Australia is a giant country, with more camping opportunities spread throughout than you’d be able to explore in a lifetime. Whether it’s in the high country of Victoria, or on a pristine beach tucked away in the southwest of WA you’ll find some world-class camping locations.
However, not all of them have running water, flushing toilets and hot showers. In fact, many have none of the above! In this post, we look at what it takes to be a self-sufficient camper, which allows you to camp in places where the facilities are lacking, or non-existent.
What’s the point of being self-sufficient?
You might think it’s a ridiculous idea to even consider going to a campsite without the facilities you’d get in a caravan park. The thing is though, if you are self-sufficient, you have your own gear and don’t need to be dependent on others providing it. It’s not a case of going without.
This dramatically opens up your options for where you can camp, and has a number of other benefits that we will look into below.
Self-sufficiency means you can experience campsites like this, that are further off the beaten track. Photo: Aaron Schubert
Make sure you are comfortable
I’m not going to suggest for a minute you should be camping like a cave man (although if that’s your style, go for it!).
Camping has this horrible stigma attached to it that’s uncomfortable. Some people firmly believe if you are going camping for the weekend you’ll be cold, uncomfortable and roughing it. The reality is this couldn’t be further from the truth, providing you have the right gear and know how to use it properly.
Nothing will ruin an amazing camping trip than being uncomfortable. Whether that’s getting wet and cold, being blasted by the wind, not being able to go to the toilet comfortably, or having a terrible sleep each night, there’s a huge range of ways that your camping trip can be uncomfortable. I firmly believe you should be comfortable when camping.
What are the benefits of self-sufficient camping?
There are many advantages of camping in a self-sufficient manner. Some are financial, and others are purely for a better experience. Either way, you are able to mix it up as you feel like doing so.
Our self-sufficient set up at Murchison House Station. Photo: Aaron Schubert
It’s much cheaper
There’s no doubt that if you provide your own facilities, the cost is cheaper. Caravan Parks, in particular, are the perfect example. I rang around a few months back and was priced $192 for 3 nights on an unpowered site for 2 adults and a baby. That’s not even on the high end either! Some caravan parks in peak season charge up to $100 per night.
Camping has historically been a cheap way to have a fantastic holiday, but when you’re paying more in camping fees than you would be if you rented a house, something is not right.
In many cases, self-sufficient camping allows for free camping entirely. If it’s in a national park, or shire run site, you will get charged $5 – $10 per person per night, which is still excellent value for money.
Usually, the less available facilities, the cheaper the camping is.
Escape the hordes of people
I like to interact with others, but when it comes to camping I’ve always found it’s much more enjoyable to have your own slice of paradise. I’d rather not be able to see any other campers – to truly get away from everything and relax with friends and family.
Australia is a big place so there’s no reason why you can’t have your own slice for a few days at a time!
Caravan sites are great, but it’s great to be able to have your own space so you can relax. Photo: Aaron Schubert
There’s no doubt that there are some truly spectacular campsites available with the facilities you need. However, in my experience, there’s often a better campsite up the road if you’re self-sufficient. Looking back at our camping experiences, the best ones have been in truly mind-boggling locations that you’d only go to if you were self-sufficient.
What do you need to be self-sufficient?
In actual fact, you don’t need anything overly fancy to be self-sufficient. People have lived off the land for years in a very simple lifestyle. Vary what you have based on how you want to live, but below are the basics.
At home, it’s easy to turn the tap on and get clean drinking water out. When you are camping though, it’s a luxury that’s often not available. Sometimes you can get water from creeks and rivers, and this is easily used for dish washing and showers. The simplest way to have clean drinking water when you’re camping though is to take it with you.
Options start off at jerry cans and water bottles, which are cheap and straight forward. From there, you move into water tanks and bladders, and finally, reverse osmosis units and filtration systems. Some people split their water storage into drinking and non-drinking containers. Whatever the case, take enough clean drinking water and some more in case something goes wrong.
Our water tank and soap dispenser for washing our hands on the road. Photo: Aaron Schubert
There are thousands of toilets in Australia. The problem though is there’s not usually one where you want to camp! Most Shire and national park run sites will have a drop toilet, but if you haven’t got access to one – what are your options?
