10 Essentials to Pack

Catherine Lawson — 7 June 2019
Heading into the desert? Bring along these ten things for a smooth and fun-filled adventure.

Whether you’re a seasoned offroader or a school holiday escapee, a Big Lap nomad or a fledgling first timer, what really separates roadtrippers is how much gear they take on board. 

Some campers are ruthless, paring things down to just the basics, while others fly by the more-is-more theory, burdening their rigs with an excess of irresistibly innovative time-savers, ‘guaranteed’ to make camping life easier. 

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and the right approach really boils down to individual needs and setups. But however much you leave behind or pile on top, there are some things it pays to always have handy. Make sure you find room for these essentials, well worth their weight on every adventure.


1. 2019’S BEST ROADTRIP APPS

Tech-savvy travellers know that apps can make every escape easier, getting you somewhere awesome faster, keeping you safe and entertained, and saving you time and money along the way. If using screens seems like cheating, then bear in mind what this year’s best apps can do. 

Free Camping: The uber popular, crowd-sourced WikiCamps ($7.99) remains a good digital resource for camping on the cheap, especially since it can be used offline and across all platforms (IOS and Android). Aircamp is another free-to-download option that allows you to book campsites through the app (aircamp.com.au), but with campsites clustered around capital cities, it doesn’t serve campers looking to escape the beaten track. Australia free ($5.99, australiafree.com.au) and Offroad Escape are others worth exploring.

Cheap fuel: Both Fuel Map (created by WikiCamps) and Petrol Spy rely on crowd-sourced information (and live updates in WA, NSW and Qld) to map out the location of Aussie fuel stations and provide the latest fuel prices. This means you can plan the cheapest stops along your route. With Fuel Map, you can even log your fuel purchases and check your fuel economy too. Both are free to download.

Emergency help: Recommended for remote travel is the Emergency+ App, a free app that uses the GPS functionality of your smart phone to establish your precise location in the event of an accident and, more importantly, to get help to you fast (emergencyapp.triplezero.gov.au). For step-by-step first aid advice in hundreds of emergency situations, download the free First Aid app by Australian Red Cross. 

Just for fun: A starry night campfire and you’re wondering what’s shining above? Turn your phone into a telescope by pointing it at the sky and let GoSkyWatch tell you what constellations, stars and planets you are looking at ($5.99, IOS only). SkyView is a similar, slightly cheaper alternative ($2.99).  


2. SELF-SUFFICIENT MINDSET

There’s genuine freedom in being truly self-sufficient. Solar panels and LED lightning are just the start. It’s what you plug into your system that makes or breaks you, so don’t pack your power-hungry kitchen appliances (including the coffee machine) or any of those devices that do little more than keep your eyes off the view. 

Develop your hunter-gatherer skills (at least with crab pots and a fishing rod). Minimise water wastage (and stretch your time in the wild) by showering less and faster, and by rigging up your camper awning to catch and channel rainwater directly into your water tank or jerry cans. Embrace the art of campfire cooking – perhaps by bringing a camp oven.

You can cook anything in a camp oven. Beyond stews and damper, after the last slice of fruit cake has been munched at midnight, I’ve conjured up blueberry muffins and an emergency lemon birthday cake – all in a camp oven buried in the hot coals of a campfire. It may not always be possible to strike a light in the Aussie bush, but when it is, nothing beats sitting around with pals, staring at the stars, poking the coals and waiting for the camp oven to do its thing and feed you. 


3. COOL TOYS

There are a lot of dusty kayaks travelling in Australia right now, and while I constantly wonder how often they get wet, I know that when they do, they’ll be worth their weight in gold. No one wants to be sidelined with nothing to play with, so regardless of how much your toy weighs or how difficult it is to load and unload, you simply must find room for it on board. 

It doesn’t need to be a yak; it might be a surfboard, a SUP board or a pair of bikes. Or it might be something a little smaller; perhaps fishing gear, a mask and snorkel, or a beach cricket set. Just pack the gear that gets you exploring, keeps you fit and fills your days at every great destination. You’ll be amazed at how your BYO toys can keep entertainment costs down and save big bucks on rental gear and tours too. 

One caveat: before you head off, spend some time working out how to best stow your toys so that they don’t impact on setup routines or compromise your fuel efficiency by slowing you down. 


4. HI-LIFT JACK

Yes, it’s entirely old school, but when you are offroad and on your own, a hi-lift jack can get you out of a lot of trouble. Use it as a manual winch to ratchet yourself out of a bog (it’s hard work but it does work), to straighten damaged steelwork if you have to, and, funnily enough, to change your tyres. 

