4WD Gear and Sponsors 2015

Thank you Canning Walker Sponsors for 2015


My Sponsors who helped make my 4x4 Canning Stock Route journey a reality.

Friends who sponsored my fuel and mechanical expenses.

Engel ~ Happy Camper Gourmet ~ Phil Bianchi ~ Terra Search ~ SATOOZ ~ Maxtrax ~ Aqua Salveo ~ Halls Creek Caravan Park and Steve Mason.

All supplied their time, effort, expertise and/or products free of charge and far beyond what I could have imagined. All are highly recommended: PRODUCT + SERVICE = FIRST CLASS !

Here are some highs ... and lows ... with regards to my experience purchasing and equipping a vehicle for a solo journey of 3.5 months on the Canning Stock Route.

Thank you for sharing my 4x4 Canning Walker's Challenge for 2015 journey ... and making it happen.

Whilst I have owned 4x4’s in the past, these have been used to tow boats and transport equipment for film work purposes, travelling predominantly on bitumen and reasonably good dirt roads. 2015 would see my first real 4x4 experience and I was choosing for myself a very remote desert track in Australia, one that was around 1850km long from Wiluna to Halls Creek ... and then I was turning around and doing it all over again. My journey north would be alone. I am a woman. Ensuring I was self-sufficient was important.

My undertaking such a journey might sound crazy to those who know the Canning Stock Route. People take a year or more to plan and prepare their vehicles for this rigourous endurance crossing, but the Canning Stock Route is not new to me. I had already travelled it four times before in unorthodox ways, including walking. Yes 4x4'ing was the new element and yes, my lack of knowledge and experience on the subject was the weak link. With only one months prep time in Australia, I had a challenge I would either rise to .... or see me walking away from a stranded vehicle deep in the desert, the cost of recovery to high to even contemplate.

Buying a 4x4 and CSR prepping it was a learning curve of note. I came in wet behind the ears and had to dry them fast with challenging new experiences every day, not least of all sifting through the Tsunami of advice that was seldom agreed upon by more than two people. Trying to work out what was best for me meant asking questions, getting involved and educating myself quickly. I made a lot of mistakes in the 4x4 classroom, many of them vexing, but I learned by necessity ... and I adapted.

A number of people were excited about fully sponsoring an array of products for my use. My thanks to YOU for your faith in me ... and your product.

Buying a vehicle in Australia whilst still in South Africa was not easy. How would I know that what I was buying was not a lemon? A Toyota 4x4 was my preferred choice of vehicle as I have owned a Toyota Hilux and Fortuna before, but despite my Aussie friends saying I should be able to find a suitable Toyota for under $10 000 before registration, nothing came up and I had to look around at other brands.

The Australian Army was selling off their old Land Rovers, the new conscripts the Mercedes G-Wagons. I have never owned a Land Rover, but I have owned two Isuzu vehicles in the past and these 1990 110 Land Rover were fitted with 3.9 Isuzu diesel motors and 4 speed LT 95 gearbox. These particular vehicles had an excellent reputation for being tough and reliable. Sure they are slow, hard, noisy and a dusty ride, but what I was looking for was reliability, a vehicle that would take me into the desert and bring me safely out again. Buying sight unseen, I was more comfortable putting blind trust in the Australian Army providing a solid vehicle than in a private unknown individual and so I made the necessary arrangements to buy a vehicle online.

'The Perentie' reminds me of Les Hiddens, The Bushtucker Man and his mode of transport ... and so I called him 'Les'.

Purchasing the vehicle

Les was purchased through Grays Online Auctioneers. Fred Smith Automotive of Bayswater, Melbourne, Victoria, acted as my agent. Being on another continent I needed to put my trust in someone who would look after my interests in Australia, do the bidding, the necessary paperwork, preparations and Roadworthy and get Les fit for the Canning Stock Route. I wanted to arrive in Australia, pick up the keys and go.

Fred came recommended by Grays Online. I gave Fred $13 000 in good faith. I believe Fred did a good job in purchasing the right vehicle for me. That is where it ends. I DO NOT RECOMMEND FRED SMITH. His unethical actions following the purchase of the vehicle put my life in potential danger on the Canning Stock Route.

