Knowing what to bring on your Outback trip can be tough. Because an Australian camping checklist is highly customizable.
What you’ll need as a person going with just your partner, in a large group of friends, or even on a guided tour is all a bit different. However, these are some essentials that everyone should bring.
I spent ten weeks in the Australian outback overlanding from Darwin to Alice Springs via the Kimberley region, Broome, the entire west coast of Australia, Perth, the Nullarbor, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Coober Pedy, and Uluru.
I also lived in Australia for three years on a working holiday.
These are the things that you definitely need to have with you on your big Aussie camping trip.
This Australian camping checklist isn’t comprehensive in that I’m not going to tell you to bring underwear or toothpaste, but rather the things that will keep you safe and make your life just a bit easier.
Including the things I didn’t bring with me and caved and bought halfway through because I thought I was dying.
Australian Camping Checklist: What to Bring on Your Outback Trip
This post is a part of my Outback Road Trip series.
^^ read about the adventures (and horrors) of spending so much time in the middle of nowhere as a gal who doesn’t do well without a warm shower and fluffy bed.
Australian camping car necessities
Be sure to have these in your vehicle, whether you are renting or driving a car of your own.
Even on a guided tour, we had three flat tires while camping in the Australian outback. I can only imagine how frustrating it would have been (and expensive) to be towed hundreds of kilometers to the nearest mechanic for something as simple as a tire change.
As soon as you use a spare tire, make it a priority to pick up another one ASAP because it might happen again sooner than you think. If you are renting a car, speak to the rental company about the correct policy for reimbursement because it’s VERY likely this will happen to you.
We also got a flat battery.
I have to laugh when looking back at my travel journal from this day. Simply put, I labeled it as a “shit show.”
After breakfast at our camp in the Kimberley region, we were meant to get kind of an early start on our journey. Yet we soon discovered that the battery on our bus was completely dead. Had somebody left the lights on? Had we charged one too many iPhones? Who knows. But it’s likely that this will happen to you, too.
It’s unrealistic to carry around a whole extra car battery with you (dude those things are expensive!) but if you’re going to be alone in the outback in your car or a rented vehicle, you need a pair of jumper cables. Who knows, maybe you’ll also get to be a good Samaritan along the way and give someone else a jump.
Running out of gas in the most remote areas of the outback can literally be a death sentence. No Australian camping checklist is complete without gasoline jugs. Normally, these are strapped to the top of your car so you don’t have to breathe in the fumes all day. It also keeps them from somehow sloshing onto your personal items are ruining them. However, carrying extra gas is always a good idea when you are driving across long stretches of desert without anywhere to refuel.
When you pass a gas station, keep your eyes open for any signage about when the next opportunity will be to refuel. Sometimes it’s more than a full tank of gas away.
Australian camping checklist: food and drink
Be sure to plan ahead before you do your pre-departure grocery shop.
A good rule of thumb for taking water on a hike is a liter per person, per hour of the hike. For a lot of the bigger hikes on my outback road trip, like King’s Canyon, the Uluru Basewalk, and every single gorge scramble in the Kimberleys, we took almost three liters of water with us. Our guide told us if our water reached its halfway point, no matter where we were, that was the 1/2 point of our hike.
The outback is serious and unforgiving. If you get heat stroke or exhaustion, you might get lucky. But if you are out there with just your boyfriend or a couple girlfriends, you might not be. Someone might not be along to help you in time.
Play it safe, and bring plenty of water. To ensure you always have enough water with you when you are camping remotely, have a few large water jugs in your car. If you are on a tour, it’s likely your leader will take care of this.
A little treat
I didn’t think much about bringing treats with me when going through my Australian camping checklist. Yet about three days out from Darwin on my west coast Australia road trip, I knew I had made a mistake. I’m not much of an outdoorsy girl, so camping so roughly was emotionally difficult for me. I needed some comfort.
