3 Steps to 4WD Self-Sufficiency

Remote travelling requires adequate levels of three major essentials:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Communication

While their ranking is arguable, this blog describes the importance of each on every off-grid getaway, and how to maintain self-sufficiency within your four-wheeled headquarters!

Buckle up, drink up, keep in touch – and read on!

Water cans on the swing out of a 4WD vehicle.

Water cans on the swing out of the 4WD (reserves for emergency situations). 


Water seems so simple: it’s a liquid, it’s transparent, and it’s thirst-quenching!

However, when travelling remotely in your vehicle, water is the most important consideration of all.

Four-Wheeled Drive (4WD) self-sufficiency is:

  • Carrying your water
  • Transporting your food
  • Moving your fuel
  • Having a reliable communication link and
  • Recovering your vehicle if it gets stuck

While the ranking of food, fuel, communication, and recovery gear could be argued, water is definitely the most important factor to consider when travelling to a remote area. You can’t live without it for more than about 3 days!

A 4WD drives through a body of water at sunset. The outback scene is a vivid orange and the sky is a bright blue.

When travelling remotely in your vehicle, water is the most important consideration of all. Image: Darche 

How Much is Needed?

To be safe in a remote area, you should have 200% more water than you need for survival. The volume needed for survival equates to 2-3L drinking water per person, per day.

If you have calculated your requirements at the common 5L per person, per day, or 10L in desert areas (which accounts for everything: drinking, washing up, brushing teeth, etc.), you should end up with a volume of water that includes the contingency or doubled drinking water for survival.

For example: 3 people are spending 5 days in the Kimberly region of Western Australia.

  • Survival water requirements: 3 people x 5 days x 2L/ day = 30L
  • Total water requirements: 3 people x 5 days x 5L/ day = 75 L

200% of the amount required for survival is 60L, so 75L should cover this group. If you’re spending time in a remote area and you want to be truly self-sufficient, you need to carry a fair volume of water. Thankfully, there are a few options when it comes to storing water in your 4WD:

  • A water tank: constructed from stainless-steel or hard plastic, and fitted under the vehicle in the cargo area or in an unused space. This can store a large amount of water (often 150L plus). Make sure the tank is easy to fill and access water from.
  • Jerry cans: plastic types specifically for water come in a variety of sizes; usually holding 10 or 20 litres. Keep in mind that a 20L jerry full of water is quite heavy and can be difficult to wrangle around the campsite!
  • 10L water cubes: the square boxed water from the supermarket! You do need to handle these gently, and they can also be hard to squeeze those last few drops of water from!
  • Small plastic bottles: the 24-packs at the supermarket. These are good because they split your water storage into multiple containers.

A 4WD with luggage on the roof driving through muddy puddles.

If you want to be truly self-sufficient in a remote area, you need to carry a fair volume of water. Image: Darche

Multiple water-carrying vessels

Left to Right: 10L Alpine Jug, 2L Water Bladder, 10L Water Cube, 750ml Bottle, 10L and 20L Jerry Cans.

Carry Your Water Across Multiple Containers

A good rule of thumb is to always have your water supply in multiple containers. This way, if one becomes contaminated or damaged, not too much is lost (which could otherwise become life-threatening very quickly).

Water is heavy, so try to position your water containers nice and low inside the vehicle, ideally between the front and back axles. Carrying water on roof racks raises the vehicle’s centre of gravity, making it unstable (and who wants their water sitting in the sun all day anyway?).

Don’t forget to consider the presence of water-borne illnesses. Read our article ‘Guide to Safe Hydration & Water Purification’ for tips on keeping your water safe to drink.


Nobody wants to go hungry on a camping trip! Good tucker is a great morale booster, and the way you transport food can save time and hassle at the campsite.

We know that water is the most important consideration when travelling in your vehicle. Food is not essential for immediate survival, as you can survive for 3 weeks or more without it. That said, a lack of it makes for an uncomfortable trip at the least, and after a few days, your energy levels and mental concentration will diminish. Yes, living on canned food and pumpernickel bread is possible, but it gets a little ordinary after a while. Fresh food takes you into the realm of true self-sufficiency; so it’s best take plenty, and keep it fresh!