Les at the Australian Army Vehicle Auction

Les at the Grays Online Auction

Tyres and Tubes

First off, after my experience on the Canning with tubed tyres, I WILL NEVER choose tubed tyres again. Relying on a friend,  Andy Sutcliffe, to give good, qualified advice, I have since learned that people often give advice taking only their own abilities and experience into account and some men are not able to discern that what works for them might not work for a woman who knows nothing about tyres beyond plugging tubeless tyres and has neither the strength nor the skill to deal with tubed 14 ply tyres should they puncture. Being able to fix a puncture or damaged tube is a prerequisite for a woman going off into the remote outback alone. The difficulty of fixing tubes in 14 ply tyres caused me untold hours of sweat and grief.

This bad advice was compounded by the actions of my agent Fred Smith.

Fred Smith AutomotiveAndy saw the pictures of the tyres on Les and suggested I change them and gave his recommendation. I never questioned Andy’s judgement. I trusted him implicitly having travelled the CSR with him on two ‘punctureless’ occasions. That was my mistake. I should have asked questions, but at that time I did not know what questions to ask.

When I asked Fred to change the tyres, he lost all respect for me. As far as he was concerned the tyres were fine and I was wasting my money. Up until this point he was very professional. When I insisted he change them based on Andy's recommendation, Fred's attitude changed dramatically and he treated me like an ignorant idiot to be taken advantage of and disrespected at every opportunity. He became difficult, obstructive and hugely sarcastic to the point where all effective communication broke down and I had to replace him as my agent. Ignorant I was. Idiot I am not.
Fred had a written directive from me to replace the 5 Michelin XZL 4x4 O/R 750 r 16 C tyres that the vehicle came with and buy 6 new Michelin XZY 3 750/16 tyres and fit genuine Michelin tubes. I was extremely clear about what I wanted and did not want. Fred gave written confirmation that he would arrange it. My budget was tight going into this trip. I could not afford to buy new Michelin tyres ($1740 for six), but I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of a hassle free Outback journey. On Andy’s recommendation I bit the bullet and authorised Fred to pay the $1740.

When Fred realised that the tyres I requested were recently discontinued and the tubes I requested not available at his preferred  Michelin dealer, he took it upon himself to replace the tyres with ones he felt were the next best thing and he fitted no-name brand tubes, exactly what I wanted to avoid. Andy had said that the tubes must be genuine Micheline or Goodyear and not cheap Chinese junk as they would not cut it on the CSR track. Fred ignored these very specific instructions in writing. All this was done without consulting me. He also took my five original tyres and traded them in for $600 reducing my outlay to $1140.

Later, when Ralph Barraclough (1976 successful Solo Vehicle CSR Traverse and later Walk Attemptee with Murray Rankin) was training me to use tyre pliers, I discovered the duplicity regarding the no-name tubes inside and confronted Fred. His reply was that if I actually knew anything about tyres, I would realise that the tyres I asked for were not what was on the vehicle either. I was dumb struck. How could someone behave in such an unethical manner? He was my paid agent. I trusted him to carry out my instructions with honesty. Fred did offer to take back the tyres, but my five original tyres were gone and could not be replaced for $600. My budget was blown. How was I going to buy new tyres and tubes with a partial refund? Where was I going without tyres? I was in a foreign country on a tight time schedule. I had no recourse.

Wanting to know what I had on my vehicle I contacted Michelin on arrival in Perth, on 05/03/2015. The Truck Account Manager at Michelin in Perth educated me on the difference in the three types of tyres.

The original Michelin XZL 4x4 O/R 7.50 r 16 C tyres that the vehicle came with, he said, were made for the military and not good if travelling at speed over long distances as they got too hot and would not last.

The ones I requested, the Michelin XZY 3 750/16 tyres, he said,  were no longer available in the size I wanted, but if I increased my rim size to 8.50 I could put that same XZY tyre on and that is what he recommended.

The Michelin 7.50 R 16 LT Aghilis HD that Fred fitted, he said, were totally unsuitable for the Canning Stock Route as they were more highway tyres and if I stayed with my rim size he recommended I choose another brand of tyre. This was a powerful admission from a Michelin man and it got my attention.

I related this to Fred. Fred called Michelin. Michelin called me and the Truck Account Manager recanted everything, stating that any of the tyres would probably be okay for the Canning. A complete and incomprehensible about face that left me stunned. The industry closing ranks.

