Preparing for an Outback Trip

In just under three weeks time I’ll be heading off to the big red bash. At this point, it looks like I’ll be heading out via Broken Hill to the Bendleby Ranges, then North via the Flinders to Maree and then Birdsville.  There will be plenty of off-roading on this route, which I’ve deliberately planned to make the longer days on the bitumen getting into SA, then a slow meander North to the Bash.

The question that comes up though is how do you prepare adequately? I have a relatively new 4 wheel drive and I am very familiar with it, but the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies. Obviously preparing the vehicle is key, but so is being prepared for things to go wrong.  I thought I’d list some of the considerations for me in terms of preparation, vehicle and otherwise. I’ve listed these below, and would love to know if you think I’ve covered most things, or whether you think I’ve missed something critical!

Vehicle serviceability

It’s worth going over the vehicle with a fine tooth comb…

This is quite a big one for me.  It involves being confident that the vehicle is ready to make the long distance trip.  Aside from the obvious mechanical service, for me this means having a detailed look over the vehicle, looking for anything that might be loose or requiring tensioning or tightening.  It includes checking steering components, suspension, tyres, batteries (a big one), lights, and filters. Even tightening grub screws for antennas are important. What about Recovery points/straps/winch?  And if you tow, is the brake controller functional and are the pins clean?  Has the trailer been serviced?  When were the wheel bearings last changed? You want to pull everything out and make sure it works. This is not an exhaustive list, but should give you the idea of what you need to check.

Vehicle Preparation

Checking the trailer connection and chains

Aside from the serviceability of the vehicle, preparation is important.  What I’m talking about here is how you setup the vehicle for your trip.  Will you take that awning?  Is your fuel tank sufficient to allow you to traverse each leg of your trip between fuel stations?  If not, where will you carry that fuel?  Where will you pack everything on the trip, and are you within your GVM?  Do you want to temporarily wrap the vehicle to protect the paint? Can you stay within safe limits for your roof rack?  Do you need to take a Sand Flag?  Will you need a Snorkel for any potential River Crossings?  Is your suspension up to the demands of the trip?  Can your electrical setup support the time you’ll be off-grid? Having the right setup is key – in fact, I’m about to install a Long Range tank, underbody protection and a Snorkel to the Everest for our upcoming trip to ensure it is ready for the remote travel we will undertake. The other important part here is making sure that everything fitted works – do you have the pegs etc for the awning?  What about the 240V plug for the fridge? Or the connectors for the Sand Flag?

Managing the basics – Food, Water, Fuel.

The most important two things from this trio are fuel and water, but food also needs to be a consideration for remote trips too!  You want to know what the longest time will be between being able to resupply will be for all of these things, to know how much you need to carry.  It might mean carrying extra fuel and/or water jerrycans (which creates the challenge of where to store them), or adjusting your plans to shorten legs to allow refuelling and resupply.  Realistically you should plan on an absolute minimum of 4L of water per person per day, with 2-3 days reserve. 

When it comes to food, you’ll need to plan for the days you are away, but ideally have some shelf stable extras to supply you for a couple of days if there is a delay.  I like to spend money in smaller towns to resupply where I can, but this is a balancing act too because you don’t want to get caught out.

Another consideration here is how to pack or manage your food.  Where possible, I’ll vacuum pack as much as I can, in portions that represent one meal, especially for legs where I know there are long days. If I’ve got the luxury of a fridge in the car, I’ll use the trailer fridge as a freezer, moving the frozen meal to the fridge the morning of use.  This means that I make the fridge more efficient while defrosting the food, but also means I can turn up to camp, put a pot of water on the stove and heat the meal still in the plastic.  I then get a hot meal with minimum preparation, plus can re-use the hot water for a warm drink and washing up.  And I can minimise washing up because the food was reheated in the plastic. This is not to say I don’t like preparing and taking my time to make a meal from scratch, but it means I can choose to eat quickly, or spend more time when it suits me.

Being prepared for a Breakdown – tools and spares

I keep an Expedition box of tools and spares, plus a Bahco toolkit in the vehicle at all times, augmenting for each trip.

This is the thing that we all want to be prepared for.  In terms of tools, I’m lucky enough to have an awesome Bahco toolkit which has most of the tools I’d ever need.  I’ve got a few extras there, plus I carry a multi-meter, Scangauge II (scan tool and gauge), cable ties, soldering iron and odds and ends, and a jump starter. For a longer trip, I’ll also carry a tyre repair kit, and spare radiator hoses and belts. I’ll also carry some spare fuses.

Aside from the basic tools and spare, I also include recovery gear in this area.  I’ll check batteries for my wireless winch controller are charged and that I also have the manual cable as a back-up.  I’ll run the winch out and check it works.  I’ll pull the recovery kit out and check all shackles and parts are there.

In addition, it is a good idea to get online and research what goes wrong with your make and model.  Even the ‘best’ vehicles all have things that are common faults, and understanding them can help you work out what spares to carry, or how to manage them. In my case it means I’ll carry 10L of Adblue in case I get short and need to fill up, especially when towing.