Other recovery essentials include Maxtrax, a good nylon snatch or tow strap, an emergency tyre repair kit, an air compressor and a tyre pressure gauge. Things like these will spend a bit of time sitting around, waiting for their moment; but when it comes, you’ll be grateful you considered all eventualities!


5. EARTH-FRIENDLY GEAR

Make 2019 the year you move on from single-use batteries by switching to USB-rechargeable or direct solar torches, camp lighting, cameras, GPS units, water purifiers and more. 

If the equipment you own needs a battery, choose the rechargeable kind, which can be recharged up to 1,000 times, or buy Eco Alkalines, the world’s first certified carbon neutral, non-toxic battery. Ordinary batteries leech toxic metals into landfill – lead, mercury, cadmium and nickel – and Australians throw away around 230 million of them every year. 

If you do have single-use batteries to get rid of, recycling them is easy. Jump onto Planet Ark’s website at recyclingnearyou.com.au to find your nearest disposal point, or deposit them in bins at any ALDI store. 


6. TOOLS

You might not be a bush mechanic, but with a bunch of reliable tools on board you stand a chance of getting your vehicle and rig back on track. It’s never too difficult to wrangle advice and aid from fellow travellers (those pods of guys clustered around camp with beers in hand are actually hard at work, remedying someone else’s misfortune). 

Gather together a collection of wrenches, pliers, vice grips, screwdrivers and socket sets to fit your vehicle and rig, or ask your local 4X4 shop expert to do it for you. A simple multi-tool is indispensable too. If you buy quality, you’ll find its knife is razor sharp, the pliers have an unbeatable grip and the screwdrivers save you from unearthing the toolkit. I love my aging Swiss army knife too, even though the old corkscrew is totally redundant (wine casks are pretty easy to get into).


7. SPARES

Make 2019 the year you move on from single-use batteries by switching to USB-rechargeable or direct solar torches, camp lighting, cameras, GPS units, water purifiers and more. 

Fill a box with a menagerie of nuts, bolts, screws, wire, connectors, bulbs, fuses, electrical and gaffer tape, plastic weld, superglue, gear, engine oils and WD-40. These bits and pieces will be called upon far more often than you think once you leave the bitumen.

You never know when your tyres or vehicle will fail you on rugged, remote journeys. It might be a blown tyre, a serious axle breakage or electrical issues that leave you stranded and – depending on who passes by or how quickly you can fix the problem – in a survival situation. Having at least two spare tyres keeps you moving on remote routes, as does at least one emergency jerry can of fuel. To prepare for the worst, maintain a stash of dry food separate from your usual stores, and at least 20L of water.


8. REUSABLE RUBBISH BINS

Single-use plastic shopping bags are finally history, so it doesn’t make sense to go and buy plastic bags just to stash our rubbish in. The smart way to sort and stash recyclables and rubbish when travelling is with a pair of reusable, foldable bins. 

Grab two PVC pop-up bins ($20 from BCF) that can be stowed during travel and hung on your rig or the rear tyre of your 4WD when you set up camp. Fill one with recyclables and the other with food scraps and genuine rubbish, and empty them in the relevant bins when you pass through town. To keep them clean, simply rinse out your bins and upend to dry. 


9. FIRST-AID KIT

I have never had to compress a snakebite or splint a limb, and quite frankly I think I’d faint if I ever had to break out the stitch kit. Thankfully it’s my antiseptic cream and paracetamol that get called upon most, making me a terrific nurse to have around in case of a splinter or a hangover.  

Nevertheless, an extensive first-aid kit is one offroad essential just about everyone agrees upon. But it’s not enough on its own. School up before you hit the road by downloading the First Aid app by Australian Red Cross and you’ll have the confidence to tackle any incident or emergency in the bush. 


10. CAMPING COMPANION

Lone wolves may well disagree, but I’ve always found that solitude is best when it isn’t entirely permanent. Having some company around when you hit the road not only shares the experience, but also provides valuable backup when, and if, you hit a snag in your journey. Rarely does a remote adventure end without something snapping, puncturing or failing you, and having two heads to nut out a solution is invariably better than having one. 

If you step it up a notch and travel in convoy, you’ll always have another vehicle on hand to winch you out of trouble; plus two or more tool kits and the combined mass of recovery gear and spares is gold in the bush. On the flipside, some travellers are blissfully happy when their travelling companion has four legs instead of two. Pets might keep you out of national parks, but they know how to enjoy a campfire.  

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feature camping gear packing preparation tips

Photographer

David Bristow