Repairing tubes

In learning how to do tyre and tube repairs, three men on two different occasions (Auto-craft mechanics and Ralph Barraclough) tried to remove the 14 ply tyres from the rims in their entirety using tyre pliers … and failed. These are all men who have done this plenty of times in the past .... but not on 14 ply tyres. We could break the beads with a bottle jack and using the weight of the vehicle. That was simple.  Getting the tyre tube out to repair it was not the problem either, but getting the tyre off the rim completely to repair the tyre itself was impossible for any of us to do. I drove onto the Canning knowing I could repair a tube with great difficulty, but perhaps not the tyre. Getting the tyre seated back onto the rim was impossible for me to do with my body weight and rubber mallet. It was a struggle for people who know the technique and have the strength. I had to use the Tyre Pliers to lever the tyre over. This is not advisable, nor is it easy, the risk of pinching the tube high, but with effort and care, it can be done. In the seven or eight times I repaired the tubes on the Canning, I did pinch a tube once.

It is unlikely that I would have found the tyres I requested any easier as they were also 14 ply. One of my sponsors gave me an R&R Bead Breaker which would have made the tyre and tube fixing a whole lot easier. Pity the tool was incomplete. This I only discovered on the Canning. I should have tested the tool before I left Perth. Another 4x4 lesson learned the hard way! Test any and all equipment before going into the remote outback and make sure you know how to use it!

On the Canning the 14 ply tyres proved strong and impervious to punctures, but the tubes would puncture, particularly if the tyre pressure was dropped below 23psi. I had to repair ALL six tubes, some of them twice. After two and a half months, whilst in Halls Creek repairing yet another failed tube, this time not the tiny pin prick holes I had become accustomed to seeing, but delamination of a join, my fingers pulled off the nozzle that the air compressor hose attaches to. It separated from the tube with normal finger holding pressure! The tube was irreparable. To make the situation worse, when I pulled out the old tubes from my previous tyres that I asked Fred to give me, I discovered that most of them could never have been from my previous tyres. They were for the most part completely the wrong size and the one that was the right size was in poor condition but usable. Only one tube out of FIVE could be used! Fred had taken my old tubes for himself and given me useless junk to take onto the Canning, putting me at risk. How could someone do this?!

Registration and Fitments

Auto-Craft South GeelongFred was to do the registration before I arrived in Australia, but found doing the registration for a foreigner too complicated. If you ever see his workshop, you will understand. A disorganised junk heap of a shed that would make any self-respecting vehicle owner run. But I was not to know that whilst in South Africa. The man and his business are a disaster.
Darren McRae of Auto-Craft in South Geelong stepped in, picked up the vehicle from Fred on my behalf and took over the registration, shock fitment and CSR preparations. The registration went well. A fair amount of work was done by Auto Craft and spares bought, including fuel, oil and air filters, fan belt, spare water cap, lubricants, a socket set - both Imperial and Metric as Les is a combination of both,
10 x 20 litre second hand steel Jerry cans for fuel - 6 were good, 4 proved dodgy, a 40 litre water tank with 12v pump, tube repair kit, Toyota bottle screw jack and some other bits and pieces. All nuts and bolts were checked, the whole vehicle given a thorough going over. The Jerry cans were fitted, but this fitment proved problematic and was redone in Perth. The rack on the roof was beefed up to take the second spare tyre and the solar panel. Unfortunately the spare tyre on the roof destabilised Les and had to be removed and fitted inside. The shocks were fitted incorrectly and had to be redone. This was a critical error brought about by over confidence on Darren's part. He refused to read the fitment instructions for the unfamiliar shocks.

Whilst a lot of Auto-Craft's work had to be redone, Darren handled the registration smoothly and were very helpful and did do everything to the best of their abilities and my budget, including giving me accommodation and a vehicle to use. They tried to keep costs down, but my budget was blown. I simply did not have enough money to own a 4x4 and the final Auto-Craft account wiped me out.


Koni 4240 shocks were fitted front and back. Both Fred and Darren agreed that these were the best for my budget. The shocks were around $900. At my request, the Auto-Craft crew showed me how to remove and fit front and back. Shocks fail with alarming regularity on the Canning. I wanted to be able to change them myself.

There are a great many reasons why shocks might fail on the Canning. Here are three:

- Driving too fast on serious corrugations - the driver is blamed.
- Overloading a vehicle - the driver is blamed.
- Improper fitment - the garage or private person fitting the shocks is seldom blamed.

