Back in the day, Australians were happy to ‘swag it’ – Waltzing Matilda across the wide sweeping plains and rugged mountains. Whether our forefathers lived as nomads or roughed it for their job, their swags generally comprised a bed roll and a sheet of canvas containing a few meagre possessions.
We’ve now got camper trailers, 12V fridges, freezers, air-conditioners, 4in innerspring mattresses, fire-retardant material, fibreglass, plastic, hot water systems, TV, DVDs, satellite TVs and winches. I reckon there’d be about 14 million devices we could connect to our tow tugs or campers if we wanted to.
Living in a country with a coastline of nearly 60,000km and more than 7.5 million sq km of land we can still, even in this age, escape civilisation. But remote area travel comes at a risk: Australia telecommunications mobile networks cover 99 per cent of the population not 99 per cent of the country.
So what would you do if things didn’t go to plan beyond the reach of other people, communications and critical resources? You can load your rig with every conceivable resource and gadget, but there’s always a limit. The fact is, our basic requirements for survival have evolved little since we lived in caves, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when we go bush, the basic priorities for survival – protection, rescue, water and food – still hold true.
These principles help me distinguish between the ‘nice to haves’ and the ‘must haves’ whether I’m packing for bushwalk or an extended trip with the camper trailer. A good place to start is to seriously ask yourself: “What are the things that I wouldn’t go bush without,” and then ask why.
My kit of essential items may seem primitive but it provides the backbone for survival. Most items are stored in my HiLux and camper every day, so when I embark on a camping trip or a simple spot of afternoon fishing at a moment’s notice, I know I have what I need on hand – just in case. Everything else just makes things a little easier and a little more comfortable.
PERSONAL SURVIVAL KIT
A personal survival kit, properly thought through, tops the list. My wife and I clip ours to our belts at all times. I adapt it to the terrain I plan to cover – whether that’s marine or desert and so on – as ‘one size’ never fits all circumstances.
Most items serve multiple uses. Why carry nylon braided cord for heavy tying when the fibres of a parachute cord can also be used as fishing line or sewing thread?
These packs also contain a first-aid kit for stings, bites, sprains and burns and are with us no matter if we’re going to the scrub, or just walking to a lookout from the car park.
A Bug-Out-Bag in your car may do little if zombies attack but it should help in an event of a flash flood, bush fire or a breakdown away from your camper or home on a daily drive.
This vehicle survival kit or a ‘Get out of Dodge’ bag is an extension of your Personal Survival Kit and should contain everything you need to survive for up to 72 hours. Mine lives in the back of my 4WD and stays in the same place at all times. I service it regularly so it’s tailored for the conditions I expect to face on my next trip.
While I use a backpack as my Bug-Out-Bag, but I know other travellers who have removed the slide rail retaining-pin on one of the drawers their in-vehicle drawer-systems. That way, if they need to get to their Bug-Out-Bag and move away from their vehicle quickly, they just grab the drawer and go.
AN ADDITIONAL 72 HOURS OF FOOD AND WATER
The key is to plan on the worst-case scenario. Your life – and that of your family – may be at risk. For my money, storing water in three different vessels (in case one or more leak) is a no-brainer. Everyone leaves the safety of camp at some stage so consider holding water supplies in both your 4WD and your camper. I carry 100L in the camper’s tank and another 50L in a Flexitank behind the back seat of the HiLux. Added to this are two 20L jerries in the camper and some Camelbaks and sports bottles in the 4WD.
While this may sound excessive, consider this general guiding principle: an adult’s average necessary fluid intake is 4-6L per day in temperate climates and 6-8L per day in the desert. And then you need to account for washing up and personal hygiene. Adding up these figures, 200L of water will only last you around eight days, and less if your personal circumstances (your health, for example) demand you consume more.
Food is a personal choice, but be practical. An emergency is not the time for Champagne and caviar. I carry 1kg of rice, 1kg of flour and an emergency combat ration pack from the Army Disposal store. Additional salt and sugar will act as an emergency electrolyte if I need it. I have all these items vacuum-packed in my Bug-Out-Bag.
PERSONAL LOCATING BEACON (PLB) OR EPIRB
I never leave home without one – after all, when you consider the amount of money you’ve probably invested in your 4WD and camper, a PLB is a relatively minor outlay to achieve peace of mind. For my part, I keep one PLB in the 4WD within arm’s reach of the driver seat in case of a roll-over, and one each in my wife’s and my belt rigs.