Carrying Fresh Food and Keeping it Cool

A vehicle fridge enables any perishable food and drink to be taken into remote areas. The most common type of fridge/freezer is compressor-driven, called a ‘two-way’. This means it can be powered by 12V or 240V electricity. Sizes range from 15L to 110L, with the common sizes sitting around 60L.

Ben and Lauren discuss tips to keep food fresh on the Snowys Camping Show podcast:

A man sits outside his swag in front of a firepit, with his red 4WD parked behind him.

Yes, living on canned food is possible, but it gets a little ordinary after a while. Image: Darche

Storing Food

There are many storage solutions, but plastic kitchen containers are more than suitable. These are cheap to buy, airtight, and come in an array of shapes and sizes. You can find some with little internal compartments for a selection of spices or tea-bags, or enormous containers for holding bulky essentials like breakfast cereals or flour.

For softer and liquid foods like jam or UHT milk, make sure to double up the containers or put these foods in plastic bags first. That way, it won’t leak everywhere in the case of breakage.

Vacuum sealers are also available, and handy devices for keeping food fresh and flavoursome for longer.

Emergency Supplies

It pays to always keep a few spare tins of canned food like baked beans, ‘Man Cans’, and tinned vegetables stowed away in your vehicle, in case you exhaust your fresh food or your fridge calls it quits! Check out Quick and Easy Food for Camping and Hiking for some instant meal options that make for great emergency supplies.

Woman and child camping with Waeco fridge

A 12V camp fridge is great for reliably storing food. Photo: Dometic Waeco


Having plenty of food and water while you’re stranded is all well and good – but if help isn’t coming, it becomes a little superfluous! Communication equipment is essential for self-sufficiency so you can call for help in case of an emergency.

There are a few options available for the 4WDer, ranging from short- to long-distance, and cheap to dear.

UHF Radios (Short-Distance Comms)

UHF radios have a range of up to 20km, depending on the power of the radio (measured in Watts), antenna, and local terrain. While you may be able to call someone on the same 4WD track as you nearby, a UHF won’t cut it in remote areas where the closest people are likely hundreds of kilometres away!

For longer-distance communication, High-Frequency (HF) radios or satellite phones are more effective. That said, these units can be expensive to purchase.

HF Radios (Long-Distance Comms)

HF radios are mostly found installed in vehicles used for remote outback travel. Although the initial cost is quite high, there are virtually no ongoing costs.

They can be susceptible to interference though, and won’t work if your car battery has run flat. That said, there is a strong community of HF users around Australia – so contact with someone helpful is almost guaranteed.

A 4WD driving through soft sand with luggage on the roof.

There are a few communication options available for the 4WDer. Image: Darche

Dash mounted UHF radio

An Ultra-High-Frequency (UHF) radio is one of the most common pieces of equipment found in a 4WD.

Satellite Phones (A Good Hire Option)

A satellite phone is another effective option. They’re also more accessible to the average outback traveller who might only manage a few trips a year.

It can be operated from anywhere with a clear view of the sky (e.g. not within a canyon), has good call quality, and is portable – so can be removed from your car on walks.

Hiring is the best option, which is possible from many places at a reasonable cost. The price of calls and text messages can seem outrageous – but for emergency use, this isn’t a factor anyway.

Distress Beacons (A Last Resort)

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are used when 4WDing. When activated, these emit a signal to let authorities know that you need help. Some will also send a GPS location, so you can be located quicker.

A ‘Spot’ device is not a PLB, but can transmit your location coordinates and messages such as ‘All is OK’ or ‘Need help’ to family or friends. It is a very good idea to carry a PLB in remote areas, as a last resort in a life-threatening emergency. We carry PLB’s at Snowys and recommend Electric Bug to assist you with any other outback communication needs.

HF Radio

HF Radios are designed for long-range radio connecting cruisers to one another.

A birds'-eye-view of an adventurer is sitting on a cliff, fishing. A swag and 4WD are behind him.

A satellite phone is more accessible to the average outback traveller who might only manage a few trips a year. Image: Darche

How do you carry water when travelling in your vehicle? Do you have any nifty tips for storing water and food? Have you ever been in an emergency situation that required the use of one of these communication devices? Let us know in the comments!