Are you planning your travel holiday in Outback Australia ?
Here are some of the things I’m finding supremely handy as Wags and I venture on our unscripted Outback journeys.
Our only vehicle is a medium-sized 4WD SUV. We’re not towing a campervan, nor a caravan. We’re not staying in hotels or B&Bs. We don’t even have roof racks. We camp, with our life packed into the back seats of the 4WD. And therefore, space is tight. There is no room for luxury.
Each mini-trip I’ve been on provides some more learnings, which I hope you find useful.
#1 - Flynet
You simply cannot venture into the Australian Outback without a flynet. The flies will drive you quite bonkers. A flynet provides escape from these pesky creatures that otherwise take refuge in eyes, nostrils and any other available patch of skin or dark crevice.
You can buy these from your local outdoors store and also from some airport stores. I bought a net that was impregnated with an insect repellent (permethrin) – I probably paid more than I needed, but it was still only around AUD $18.
I recommend getting the tiny carry-bag that comes with the net, as it means you can roll the net up and pop it into the glove box when not in use, thus protecting it from transit damage.
If you are handy on the sewing machine, you could easily make one yourself. Simply cut 2 identical pieces of flynet in trapezoid shape (see pic on the right) measuring 40cm along the bottom, 40cm along the 2 sides and around 30cm along the top. Sew edges together along the 40cm sides edge (2 seams). Thread elastic through a hem that you sew along the bottom edge (which measures around 80cm now that you’ve sewed the 2 sides together). Then cut a circle of around 20cm in diameter (60cm circumference) and sew remaining raw edges together (i.e sew the circle edge to the trapezoid top).
Tip#1: when you have the flynet on your head, take extra care if your exploratory missions see you walking through bush or scrub. Overhead branches and twigs can easily catch on the net and damage it, and even steal it from your head during that moment you happen to roll it back over your hat!
Tip#2: don’t forget your flynet is on your head when you decide to indulge in that afternoon beer or wine.....or if you need to spit something out of your mouth...!
#2 - Japanese Tabi Socks ("toe socks")
Tabi Socks are traditional Japanese socks worn by men and women dating back to the 15th century. They were toe divided so that they could be worn with thonged footwear.
These cute looking socks are beneficial in a number of ways -
1. They keep your feet clean, even if for a short amount of time. Maybe you’re the type of person that likes to retire with clean feet after you’ve given them a good wash.
2. They keep your feet warm at night or on those early mornings before the sun has warmed the cooled earth
3. They keep your feet dry when it’s a little damp outside
The reason for the toe-split is that you can slide your sock-clad feet quickly and easily into your thongs (aka flip flops). It also saves you carrying a pair of warm shoes just for warmth sake.
I purchased mine in Japan. My all-time favourite sock store is Tabio and they have great quality and designs for both ladies and men. Unfortunately the store is not global. You can find plenty of cutesie versions (like mine) by shopping at tiny stores in the back lanes of Japanese cities and I’d love to hear of any other places where you may have seen them. Worse case, you can make your own version. Simply make a slight cut between your big toe and 2nd toe, and get your creative-self darning with an alternate coloured wool thread. Expect it to look slightly clunky.
Of course, if you’re not a thong fan and prefer ‘slides’, well the good news is that any sock will work.
Be warned, you may need to swallow your fashion pride when your friends and family see the photos. This look doesn’t exactly belong on the pages of fashion magazines.
Tip#3 – I personally do not like the 5-toe variety, because they are really fiddly to put on. You’ll end up with two toes poked into a single toe cover, and a spare toe cover left flapping uselessly in the breeze.
Look closely below and you can see that Wags is wearing his toe socks too!
#3 - Homemade Essential-Oil Wipes
Essential oils are great if you are interested in chemical substitutes in general (not just when camping). My sister in law shared a recipe for oil wipes. Simply mix 1 cup cooled boiled water with 1 tablespoon of Fractionated Coconut Oil. Add 2 drops each of peppermint, lavender and tea-tea oil. Then place half of a paper towell roll into a round sealable container.
I use VIVA extra length paper towells as they are great quality when it comes to absorbency and wet-tear strength. I cut mine in half simply so it can fit into the click-seal container that I purchased from Kmart. If you use the full roll, simply double the recipe. Just ensure you buy a high quality paper towell. Eventually you can simply remove the cardboard core and you have wipes ready to extract from the well in the centre.
Note - The tea-tree oil provides the antiseptic quality.