Koni 4240's back shocks come with two sets of rubbers to choose from. Auto Craft do not usually fit Koni's. They chose the wrong (big) rubbers. When I was tightening up on the rubbers under instruction, they bulged out the sides like slipped discs in a spine. The amount of tightening I also questioned as there did not seem to be a clear policy, an experienced person just knew, I was told. Unsure of myself and the look of the shock fitment, I asked the Auto Craft owner, Darren McRae to double check what I had done. After all, I did not want to sabotage my own vehicle. The nuts were given a few more turns, but not tight and pronounced fitted correctly despite the visibly lopsided rubber bulges. I did a test run out to Lindenow and back, a few hundred kilometres. The speedometer stopped working on this trip so I dropped in at Fred's on the way back to have it fixed. This was the first time I met Fred or seen his workshop. Whilst trying to fix the speedometer he looked at the shocks and in disgust pronounced them incorrectly fitted - the wrong rubbers were used and the shocks were under tensioned. Fortunately Auto Craft had given me the small rubbers for emergencies. I refitted the rear rubbers under Fred's instruction and tightened up the nuts by one full nut thickness all round. These shocks have shoulders that the nut must tighten up against. None of these nuts, except the top of the front shocks were in any way near tight enough. Fred declared that these shocks, fitted the way they were, would have failed on the Canning, and that the rubbers would have chopped out before I even got to Perth.

As it goes, I was never happy with the way Les handled with these Koni shocks and on the Canning I replaced the front shocks myself in Cotton Creek, using the old Monrose shocks I had kept as spares. Les was now a firmer ride without so much vertical 'slappy' and roll. An independent woman travelling alone in an area known to 'eat' shocks on a regular basis should be able to change the shocks on her own vehicle.


It would seem that just about everyone's work has to be fixed by another to some extent. Fred's 'fixing' of the speedometer never took. He declined to refund.

Gearbox/clutch/release-thrust bearing noise

On the test run I heard a slight noise on releasing the clutch. A brushing kind of noise that disappeared when the clutch was depressed. Fred listened to the noise and said it sounded serious, likely to be the gearbox and not to drive the vehicle until I had it fixed. I had no money left for this unexpected vehicle problem and continued on to Adelaide and Perth.

A friend of Phil Bianchi, Steve Mason in Perth, said he thought the gearbox sounded fine, that it might be the release bearing or clutch if anything and offered to pull the gearbox and check them.  Fixing the gearbox, if that was the problem, was not an option as it would cost more than what the Crowdfunding account had provided. Steve replaced the thrust/release bearing, although it looked fine, just in case. The clutch and springs also looked to be in good condition. The gearbox remained unopened. After everything was re-assembled .... the noise was still there. There was nothing I could do about that but drive with respect for the situation. We were working within my financial limitations and Steve had already done more than I could have without his and Phil's help. Time to move on.

Post CSR, I am happy to report that the gearbox remains in a healthy condition and performed admirably! Les is just noisy in general.

Solar Power and Power Point installation

I should not have gone with solar. It was not in my budget, but I got caught in a difficult situation with a friend who jumped the gun and started buying the parts before I had fully committed to that course of action; parts to be re-imbursed by me upon arrival in Australia. My budget could not afford this luxury despite my friend doing the fitment for free.

As it was, the solar panel mounts were redone five times. I was under the impression that Australian technical labour would be better that South African technical labour. It is not. The first fitted mounts would not have survived the Nullarbor let alone the Canning. I pointed out the weak points and at my request, my friend fitted mounts double the size and bolted everything together more securely.

Forum commentators, on seeing photographs of the solar fitting, suggested the mounts be beefed up further and so I had them replaced a third time by a professional business that fitted solar panels … to caravans they said. At that point I should have known better, but I was still wet behind the ears. I had only been in Australia for a few days and learning was rushing at me like a tornado, sucking me financially dry. What is the problem with fitting solar panels to caravans you might ask? Caravans cannot and do not travel the Canning Stock Route. The corrugations and sand dunes rattle everything that is not properly equipped, to pieces. Literally.

The solar panel was fitted with more robust mounts, but the panel was set at an angle that generated a deafening amount of wind noise and had a suction effect on the canvas top. I had to go back and have them refit it again. What I failed to check was how they had fastened the solar panel to the new mounts.

Retrolooms is a professional outfit in Melbourne … and they fitted the solar panel to a vehicle they knew was going onto the Canning Stock Route .... with Tek screws. Because I believed they knew what they were doing and saw hexagonal fittings that looked like bolt heads, I had not checked their workmanship. It was only in Perth, when friends pointed out the Tek screws, that I saw that the solar panel had been screwed onto the mounts, not bolted. I could not believe it.

Phil and Steve who understand the rigors of outback travel refitted the mounts and solar panel ... for the fifth time, refitting also most of the other electrical items that were fitted with Tek screws, using Nyloc nuts and bolts.

Five times ….!

