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How to prepare for one of Australia’s Great Desert Tracks


To celebrate the release of the 6th Edition of Hema Maps’ Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide, we’ve put together some useful tips from the new edition to help you prepare and plan for your next desert trip. 

Hema Maps Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide

Hema Maps celebrates the release of its 6th Edition of its bestselling Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide, featuring 28 epic 4WD trips through Australia’s great desert regions, with full cartography and camping and touring information throughout. 

This new edition has been field-checked by Hema’s Map Patrol — ensuring the information is accurate and checked by actual people. And there’s plenty of essential pre-trip reading to get you excited about this incredible (and massive) part of the country.

Covering at least 70 per cent of mainland Australia, the desert regions of our country are collectively called the Great Australian Desert and its unique environment is home to an amazingly diverse and specific set of flora and fauna, not to mention many breathtaking landscapes. We think the best way to see these stunning desert regions is from a trusty 4WD, so below we look at how to prepare for a touring adventure through some of our country’s toughest terrains. 

Type of vehicle

There are many Australian outback routes (such as the Great Central Road and Plenty Highway) that are now suitable for well-prepared light AWD vehicles, providing that weather conditions are dry, and the roads have recently been graded. However, when travelling the Canning Stock Route or crossing the Simpson Desert, for example, a genuine 4WD is needed. This is mainly because the dune crossings require high and low 4WD gearing, greater clearance and a tougher vehicle. 

If you intend to tackle one of the higher-graded tracks, a 4WD is a necessity, and there are many options to choose from in the Australian market. Some options include:

  • 4WD utilities — including Hiluxes, Tritons, Rangers, BT 50s, Amarocks, D-MAXes, and Rodeos, these vehicles have reasonable comfort, payloads, strength and clearance.
  • Medium to large 4WD vehicles — including Toyota LandCruisers, Nissan Patrols and Pathfinders, Mitsubishi Pajeros, Land Rover 110 Defenders, Discoverys and Range Rovers, Mercedes G Wagons and Jeep Cherokees, these vehicles have the space to carry reasonable loads, roofs with the integrity to carry roof racks, strong chassis and good clearances. 

Towing tips

If you’re towing a camper trailer, caravan or anything else on any of the desert trips, a few rules of thumb go a long way to ensure mechanical longevity, fuel efficiency and safety. Here are a few edited tips from the new Great Desert Tracks’ ‘Be Prepared’ chapter — some of these may seem obvious but it’s remarkable how some of the most basic driving techniques are so frequently overlooked:

  • Ensure your vehicle is legally allowed to tow what’s behind it
  • Give extra distance between yourself and the car in front
  • Be gentle when it comes to applying both the brakes and the accelerator
  • Use your gears (as opposed to your brakes) to slow down while going downhill
  • If you have electric brakes fitted, adjust the brake unit in your vehicle to ensure you have the right balance
  • Reducing tyre pressures on your trailer at the same time as your tow vehicle will make towing easier and smoother 
  • Adding mirror extenders or a rear vision camera system can go a long way to improving safety

Wester Aus Outback

Preparing your vehicle

The foremost step of preparing your vehicle is ensuring it is in prime mechanical condition — meaning, services should be up to date, including servicing all fluids. Beyond that, here are a few extra steps you can take to make sure your vehicle is up for the task of braving the desert (edited extract from Great Desert Tracks):

Wheels and tyres: Steel wheels are better than aluminium wheels because they are hardier and more ready for the rigours of desert travel. Consider upgrading. Tyres should be all terrains (AT) at a minimum with light truck (LT) construction for added sidewall strength, improved traction, driveability and safety. 

Suspension: After-market suspension improves the longevity of your vehicle while also enhancing vehicle height and clearances, wheel and axle articulation and wheel and tyre footprint. Adding inflatable airbags or air bellows are another way to improve load bearing and towing heights.

Vehicle protection: A roo bar (or bullbar) is a worthy investment in the Aussie outback — you never know what wild creature you could collide with at high speeds. Side steps are handy too, both for offering easy access to the rig and to protect your vehicle from stone and mud damage. For rear protection and storage, rear bars are useful. And to protect your radiator, engine sump, gear box and transmission, underbody protection plates are fantastic.

Vehicle lighting: A pair of spotlights will help you predict the road ahead earlier, whether it’s to avoid animals on the road or to accommodate changing road conditions. Rear work lights are also handy if you’ve got a rear bar — they are perfect for illuminating the campsite while setting up camp. 

To get a full rundown on how to prepare your vehicle for Australia’s desert roads (including more on storage, communications, fuel, navigation and mapping, first aid equipment, recovery gear and replacement parts) go to page 48 of the new edition.

Get a copy of Great Desert Tracks

Featuring comprehensive and handy track profiles that detail elevations, distances and key points of interest, along with essential information on camping areas and supply points, this atlas and guide is an indispensable companion on any desert trip in Australia. 

The new edition (6th) of Hema Maps’ Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide will be available for purchase from 21 February 2024 from the Hema website and leading retailers. So, whether you’re a ‘desert lover’ or just want to tackle some of Australia’s greatest 4WD destinations, this informative guide is for you.

Hema Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide

Next steps

At Hema Maps, we strive to provide the most comprehensive and accurate maps and guides for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore Australia's natural wonders.

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