These wipes are multi purpose when it comes to camping.
- Wipe hands during/after cooking (so that you don’t waste scarce water).
- Wipe down camp table and dirtied surfaces such as tent floors.
- Use as a face wipe to take off the day’s grime.
- Wipe soot off your fingers after handing BBQ plate or firewood.
- Use for the proverbial ‘shower in a can’ type of clean if you’re in a rush.
- Wipe dirty feet before you go to bed at night.
- Last (and definitely not least), wiping your nether regions squeaky-clean after a bush squat.
One half-roll lasts Wags and I about a week before needing to use the 2nd-half of the VIVA roll and starting over. The used paper towel pieces burn nicely in the fire, with a hint of added crackle-noise if they are still damp.
Tip#4 – put them in your car fridge if/when you have space. They will deteriorate a bit faster in the heat. Remember, they have no preservative. If you don’t use them all on your trip, bring them home and use them as surface wipes. You may end up eliminating several chemical versions already scattered throughout your cupboards.
#4 - Beanie (aka "tukue")
Wearing a beanie at night, AND to bed, stops the heat escaping via your noggin. The days are warm in the Australian Outback, but the nights can be bitterly cold.
In addition, outback camping trips are a source of inspiration for bad-hair bandits. A beanie worn on cold days eliminates that issue, at least to the outside world, and before it gets replaced with a cap.
Tip#5...Since I have longer hair, I usually pop it into a scrunch bun bun when I sleep. A ‘longer’ beanie allows me to pull it right over my hair scrunch bun, and then forehead and ears, and stay warm. I do carry a second version for winter days, as I love the playfulness of the big pom-pom beanie that I wear.
#5 - Flannie
This is what we-Aussies dub a flannelette shirt. It is a fantastic addition to the clothing kit in the Aussie outback.
First of all, it provides a warmth layer for the cooler nights or windy days.
And because flannelette is cotton .... a natural fibre…... it’s also very breathable. Depending on the timing of your trip, the flannie may well be your sole item of warmth, since it demands only marginal footprint on weight and space.
When I arrive at a camping spot and am confronted with sandflies, mosquitoes or flies, I’ll often wear the flannie to protect me from bites and general insect annoyance. Even if it’s hot.
Tip#6 - There’s no need to rush out and buy a brand new flannie. Purchase 2nd hand (and give it a good wash of course with my bicarb soda recipe in #10), OR, simply raid your grandfather’s closet. I have 2 flannies and they both belonged to my late Pa (grandfather) pictured here (matchie matchie!). He died at 93. They have all his rips and tears still intact. I now have a sentimental reminder of him and at the same time a practical addition to my outback wardrobe. He’d be so proud...
#6 - Fabric-based Rubbish Caddy
Family donated this tiny but incredibly handy little rubbish caddy. I would not be without it now.
The strap wraps over the gearstick, and has an elasticized hole for you to poke small rubbish items into. Tissues, banana-peels, muesli bar wrappers, etc. The bottom is rolled with a Velcro strip, for easy emptying into a bin. And it’s made of water resistant fabric which you can wipe clean.
If you’re good on the sewing machine, or even with a needle and thread, you could make your own.
Tip#7 … Because I tend to sniffle a bit in the cold dry weather, and because I also love to use my oil wipes to clean hands etc, my caddy fills quickly with tissues and wipes. When lighting a fire, I can simply empty the contents right in with the kindling and newspaper which helps the fire to get started and saves using as much newspaper.
#7 - Insulated and Water-Tight Mug
Wags and I both own these, and I’ve bought several others for family at their request.
They’re superb quality and well insulated, with screw-in plastic lids, and a handle that snaps into the mouth hole. If the mouth hole is snapped shut, it simply will not spill.
Our coffee stays warm for a solid two hours, and the mugs fits perfectly into the car holders.
Being insulated, they’re also great for a cool drink, or a glass of wine. Since we’re tight on space, we don’t have the luxury of glasses and mugs for varied beverage occasions. A good wipe with the paper towell moves us from coffee-time to wine-o’clock.
Below you can see our cups standing on the rocks filled with goodness-knows-what (!?) as we prepare dinner.
Tip#8: I learned this one from Wags. When making instant coffee, add the coffee and milk to the mug first, and THEN stir in the boiling water. And be generous with the milk. This stops the hot water from scalding the coffee and leaving that bitter burnt flavour. I cant believe I was in my 40s when I finally learned this!