Luckily, a couple from the UK on my bus thought to bring a bag of chewable mints. Each night after dinner, or when we climbed back on the bus after a particularly challenging hike, they would pass the bag around the bus and we would all silently take one.
It felt a bit like communion.
While chocolate and the like can melt quickly in the outback if you don’t keep them in the cooler, mints, cookies, and even gummy candy can be a great oasis when you need a little something to take the edge off.
Alcohol and soda
The same can be said for any liquids other than water. Yes, drinking water while camping in Australia is so important, but you’re going to get bored of it. I didn’t think I needed anything extra to throw in the communal cooler, but the 10-pack of Coke I bought in Katherine, Northern Territory was my lifeline for the rest of the trip.
Each night at dinner, I savored every sugary sip of that stuff. It felt like a hug, a foot rub, and getting a thousand-dollar check after a day of hiking in the harsh outback.
Yes, I am dramatic. But one can of Coke in the welcome center of any campsite or national park we went to cost almost double what the entire 10-pack of soda did at the grocery store in Katherine. Plan ahead and save some money!
If you are going on a tour, the menu isn’t likely to be up to you. It’s nice not having to worry about sorting out your daily meals, but you definitely pay for the convenience. When I did my big outback road trip, I was on a tour the whole way. But some nights, I didn’t want to eat what the group was having. Other times I was hungry in between because we were doing so much hiking and I had a large appetite. It was nice to have the option of snacks like chips, crackers, and cookies. I think I even had a loaf of sourdough bread in my backpack at one point.
If you are not on a tour and are planning on going in a group of your own, make mealtime as easy as possible. Think chili, pasta, wraps with lunch meat, and the like. At the end of a long day, you want something with lots of calories that cooks up quickly. It’s so much easier to dump a can of beans and ground beef into a pan than to make a gourmet meal, especially when you’ve been hiking all day and just want to crawl into your swag.
Things to wear on an Outback trip
You already know to bring extra underwear and running shorts, just like on any ole’ camping trip. But you might not think to bring these things.
I swear by packing cubes. I resisted them for so long, which was so dumb because they make my life so much easier. When camping, it’s also nice not to have to dig through your entire bag looking for something. I kept my underwear in one smaller cube and socks in another. T-shirts and shorts were separate. Dirty clothes went into one.
When I needed to shower or change, it was so helpful to just pull things out of each packing cube without destroying my tightly packed bag. Kind of like having little drawers. 10/10 would recommend.
Hiking boots with ankle support
I once sprained my ankle in my apartment in Sydney. Just walking from my bedroom to the living room … it gave out. It’s also given out while walking down a level, paved street in Berlin. Among other embarrassing places. So I knew I need to get a special pair of boots for my big outback trip so I could actually enjoy myself.
Although a friend of mine did most of the hikes in Karijini National Park in Converse, which I have no idea how she pulled off but I my leg would be down the bottom of a ravine somewhere if I took that risk.
These are the exact boots I bought for the trip. I bought them at REI, but they are also available at Amazon. Keen is a great brand and these shoes still look and feel almost new even after a big hiking trip. The ankle support was fantastic. The bottom half is completely waterproof, which meant no soggy socks when walking through shallow streams. This feature alone made them worth it.
The bottoms were also really grippy. There were plenty of hikes with steep rock faces and having shoes that hung on for dear life while walking down them made it that much less scary. These boots really improved the overall quality of my outback trip.
Blisters will ruin your trip, so having thick socks is ideal for any Australian camping checklist. If you have hiking boots, regular socks will be too then for the shoe and you will feel pressure on your arches, ankles, and even along the sides of your toes. Thicker socks (usually wool) will do the trick. I used Darn Tough hiking socks and they worked great.
They came in fun colors and kept me from getting too many blisters. There was also a bit of compression in the socks, which helped with the long days of hiking and thousands of steps. I brought five pairs and since I didn’t have access to laundry, just let them air dry in between uses on a bit of a rotation schedule. Worked well.
