Safety and security at a Free Campsite

Courtney Cunningham and Glenn Marshall — 7 July 2022
Free campsites are plentiful around Australia, but knowing how to keep your rig and belongings safe and secure is crucial.

For many of us, taking off for remote locations with beautiful scenery is the goal we’re all striving for, and we spend and modify our setup to make the most of our trips. All up, with the vehicle, rig and modifications, it’s not cheap — and pesky thieves know it. According to the ABS, 2.7 per cent of households experienced theft from a motor vehicle in 2019-20, similar to the previous year of 2.5 per cent.  

While travellers in Australia are known to help you out whenever in need, thefts do happen, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and have some prior knowledge of how to keep your campsite safe and secure before heading off. Some precautions are simple, while others are more advanced — but there are options to suit every budget.

Scout the area

Sometimes you’ll come across a campsite that makes you feel uncomfortable. It might look attractive, but on closer inspection you spot broken glass, burnout marks, and other evidence that gets your sixth sense screaming. If you feel uncomfortable at a campsite, move on until you find one that makes you feel more comfortable.

Due to the opportunistic nature of these crimes, consider becoming acquainted with your free campsite neighbours. They can keep an eye out if you’re away on a day trip as they know who owns the camper, and vice versa, you can return the favour while they’re out and about.

Try not to hide your camper away in some tight, hidden area as simple visibility can be a deterrent for thieves. Keep in mind though that in some instances, the closer you are to a town, the higher the risk of your safety and security being compromised. When you are in towns, don’t hesitate to ask at the information centre or local police where the safest campsites are.

Secure your camper

Sometimes you’ll find yourself camping at the one location for a few nights and taking day trips to different locations, leaving your camper alone at the campsite. Especially when you’re the only camper at the site, a GPS tracking device for your camper is a good option to have if it is stolen — but the goal is to not have it stolen in the first place.

Considering you’ve just spent tens of thousands on your camper and all its add-ons, a couple hundred dollars of added security is worth it. If your camper goes missing, so does your fridge, your food, your bed, and all the other things that may not be covered by insurance. At its simplest, it’s not that hard to secure your camper’s chassis to a tree, but it does look suspicious and makes you look like you have something worth stealing. There are plenty of purpose-built accessories nowadays such as wheel locks, tow hitches, and coupling locks you can use to prevent your camper from being taken.

The most obvious step is to remove all temptation from opportunistic thieves by locking up your gear when leaving the camper —  and by this we mean everything. Tools, tables, chairs, fishing gear, bikes, you name it. Inside the camper, make sure nothing valuable is in plain sight, such as laptops and cameras. Lock them up in your vehicle and take them with you when you head out for the day, otherwise you might return to find them missing.

Other solutions

Some thieves will go to surprising lengths, especially with the lithium-powered portable angle grinders many use to cut through locks. Alarm-It stainless steel alarmed cable locks are also a good option — if a thief cuts through the cable, a 120 decibel alarm is sounded. These can be used on everything from your vehicle, camper, bikes, and equipment. While if you’re not there if a thief does pinch something, the added cables make it look harder for an opportunistic thief.  

The paranoia of the ease of cutting through locks is where the Protrek range got its start. With designs specifically for caravans and campers, after 18 months of development and prototyping, its alarmed locking systems came into the market.

Jon Dunkley, Marketing Manager at Sunseeker Caravans — the parent company of Protrek — recommends keeping all loose items hidden away out of sight, to maintain good storage practices, and to have adequate security devices. “Most campsite robberies can be avoided with sensible storage and adequate security such as the Kovix innovative range of locks and cables,” he said. Campers should use “adequate storage such as plastic tubs or travel bags, so their smaller items are not left loose around the campsite.”

Protrek’s alarmed trailer locks can fit multiple tow couplings, so are perfect for every type of camper, and are built using quality materials to make them difficult to cut through. An anti-cut sleeve is included around the pin also, which spins to make it harder to cut into the pin underneath. To show just how difficult they are to cut through in their own tests, Protrek found angle grinder blades began shattering before they could cut through. A thief would also have to cut in at least two areas for the lock to fully come off. Its products are durable and built to withstand harsh conditions, and the electronics within are completely sealed from water.

Another option is to install motion detectors on your camper — two or more is better as if one is disconnected, another will still catch them in the act. CCTV cameras are another option to use and there are plenty of cheap options around too. Protrek, for example, offers motion-sensing alarms reaching 120 decibels, with the blaring sound making thieves balk at the thought of continuing to cut through the lock and bolt. This feature is found in the Kovix Alarmed locks, such as the KTR-18 Trailer Lock, built for campers, boat or trailers, and the KWL24-170, an all-in-one cable to quickly secure bikes, fridges, and generators.

For added security, trail cameras are a great addition and while a bit on the expensive side, they have their benefits. These are battery-powered remote sensor cameras that have infra-red sensors and which can be placed around camp to observe your camper — just remember where you placed them. If stolen, the thief and their rego will be seen, and if nothing happens you and the crew can enjoy seeing photos of the wildlife running around camp as you sleep.

Ease of using the security products should also be thought about as they won’t do you any good if it takes you so long to set them up that you can’t be bothered with it. If it’s all you do, the few seconds of looping around cables or securing a lock will still provide you with much greater security than if you hadn’t. With the most popular items stolen being fridges, barbecues, solar panels, and chairs, the notice boards at park entrances and in car parks often give due warning about theft and advise locking up your assets securely. With a lot of free camps being outside state or national parks, these warning signs do not exist — but the risks remain the same.

Oh no, they got me

While the point of all the preparation is to not have a theft occur, needless to say it sometimes does happen. If all your deterrents are not enough, there are a couple of solutions to help you and the police get your gear or your camper back.

As mentioned earlier, a GPS tracker is a good high-tech option to have, where you can place the tracker in your camper then use a smartphone or paired device to track its location at any time. There are a range of styles and sizes from a variety of manufacturers so you can research which one best suits you.

Another option is to use DataDots from Australian company DataDot Technology — tiny dots that carry ownership information which, if placed on your camper and it’s stolen, can be used by police to help return it to you. Being so small, they can be placed all over the camper as well as any gear or accessories you are partial to.

Some of these options might seem over-the-top to some, but it should give you an understanding of the types of products out there that can truly be so beneficial to keeping your campsite safe and secure. At the end of the day, you’ve spent so much on accumulating your gear to suit your travel style — and nobody wants to lose that.

How to reduce your chances of becoming an easy target?

  • Lock your camper if you must leave it for a period and when sleeping, including water tank fillers and toolboxes.
  • Keep your valuables in a safe, hidden within your vehicle or camper.
  • Keep electronic devices well hidden.
  • Pack your barbecue away after use or chain it to your camper.
  • Don’t leave your solar panels out when you are away or overnight — think about mounting them on the roof for better security or again, chain them up.
  • Pack away your chairs as these are an easy target.
  • Lock your jerry cans and LPG bottles to prevent easy pickings.
  • Lock your vehicle when you are not in it.
  • Install locking wheel nuts on your wheels.
  • Carry a trailer coupler lock to prevent your camper from being hitched to thieves’ vehicles.
  • There are GPS trackers that show the whereabouts of your camper in real time via the internet on a computer or smartphone.

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