Our Outback camping checklist – preparing for the Australian Outback
When we were putting together our outback camping checklist, we weren’t 100% sure what we were going to be faced with. While we wouldn’t be deliberately going down any 4×4 tracks, we knew we needed to be prepared for every possibility. That included breaking down, extreme weather, illness and everything in between.
Preparing for the Australian outback might seem like a daunting task at first, but we hope this outback camping checklist can ease some of that stress and help you begin to look forward to the beauty you’re about to drive through!
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Packing list for Outback trip quick roundup:
There’s a lot to get through with this packing list for your outback trip so here are some of the key categories that we’ll cover. Just in case you’re in a rush.
Outback camping checklist
Things to pack for Car Maintenance
– Basic Tool Kit
This is for general car maintenance. It’s good to get your van serviced before you head out for a trip, but you’ll also need to be prepared for anything that might go wrong. Changing a tire etc. You’ll need the basic tools to be able to do this.
– Jerry Can
You’ll need to carry extra fuel if you plan on heading inland as you travel up the coast too. It’s also just good practice to have spares; just in case.
– Spare Tire + Tire Weld
This should be an obvious one. If you’re between towns and get a flat tire. You either need to be able to fix the problem, or swap your tire. Having a spare tire and weld will cover you for most issues until you can reach a garage.
– Extra Motor + Break Oil
Again, good van health comes from regular motor and break oil top-ups. Carrying it with you will cut down costs of paying a garage to do it for you
Find out What to expect from the Uluru base walk.
Cooking while camping
We had already planned our route from Cairns – Darwin – Uluru and knew we wouldn’t be going longer than 3.5 hours without a service station. That being said, we still need to prepare for any breakdowns. This meant carrying extra water and plenty of food.
– 15 litre drinking water:
We bought ice bags at every other station so always we had cold drinking water. This worked surprisingly well.
– 10 litre ‘backup water:
This was in case our radiator overheated, but also if we broke down and ran out of cold drinking water we still had a backup. This was stored on our roof rack.
So this wasn’t bought specifically for our outback trip but we’re without a doubt glad we had it. Having our fridge meant we could stock up more on fresh food and could go longer between shops. It also meant we didn’t need to worry about buying more ice to keep a cool box cold. If you don’t yet have a fridge, we highly recommend the Waeco 12v fridge. It’s not massive, but it’s big enough to fit a whole weeks shop for two people and can run off solar, a spare battery or your cigarette socket.
– Reusable water bottles:
We’re pleased to say we didn’t have to buy a single plastic water bottle on our whole 3-week trip thanks to our reusable ones. We filled them from our own stash but also every chance we got we would fill them from free taps at every fuel stop or campsite.
– Reusable knives/forks:
With us being in a camper van, we have a stainless steel set that we take out on hikes with us as well if we’ve packed pasta or something similar. However, I also have a set of bamboo cutlery that I carry around the cities ‘just in case’. I really recommend this set if you’re looking to get eco-friendly ones.-
– Eco-friendly Tupperware:
We use these for storing raw meat in the fridge to reduce the risk of juices spilling as well as for lunch boxes while we’re on hikes. Everyone loves Tupperware/containers and they’ve become just as much of an essential for Van-Life as they were when we lived in a house. However, we’ve traded in plastic containers for stainless steel, heatproof latex and anything else we can find that a little more eco-friendly.
Some won’t see this as an essential, but when you’re doing long drives through the outback and you stop for a coffee at the only service station for another 3 hours, it’s great to know you have something reusable instead of getting something else to throw away. Especially when you don’t know when you’ll next be able to dispose of any rubbish you acquire on the road
– Single burner gas stove x2:
Having 2x single burner stoves was easier for us to store. If you have space for a double burner, that’s obviously a better way to go.
– Spare gas canisters x9:
We stocked up on these while we were in Darwin because we knew if we ran out while we were in the outback they would be expensive. It turned out the weather was that how we didn’t actually do much cooking anyway. Make sure you store them safely somewhere the lids aren’t going to get knocked, and they’re not going to get punctured.
– Collapsable washing up bowl:
This is a great space saver as it folds down flat and gets stored under our bench seats. We’ve had ours for almost two years and it’s still going strong.
– Pot + frying pan x1 each
– Plates + Bowls x2
– BBQ Spatula + Spoon x1 each
I never knew something so simple could bring so much joy to a man until we bought our BBQ spatula/bottle opener/bbq scraper. It has multiple uses, including helping get the burnt on fat off the free BBQ’s you get in the national parks.
