Outback Survival Guide

This guide outlines the basic preparation and precaution you should take before setting out on your outback adventure.

There are few places on earth as vast, beautiful, rugged or unforgiving as the Australian outback. Its size, climate, wildlife and landscapes are what attract visitors from around the globe. 

But these same characteristics can, at a moment’s notice, put travellers in danger. Isolated regions are further from help, and those who venture out without the right knowledge or preparation could be putting their safety at risk. 

This guide outlines the basic preparation and precautions you should take before setting out on your outback adventure. 

Remember: in the event of an emergency, dial 000.

Deadly Snakes

Snakebites are a rare occurrence in Australia, with around 90 cases requiring hospital treatment each year. On average, two of these are fatal – but while this may sound like a low number, but it’s a high proportion in a medical sense. 

57% of snakebites happen in regional and rural areas, most often around buildings and their surroundings, and in almost half of all fatal cases, the victim doesn’t make it to a hospital. 

If you’re in a remote area, snakebites pose a greater danger due to the distance and time it may take to administer anti-venom. 

In short, the faster you get anti-venom, the better your chances of survival. If you can help it, take a few steps to avoid ever getting bitten in the first place. 

How to avoid snakebites: 

  • Don’t put your hands or feet in places you can’t see. When bushwalking, avoid rock crevices or grabbing branches, and watch where you place your feet. 
  • Snakes detect vibration more than sound. When moving through the bush, don’t tread lightly – the more noise you make, the more likely a snake is to run away before you have a chance to surprise it. 
  • Almost 1 in 5 snakebites happen when people try to interfere with the snake. If you do see a snake, let it be and give it space to move away, or find a different route. Please note that snakes are protected, and killing or harming them is illegal. 

Symptoms of a venomous snakebite: 

  • Two puncture wounds with swelling, redness and pain around the bite marks 
  • Difficulty breathing, blurred vision, sweating and salivating, numbness 
  • Headache, collapse, vomiting or nausea. 

The best treatment for a snakebite is anti-venom. Call 000 as soon as possible. You can download our full outback first aid guide here

Exploring Safely

When travelling to remote areas, preparation is the most important part of the journey. 

If you’re planning to explore on foot, don’t underestimate the risks. Losing sight of a trail or marked track is easier than you may think. Survivors often report not realising they were lost until it was too late – sometimes all it takes is a few moments of inattention or incorrect map-reading. 

  • Before you set off, tell people where you’re going, when you’re leaving, and when you should be expected back. 
  • Always bring a detailed map, compass, whistle and lighter. 
  • Carry enough food and water for at least 2 days. Aim for one litre per person per hour, in small containers (if a large container leaks, you’ll lose all your water at once). 
  • Take notice of signs at all times and follow the advice of rangers or guides. 
  • Always wear a sun-protective hat (not a cap), sunglasses and water-resistant SPF20+ sunscreen. Reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours or as necessary. 
  • Always wear insect repellent or appropriate clothing, e.g. long sleeves or a netted hat. 
  • Invest in good walking shoes. 
  • If it’s hot and you think you’ll be consuming a lot of water, take a little salt or a salt tablet to prevent against hypernatremia. 
  • Take warmer clothes for the evenings. 
  • If you’re visiting from overseas, take out adequate travel insurance. 

Download our essential first aid guide here

Safety Around Water

Although much of inland Australia is arid desert, each year one third of all drownings happen in these remote and rural areas – a huge number considering only 2.3% of the population live there. 

These incidents mostly happen in rivers, lakes and dams while swimming or recreating, with three quarters of all deaths being men. Drowning is also the primary cause of injury for young children in regional and remote areas. 

If you encounter an inviting creek or waterhole while exploring the outback, remind yourself of the following precautions before plunging in: 

  • Never swim alone. 
  • Read and follow any signs you see. If it says it’s not safe to swim, don’t go in. 
  • Always wear a life jacket when boating or using watercraft. 
  • Never enter floodwater, even if it looks calm or shallow. 
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs around water. 
  • Don’t jump or dive into waterholes, rivers or creeks. You may hit submerged hazards like rocks or logs. 
  • Be aware of crocodiles. Don’t dangle your hands or feet into water, even if the visibility is good. 

