car?

Remember you could break down while out on a day trip a long way from camp.

Make sure that your kit has all the usual supplies and a snake bite bandage used for wrapping limbs that have been bitten.

5. Tent or tarp and rope

Being able to make a decent shelter from the sun and/or rain will dramatically increase your comfort levels and your prospects of survival.

Getting out of the sun will reduce the amount you sweat and therefore extend your water supplies.

If it rains you can use the tarp to catch water and channel it into your jerry cans.

If it's hot during the day you won't want to be sitting in the car and there are big areas of the outback with no natural shade at all.

A simple plastic tarp and 20 metres of nylon rope will enable you to rig some shade on the side of your car and if you can find a bright orange one like the one above then better still as it will be more visible from the air.

6. Shovel

A decent shovel is probably the single most valuable piece of recover equipment you can carry.

If you get stranded in the outback there is a good chance it is because you are bogged and don't have a winch or anything to winch off to get you out.

In most cases you will be able to dig yourself out.

It may take a while . . . it could take a couple of days . . . but it will be a whole lot easier with a shovel than your bare hands or a baked beans can!

I keep a long handled shovel and high lift jack permanently mounted to the side of my roofrack just in case.

7. A satellite emergency communication device

You would be forgiven for thinking that mobile phones will work in most places in Australia these days but that is not the case.

In fact the vast majority of the country still has no mobile coverage at all!

Once you get outside cities and towns the coverage drops away very quickly and you are on your own.

Fortunately there are several satellite communication devices that will work anywhere in Australia allowing you to send a distress signal if things go wrong and help will be on its way.

And with prices lower than ever before, there is no excuse not to have one on board.

PLB's (Personal Locator Beacons) and EPIRBS

PLB's or 'Personal Locator Beacons' like the RescueMe unit pictured are the default device for most travellers and the minimum equipment you should carry. When activated, they transmit a distress signal along with your GPS coordinates to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite network which relays the information to your nearest SAR (Search & Rescue) authority.

This system is monitored and managed by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) which is a Government agency that is there specifically to help Australians in trouble on land or sea. There is no cost to use the service.

When they pick up your signal they will immediately coordinate local emergency services to come and help you.

The benefits of a PLB over other devices is that they are relatively cheap to buy, don't require any monthly or annual subscription and are lightweight and weather proof so easily carried anywhere you go.

PLB's have a powerful radio transmitter to communicate with the satellites above that is not adversely affected by trees and weather. Satellite phones and the Spot Trackers need a clear view of the sky to operate reliably.

Satellite Communicators

Devices like the Spot Gen4 Satellite GPS Communicator use satellite phone networks for one way or two way communication from everywhere in Australia via satellite making them functional as a communications tool as well as an emergency beacon.

Prices & functionality for these devices vary's significantly depending on their capability and all will require either a monthly or annual subscription plan just like your mobile phone.

If you don't need a satellite phone the at the very least carry either a PLB like the RescueMe or a messenger like to Spot Gen4.

8. A decent printed map or atlas

Remember those things?

They were pretty popular before the invention of in car GPS systems of all shapes and sizes.

But even if you are using a digital mapping tool day to day, having a set of paper maps or a decent road atlas like the HEMA Road & 4WD Atlas as a backup makes good sense.

Electronic gadgets run on batteries which can go flat quickly and if you can't run your engine (because it's broken) then you might find yourself without a map in a day or two.

They sometimes rely on an internet connection to download sections of maps you haven't previously downloaded which can also be an issue.

By being able to study a decent printed map you'll be able to see what is nearby that may be able to help you - dams, station houses, creeks for water etc.

Now you're staying with the vehicle of course but knowing there is a dam or a creek a kilometre down the track will be useful if you need more water.

Click here to see our recommended range of books and maps


Be prepared . . . stay with the vehicle . . . don't panic.

If you keep a cool head and take the steps before hand to cover yourself in case things do go wrong then you can pretty much sit back and wait to be rescued.

If not, then you run the risk of becoming another tragic headline.


Since I wrote this article a few people have asked why I didn't include food on the list. The main reason is that if you have your satellite device like the Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB then help shouldn't be more than a day or two away and you're not going to starve in that time. Of course there's no harm in having a supply of calorie dense nut bars, chocolate etc. but the main focus is to get rescued quickly and be able to survive for a couple of days in extreme hot or cold conditions while waiting for help to arrive.

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Steve Baile
Steve Baile
I’m the founder of Expedition Australia, a writer, filmmaker & adventure travel junkie. Passionate about my family, health and fitness, hiking, 4WD touring, adventure motorbikes, camping and exploring as much of the planet as I can.