Given how new my vehicle is, I’ll also try to find and download the latest list of engine and error codes and carry it as  a hard copy.  This can help me work out what is going wrong if the dreaded engine light is coming on and help me potentially fix it on the side of the road, or at least prepare to get it sorted.

If you are going on long distance trips, consider Roadside Assistance or Recovery Cover which can minimise the financial outlay if you need to be towed a decent distance, and even help you get moving again. Every Club 4X4 policy comes with up to $1,500.00 of off-road recovery cover, which you can increase if you intend on being more remote…

Understanding Communications

I’m not going to pretend I’m an awesome mechanic because I’m really not.  I know a few basic things on how things work, and I’m willing to have a bit of a play, but I know my limit.  So, if something goes seriously awry, I’m going to need help to fix it.  The challenge in being remote is that mobile coverage can be hundreds of km away.  If you can communicate with the outside world in an emergency, you can get help to fix an issue, even if you don’t have the knowledge yourself.  However, if you can’t reach out to someone else, you’re in trouble!

See the source image
I carry a Thuraya XT-Lite Satellite Phone on remote trips

I learnt a long time ago to carry a satellite phone.  There are many services available each with pros and cons.  Some people carry an EPIRB or similar, and others swear by HF radio.  It is up to you to manage the risk you are comfortable with when it comes to communications, but the key in everything is having some knowledge.  If you don’t want to spend on a satphone, or HF, then research at minimum where the existing mobile network coverage is – I.E – always know where the nearest coverage will be.  Tell someone where you are going, and when you will be in touch, and have a clear trigger for them to contact the authorities if they don’t hear from you, and always stay with the vehicle if possible – if you are prepared you’ll have food and water to wait for help, and shelter from the elements too. Most importantly know how to use the communication devices you carry – it might seem like common sense but it often gets paid off which creates extra stress in a difficult situation as you have to work out how to use the comms device rather than be able to just focus on the communicating itself.

Knowing the location of key Hospitals along the route

This kind of ties in with knowing how to communicate, but at least know where to get help along the route.  If there is an issue, where is the nearest, hospital, and how long will it take to get there.  Is there reception or the ability to communicate if you need?  Where can you get medicine if required?  It doesn’t take a lot of effort to research these things before you head off, but it can save valuable time if something goes wrong if you know where you can get help and have an idea of how you’ll manage it.

Keep updated on the conditions

Out in remote places, conditions can change.  Roads can become impassable and places isolated quickly.  Make sure you keep abreast of conditions, and be prepared to adjust your plans based on the conditions.

I’ll keep you updated as I progress through my trip preparations, but I’d love your thoughts.  Do you think I’ve covered the key points regarding things you do when preparing for a trip?  Is there a key bit of wisdom I’ve missed?



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Comments 23

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  1. Remember to take out your spare wheel/tyre and check it. Is it holding pressure? If you’ve upgraded your rig tyre size, what’s the size of the spare? Is it compatible? Is the spare in good condition or just an old roughie? Check your tyre repair kit and familiarise yourself with it. Don’t leave the tyre repair kit behind.

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  2. Hello Aiden. My plans to do a trip ha e ben put ba k for around a year bit I will be using this time to go over your list.
    Even though my vehicle is not a full 4×4 (nissan x-trail 4×4 TS) I will still be needing to be aware of the checks that you have mentioned.
    Thanks heaps

  3. Reference the first photo – your chain length is way too long, straight line plus one link should be about right, 2 at max.

    1. Agree that the chains are probably a bit long but I’m not sure that straight line plus one link would allow sufficient travel for some of the places you can (and probably will) take a T-Van.

      We have done dry creek crossings in the outback where T-Van and tow-vehicle were in such a V that a short chain setup would have the chains binding under the tow hitch…

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        I agree David. I probably should shorten them a bit, but having them that straight will likely bind them up the way they connect to the Everest. Might have to reverse the trailer to 90 degrees then measure?

        1. Hi Aiden,

          Suggest you work out what length is appropriate by crossing them and lowering the unhooked trailer onto them – right length would be short enough to keep it from touching the ground (should it ever come off the DO35 hitch – which is unlikely!)

  4. Hey mate I’m heading to the big bash this year along the Birdsville track solo, what’s the track conditions like have you done it lately?

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  5. I travel away to work and tripping around. I have a packing list developed over a few years and trips. List includes the range of groceries, camping gear, spares, work gear if going to work etc. it makes life easy knowing nothing is forgotten!

  6. Might pay to lock your tow hitch on as not everyone is as honest as they could be. Recently had to tow a race boat home with a borrowed hitch.

  7. What rear window glass protection are you planning on using? Its a must when towing a trailer on those rocky roads you plan on travelling. Rocks bounce off trailer and straight back into the glass and smash no window. I use coreflute and double sided tape for the rear glass of our dual cab canopy works a treat.

