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Stayin’ Alive: Your Guide To Outback Survival

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Stuck in the outback camping overnight with no reception, no idea where you are and no clue what to do? Here are some outback travel tips for channeling your inner Bear Grylls and staying safe until help arrives.
Whether you’re bogged, broken down, lost or out of fuel, the first and most important element in outback survival is to stay calm. Take a look around, assess the situation and work out what you need or can do to get help.
Keep hydrated
Any time you’re going off-road in Australia, make sure you take plenty of water and use it sparingly; so long as you have potable water, you’re likely to survive quite a long time.
You don’t need to drink your own urine, despite what Bear Grylls says; in fact, it’s quite possibly the worst thing to do because the hydration urine might offer will be outweighed by a higher-than-normal concentration of body salts and toxins.

  • Restrict what you eat to foods with a higher water content and that won’t absorb the fluids in your body as they are digested; avoid excess salt, sugary drinks and bread.
  • When you drink, do it slowly but adequately – around 250ml at a time. When taken in small sips, water won’t do much more than wet your mouth and perhaps the digestive system; you need water to move throughout the body because ‘dehydration dementia’ is real. Lack of water adversely affects the brain and can cause hallucinations.
  • If you run out of water, try harvesting more by attaching plastic bags over transpiring tree branches and by collecting dew from plants, awnings and vehicle surfaces in the early morning.

Stay with your vehicle
Number one law of the bush: Stay with your vehicle. It’s a lot easier to spot a vehicle than a person, so don’t be tempted to wander off in search of help. Walking also wastes energy and water that you may well need.
Keep sheltered
Rest in the shade of trees, your vehicle or caravan during the day, as the sun and heat will deplete energy and cause you to lose fluids through perspiration.
Avoid exercise and unnecessary activity. Anything that will use energy, such as laying out signs or collecting water, should be done at dusk or early morning when it’s cooler.
Remember also that desert temperatures can quickly drop below zero, so make sure you rug up warmly at night.
Send out signals
The sooner someone notices you, the faster you’ll be rescued from your predicament, so you’ll want to make your location easy to spot.
Look around and work out how to best attract the attention of passing vehicles, planes or anyone in the vicinity. If you’re parked under trees, for instance, you’ll need to place a sign nearby that can be seen from the air.

  • Put out markers such as white rocks on red sand or sticks with tape around them to show passers-by or search parties where you are. The bigger and simpler the message, such as SOS and the date, the more effective it will be.
  • If you’re broken down close to the highway or a main road, set up a tripod of sticks on the road, with a white flag or other obvious marker to catch the attention of passing motorists. Open the vehicle’s bonnet so it’s obvious that you’re in trouble.
  • Reflective objects such as aluminium foil, CDs hung in trees or a wine cask bladder will reflect light over a considerable distance and alert others to your position. If you hear a plane flying over, shine a mirror towards it to attract attention.
  • Smoke and fire is an excellent way to alert others, but only use it safely and in appropriate weather conditions.
  • If you have strings of solar lights, set them up to read ‘Help’ or SOS at night.

Be prepared
There’s no way of predicting when or where you might find yourself stranded when traveling around the countryside, so it’s wise to be prepared.

  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to arrive. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick to the plan, so long as you keep people updated.
  • Invest in a satellite phone and an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon).
  • Always carry water-purifying tablets.

It might seem like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, but if you stay calm and follow these outback survival rules someone is likely to find you within a few days, especially if your friends notice you haven’t turned up.
The UHF CB Radio is a must-have in any tow vehicle. Do you know which channels you should and shouldn’t be using?

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