  1. Great articles. I am looking forward to your DVDs. What sort of camper trailer would you find suitable for a long trip? Which one would you consider to be excellent and practical ? I am planning to use a 99 Prado in excellent shape and with very low mileage. And there would be only 2 people traveling. Thank you for your advise and comments. Kind Regards, Carsen Tannberg

  2. Steve, I am looking forward to reading all of your articles. and the DVD. we are about a year away from our trip
    so all of this info is GOLD. thank you.

  3. Great piece as always, Steve. Just wanted to add one thing. The water supplies you mention - at least some of it - should be treated as a reserve. For every day, everything-is-dandy drinking, use another source. Just like with folk who live in regional and rural areas who are required to keep so many thousands of litres aside for fire fighting purposes, it would be a shame to face an emergency and realise that you've drained your reserve.

    • Very true Paul. Also, spreading your water over several containers gives you the option to refill one or more from less than reliable water sources without contaminating the whole supply.

  4. Loved the Big Lap DVD - we have passed it on to our daughter & son-in-law who have a 12mth old daughter to watch. I'm hoping it will give them the confidence to do 'the lap' with their little girl before she goes to school. Thanks again for a great educational movie.

    • Cheers Shirley, I hope they get the confidence they need to take the plunge . . . if we can do it, they can do it 🙂

  5. Loved watching the big lap, we always carry a PLB in the 4WD along with a good blanket and a comprehensive first aid kit.
    The 4WD also has a 60 litre water tank fitted.
    No excuse for anyone traveling in remote areas not have some sort of emergency beacon or similar.

    • Cheers Steve - I agree, given what we spend setting up the 4WD and caravan/trailer a couple of hundred dollars more for an emergency beacon is a no brainer.

  6. Hi Steve, loved your DVD series, inspired to do the same. We have a 2000 Prado petrol and thinking of upgrading however we have 6 kids. So 2 q's
    1. In your expert (experienced) opinion, is it doable with 6 kids to do the lap. kids under 10.
    2. We are trying to find a 4wd that could take 8 of us. Only solution we have found is maybe a 2nd hnd troupie!
    Whats your thoughts?

  7. Thanks for this. A tarp hadn't occurred to me.

    Water purification tablets are also worth carrying as is a space blanket - for shelter, warmth and signalling.

    Sadly Spot Messenger and Connect are no longer at the budget end, at around $200 for the unit and $230 annual sub for Messenger. PLBs have become much cheaper over the years and are the gold standard, if not as flexible as a 2-way communicator. Hiring a satphone is also worth considering.

  8. In addition to the matches and lighter, an endless match, which is a piece of magnesium and a flint, and a knife, and KNOW HOW TO USE THEM, not like on Survivor on TV, where they endlessly hit the flint with a knife, without shaving some magnesium off beforehand. Mine lives in my centre console.

  9. Should always carry a bag of large garbage bags for collecting water. Place the bag over a branch and tie at the neck of the bag leave for about 8 hrs or overnight and the bag should have 1 to 2 litres in it in the morning. use a bag per person and you will collect enough water for a day.

    • Great in the survival books but go out in the back yard and try it you might still be bloody thirsty as desert vegetation will give little if any water.

  10. great article. May I add a couple of bars of chocolate. yes it will melt, but in a small container, who cares. chocolate can save your life in cold extremes by providing energy warmth on the inside, plus it can boost ones spirits

  11. Great article Steve - will take all the advice on board. Just loved the DVD's and they have inspired me, what an amazing country we live in. THANKYOU. Cheers Ros.

  12. Do not carry fuel and water in plastic Gerry cans when off road. Small stones fly up and get lodged wearing a hole in the Gerry can. Very dangerous when in a remote place. Carry 2 or more 5 Lt water bottles in case you have to walk somewhere. You also need a map and compass.

    • 5 litres of water is pretty heavy. I wouldn't want to be carrying it too far. Better to stay with your vehicle if you need that much water.

  13. We have taken a 1983 Jayco Dove to - Oodnadatta - Birdsville - Innamincka - Lawn Hill - the Outback Way - the Tanami Track - Duncans Highway - with no problems - behind a two wheel drive Falcon ute - just drive SLOW on the rough stuff and don't overload.

  14. Might like to add a dozen large calico bags as well. We used to just put them under the back seat right out of the way. If you get bogged you just fill them up with dirt/sand/stones and put them under the tyres and just drive on out, works a treat.

  15. A good common sense list. Perhaps increase it to nine items and include a pack of playing cards so you can have a game of Patience/Solitaire while your waiting. You'll only spend 10 minutes waiting before some one taps you on the shoulder and says "the red 6 goes on the black 7 mate".

