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Sustainable Solutions for Self-sufficient Ethical Camping

As overlanders, we are a truly spoilt bunch. Just think about it. Twelve-volt fridges, pie warmers, fans, lighting, thermal cookers, solar panels and air-conditioning — and that’s just the stuff connected to our bank of deep-cycle batteries. We’re also graced by other modern marvels like Bluetooth, independent suspension, satellite phones, GPS, and apps that provide intel on road conditions and bushfires.

Our lifestyle is an accessory sport. All these technological gadgets and doo-dads help us navigate the 7.692 million square kilometres of our island home. They also enable us to stay safe and self-sufficient while we’re out there on the back roads.

But are there some back-to-basic tricks from yesteryear that we should still be practising? Homo sapiens have been travelling vast distances from the time we left Africa 60 to 70,000 years ago. Throughout modern history, armies have followed in their wake, as have our pioneering forefathers. All of this before the digital revolution.

If we mixed our modern hacks and technology with lessons learnt from years gone by, could we remain on the road longer, and more ethically? I believe the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Chilling Tales

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, fridges were luxury items. If you were lucky, your family might own a three-way upright bar fridge with a small freezer compartment. Pure gold! It ran on 240V, 12V and LPG. Dad would plug it into the 240 mains for at least two to three days in the garage before leaving home. Everything that went in it came from the kitchen fridge, pre-chilled, and there was always a plastic 2L juice bottle filled with water in the freezer section. While on the road, these little fridge units would run off the car’s 12V system. At camp, they were connected to a gas bottle — and there they sat, doing their magic, until it was time for the trip home.

Whether you’ve got a three-way fridge or a two-way (12V and 240V), the key to saving energy is to pre-chill it, as well as all the items you plan to put in it. Attach the unit to the mains in the garage for at least 24 hours before you leave so you’ll avoid unnecessarily draining your rig’s batteries. If you plan to run the fridge as a freezer, run it for a week so everything is as cold as can be. 

Hema Maps portable fridge

If your fridge isn’t dismountable, leave it in the camper and plug the whole lot into the mains. That way you’ll freshen up your camper’s batteries at the same time. Use the same approach for any portable cooler you plan to take with you. Fill it full of block ice to cool it down for a few days, then replace the ice and add the drinks just before you leave.

Keeping your Cool

In years gone by, people used to keep things cool in water sacks. The same would apply to a bottle of beer — into the river it went. Even today, I reckon the best soft drink I’ve ever had was cooled down in a river by the locals, providing refreshment on the remote Kokoda Track in the Eora Valley. You may find yourself in places where you can do the same thing, and I’ll bet you’ll find it to taste better, too.

When you’re travelling with bottles, there are good reasons to channel your inner pioneer. While glass is not the best travel companion on our back roads, sometimes it’s unavoidable.  Besides, glass is better for the environment than either plastic or aluminium. You might remember the days when milk men delivered bottles to the door — the crates they used were compartmentalised, so the bottles didn’t crash together. 

Modern day alternatives include cutting the toes off your old socks and tucking the bottles inside, or wrapping them in newspaper so you can use the newspaper to start a fire when you need to. You should avoid twist tops as road corrugations will rattle the lids off your beverage. If you opt for cans instead, put rubber bands around them to stop them rubbing together and leaking. Otherwise, you may find a few have been donated to the gods by the time you arrive at camp.

Raiding the Fridge

The availability of camp fridges, and the advent of reality cooking shows, risks turning us all into ‘softies’. While it may be nice to eat prawns from the fridge while you camp in bushland 700km from the coast, it’s a luxury in anyone’s language. After all, the ANZACs pulled through on bully beef and dry biscuits. 

Not everything needs to be stored fresh. With meat, beef bolognese comes in a can ready to go, as do hot dogs and stew. Then there’s tinned fish, oysters, mussels, prawns and chicken. Keep an open mind because there are also non-meat alternatives that can help keep your protein levels up. For example, watch out in the health food aisles for products like textured soy protein. Throw this into a bolognese to easily bulk out fresh or tinned products. It also takes on the character of mince — we haven’t been caught out by our daughter yet!

While the nutritional value of some tinned and packeted products may be inferior to fresh goods, they provide a sensible addition to your tuckerbox if you plan to be self-sufficient on the road. And always remember the morale-boosting properties of jaffles. With some savoury canned mince and veggies, a slice of cheese and a touch of sauce, you’ll feed at least two to three people while putting a smile on everyone’s face.    

Food planning for camping is a little like running a cafeteria. It takes forethought and initiative. With a bit of imagination, tonight’s leftovers can easily be converted into tomorrow’s main meal. The classic camp oven roast doesn’t have to be completely devoured tonight. It’s likely to be the makings of a great goulash. Be modest in your portion sizes and you’ll help yourself as well making your tuckerbox last longer.   


Ever since humankind left Africa, we’ve been hunter-gatherers. Let’s face it, fishing is hunting. Fending for ourselves is in our very nature, which helps to explain why TV shows like The Bush Tucker Man and Fishing with ET are so popular.

There are an estimated four million recreational fishers, one million registered firearm owners and tens of thousands of bow-hunters out there. None of this begins to account for the wild harvesting undertaken by our Aboriginal brethren. 

Hema Maps Fishing

If you have the correct skills and licences, and you have permission to hunt on a private property, it can be an excellent way to keep you on the road longer. You can be part of the property owner’s Vertebrate Pest Management Program while, at the same time, filling your freezer with rabbits, goat or even camel meat. Stopping to wet a line in a river, or dropping a crab, lobster or prawn trap into a waterway, will save you the effort of hunting out a grocery store. The next time you’re planning to camp, consider taking your traps, rod, firearm or bow; ensuring, of course, that you store them safely. As they say: give a person a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. Forget buying your kids the latest Xbox — give them a tackle box instead.

Liquid Gold

Last but not least, to be truly self-sufficient in the outdoors, you need enough of the liquid gold to keep you and your travelling party ticking along. No, not XXXX Gold. I’m talking about water.

Most campers come fitted with a 100L water tank, and there’ll also be room for water jerries or a bladder on board. So, if you have 150L of water available, how long would it last a family of four? The answer depends on where you’re going and what you’re doing. Over the years, studies have generated various recommendations about how much water we need, but everyone’s different, right? Age, fitness, illness, alcohol consumption, activity and diet all influence how much you should be drinking.

Hema Maps camping

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the USA recommends that an adequate intake is 3.7L of fluids for men and 2.7L of fluids for women, per day. About 20 per cent of our daily fluid intake usually comes from food while the rest is from drinks. However, this doesn’t consider the need for hand washing, showers, cooking and dish washing whilst on the road.

To answer the question: if you were solely drinking the 150L of water, then it would last you and your crew about 15 days. Throw in two showers for each person and you’ll lose over 30L. Add in water usage for day-to-day cooking, cleaning and ablutions, and you’ll account for another 60L. Do all these things, and your 150 litres of water will probably keep you hydrated and healthy for six days.

With these considerations in mind, it’s important to exercise water discipline if you plan to remain remote for long periods of time. For example, it’s not necessary to shower every day. For handwashing, have a hand bucket set-up or consider using a spray bottle containing a suitable cleaning fluid. We like Nutrimetics Nutri-Clean Original Lotion Concentrate for its all-round versatility and environmental friendliness. 

If you must wash your clothes while you’re remote, use a low suds biodegradable detergent to reduce the need for rinsing and overall environmental impact. 

Pre-cooked and vacuumed-packed meals that can be cooked in boiling water work well too. Clean up is easy and you can use the cooking water to wash up around camp, or for a cuppa.

Next steps

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