ByRV DailyMay 30, 2017

Emergency survival kit in a humble school pencil case; does not contain a protractor.
Words & images Marty Ledwich

Going on an outback adventure is a very different proposition to what it was 30 years ago. Today we are more focused on creature comforts in fancy caravans towed by tricked-up 4WDs whereas, in the past, we may have given more thought to being prepared for a possible emergency situation such as a mechanical breakdown that strands us in the middle of an outback track. If we go for a walk in the bush, we make sure we have the latest action cameras and selfie sticks – when perhaps we should be thinking about the possibility of getting lost and ensuring we are carrying provisions to ensure basic survival.

The Australian outback is as unforgiving as it is beautiful, and the vast distances between population centres means that if you experience an emergency situation, help may take days to reach you. You need to be able to sustain yourself in order to give rescuers the best possible chance of finding you alive.

Here we show you how to put together a rudimentary survival kit that will fit into a small container (such as a pencil case), that you can easily take with you on your travels.

Survival in the Australian Outback requires five essential elements

1 Water

Most medical experts agree that a healthy human being can survive up to three days without water; however, that can depend very much on the weather conditions and the age of the person concerned. If you’re over the age of 60 or you have a pre-existing medical condition, and you’re stranded without water in the extreme heat of the Australian desert, you could be dead within hours.

2 Shelter

Exposure to the elements – particularly the sun, wind and cold – will cause a variety of life-threatening health conditions. Having some form of shelter to shield you from the worst of those conditions can greatly increase your chances of survival.

3 Food

If you have a sufficient supply of water, you can survive for many days without food; but the physical and emotional effects of extreme and prolonged hunger can reduce that time considerably. Being able to find small amounts of food can sustain health and strength which are vital in an emergency situation.

4 Attract Attention

Assuming you have logged your travel plans with a family member or with the local police, there is a good chance your absence will be noticed and a rescue operation will be launched. If you haven’t told anyone about your plans, it could take days before an alarm is raised. Either way, you need to give rescuers every opportunity to find you.

5 First Aid

No-one ever died from a paper cut in the office; however, in an extreme environment even the smallest of wounds can get infected and lead to all sorts of health issues. A major wound can result in excessive blood loss. Basic first aid knowledge and equipment can save or prolong a life.

Used properly, the contents of this pencil case will assist you to survive for several days (possibly weeks), greatly increasing your chances of being found alive by rescuers. Many of the items have multiple uses, which makes this survival kit very efficient. It is based on similar kits supplied to Special Forces around the world and all the items can be purchased cheaply from camping stores and/or chemists, or collected from around the home.

Two or more Condoms

Not for what you’re thinking! They can carry and store up to two litres of water. Can be used as sheaths to cover wounds.

Fire Starter

Made from a block of magnesium with a built-in flint. Shave some of the metal block onto kindling using a knife or stone, and strike with the flint. Magnesium burns bright and hot. The bright flame can be used to signal rescuers.

Signal Mirror

Used to attract the attention of search planes. The reflected sun can be seen from great distances.

Two or more Plastic Bags

The larger the better. Place bags over the foliage of nearby trees and tie the ends up tightly. Water will evaporate from the leaves into the bags. They can also be filled with sand and charcoal to construct a rudimentary water purifier.

Survival Blanket

Made from strong lightweight reflective material, these help preserve body warmth. Can also be used as a temporary shelter. Laid out on the ground, they can be seen from the air by rescuers.

Wire Saw

A compact wire saw can be used to cut branches for building shelters or for gathering firewood.

A collection of Wire, Pins and Rubber Bands

Wire can be used to help build shelters or construct traps to catch small animals for food. Safety pins can repair clothing or be used as emergency sutures for large wounds. Rubber bands can be used to help seal plastic bags when extracting water from foliage,
or to secure wound dressings.

Fishing Kit

A selection of small hooks, sinkers and some fishing line can be enough to catch small fish from streams and rivers.


Used to purify water for drinking.

Basic Medication

A selection of painkillers and antacid tablets can help ease discomfort. If you need special medication for a pre-existing condition, include a supply of that as well.


A small selection of different sizes to help keep minor wounds clean.

Potassium Permanganate

Used to treat fungal infections, disinfect wounds, and treat dermatitis and tropical ulcers. Can also be used to colour snow to make a signal visible from the air.

Water/Wind Proof Matches

These matches have large heads and are covered in a thin film of wax. They are very effective at lighting a fire in windy or damp conditions.

Small Candle

Used as a fire starter in difficult conditions. The wax can also be rubbed onto the surface of wound dressings to aid in waterproofing.

Small Torch

Used for providing light at night or to signal rescuers.

Small Multi Tool

Many options available; however the type with integrated pliers is the most useful.

Sewing Kit

Used to mend or make clothing or wound dressings. Stitch items together to make a shelter. Also used to stitch large wounds.

Scalpel Blades

These are small and extremely sharp. Multiple uses including skinning animals caught for food.


Used to help navigate around your position.

Refresher Towels

These contain alcohol and can be used for cleaning wounds and surrounding tissue; as well as sterilising needles for removing splinters or stitching cuts.

Note: Make sure you check the contents of the kit regularly and replace medications or other items that may have passed their ‘use-by’ date.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. You could easily add more items if you use a larger container. The beauty of this kit is that it is small enough to store in an easily-accessible location in your vehicle (or throw it into your day pack). Remember, you want to be able to grab it in an instant.

This kit is great but it’s no good if you don’t know how to use the items to best effect. I highly recommend becoming familiar with the basics of bush survival, particularly in the Australian outback. The Internet is full of information; as is your local bookstore or library. Safe travels.