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Desert Survival Tips

Rescue services are regularly called out to find lost bushwalkers, campers, tourists and hunters in and around Central Australia. Our resident survival expert Scott Heiman lets us know a few important tips and tricks to keep this from happening to you.

Never leave your car unless you  have the navigational ability to locate the next waterhole.JPG(Image: Never leave your car unless you have the navigational ability to locate the next waterhole.)

When it comes to the risk of misadventure when touring, preparation is key.

Prep can start months before your departure. This should include upskilling to ensure you have the driving skills necessary to see you through a range of track conditions. Outback travel requires a far greater range of driving skills than those you use every day to get you safely to work and home again. 

Before stepping off attend a 4WDriving course.JPG(Image: Before stepping off attend a 4WDriving course.)

Beyond driving skills, there is a range of other skills that will help you keep safe in the Great Outdoors. Consider, for example, First Aid Training and Survival Training.

Preparation is all about creating a mindset of ‘what if’, then planning and preparing to respond. It’s about carrying the right gear and even knowing what the right gear is.

Attending a survival course increases your chances.JPG
(Image: Attending a survival course increases your chances.)


If you do find yourself lost or bogged in the desert, you need to suppress your instincts to panic. Instead, initiate your survival plan. First, remove your travel party from any possible danger and seek or create shade.

Attempt to use all forms of communication to get help. Try your mobile phone. Activate your Personal Locating Beacon (PLB), then place out any passive rescue signals you might have — that is, items that bring attention to you and your vehicle. This might include placing your sun visor up on the windscreen to reflect the sun which will attract the attention of a search and rescue aircraft. Build or dig an ‘SOS’ or ‘V’ signal and signal fires. You should also gather your active rescue items like signal flares, CB radios, signal mirrors, etc., and have them close by.

Shade provided by natural elements is cooler than man made shade.JPG(Image: Shade provided by natural elements is cooler than man made shade.)

To help you conserve water and Englert, be active only during dawn, dusk periods and during the night. You should not be moving between 9am and 6pm. 

Because you know not to leave your vehicle in a situation like this, hopefully you’ll still have access to your vehicle, including their onboard reserves of water. 

Stay with your vehicle as you are more likely to be found with it than without it.JPG(Image: Stay with your vehicle as you are more likely to be found with it than without it.)


Before you even leave your driveway:

  • Have you made a ‘fridge-gram?’ This is a listing of your itinerary, route, CB channel, satellite phone number, and other important details. Leave one on the fridge at home. It will assist authorities if you go missing and people start trying to work out where you are.
  • Have you arranged designated times for a ‘proof of life’ phone call with a friend and left them a copy of your fridge-gram too?
  • Do you have a Personal Locator Beacon?
  • Do you have reserve fuel and water?
  • Have you completed a map recon for fuel and water resupply?
  • Have you serviced both your tow tug and trailer?
  • Have you checked all your communications gear and have spare batteries and chargers?
  • Do you have a first aid kit?
  • Do you have a survival kit?
  • Do you have a Bug-Out-Bag?


In every environment, there are essential things to do to increase your survival rating. In the desert these are:

  1. Drink to stay hydrated. Ration your sweat, not your water.
  2. Do all your essential work at night.
  3. Stay fully clothed too. This will cool you down like an old hessian meat sack. It will also help reduce the loss of water.
  4. Rest 30cm above the ground (not on it) or dig down 75cm to rest in cooler soil in the shade.
  5. DO NOT travel unless absolutely certain of finding water. Staying where you are increases the chances of you being found sooner, especially if you stay with a vehicle.


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