If you’re hesitating about purchasing a PBL, consider this – statistics indicate you’ll be rescued within 72 hours (three days) of authorities becoming aware that you’re a missing person. However, while people will report missing children straight away, if you’re an adult, your friends and loved ones probably won’t report you to police as ‘missing’ for about 24-48 hours after the fact because they think you’ll turn up. So that’s five days you can expect to be left languishing in the scrub. Rescue times will be reduced to 24 hours (and usually less than 12 hours) if you activate a PLB which is GPS-equipped and registered. The important part is to remember to register your PLB with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
For thousands of years, man has depended on a cutting tool for basic survival needs: food, water, fire and shelter. And it’s still sensible to keep such an important survival resource close by – just in case. A good survival blade – combined with your own ingenuity, knowledge and experience – may be the key to a safe return home. That’s why I carry an Australian-made survival blade designed for the ‘what if’ scenario rather than a pocket knife.
When choosing a survival blade, find one with a fixed and thick blade, with a full tang in a strong handle. Choose one of decent length as a big blade will do everything a small blade can but the same can’t be said in reverse. Single-edged blades are stronger, more versatile and easier to sharpen than double-edged blades.
Avoid serrated knives as they perform poorly for bushcraft and survival chores. Equally, if it looks like a kitchen knife, it probably is one.
AXE AND SHOVEL
Axes and shovels have been carried by campers since prehistoric times. Prior to European settlement, Australian Aboriginals ingeniously created a dual-purpose digging tool. It comprised a shovel at one end, and a digging stick at the other – and it was also used as a paddle.
Simple hand tools can still keep your campsite dry, warm and comfortable today. Use them to cut firewood, clear tracks, get yourself out of a bog, make rafts, dig for food, bait and water, or to divert running water away from your camp. And don’t forget to bury your human waste rather than leaving it lying around to spoil the next camper’s day and, potentially, their health.
Up to 90 per cent of your body weight comes from water: the brain is comprised of 70 per cent water and your lungs are nearly 90 per cent water. Lean muscle tissue contains about 75 per cent water. About 83 per cent of blood is water. Therefore, clean water is vital. Contaminated water is a key cause of infection and disease, which can strike at any time.
When planning your trip away, don’t just rely on the filter connected to your camper’s water supply. For one thing, you won’t always be within cooee of your camper and, besides, it’s probably located under your camper so there’s always the risk of it getting damaged on rough tracks.
For these reasons, I carry a number of LifeStraw products in my Camelbak, car and camper trailer. They’re all back-ups, but every now and then, I’ve been very pleased to have them with me.
Let’s face it, bushfires are synonymous with Australia. I don’t want to be caught out in or be responsible for starting one. And fire can easily strike. The cause could be an accident around the campfire, an exploding gas bottle, or vegetation getting into an engine bay or around an exhaust and igniting.
For this reason, my camper has a fire extinguisher and fire blanket fitted inside near the door. The HiLux also has two extinguishers (one in the cabin under the driver’s seat and one in the ute tray) as well as a fire blanket. I also carry a McLaski Wildland Combination Tool that I picked up from ARB. It combines the McLeod Fire Rake with a firefighting Pulaski axe. It also features five other tools: a hoe, scraper, spanner wrench, gas wrench and fusee flare holder.
MOBILE REFERENCE LIBRARY
Travelling into remote areas in Australia, or even into an unfamiliar area close to home, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to do a little research before you step off. Mostly we think about obtaining relevant maps and reference guides for the geographic area that we’re planning to visit. But there are other reference sources worth carrying too.
A first-aid book is a handy ‘go-to’ book – particularly if you’re not first-aid qualified. And how about carrying the wiring diagrams for your vehicle and accessories? Who knows when you – or a remote area mechanic – might need them to get your rig back on the road? Also consider books about bush food and survival techniques that will help you keep safe in the outdoors, particularly if things don’t go according to plan.
Communication is the key. You need to know the correct ABC radio frequency that will give you routine weather updates and warnings, and listen to it.
I also carry hand-held CB units to provide an extra level of safety – whether I’m stepping away from my travel group to recon a new fishing spot, or simply coordinating a winch recovery.
In addition to carrying three hand-held CB radios (one for each member of my family), I’ve also installed CB base stations into both my 4WD and my camper to ensure I maximise the likelihood of staying in contact with those I’m responsible for when we’re out bush. After all, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of a rescue scenario where every second may count. To get you started, consider this: Australia hosts 20 of the world’s top 25 most venomous snakes. Do I need to say more?
APPLY COMMON SENSE
In all of this, the cardinal rule is to respect the bush and keep a sensible head on your shoulders. For my part, there are some things I simply won’t go bush without and – once I’m out there – I avoid unnecessarily risky situations and I err on the side of caution. Importantly, I tell people where I’m going. Also, I never fish, 4WD, bushwalk, bird watch or hunt alone. Quite apart from the unnecessary risks entailed in solitary travel, I find it pleasurable to share travel experiences with family and friends. Besides, they can help dig me out of a bog, check the yabby trap and share the view.
So take essential equipment with you when you go bush, and take your family and mates – you’ll create a legacy of ongoing outdoor enthusiasts.
Check out the full feature in issue #99 April 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.