Tip#9: When first making the coffee with these mugs, screw the lid on before you snap the handle into the mouth-hole. Otherwise the heat pressure as you screw the lid on will force some liquid out via the screwtop threads. Provide same instructions to your Barista!
#8 - Passenger Car Caddy
I made this myself after doing a few short trips and finding I was scrambling for lip balm, handcream and other oft-used items. Space is tight in our car. There’s no spare room in the glove box, which is loaded with sunglasses, flynets, 2-way radios and other essentials.
My caddy simply hangs on the pull-out cup holder via the 2 cords.
To make this, I used a small measurement of light hessian from my rag collection. I firstly sewed 2 tiny pockets onto the fabric (great for lip balm), then hemmed and seamed to make the box-shape, then sewed on 2 pieces of rope like shopping bag handles. I use it to store small tubes of oil-based insect repellent, hand sanitizer (again made from essential oils), tiny tubes of sunscreen and handcream, cuticle balm, lip balm, and dry-eye eye-drops (the dry windy conditions of WA play havoc with my eyes. I’ve also popped a tiny deodorant in there for those hotter days when I need a spritz.
Tip#10: whilst this is superbly easy to sew if you have a sewing machine, you could still make this using iron-on seam tape and a simple needle-thread for the rope.
#9 - Skincare
I’ve spent time and money on keeping my skin in good condition into my 40s. I’m not about to ruin that with a poor skin care regime whilst I’m travelling over a multi-week period. Especially given that outback conditions can be harsh – bright sun, bugs, and dry wind – on a daily basis.
I’m super consistent with a morning and night skin care regime. It doesn’t take much space or time. I use high quality Vitamin-C-based serum + cream during the day. Followed by Vitamin-A-based cream at night. Also, an eye serum day and night. My day cream includes sunscreen, and I have an additional tube of heavy duty sunscreen that I apply to face and decolletage on hotter and brighter days. I also use a tinted CC cream that includes sunscreen. No need for makeup. Note that Vitamin A does cause sun sensitivity.
Every girl has a skin routine of their own of course. My point is, don’t sacrifice it.
Sunscreen is so very important out here in the Outback, and whilst I’ve written about face above, sunscreen is equally important on the rest of your body.
I also use facial cleanse wipes at the end of the day (and when I wake up). This saves on scarce water supplies, and also allows me to get it all done whilst inside my tent.
Tip#11 … The oil wipes described earlier in #3 can be used to remove the day’s grime and sunscreen etc. I do find them slightly papery for everyday facial use over an extended period, and so I find myself alternating between store-bought facial wipes and my homemade oil wipes.
#10 - A pair of thick gloves
Canvas. Leather. Or even insulated motorbike gloves.
These are useful for:
1. Handling Firewood.
Australian bush can be very prickly. With a glove, you are empowered to grab the dead branches and bush with gusto (!), drag them to the firewood pile, and avoid unnecessary splinters.
If you’re handling wood already in the fire, it helps avoid burns. I actually have a pair of these at home, because I’m super clumsy when placing new logs into my slow combustion fire. They have saved me from a few burn scars, I am sure!
2. Handing the BBQ plate.
We have come to rely on our BBQ plate for cooking breakfast and dinner over the fire on cooler days/nights, and also for boiling our coffee and shower water. However, with each use, the plate gets blacker and sootier, on the edges and legs and underside. These gloves allow us to handle the plate when hot, if we need to remove it from the fire. We also use the gloves to pack the plate into it’s carry box, so that we don’t get hands and legs covered in black soot.
You can pick these up from a hardware store in the garden section. We were lucky enough to be donated two pairs from our local tyre shop, which had plenty they were not using.
#11 - Bicarb Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)
I carry a container of Bicarb Soda, because it’s a natural product that has multiple uses.
1. Cleaning – mix it with water to make a paste. Great for plates and frypan.
2. Washing powder - I mix 100g (about 7 tablespoons) of Bicarb Soda with 5ml Eucalyptus Oil (about 1 teaspoon) and 10ml water (about 2 teaspoons) and use this either at a laundromat (on the odd occasion we visit a camping ground) or in my own bucket when handwashing. For the record, I also use this recipe at home, although I do pre-mix larger quantities.
3. Cooking - when mixed with an acid (e.g. citrus, beer, wine), it acts as a raising agent for the damper recipes that I love to experiment with.
I hope you find this useful when planning your Outback Camping Trip!