Solar power fittings:

200W Solar Panel, second battery 96Amps, 1000W Sine Wave inverter, 75Amp Victron MPPT charger, push button battery jump start linking the two batteries, 7 x 12V cigarette lighter type, USB, Engel and fresh water pump sockets.

All of this worked well enough - but I ended up rewiring the MPPT controller as it would shut down the system. Worked fine after that.

UHF Radio

Dan Riggall, one of the people I hitched a lift with on the Tanami Track in 2009, donated a UHF base station radio and fitted it to Les, the Axis aerial mounted on the roof rack. Both worked beautifully, the aerial more than up to the task of surviving the CSR brush and transmitting and receiving clearly and at a good distance. Thank you!

Recovery-Self Extraction Gear

Maxtrax Vehicle Recovery EquipmentMaxtrax sponsored me not one, but TWO sets of Maxtrax for vehicle self extraction. Thank you!!

I think they were expecting some interesting photographs showing Maxtrax getting me out of trouble on the Canning :-)

Sorry to disappoint. Les and I never got stuck and the Maxtrax remained in their place of honour on the bonnet.

 I also had a winch, snatch strap, a pulley for winching at an angle, a long handled shovel, an exhaust airjack, kangaroo/farm/hi-lift jack, a Toyota bottle jack and a hydraulic jack. Having all this was overkill, but I needed to be able to self extract and not rely on others to bail me out and having never done any real 4x4'ing before I was not sure what I would use.

What would I take next time? Maxtrax for sure and a long handled shovel with one jack. Which jack? That I am not sure of as I never got to use any of them except the bottle/hydraulic jacks and they are too short for easy Land Rover use, requiring two jacks and blocks for height. I probably would take the hi-lift jack but would need to practice with it first to get over my fear of being injured through incorrect usage.

Safety and Communications - Terra Search

Terra Search - Mining and Exploration





Terra Search supplied the following vital equipment on loan:
50 mm Auger, SATphone, Spot Tracker - SPOT LINK; R & R Bead Breaker; electrolytes; clear plastic bags; 4 ratchet straps; sieves for winnowing spinifex seeds; light weight steel grid; two tyre patches; flag pole and tarpaulin.

The SatPhone I used on three or four occasions to check fuel availability at Glen Ayle Station and to check in with Perth. The SPOT was fantastic and recorded my journey for friends, safety and later saving of the tracklog for book writing purposes. The R&R Bead Breaker unfortunately did not have all the parts. My fault for not checking. The rest of the equipment and electrolytes were all used regularly. All this equipment was a great help. Thank you!!!

Refridgeration, Drawers, Flyhat and Polaroid Sunglasses - Engel Australia

Engel Fridge and Drawers

Engel Australia sponsored the use of a 40 Litre Engel fridge with cover and also a single drawer system that fits snugly into the back of Les like it was made for him. The 110 Land Rover has a narrow space for drawers and this particular drawer fits beautifully between the seats. Thank you Engel!!! Both were an incredible luxury I enjoyed. Cold cokes and safe, organised stowage!!!!

Engel also gave me an Engel hat with built in midge and fly net. My favourite hat by far, the brim gives good sun protection whilst the net, permanently attached to the brim, always sits perfectly and is never in fear of being lost.

The Engel Polaroid Spotters sunglasses offer stunning vision and UV protection, fitting closely around the eye cavities to keep out manic buzzing flies.

Special mention: Whilst Les was undergoing mechanical work and unable to move for a week, the MD of Engel, John and his son Russell, delivered AND fitted the drawers to Les, providing the fittings to fit the fridge when we were ready. Now that is OUTSTANDING service! And of course it all worked beautifully and they are a legend in reliability!!

Special mention 2 : John Fitzgerald has a long history with the Canning Stock Route. He was the pilot who flew air support for the 1974 Canning Stock Route Yamaha Dirt Bike Challenge, the photos and diary to be recorded into my book Every Step of the Way.

Friends - Private Equipment Sponsors

Friends offered a range of equipment. I trimmed down the list to these items:

Work Completed, Canning by Phil BianchiPhil Bianchi, author of the book Work Completed, Canning, is a primary contributor. For more information about the historical books written by Phil go to his website www.philbianchi.com.au.

Phil is a regular magazine column writer for Western 4WDriver and Go Camping Australia and 4W Drive Adventures. He wrote an article in Western 4WDriver, Edition #92 about my solo walk in 2013 - A Walker on the Canning.

There is also a note in 'Work Completed, Canning' regarding my early CSR adventures.