Rubber flip flops
For all your showering needs. Just like when you were in college, you never want to be barefoot in a public shower — whether it’s at a campsite, a travel stop, or a hostel. There is so much gunk and bacteria (people pee in there!) that you shouldn’t be barefoot.
Rubber shoes are also good for an outback trip because they are easy to rinse off. If you have sandals like Birkenstocks you are likely to ruin them with moisture or dirt, but rubber will always bounce back. I bought these for $2 at Kmart in Sydney right before my trip.
Hat with neck protection
A baseball cap is okay for sun protection, but only if you want to be a certified redneck by the end of your outback trip. Instead, opt for a wide-brim hat, bucket hat, or similar. I bought one at a gas station in Katherine, Northern Territory that ended up being a fun souvenir. If you are trying to save space and would also like a cool hat, you can find them everywhere once you touch down in Australia.
The flies in the outback can be so annoying that it’s hard to manage without a fly net. They LOVE moisture and are constantly looking for a drink around your eyes, nose, and mouth. It feels really creepy, like a ticklish itch. It can make eating, sleeping, and really just standing there talking uncomfortable and annoying.
Fly nets are cheap, pack up to be tiny, and can make your trip a million times better. Get one. Even if you don’t need up using it (are you superhuman?) it won’t take up any space in your bag.
It gets pretty cold at night in the outback! Depending on the time of year you go, you can be looking at some sub-freezing nights. I didn’t have a beanie, so I actually nicked one of my tour guides because I was really ill on the Perth to Adelaide leg of my trip. It was great for sleeping and made me feel nice and cozy.
I didn’t bring a headlamp. This trip was a few years ago and I still think about how stupid I looked without one. My friend and I would just put our phone flashlights on and then hold them in our mouths or tuck them into our sports bras so we could see what we were doing. It drained the battery really fast.
Seriously, hands-free light is the biggest gift you can give yourself when on an outback trip.
These are essentials for an Australian camping checklist because they will keep you safe.
Picture this: you are hiking Karijini National Park, golfing along the Nullarbor, or exploring the Savannah Way in Far North Queensland…when you are bitten by a brown snake. or have a heart attack. or fall down the ravine and break your leg. Or come across a horrible car accident where people are screaming for help.
But you don’t have any phone signal cause you’re in the middle of nowhere. The Royal Flying Doctor service can swoop in and save you, sure. But they only come when they are called.
What do you do?
You need a satellite phone! If you are renting a car, you might be able to rent one from the same company. If you bought a car and are going with friends, buy one. You can always sell it alongside the car when you’re done. If you are on a tour, don’t worry — your guide will have one. They will show a few people in the group how to use it in case the guide is the one who needs the help.
Paper map/satellite GPS
Getting around the outback is both easy and hard. For one, there aren’t many roads. If you stick to them, you are bound to come across a town sooner or later and can get more detailed help there. For example, most of the 30-hour drive from Darwin to Adelaide is straight down the Stuart Highway, while you can cross the entire Nullarbor along the Eyre.
But you might get lost. And getting lost can be deadly. If you are taking a tour, your guide will be in charge of navigating and you don’t need to worry about it. But if you are setting out with some friends, be sure to pick up an updated paper map or satellite GPS to find your way.
You can’t rely on signal (even with Telstra!) because plenty of the places you will explore won’t have any signal.
Portable power pack
Do you enjoy listening to music in the car (can’t use the radio…there is no signal), taking photos of your adventures, or even using the flashlight on your phone in a jam? Then you need to keep it charged. You can also use a portable power pack to power things like electronic fans. While you can use your car battery to charge things while driving, you might have to fight with an entire tour bus for access to the plug.
Your car battery also might go flat when you need it most. It’s always good to have a backup option.. especially when your phone dies halfway through your mediation podcast and the tour bus is locked up for the night.
These items are essential to an Australian camping checklist because they will make the trip that much easier.
Basic first aid kit
It happened one day while we were making lunch on the side of the road in the Northern Territory.
“Can you put this in the water for me?” my guide was finishing up cooking and handed me a hot skillet.