  8. One thing I do if towing on gravel, especially on some of the roads out to the Bash is cover the back window of the ute/4wd with coreflute, to stop the stones that get thrown forward from the camper from shattering the back window. A Stone Stomper is a better solution, but we don’t do enough gravel touring at the moment to warranty the cost…

    I also cover the contents of the back of the ute with a dark coloured material (so it doesn’t reflect in the rear vision mirror), and blow all the red dust out with a Ryobi blower before removing the cover when we get to camp…

  9. I lost a bearing cap off my trailer due to flying rock, a spare would have served me well at the time. I travelled half way along the track without it. Birdsville Roadhouse had spares. Safe trip.

  10. Not sure if I you covered this, but undercarriage protection is pretty essential for tracts like the Oodnadada. Those SHARP rocks can reek havoc on the oil sump as I witnessed a poor bloke in a brand new Landcruiser experience. His vehicle had to be rescued and his caravan was too big to included, so was a separate $$$ tow.

    Been to Marree, but let me know when you find Maree. 🙂

  11. Depending on how serious you intend to get (off-road) , if you have an IFS vehicle, take a spare CV and steering arm… there a lot easier to break than you might think!

  12. Will be interested to see how your AdBlue consumption goes – we did the run (towing a T-Van) from Broken Hill to the Bash via Cameron Corner in 2018 as the first leg of what became a 15,000km trip.

    The MY17 V6 Amarok’s AdBlue range with a full tank was supposed to be 7,000km – got to Birdsville and the AdBlue range was down to 1,500km.

    Not sure what our AdBlue consumption would have been on the rest of the trip (let alone on the Canning in 2019) if I hadn’t had some changes made………..

    Suspect I would have had to carry more than 10L!

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      I’ll let you know David. In my experience so far I can get 3000 to 3500km towing… I’ll probably grab another 10L just to be sure!

  13. And the one thing Aiden cannot really push here in good conscience, but I can – take out the maximum appropriate recovery cost with your Club 4×4 policy at renewal time

    We had the maximum recovery of $30,000 for a number of years – we did over 40,000km of off-bitumen travel in 2018/19, including pretty remote places, but thankfully didn’t need it.

    But it was good to know it was there if I broke down somewhere like the track from Cook across to the Nullabor Roadhouse where we probably wouldn’t see anybody for days…. (our Satphone would have been used in anger there).

    And no – I don’t have shares in Club 4X4!

  14. All your preparation considerations are great however the biggest danger in travelling to the Bir Red Bash (BRB) could be wind and its direction? We went to the last BRB in 2019 and were shocked by the number of suicidal drivers who were overtaking in the dust cloud being generated from our Landcruiser towing a Bushtracker caravan. I was driving to the the conditions with speed varying between about 60 and 90 kph between Windorah and Birdsville. The strong breeze which I obviously had no control over was generally from left to right across the road. I could not see the whole right hand side of the van in the Clearview mirrors, due to the dust just from the car, but could see most of the left hand side of the van. I believe the dust cloud would of been out to about 50 m behind the van, from what I could judge of vehicles towing caravans in front of us in the distance. The camera on the back of the van was displaying just “brown out” from the dust. The first time it happened I was shocked to see the illuminated driving lights appear out of the dust cloud in the lower convex mirror in the Clearview mirrors, about level with the rear door of the car. I immediately backed off as the overtaking vehicle started throwing small stones up over my bonnet. I estimate he was doing about 110 kph over the corrugations. This happened about another 17 times over the remaining 260 kms of mainly dirt. We would then watch them do the same crazy overtake on vehicles travelling in front of us in the distance. Occasionally a car or truck heading in the opposite direction would disappear into our dust cloud as I wished them well that they wouldn’t get a nasty surprise of a head on with a ‘nut job’ overtaking us, we or they still had not seen. We spoke to numerous people while at the bash and found lots of people had witnessed and been horrified of the same psychotic kamikaze overtaking, including people who had travelled up from the south over the Birdsville track. The organisers warn people over and over about it but the small percentage seem to know better and feel they have the right to put their own lives and the lives of others at risk. It was so bad that we went the long way going home via Bedourie, Winton and Longreach back to Brisbane. It was an extra 400 kms but far safer as there is shorter stretches of gravel and more stretches of bitumen. We went in a day early, and had left at dawn from a free camp just near the turn-off to the gravel road to Birdsville and arrived in Birdsville just after lunch, so I don’t understand why these psychos were in such a hurry? The crazy thing was as these clowns were overtaking us some, were towing camper trailers which were bouncing all over the road, almost out of control, and some of the vehicles had the Mrs. clearly looking very scared, with young children in the back, as they went past. How there wasn’t people killed or seriously injured due to a high speed head-on, on that particular day, as there was no way they could of seen past their bonnet while in that dust cloud, was just pure good luck. Hopefully the wind if any, will be favourable for safer motoring for all travellers for this years Bash?

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      Couldn’t agree more with the sentiment here Russell. We get in early and stay late to avoid the craziness. But some people just don’t drive to the conditions… at least with a breeze the dust clears rather than hanging around but it is only a matter of time until someone gets hurt.

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