Rethink Your Water Use

Ron and Viv Moon — 29 July 2021
How much water do you carry in your camper when heading to the desert?

We were out in the middle of the Gibson Desert with a group of like-minded travellers, all of whom were towing some form of Aussie designed and made camper. This was to be a relatively long trip led by Trent Moon of Moon Tours (see: starting in Ceduna in South Australia and finishing at Cape Keraudren on the north-west coast of the continent, travelling via some of the most remote tracks in the land. It’s also mainly desert country and, as you’d expect, water was a talking subject – how much we had, where we could get some, was it drinkable and when was our next chance to fill?

When I asked the aforementioned questions I was absolutely gob-smacked when I found some of the bigger hybrid campers in the group were carrying around 400 litres of water. 

“You don’t really need that much,” I spluttered. “That’s nearly half a tonne of weight,” I continued, somewhat flabbergasted.  

For ourselves, we were carrying just under 200 litres – 160 in the Trakmaster Gibson we’ve been hauling around the country for over 10 years now and another 35-40 litres in the headboard of the Patrol – and that was, for us, more than enough.

I suggested for those carrying that heavy amount of water they drop some as they didn’t need to shower each night or use 20 litres of precious fluid to wash the dishes. The ‘flush dunnies’ were another extravagance you could easily do without on a desert trip but it seems some people don’t want to give up those luxuries and if they had the capacity to carry that much water, then why not?

That question was answered by the end of the trip with a number of suspension failures including quite a few rubber bushes being flogged out (after just this one trip), and the tyre carnage that also resulted. Yep, you gotta think frugal when you are travelling across our vast desert landscapes and water is the most essential fluid you are carrying, closely followed by the amount of fuel you require to go from A to B. Both are heavy!

I remember our first big desert crossing back in the 1980s when we followed what was to become Madigan’s Line across the northern Simpson Desert. Back then, it was pure cross country with no tracks from the time you left Fletcher Hill on the western side of the desert until you met the track network of Muncoonie Outstation far away on the eastern edge of the desert.

There were 10 of us in four vehicles, including a young Trent, Viv and her mum, with each vehicle carrying 100 litres of water in jerry cans, which we deemed enough for the 7-8 day crossing. And it was! Even so, when we came onto a flooded claypan halfway across the desert we filled our empty jerries with the muddy brew and used that for washing grubby hands and sand plastered faces, and even dishes. By the time we got to Kuddaree Waterhole we found Eyre Creek in flood with water everywhere, and our escape from there was compromised and a story in itself, but we didn’t have any water issues, apart from there being too much of the stuff!

So how much water should you carry? Well, I reckon 10 litres of water a day is more than enough for drinking, cooking and washing when travelling in our remote country especially considering that sitting in an air-conditioned car travelling on a hot day in the desert is hardly severely dehydrating for the occupants.  

In fact, I don’t think Viv and I have ever used 20 litres of water a day when travelling through our desert country. When we get to an outpost like Warburton, or even a reliable source of good water, such as the remote Jupiter Well, we often splash out a bit, washing our clothes and enjoying a good shower, but then we refill our water tanks. You’ll find there’s a number of these wells and bores, many fitted with a hand pump, scattered across the remote desert country that provide delightful water.

So, how do we save water and use so little? Well, we either use paper plates or when we need to wash plates and utensils we use a spray bottle of water and detergent for the not so grubby ones. If we have food covered pots and pans, paper towel gets rid of most of the food debris before we use a minimum amount of hot water to wash and clean them. Showers are not an everyday thing and when we do, we keep them to a minimum. Wet yourself down, switch off the tap, soap up, and then rinse yourself. If water is scarce but you badly need a wash, grab a plastic 1.5-2.0 litre bottle, drill some holes in the bottom, fill with water and use that for a wash down.        

Currently we are camped on the beach at Ningaloo and in the past 10 days we have used, in total, less than 60 litres of our drinking water from the camper. We wash ourselves in the sea and wash any dishes or restock the chemical toilet (a requirement of camping on this coast) with rough bore water catered from a well 10km away. It’s all pretty easy and no great hardship.

The moral of the story is, for travellers, that water equals weight, and weight out on the bush tracks is a killer of vehicles and campers. 

But you really need water, so always make sure you are carrying enough for those essential needs – like keeping you and your party alive. Know where you can restock and keep what you carry on board your camper to a minimum. Anything over 200 litres for a couple or young family, even on a long desert trip, is too much and you’ll need to rethink your water use! 


Regulars No Fixed Address Column Water usage Desert travel