I took it, planning to go back over to the dishwashing bucket, but the handle of the skillet must have been broken. When I took it from him, it was too hot to comfortably hold. I immediately (and stupidly!) let go of the hot handle, but instead of dropping it to the ground, my brain decided it would be a good idea to transfer it to my other hand first before doing so.
Touching the bottom of a pan straight off the stove is a 0/10 experience. I nearly burned the fingerprints off all my fingers on my left hand. I was trying not to cry, but as Simmo got me some ice I cracked a little bit. It was nearly 100 degrees outside and my fingers were stinging so badly that I considered just chopping them off.
Luckily, there was a German doctor on my tour that also had a great first aid kit with her. She had some burn cream and bandages and got me all patched up.
Something bad is going to happen to you, too. I’m not trying to be ominous, but if you sprain your ankle, burn your hand, or get an upset stomach, you’ll wish you had a small something to take the edge off in your car. No Australian camping checklist is complete without one.
Australian swag or sleeping bag
You’re gonna need somewhere to sleep. Whether you want to go full Aussie and sleep under the stars in a swag each night, or maybe do a bit of car camping is up to you.
Either way, you’re going to need a sleeping bag or some bedding. I went on a tour and purchased a sleeping bag cheaply from the tour company, then donated it at the end of the trip because I didn’t want to carry it around anymore. If that’s not you, you can grab one online before the trip, or at a Bunnings or Anaconda — Aussie camping and outdoor stores that are in pretty much every town.
The tour company I went with provided swags and tents for us.
Sunscreen + moisturizer
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. In fact, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the time they reach the age of 70. The main cause of skin cancer in Australia is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, which is particularly high in the country due to its location close to the equator and its predominantly sunny climate
To avoid being just another statistic, sunscreen is crucial for anyone visiting the Australian outback due to the region’s harsh and unforgiving climate. The outback’s desert environment means that the sun’s rays can be particularly intense and harmful, with temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. That’s well over 100 Fahrenheit. Overexposure to the sun can result in serious health risks such as sunburn, skin cancer, and heat stroke.
Most of the insects I encountered were annoying flies, which insect repellent doesn’t do much for. However, this still lands on our Australian camping checklist because there are regions where there are tons of mosquitos. When you can’t go inside, it can be life or death for your sanity to be bug-free. Just bring a bottle. You won’t regret it.
Shampoo, conditioner, and soap in bar form
I bought some of these from LUSH before my big trip and while the shampoo bar worked great, the conditioner melted in the extreme outback heat. Even so, I had them in small metal tins and was still able to scrape some out of the corner each time I took a shower for my hair. These are way better than bulky toiletry bottles because they suds up so quickly, but you still don’t use much of the mass per wash.
AKA less room for more product! We love to see it.
Literally same sitch for body wash. Just bring a bar of soap. Soap will not explode in your car like an overheated plastic bottle might. It will also not leak all over your clothes in your bag when you are 500 miles away from a washing machine. Don’t risk it. Just bring a plain, old-fashioned bar of soap.
Having one of these would probably have saved my life. The first time I went to sleepaway camp I was ten years old and the camp recommended I bring a small fan to attach to my bunk. I don’t know why I thought to do a 10-week overland trip in the Australian outback 15 years later without one.
The great thing about these fans is that they are lightweight, can attach to anything, and are USB-rechargeable. No worrying about batteries or anything.
There were some nights I felt so hot that I thought for a moment I was actually sleeping inside an oven. Thank me later. Take one of these with you.
Misc. Australian camping checklist items
Some of the places we stopped into for gas, an ice cream, or last-minute first aid supplies were so remote they only took cash. Some of them didn’t have working card machines, nor did they have ATMs on site. If you wanted something, you needed to have cash on you. I recommend pulling about $500 and having it split into different parts of your luggage for your trip, just in case.
This way, you’re protected against theft (rare in this part of the world) and being stuck really needing something and not having a way to pay for it.