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Hema's Top 5 Things You Need For Desert Travel

Words and Pics by Glenn Marshall
Desert travel, while rugged and unique, can be dangerous without the right gear and essentials.

When venturing out into the remote desert regions in Australia, you shouldn’t leave home without this gear:



(Image: A sand flag will help prevent collisions in the desert.)

Having a sand flag attached to your 4WD is an important safety measure when driving along dunes or in dusty conditions. It is also one item that is a requirement when driving the Simpson Desert because when cresting any of the dunes, it is one thing that may save you from a head-on collision. 


You should also use your sand flag whenever you’re in conditions where oncoming traffic may have difficulty in seeing you. This includes beach driving, especially when driving on dunes, any of Len Beadell’s desert tracks or in dusty conditions. A bright orange flag as the highest point on your 4WD will always be a bonus. 
You can buy dedicated sand flags from most stores that deal with 4WD gear, ARB, BCF, TJM, or you can use an old UHF aerial, a fishing rod or even some PVC pipe, as long as the flag is fluorescent with a minimum size of 300 x 290mm. The flag must sit at a minimum of 3.5m from the ground if installed on your bullbar, or 2m above your mounting position if installed on your roof rack. 



A UHF is important for letting people know where you are in the desert
(Image: A UHF is important for letting people know where you are in the desert.)

Not only useful when driving in a convoy or listening to the truckies talking about their day, the UHF is also an important tool for telling people where you are in the desert. The most common channel used in remote travel is UHF channel 10, and it is the one recommended for the Simpson Desert. There are specific call points marked along the QAA line and French Line that allow you to broadcast your position, alerting other travellers within distance. With the UHF Radio, you know if someone is coming towards you, allowing you to take more care when cresting the dunes.. 


Some people carry two UHF’s when travelling desert country, as it allows them to leave one set to channel 10 while using the other to communicate with their convoy on another channel. Avoid casual chatter with your mates on channels like 10 in the Simpson, or 18 or 40 when highway driving, as these channels are meant to be used for information purposes, not talking about last night's bean stew. 



Knowing how to read a paper map will make it harder to get lost(Image: Knowing how to read a paper map will make it harder to get lost.)

These days we are spoiled by the electronic GPS and navigation tools that we have at our disposal; Hema X1, Garmin Overlander, Hema 4x4 Explorer are just some of the examples. With these devices, you can see exactly where you are, but what happens if it fails you, what do you do then? 


Paper maps are still the most important means by which to find out where you are. Learn how to read a map and carry a hand-held compass too. They are lightweight and take up next to no space but are handy not only in figuring out where north is, but they can also be used to help guide you to a point on a paper map that may be important. Paper maps and a compass don’t require batteries either.



Water is the elixir of life(Image: Water is the elixir of life.)
In normal conditions, you can survive for more than three weeks without food, but water is different. At least 60 per cent (up to 75 per cent in children) of our bodies are made of water and every living cell needs it to keep working. It lubricates our joints, regulates our body temperature and aids in flushing waste. Without water, you will be lucky to last a week in cool conditions and hidden from direct sunlight. 


In hot and humid conditions, three or four days maximum is how long you would last. An adult must consume a minimum of 4 litres per day to stay alive. When conditions are extreme an adult can sweat 1 to 1.5 litres per hour and if this fluid isn’t replaced, you are in danger of becoming dehydrated. If not reversed, it is life-threatening to lose more than 10 per cent of your body weight due to dehydration. 




Having the right recovery gear and knowing how to use it is essential in the desert(Image: Having the right recovery gear and knowing how to use it is essential in the desert.)
Not only should you be carrying the required recovery gear, but you need to be able to use it. That doesn’t necessarily mean carrying a sand anchor but it does mean that you can extract yourself without too much blood, sweat and tears. It’s always better to ‘boil the billy’ and have a cuppa before the recovery even starts, that way you have time to relax and clear your mind before the challenge begins.


The minimum gear needed for desert travel are a long handle shovel, recovery tracks, shackles, a snatch strap and rated recovery points. A winch, snatch block and a winch extension strap can be helpful too, especially when the going gets tough crossing some of those big dunes. 
With the right gear and knowledge, the Australian desert is ready for you to explore and marvel at. 


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