– Bamboo skewers
Because you’ve not experienced the outback if you don’t roast bangers over a fire you’ve built yourself. (in an area where it’s safe to do so)
Clothing to pack for the outback
One thing to know is this; you’re going to have to stop being precious about some of your clothes or buy new ones specifically for the outback that you won’t mind throwing away. White? Forget about it. That red sand gets EVERYWHERE. And it can stain pretty bad if you’re a sweaty mess (hint; you probably will be).
We travel with a pretty compact wardrobe anyway, having arrived in Aus almost two years ago with just a 36 Litre backpack each so if you’re expected a long list of essentials; you won’t find it on this outback camping checklist.
Remember, it might get bloody hot during the day in the outback, but it gets just as cold at night. Layers are always the answer in the outback.
- Warm jumpers x2
- Tank tops and/or T-shirts x4
- Shorts x 3 (this includes 1x swim shorts for Dec)
- Jeans and/or Leggings x2 (I have one of each, Dec has 2x jeans)
- Jumpsuit x2 (mine… not Dec’s >.< 1x long, 1x shorts)
- Thick socks x1
- Ankle socks x 2
- Trainers x2
We really recommend Merrell barefoot shoes both men’s and women’s. They’re great for protecting your feet from hot sand while giving your body that barefoot feeling. We swapped out our hiking shoes for these. They’re lightweight which is great for when you have limited packing space!
- Flip flops 1x
- Lightweight foldable raincoat x1
- Underwear x8
- Swimwear x1
- Hats x1
When packing for an outback trip it’s important to remember your clothes need to be fairly loose fitting and lightweight if you want to stay as cool as possible. I pretty much lived in my vest tops and baggy shorts the entire trip.
Depending on where your outback trip takes you, you may not have access to a laundrette. Especially if you’re free camping like we did. We didn’t do a single load of washing between Darwin and Adelaide so you’ll need to be comfortable with wearing your clothes a day or two longer than you normally would – lightweight clothes will dry quicker if you choose to do a quick hand wash.
AVOID WHITE. This should be obvious but it didn’t stop me buying a white tank top for the trip. A tank top that very quickly turned orange and is now in the bin. Go for darker colours or patterns.
Electronics to take
In no way are most of these an essential for your outback camping checklist, but they’re what we took with us and we used most of these on a daily basis, the laptops being the only exception.
It’s also worth noting that we have a solar system set up, so we are completely off-grid. The solar runs our fridge and charges our devices. We’ve not had to connect to any electric hook up at any point on our entire Australia road trip.
– Sony A6000
A great little travel camera if you’re just starting out in photography and don’t want to carry around a chunky DSLR.
– Dolphin LED battery lights x4
– Torch x1
– Laptop x2 (One MacBook Air, one MacBook Pro)
To be honest, we hardly use this for anything other than snorkelling but if you want a little camera to capture the moments instead of a bigger digital camera, they’re great.
– Phones x2 + 3x sim cards
Of course, Dec and I have a phone each. Dec’s phone has a double sim so we took advantage of this and have 1x Optus plus 1x Telstra Sim in his phone.
Most people will say you only get Telstra signal in the outback but we found Optus to be just as good and occasionally, better. Places like Uluru and Alice Springs are well equipped for phone signal. There are a lot of occasions where you’ll have 0 signals but most rest stops along the outback roads have signal boosters and emergency phones if you do need to make a phone call while you’re out there.
tip: Let people know where you’re going while you have signal, what your estimated travel time is and your route. Then check back in with them when you get signal again. This means you’ll always have at least one person who knows your estimated whereabouts should anything go wrong.
– Bluetooth waterproof speaker
This was the only thing that was an absolute must for us because our camper van doesn’t have a radio!! Our JBL Bluetooth speaker also doubled up as a phone charger and has been one of our best buys.
– DJI Mavic Air drone
— Don’t miss these Outback experiences —
Toiletries for the outback
No outback packing checklist would be complete without delving deep into a travellers toiletries bag. I don’t wear make-up so this is going to be pretty straight forward with not many ‘omg skip this’ moments for you guys.
– Toiletries bag with a hook:
Having a hook on our toiletries bag has been a lifesaver when we’ve been forced to use showers where you don’t want your feet to touch the floor let alone your toiletries. We like this one because it’s super spacious and after two years it’s still going strong.
– She-wee urine device:
Being completely honest, I don’t actually travel with one of these but there were so many times while we drove through the outback that I wished I did. Toilets can be scarce in the outback, with not every free rest stop having them. Squatting for a pee is your only option in many cases which always carries a bit of paranoia that even though you haven’t seen a single car for hours, one will drive past at the same moment you have your bum out for the world to see.