  16. The problem with having permanent water containers on/in your vehicle is that plastic bottles leech poisonous chemicals into water when holding water long-term. This is exacerbated when it sits in the sun. So by all means have your mounted jerries, but replace the water before each trip.

    • Depends if you have plastic or metal containers.
      I have stainless water tanks both in and out of the car.

    • You are a bit out of date and misinformed. There has never been BPA in Ozzie water bottles and if you buy Australian Standards water jerry cans the water keeps for months with no taste.

  17. A real cheap way of finding camp and others after dark is one of those solar lamps i use one when i go bush

  18. When my mate got lost in the outback for five or so days no water he had a chocolate bar and though he would eat it, but when he did it amost choke him to death due to being very dehdrated. Someone sugested chocolate in your posts, bad idear.

  19. I also carry a packet of Sparklers with me. You know, the ones on a wire stick and you light them and they mark little sparks as they burn down the wire. They are actually a mixture of Magnesium and Calcium Carbonate. The Magnesium burns as a very high temperature and is excellent for use as a fire starter, but, because they burn so brightly, they can be seen for miles, especially from the air. So, at night, if you hear searchers or aircraft, light a few Sparklers and wave them around. They draw the eye towards them because of their brightness.

  20. If you travel alone a 5w uhf & epirb are essential. Unless you have a golf cart & can walk out. Golf trolley can take a bit of gear.

  21. Smoke flares. If you own a boat, or know someone that does, why not carry expired or current flares.

  22. Very useful information! Add 'snatch straps'. Very handy. Also 'patience' and 'common sense'. (They are weightless and occupy very little space!) One to leave behind with Police, friends or neighbours - details of your route, planned date of return and times and dates when you will 'check in'.

  23. I have a small backpack that I take when I go bush on foot, it contains the usual stuff mentioned here including water, space blanket and a Lifestraw (about $30). I've never had to use it but I know that if I was stranded and there were puddles or other "polluted" water sources I'd be ok and wouldn't up with a bug that could dehydrate me and worse. Waterbottle and Jerrycan Lifestraws are available too. Excellent DVD and comments here.

  24. A good quality PLB will cost about the same as two tanks of diesel, what is the life of you and your lady and a couple of rug rats worth. Is $400 too much

  25. i always wrap a good amount of black electrical tape around a lighter, it can used as a band aid, or tape stuff up, and takes up no more room than the lighter in your pocket. Always have a pocket knife and leatherman on my belt too.

  26. if I go to semi remote areas looking for gold I take my mountain bike with me. But Yes I will buy PLB for my next big trip out. Other trips are with friends.

  27. It always amazes me, that often people don't even carry basic tools. And know how to use them. No not everyone is a mechanic, but just something as basic as pliers, screwdriver, some type of adjustable wrench. I have met people way outback, who have no idea on how to change a tyre, let alone repair one!! I also agree with most of the above. The big one for Australia is water.....

  28. I enjoyed the "Big Lap".
    I now do quite a bit of remote touring, some on a motorcycle. I carry a Spot Tracker so family know where I am and a PLB in case of emergency. In my last emergency, passersby had a SatPhone so I didn't have to set it off.
    RFDS have a great service.

  29. What rubbish, you missed the No.1 most important thing to have if you break down or get bogged in the middle of bumfuck. What you going to drink while you wait for rescue or while your missus is digging you out the bog? BEER!

  30. Spent a bit of time in the African desert and always carry a bar of natural soap in tool box. When I punctured a diesel tank out bush a mate jumped under the vehicle and rubbed the soap over the gash. Worked for me.

  31. Great ideas and commonsense ones at that. I practice this mantra but I take it up one level by having a redundacy. That is two containers of water. Two fire starter sources so on and so forth, in case one is damaged or fails to work. My mantra is a well known one, being "two is one, one is none"

  32. I'd add a good dry powder fire extinguisher to the list as there's no point your survival gear going up in smoke if there's a vehicle fire. We always carry two, one in reachable distance from the front seats and another accessed from the rear, as well as at least the 8 point plan.

  33. I woukd add rehydration mixture. Hydralite sachets are cheap , $10, and a couple of boxes tossed in the glove box can save a life. Drinking water while sweating can reduce your electrolytes levels. If you find a person who is dehydrated giving them lots if water can lower their electrolyte levels and be dangerous. A sachet of electrolyte replacement in the water can save them. Think long distance runners!
    ALSO if you get diarrhea it is vital. Or you will be licking sweat off each others bodies to pass the time waiting for rescue. (lol)

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