Phil sponsored the use of the following equipment: Snatch strap and shackle, hydraulic jack, exhaust air jack, hi-lift/kangaroo jack, air compressor, assorted spanners, pliers and other tools, additions to my tyre tube repair kit, rope, jumper leads, billy, cutlery, BBQ grid, folding table, 2 fire extinguishers, non perishable medical kit items like bandages, a GPS GlobalSat Serial Receiver attachment for laptop, engine and gearbox oil, stretcher bed, fitment and many more extras.

Steve Mason supplied his time and expertise in removing my gearbox and doing mechanical work and fitments.

Ralph Barraclough, the first solo traverse of the CSR in 1976 in a Land Rover, trained me in the use of tyre pliers and gave me many useful tool items. I put the training to good effect on the Canning and by the time I got to my sixth, seventh and eight tyre tube, I was quite proficient for someone who looked like she was born with all thumbs! Thank you Ralph. Ralph also gave me a copy of his unpublished book which contains several chapters on his trip up the Canning and his CSR walk attempt, to be included in my own book, Every Step of the Way.


I loaded the following excellent programs to my Toshiba laptop.
OziExplorer for the base mapping system
EOTopo is the best mapping program for the Canning Stock Route in terms of detail.
My laptop does not have GPS built in and so a GlobalSat Serial GPS Receiver was bought and plugged into my laptop allowing me to plot my position using EOTopo. Awesome!

For future 4x4 travelling, however, I would use a tablet instead of a laptop due to the punishment the laptop takes with the corrugations. My laptop survived but on the way back down the CSR the program froze from time to time and I resorted to using my Samung Note 3.

I had the same mapping programs on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone.Details and accuracy are important for hiking purposes and EOTopo is brilliant in this regard. (Note: EOTopo is not compatible with Garmin devices which is why I was using it on my phone) EOTopo for laptop or Android uses the same chip, but OziExplorer requires the additional purchase of an Android version. The Samsung has a built in GPS device and does not require a mobile network to operate.

My wrist GPS, the Garmin 301 cannot store maps, but does have the well waypoints loaded, provides tracking storage and was a good backup to the Samsung which I was using in this capacity for the first time.

HEMA map is the best hard copy map, but the detail is really tiny and the use of a magnifying glass or really good eye sight is helpful!

Sleeping Arrangements

Stretcher beds - BRILLIANT!!

On windy and occasional wet nights, or when I felt vulnerable travelling alone north, I made use of a stretcher bed built inside Les. Most nights however, I slept on a second stretcher bed outside, nestled up against Les's body for moral support and wind protection. Most often the tent was fastened on top of the stretcher at the corners and attached to Les so it did not blow away. Sometimes I used the flysheet, but on calm nights I did without in order to enjoy the stars.

Travelling south with Greg, I did not use the tent at all and I slept on the external stretcher bed, on top of the deflated 'inflatable' mattress, with sleeping bag and a tarpaulin under and folded over for added warmth  and protection against the wind and occasional sprinkles of raindrops. This worked really well due to the feeling of security provided by having someone else in the vicinity ... and the lack of flies. A dry cold desert has its benefits and our southbound journey was for the most part flyless in comparison to my northbound journey. This is my sleeping arrangement of choice. For future 4x4 adventures I would buy a purpose made lightweight swag and stretcher bed combination, one that has a lot of mesh so I can see the stars. Normal swags freak me out with claustrophic attacks. The stretcher gets you off the ground away from the cold air layer and is much more comfortable than laying on hard ground. A mattress is an important barrier to the cold air coming up from under the stretcher bed.

MSR Hubba 1 Man tent

Tent - MSR Hubba - One person light weight hiking tent - so-so.

PROS: The Hubba weighs 1.4kg. That is 900g off my last tent. A BIG weight saving. Many 4x4 travellers carry tents that weigh between 15kg and 20kg and take up a great deal more room. The Hubba packs up into a little neck roll size pillow. 

PROS: Can sit up inside.

PROS: A tent makes me feel psychologically if not practically more secure than when more exposed to the elements, insects etc using a tarp. One of the things I wanted to do this year was see if I could go lighter than 1.4kg and more hardcore. Could I sleep on the ground, in a sleeping bag, using a tarp? Do I want to push that far outside my comfort zone? The romantic 'survivor woman' idealist says 'ÝES', every gram counts, but the realist girl says 'NO, thank you'. Would I hike without a tent next time? I never tested my ability to sleep on the ground with only a sleeping bag and tarp, so the answer is 'I don't know'. Having a place to hide from the ants and flies is a major moral booster. I really struggle with the cold and I am uncomfortable with creepy crawlies.  Adequate protection from the occasional rain and ever present wind chill factor is important. If I was hiking with another I believe I might drop the tent and go with a tarp, but on my own I lack the added body warmth and moral booster and so I expect I will carry a tent.

