DESTINATIONS - PLANNING & PACKING
The OTA gang lists 20 of the essential items they wouldn’t leave home without.
Trip tyres aren’t necessarily the ones that came on your city-based 4WD. You may get away with light construction, high-speed-rated tyres on a bush trip, but we don’t recommend them. Light truck tyres – at least eight-ply equivalent – are much more durable. A second spare, mounted on a wheel, is desirable.
Tyre repair kit
Our Safety Seal tyre repair kit is always in our 4WD and is the first response to a puncture encountered on a trail. A plug blocks holes caused by small diameter stakes and the tyre can then be topped up to the previous pressure with our on-board air compressor. (However, we carry a small foot pump as a backup.)
Tyre pressure monitoring
The best way we’ve found to prolong tyre life and avoid blowouts is with a quality tyre pressure monitoring system that alerts us the instant a tyre starts to lose pressure. That way, we can plug it before the tyre overheats and blows out. Our preference is LSM Technologies’ Doran unit.
It’s best not to drive in the bush at night, but sometimes the timetable dictates some after-dark cruising. Standard headlights on 4WDs aren’t enough for bush travel and can be enhanced by upgraded globes. Spotties are essential for safe vision ahead and to the sides of ‘roo-infested back roads. We test different driving lights all the time.
Hysterical outbursts from apparently suicidal pedestrians aside, a ‘roo bar is a safety essential Outback. A correctly-fitted steel one offers the best kilogram for kilogram and dollar for dollar animal strike protection you can get. Strong side rails prevent the bar end coming back into the bodywork and also keep mulga scrub off your paintwork.
A deep-cycle battery is essential for reliable fridge operation and as an emergency starting battery. The traditional place to mount the second battery is under the bonnet, but safely stowed in the back, near the fridge is fine. We have a second 100 amp-hour battery under the bonnet and a Revolution lithium battery in our slide-on camper.
You should have some form of charging your starting and fridge batteries, other than the vehicle alternator. A solar panel works well, as does a petrol-powered generator.
The cheap generators now available are noisy and aren’t recommended for use with sensitive electronic gear. High quality generators are quieter and have purer power.
If you travel light, or have air suspension, your standard springs may be fine, but most 4WDs can benefit from a suspension upgrade. Off-road vehicle design improvements in recent years have mainly improved on-road behaviour, rather than off-road.
After-market springs and dampers can be specified to suit your load conditions and to improve off-road and rough-road behaviour.
Today’s 4WD seats aren’t much better than those of 20 years ago. Even top-quality vehicles have seats that are inferior to those fitted to similarly priced motor cars. After-market seats vary in price and quality, but it’s worth paying out for the better ones that have orthopaedic design.
An on-board water tank is a more convenient option than water jerries and can be stowed firmly and safely. We’ve had mixed experiences with bladder types, with the most common problem being a ‘plastic’ taste. Hard plastic or stainless steel ones don’t have this risk.
An Australian-Standard-compliant cargo barrier is essential in any load-carrying 4WD wagon and it needs to be positioned in front of all the freight. Heavy items are best stowed low down in the vehicle and roller drawers make secure storage bins. Utes with canopies need a cargo barrier inside the cargo tray, to stop items flying through the ute’s back window.
First aid kit
European 4WDs come with a first aid kit, but it’s rudimentary. An Aussie-style kit has more in it. However, even the best kits need the Outback touch, with additional Nexcare stick-on patches and burns pads packed in.
Check the kit before every trip, to make sure it’s fully stocked and when you go bush-walking carry a snake bite bandage in your pocket. Ours is a St Johns Ambulance canvas pack and we have first aid certificates.
Long-range fuel tank
Standard tankages – some Toyota vehicles excluded – are inadequate for long bush trips. Additional fuel capacity is necessary and an inbuilt tank is better than relying on jerries.
(A jerry is still a good emergency fuel supply to carry.)
The best long-range tanks are large, single tanks or those that feed by gravity into the main tank. Transfer pumps can be troublesome in the bush. Our auxiliary tank is a LongRanger.
We eat very well in the bush and so should you. Gas or petrol stoves work well, but it’s sometimes a hassle stowing gas bottles and getting them refuelled in the bush.
Our stove is a Coleman LPG unit that uses throw-away cannisters.
There are hundreds of different designs available, but it’s hard to find good quality, durable seats in a market flooded by cheap imports. We gave up on the multi-strut, fit-in-a-small-bag types because they always seemed to break at the wrong time.
The versatility of a US-made, red Staun Super Strap (not the locally made one) has replaced two items in our recovery equipment bag – a conventional snatch strap and a tow strap – because it can perform both functions. We’ve also reduced our shackle count to four. We carry an expensive US-made, Ridgid-brand long-handled shovel.
Clothes get dirty very quickly in the bush, so it’s tempting to take a change for every day, so you can look your best. That means too much clothing to pack and too much washing. We shelled out for the microfibre-fabric stuff that hikers use and we’ve halved the size of our clothing bags. Washed gear dries overnight and can be put on again next day.
LED is the best camp lighting to have these days. Ours come from Hella and Narva and charge while we’re driving. As well we have LED head torches.
We carry Telstra mobile phones, plus an Iridium satellite phone. Our long-distance, remote area alternative to a satphone is an HF radio that uses the Australia-wide VKS-737 network. For vehicle to vehicle communications we have an 80-channel GME CB radio.
Our golden rule is never to go anywhere we don’t have detailed maps for. That’s easier since the advent of digital topo mapping, with contour detail, but we still carry a Hema Australia 4WD Atlas. We have four GPS units – two iPhones with Hema’s excellent mapping app installed and two similarly-fitted iPads – and two Silva compasses.