The simplest and cheapest option is to dig a hole and do your business in it. You need a shovel, some toilet paper and a bit of time. Dig it at least 30cm deep, make sure all toilet paper is well buried (or burnt if safe to do so), and cover it in. Don’t go near creeks, rivers or lakes and populated walkways, and make sure it’s left clean.
Beyond that, you can get a huge array of portable toilets and stands to sit on. It’s not that hard, but it’s something that people need to urgent their attention to, as it’s becoming a massive problem out bush.
Don’t rely on public toilets, make sure you have a few options for going to the toilet when going off the grid. Photo: Aaron Schubert
You can go a couple of days without a wash, but it gets a bit feral beyond that. Water is always an issue, as it’s heavy and hard to carry with you. That said, if you can get it from a creek or river, you won’t have any issues having a shower or wash. When water is short, just use a flannel and bucket to clean yourself. Boil the kettle and mix it with some cold water in a bucket. Alternatively, if you have access to a fire you can warm water in a stainless bucket.
When water is short, just use a flannel and bucket to clean yourself. Boil the kettle and mix it with some cold water in a bucket. Alternatively, if you have access to a fire you can warm water in a stainless bucket.
Bathing facilities can be scarce, so a simple and effective option is a solar shower bag. Photo: Aaron Schubert
Lighting and 12V power
Never have we lived in a world where there’s better access to cheap, quality and efficient lighting options for camping. Headlamps, Lanterns and LED strip lighting are amazing, and lighting is no longer an issue when camping.
12V power has come along in leaps and bounds, and you can actually run a wide variety of gear off-grid without much difficulty.
Lighting is no problem, as there are plenty of 12V powered lighting options available now. Photo: Aaron Schubert
There’s no doubt about it – you have to be warm when camping. Fortunately, this is normally fairly easy if you dress appropriately. Bring clothing to suit the location you’re going to and make sure your sleeping bag is rated low enough. If it’s cold, you can usually have a campfire which goes a long way to staying comfortable.
Grey water collection
Some official ‘self-sufficient’ campsites require you to collect any grey water (dishwater and shower water). If this is the case, collect it in a tank or jerry can and take it out.
You have to understand how to use the gear you have, and when a decision needs to be made. If you can see a massive storm front in, perhaps it’s a good idea to delay the camping trip! A lot of this comes from experience. The best way to learn is to get out there and learn it as you go!
Consider how you’re planning on storing and refrigerating food on your trip. Photo: Aaron Schubert
The food you eat when camping off the grid is going to be different to what you have at home. It doesn’t have to be vastly different, just think about your options for refrigeration, cooking, and cleaning. Some food lasts a long time, and others will perish quickly. 12V and gas fridges are easily run today out of a 4WD and open your food options up substantially.
There have never been more choices for comfortable, self-sufficient camping in Australia. Tents have come a long way, and then there are more shelters, such as camper trailers, hybrids and caravans on the market than you can poke a stick at. These vary wildly in price and features, so get something that suits your needs and budget.
You’ve got so many options for shelter, here’s our tent set up at the most Western point of WA. Photo: Aaron Schubert
Initial expense vs return
You can’t deny that camping off the grid requires more gear. There is an initial expense required, how much depends vastly on how you want to do it, but if you’re camping regularly away from facilities you will save a fortune. For those who’ve done a lot of camping and travelling, you’d know fuel is usually the biggest cost, with food and camping fees next in line. Do a lot of free camping, and you’ll pay for your gear many times over.
The general guide for travelling around Australia as a family is anywhere from $450 – $1200 per week. If you are self-sufficient, you can easily save several hundred dollars a week in camping fees alone.
Start slow and progress forward
If you haven’t done much camping before, start slow and work your way up. Caravan parks are a fantastic place to camp, and when you know you are comfortable and what you have works, move onto a campsite with only a toilet, and then one without any facilities at all.
We’ve got an amazing country to explore, so see you out there! Let me know what you’ve got to make self-sufficient camping easier!
About the writer...
If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.