PROS: 100% free standing with flapping from the flysheet. A freestanding tent is important in a desert crossing due to the type of terrain - sand, rock/hard earth. The pegs struggle to go into hard ground or hold in the loose sand. 

PROS: Without the flysheet, on mild nights I enjoy sleeping under the stars. To see my surroundings through a mosquito mesh is a blessing.

PROS: The Mosquito mesh provides a sanctuary from the ever present hordes of flies in daylight hours and occasional places with mosquitoes at night.

CON: Using light weight fabric, durability is compromised. On a 5 day hike of the Fish River Canyon in Namibia I strapped the tent to the outside of my 36 litre backpack. On the third day holes had worn through the tent bag which is made of the same fabric as the tent. I have now replaced the expensive MSR bag with the cheap but heavier Coleman dry bag I have used intensively to protect my two other tents these past 20 years.

CON: The tent comes with stupidly short inadequate tent pegs. MSR - You are being cheap! Yes this saves weight. And if a person is hiking in nice grassy areas these pegs might be fine, but for the desert, they are useless. The result is I replaced them with longer pegs. Yes the tent is free standing, but the wind HOWLS most days and nights on the Canning and the flysheet requires pegging to lessen the flapping.

CON: The tent is noisy. Even when pegged out, there is some flapping, particularly as I like having the door side of the fly sheet open so I can see out.

CON: No guy lines???? Really? There are attachment points on the tent .... but no guy lines included. This tent can stand alone, but sits better with guy lines, particularly in soft sand. For this I have added a single strand of inner parachute cord to the middle attachment on the side opposite the door. This is a super light addition that would not cost MSR much to include.

CON: The tent poles are unusually long and I find it easier to store them separate to the material part of the tent.

CON: Only one entrance. I like having an entrance on both sides to accommodate changes in the weather.

SUMMARY: I feel that MSR has cut too many corners in trying to provide the ultimate light weight tent ... at a heavy duty price. The lack of durability and the flapping is a major negative for me as is the price. Whilst I will use this one for the duration of its lifespan, I will be looking for an alternative.

Therm-A-Rest inflatable sleeping mat - NEVER AGAIN

NEVER AGAIN! This is my second CSR trip where the Therma-A-Rest failed. In 2013 a leak developed around the nozzle and then completely fell apart when the insides of the cell structure ripped open like Velcro tearing and a huge bubble developed in the middle of the mat.

In 2015 a tiny, almost impossible to find hole developed in the seam and would require inflation during the evening. Never again, this expensive, useless junk. Life time warranty? A bit useless when you are in the middle of no-where and it lets you down. And if you do carry the mat out, the postage is so expensive the best thing you can do with these mats is throw them in the garbage bin. I want reliability when I am out in the middle of nowhere, not a Therm-A-Rest deflatable mat.

UPDATE: Therm-A-Rest agents in Australia inspected the product and found a couple of tiny pinprick holes in the material. This is deemed to have occurred perhaps through spinifex punctures. The cost of the repair and return postage to me was too great as I was in the last weeks of my 2015 Australian adventure and low on money. I asked if they would see their way to repairing the mattress free of charge and donating it to someone in need. This they have graciously agreed to do. I have been given a Klymit Insulated Static V inflatable sleeping mat to do an on going review of. So far so good. The big test is long term durability on months of endurance hiking and of course, the spinifex in the outback. I might go with something non inflatable in the future. We shall see.

Sleeping Bag - First Ascent Icebreaker - The best sleeping bag so far

First Ascent Icebreaker sleeping bagAfter a hard day, there is very little that tops being able to climb into a warm sleeping back and drift off to sleep, secure in its warm embrace. On my first hitchhike down the CSR I had one of those light weight sleeping bags that folds away into a tiny package and weighs very little. Most people do not understand the extreme temperature differences that exist in a desert.  In winter the nights and early mornings are exceedingly cold. South of the Tropic of Capricorn, Jack Frost cast his frozen breath on my tent on more than one occasion. One night I put on all my clothes, climbed into my survival tube with light weight sleeping bag and mat and stayed wake most of the night shivering violently from the cold. Never again!

