Outback survival guide

By: Michael Borg, Photography by: Matt Fehlberg

Stranded in the outback? Here are the simple steps that’ll help you survive the ordeal unscathed.

Outback survival guide
If you happen to get stranded in the outback, the worst thing you can do is stray too far from your vehicle

Let’s face it, sometimes things just don’t go to plan in the outback. We’d like to think that, with good vehicle preparation, a breakdown won’t happen but, the reality is, sometimes you just can’t help it. Imagine you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with a 4WD that just won’t drive? What would you do?

Sure, there’s always the possibility of getting it back on the tracks with some smarty pants bush-mechanic fix but, the real question is, what happens if you can’t? What’s the next step?

There are a few things that can change the way you handle this type of situation but, truth be told, you’ve got to do a lot of things wrong if you end up having to go all Bear Grylls in the bush.

So let’s take a look at how to prepare for getting stranded in the outback, and what to do if the worst should happen.


When you think about it, camping is all about being prepared for the outdoors. For us campers, the survival side of things in an emergency situation should be a lot easier than that of a solo hiker or bike rider. Reason being, we’ve got more than enough room to carry the gear we need to be totally self-sufficient, so there are no excuses!

There are a few things a person requires to survive. The first is water! We’ve all seen a million and one survival techniques that will have you filtering dirty water through an even dirtier sock but, guess what? If you carry enough water with you to start with, you should never have to rely on those last resort techniques! So, whenever you’re heading anywhere even slightly remote, ensure you’ve got enough to last at least a few extra days, just in case.

Having all the supplies in the world won’t help if nobody is actually looking for you, so always let somebody responsible know your travel plans. To be effective, they’ll need to know exactly where you’re heading and your expected check-in time. The sooner the authorities are contacted, the quicker you’ll be found.


If you have to ration your water, drink a cup at a time instead of sipping it. That way, your kidneys and bowel don’t suck it all up and your brain still gets some!


1. Push the vehicle into an open space and open the bonnet and doors so it’s easier to see from the air and the ground.

2. Point the mirrors upwards. The idea is to catch the sun’s reflection, which increases your chances of being noticed.

3. You can also remove the rear vision mirror to signal for help by hand.


1. Water: The human body can only last a few days without water, especially in the heat. So you’ll find the brain starts to make poor decisions when dehydration kicks in. Make sure you ration your water, stay out of the sun and don’t exert any more energy than absolutely necessary.

2. Warmth: Extreme cold isn’t usually on people’s minds when you talk about a trip to the outback, but it can get pretty bloody cold at night at some times of the year. So make sure you’ve got a way to keep warm such as having blankets handy or a way of starting a fire.

 3. Shelter: You’ll need shelter to protect the body from the blistering sun to avoid losing moisture. The longer you retain it, the longer you’ll live.

4. Signals: Once the mind and body is protected from the elements, it’s time to start thinking about how to signal for attention. This could be done by burning a tyre to emit thick clouds of smoke, using rocks to form an SOS signal or anything else that will stand out to rescue teams.

5. Food: Believe it or not, food is the least of your priorities. The body can last a few weeks without food so, if you ration any food you have on board, it should carry you until help arrives.


If you happen to get stranded in the outback, the worst thing you can do is stray too far from your vehicle. The majority of stranded people who end up perishing in the outback are those who decided to go it alone on foot. So let’s take a look at the three main benefits of staying put with your 4WD when the chips are down:

1. Your vehicle has resources. Even if you don’t have a camper trailer or much gear, it can still provide shelter, a bed, a means to start a fire and a million other recourses to draw on.

2. Cars are much bigger than people. That means they are a heck of a lot easier to see from an aeroplane, helicopter or from a greater distance away.

3. The first place a search party will look is on designated roads or tracks. Plus, there’s much more of a chance of another vehicle passing by if you are waiting on, or close to, the track, too.

4. If you absolutely, and I mean absolutely must, abandon your vehicle, make sure you leave a note with the car telling rescuers exactly which direction you are travelling.

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Check out the full feature in issue #93 October 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.