– Diva/moon cup menstrual aid:
Again, not something I had for our outback trip but something I picked up as soon as we were back with a postal address.
Why? Because coming on your period in the middle of the outback is inconvenient at best, trying to dispose of tampons in the outback is even more of an inconvenience as there isn’t always a bin, meaning you have to carry them with you until there is – I refuse to bury them because I don’t want something to dig it up, I also refuse to just throw it into the bush… don’t be gross. A menstrual cup solves these issues
– Organic Tampons:
Last ‘gross’ one guys I promise. I use 100% cotton tampons because they’re safer for your body, and safer to dispose of. Coles have a pretty decent range or you can bulk up and get them online.
– Coconut Oil:
Great for sunburn, aftershave lotion, moisturiser and so many other things. It’s been a must-have item in my toiletries bag since we first got to Australia because it’s a lot cheaper here than in the UK. We buy called pressed raw coconut oil.
– Bamboo Toothbrushes:
I think by now this needs no explanation. I’d much rather throw away a bamboo toothbrush that I know us biodegradable, than a plastic one that will outlive me.
– Lush shampoo + conditioner bar
I was reluctant to try Lush’s shampoo bars because my scalp is really sensitive and my hair gets greasy really quickly. The Shampoo + Conditioner bar has been great and hasn’t resulted in any itchiness or flaking. It does, however, need to stay in the fridge because in the outback heat it started melting.
They are, however, a great way of reducing your waste and they’re vegan too!!
– First aid kit:
We didn’t go crazy with our first aid kit, and still have the one we bought in the UK. It includes plasters (band-aids), antiseptic wipes, bandages, an eye patch and some other things to help patch up cuts and bruises. We added the following to it:
– Anti-septic cream
– Factor 30+ Suncream
– Bug repellent
Bits + Bobs
The section dedicated to anything I couldn’t categorise on the outback camping checklist but things that I thought were pretty essential for my own sanity on this trip as well as some of the mandatory camping equipment.
– Paper free, Eco-friendly, waterproof journal:
This has been amazing for recording our trip around Australia. While I don’t fill it in every day I do fill it in when we’ve had a really busy day doing things I don’t want to forget about.
Paper-free? Yep. These journals are made from quarrying waste… rocks. Not a single tree was harmed in the making of these. The rock paper also means they’re really durable and completely waterproof too!
Get 10% off your first order with the code OFFICERTRAVELS10
– Lightweight blanket or scarf:
On some of the really long outback roads, there is little to no roadside shade. That meant for half the day on longer drivers I was sitting in direct sun. It wouldn’t have been any fun if I didn’t have a lightweight blanket to throw over me.
– Picnic blanket
– Folding camping chairs x2
– Folding camping table
– Blankets x3
We talk about this in our Ultimate East Coast Road Trip planning guide. You wouldn’t think you’d need extra blankets in Aus, but it gets damn cold at night, especially when it drops from 40’c+ to 20’c. We have 3 all in varying thicknesses, one of which actually doubles up as our picnic blanket.
A decent fan helps to circulate whatever cool air is available, and just having that breeze on you overnight does a lot for your comfort.
We personally use the Ryobi Hybrid rechargeable fan. We have two batteries, one 5amph, and one 1.5amp. The 5amph lasts us all night on fast. The 1.5 is great for using in the day if we’re ever in the van for long periods – like for lunch, doing some work or driving somewhere and needing a bit of extra breeze.
– Mozzy/Bug Net
If you’re wanting to park in amongst nature, a bug net is something you’ll not be able to live without; unless you keep all doors and windows shut. Any tiny lights will attract bugs to you, having nets on your doors will stop them coming in (hopefully). We also have a personal item below that you can pair with this for extra protection.
We used one Mosquito net and cut it to the size of our doors! Saved us money and stopped having excess net getting trapped in the door! You can also buy mosquito nets made to fit car windows.
– Reflective window covers
Reflectors do what you’d expect them to; they reflect the sun away from your window, meaning it stays relatively cool inside. They’re not miracle workers, on a 40’c+ day it’s still going to get pretty hot inside, but not quite as hot compared to what it would be without them.
Essential apps for the outback
You’ll find a helpful app for almost anything these days, including travelling the outback. These are the apps we used to help us along the way.
– Google offline maps
– Australia fuel app
Hopefully, you feel like this has helped you form an idea of what needs to be on your own outback camping checklist. We might have needed to be more ‘prepared’ for breakdowns, but as we weren’t heading down any dirt tracks, we weren’t off-roading and we weren’t really straying off the ‘main outback route’, what we did pack served us well and it was all used on a daily basis.
What would you add? Let us know if you’re planning an outback camping trip!
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