The internet’s packed with sad and bizarre stories about unprepared tourists getting lost in Australia’s outback, the arid-but-beautiful red expanse in the middle of our country. Don’t be one of them: get your prep done – don’t mess with the outback – it’s unforgiving.

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    Doomsday prepping

    Sunset at Sturt National Park in the arid north-west corner of New South Wales.

    Sunset at Tibooburra NSW

    Sturt National Park

    John Spencer/OEH

    -29.09361, 141.50861

    Pack like a pessimist. Before you set out, make sure you’ve got all the supplies you need in case things go pear-shaped. No one ever regretted throwing extra water bottles and lighters in the boot.

    Be sure to let a mate know where you’re headed and when you plan to reach each landmark so they know roughly where you are at all times. On that note, bring a phone and a car charger so you can contact police rescue if you get stuck in an emergency situation. It’s always a good idea to make note of where you have mobile phone coverage. (See our list of must-bring supplies at the bottom of this article.)

    Did you know: For desert adventures, bring a minimum of 10 litres of water per person per day. It’s a thirsty place.

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    Drive in the sunshine

    Car on red dirt road, Outback NSW

    Gundabooka National Park

    David Finnegan / OEH

    If you’ve never been to a remote area, you may not have considered how dark the outback gets at night, save for the stars and the very occasional pair of headlights. Night driving brings a lot of risks – drunk drivers, rogue cows, and kangaroos that get stunned by your headlights. Plus, it can get very cold – best stick to daytime driving.


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    Get lit

    Men around campfire under stars

    Alex Pidgeon / Instagram @is400o

    It’s a good idea to get a fire going before it gets dark, especially in the desolate outback where you’ll need it for warmth and cooking. Bring a fuel stove with plenty of fuel in case of bad weather (it’s also safer than a traditional fire, which is prohibited in some parks, so make sure you check before setting out). If you’re OK to make campfire, first build a semi-circle of stones to contain it and shield the flame. Grab a bunch of kindling, make a teepee and use a lighter or matches. Do your research – look up some emergency fire-lighting methods before you go.

    Did you know: The best method for building a campfire? Place the largest pieces of wood on the bottom, laid in parallel and close together. Smaller pieces are placed in a second layer, also with close spacing, crossways to the first. A third layer of even smaller pieces is laid crossways to the second, this time with some more space between. Finally, a fourth layer of loose, small kindling and twisted newspaper sheets tops off the pile.

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    Make a spectacle of yourself

    Red kangaroos on red dirt track, outback NSW

    Gundabooka National Park

    D Haskard / OEH

    If there’s a problem – like your car’s broken down or you’ve punctured all of your backup tyres – you’ll need to be visible to emergency services from the air. Put up the bonnet, write an SOS symbol in the sand or spell it with branches, rocks or whatever you can find in an open area. Build a fire and load it with plenty of green branches on top. The leaves will smoke as they burn, making your beacon spottable from kms away.

    Did you know: In 1999, a phoneless North American firefighter went on a religious quest to ‘make peace with God’ and went missing for 43 days before a TV crew found him. A few years later, a European guy thought he could traverse the entire Canning Stock Route – a 1700km road with some 900 sand dunes – taking only one litre of water, 10 litres of beer and a packet of biscuits to sustain himself. He was discovered a few days later at Lake Disappointment (any coincidence?) 20kgs lighter and more than a little worse for wear.

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    Always stay with your car

    Person standing on a car in the outback

    James Fyfe

    This is definitely one of those last-but-not-least list items. One of the hardest things to do in a survival situation is stopping yourself from wandering into the bush to find help. Don’t do it! Wandering off is one of the most sure fire ways to turn a fun adventure into a fatal one. Walking in high outback temperatures with limited food and water supplies is a recipe for disaster. The best strategy is almost always drawing the help to you, rather than seeking it out yourself. If you bring everything you might need, you shouldn’t need to stray.`

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    What to bring

    Couple looking over the back of the ute at Stockton Beach

    Stockton Beach

    Tim Clark / Instagram @timclark1

    Sunscreen, hats, more water than you think you’ll need, camping gear, food, non-perishables like canned goods, cooking utensils and receptacles, a topped-up fuel stove, swiss army knife, shovel, first aid kit (with oral rehydration salts), water purifying tablets, GPS, extra car fuel, spare tyres and tools for car repair. Since remote areas don’t have reliable mobile phone coverage, consider hiring a satellite phone, PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) and/or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) if you’re going deep into the outback.