To refresh your knowledge of first aid and CPR, please download or print our guide

Mosquitoes

In Australia, it’s not just the big creatures than you need to be aware of. When you’re in the warmer, more tropical parts of the country, the mosquito could be the most dangerous thing you encounter. 

Mosquitoes can carry and transmit a number of nasty diseases, including Chikungunya, Dengue, West Nile virus/Kunjn virus, Malaria, Ross River virus, Yellow Fever and Zika virus. 

To reduce your chances of exposing yourself to these illnesses, follow the steps below. 

  • Cover up with loose, long-sleeved shirts and pants. 
  • On uncovered skin, use insect repellents containing DEET or Picaridin. 
  • Take special care during peak mosquito biting hours (dawn and dusk). 
  • Carry a mosquito net with you, preferably one that is treated with a pyrethroid insecticide (e.g. permethrin). 
  • Don’t assume an air-conditioned room is free of mosquitoes. 
  • Use a plug-in insecticide vaporiser or mosquito coils. While some people may not like the smell of mosquito coils, they are effective and aren’t considered harmful to our health. 

Symptoms of mosquito-borne diseases can include: 

  • Muscle and joint pain 
  • Rashes 
  • Headaches 
  • Fever. 

If you believe you or a loved one may have a mosquito-borne disease, visit a doctor immediately and make sure everyone is correctly protecting themselves against being bitten. 

You can view, download or print the full mosquito safety guide here. 

Sun Safety

Australia is known as the “sunburnt country”, and for good reason. Average temperatures in the outback are usually above 30°C for 6 months per year, and much of the continent receives just 30 days of rainfall per year. 

Unfortunately, all this sunshine comes at a cost - Australia has some of the highest UV levels in the world, and some of the highest incidences of skin cancer. And for people who aren’t used to our climate, there’s also the threat of heat-induced illness, which can sometimes prove fatal. 

The best way of reducing your risk of suffering a sun or heat-related illness is by being prepared. Before embarking on a trip, remember the five golden rules of sun safety: 

  • Slip on some protective clothing. 
  • Slop on some SPF30+ sunscreen every 2 hours. 
  • Slap a wide-brimmed hat on. 
  • Seek some shade (especially 10am-3pm). 
  • Slide on some UV-blocking sunglasses. 

It’s also important to know the signs of a heat-related illness. If you or a travelling companion is showing these symptoms, follow the recommended first aid treatments, or contact the emergency services on 000. 

  • Worse fatigue than usual 
  • Light-headedness or dizziness 
  • Loss of coordination; unsteadiness or confusion 
  • Out-of-character irritability or aggressiveness 
  • Grey or pale skin 
  • Lack of sweating  
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness. 

Always carry enough water to provide one litre per hour per person, and if you are sweating a lot, take a salt tablet to prevent against hypernatremia. 

Safe Motoring

Driving in remote Australia presents many more hazards than when driving in cities: there are four times as many road-related injuries in remote areas than in towns and cities. More than half of all Australian road fatalities occur in remote regions, despite less than 3% of the population living there. 

The hazards of driving in remote Australia include: 

  • Wildlife on the road causing drivers to swerve or crash. 
  • Long distances causing fatigue and loss of concentration. 
  • Breakdowns leading to strandings or people getting lost. 
  • Long, straight roads can tempt drivers into higher speeds than they’re accustomed to. 
  • Drivers unfamiliar with road-trains panicking or reacting unpredictably. 

Before setting out on a road trip, make sure you’re prepared. 

  • Get up-to-date maps and plan your route. 
  • Ensure your vehicle is roadworthy and capable of going long distances. 
  • Check your spare tyre is inflated and that you have a jack and tools. 
  • Only pack what you need – don’t overload your vehicle. 
  • Bring enough food and water to last a few days in case you break down. 
  • Tell people where you’re going and for how long. 
  • Take a first aid kit and instructional guide. 
  • Carry or wear gear to protect against sun and insects. 

If you break down or get lost, never leave your vehicle. It will likely be the only source of shelter and shade, and it will be a lot easier for rescuers to spot it than you. 

Visit the full guide for more information on safe outback motoring. 

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