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!
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.
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
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…
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!
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?