That is when I got myself a First Ascent Icebreaker sleeping bag. Love it! For those investing in a sleeping bag, take note of the difference between the Comfort, Limit and Extreme rating manufactures slap on their claims list, sometimes without being clear which rating they are referencing.

My First Ascent Icebreaker sleeping bag is -5C COMFORT rated. The equivalent EXTREME or survival rating is -34C, the latter quite frankly is meaningless. It weighs 1.4kg. I would like to find something lighter with the same COMFORT rating, but so far have not. Pay special attention to COMFORT AND EXTREME ratings on sleeping bags. Anything less than -5C COMFORT on the Canning is going to be cold.

Nutritional Sponsors

I knew before I started that I was not going to find enough bush food to sustain myself in the learning stages and so bought provisions to ensure that I did not starve over the three to four months I would be out in the desert. Cooking is a stress thing for me and so I keep it simple and usually in the form of fresh produce – salads, steamed vegetables, fruit, fresh vegetable and fruit juices … and coffee. In the desert there was very little in the way of fresh produce. I would need to make use of long life meals.

Happy Camper Gourmet ready made mealsHappy Camper Gourmet supplied 30 plus ready-made meat meals with additional meals to hand out to travellers on the track as part of their 2015 publicity campaign. I presented myself at the HCG farm in Lindenow for a media interview The Bairnsdale Advertiser and introduced the meals to as many people as possible, branding my vehicle and flying the Happy Camper flag. I met a great many people on the CSR who had bought Happy Camper Gourmet meals as a direct result of this marketing and Happy Camper Gourmet meals are now stocked in Wiluna and Kunawarritji stores. I cannot abide tinned food and Happy Camper meals are the tasty alternative for outback 4x4 travelling. And the package can be burned whereas the tins must be carried out. My favourite meals are the lamb drumlets, lamb shanks, meat balls, drovers beef and mince and the apple and cinnamon damper.

SATOOZSATOOZ supplied 10 x 500g boxes of FutureLife, an important ingredient to my survival formula food devised by a dietitian in South Africa. The formula calls for FutureLife High Protein cereal powder which has 30g of protein per 100g serving, but this new product was not available in Australia at the time and SATOOZ kindly supplied the original. I combined FutureLife with Abbotts Ensure Powder and hemp and chia seeds, adding my own variations of ‘Super Foods' like spirulina, cacao, maca, almond powder, Goji and Golden-Cape Goose Berries, XCT Coconut oil and a variety of rehydration solutions including coco-lyte. This formula gave me all the nutrients I needed without the fuss.

Aqua Salveo - Canning Walker approved

Water Treatment - Aqua Salveo - Cheap, effective and natural

AQUA SALVEO fully sponsored their product for me to test to the extreme in 2015, confident that it would disinfect and make my water safe to drink as it had in 2013, curious to see the results for what I planned in 2015.

Most CSR travellers of today will not drink water from the Canning wells, using the water only for washing. In 2010 and 2011 I drank from the wells that had clear water, treating it by boiling or with pool chlorine granules or other tablets. In 2013 I used Aqua Salveo, drinking not so good well water, without ill effects. In 2015 I drank positively horrible water, some of it was a clear but smelled, others green with camel poo or black and nasty, or muddy brown with heavy sediment. The worst of the water I strained to remove some of the sediment and then boiled it for a few minutes.

Boiling the water produced an interesting result. Much of the sediment would separate and drop to the bottom of the billy, leaving reasonably clear water which I drank without ill effect. I did this with all water that had sediment and treated all other reasonably clear water with Aqua Salveo. The reason I did not Aqua Salveo treat and drink water with heavy sediment was because bacteria might reside in the small sediment particles that the Aqua Salveo might not get to it.

Boiling is the best way to treat contaminated water, but boiling is time and energy consuming. Gathering wood, tending the fire, boiling water in the one litre billy then waiting for it to cool before pouring it into a plastic reservoir, then filling it again, boiling and repeating the whole procedure, all the while keeping the fire going is a mission. If you have the time,  energy and no alternative great, but a walk like this requires the best use of your energy and when the water is clear enough, putting three drops into a litre of water is a whole lot faster and more effective use of energy.

Georgia Bore 2010Well 42

Well 36 in 2011 - photo Martijn Boonman

Water at Well 41 in 2010Aqua Salveo water disinfectant is a natural product, the active ingredients of zinc, silver and copper ions disinfecting the water within 30 - 60 minutes and keeping it disinfected for up to 2 years in temperatures as high as 35ºC/95ºF.

These minerals offer additional health benefits. I personally used Aqua Salveo to treat the onset of athlete's foot in 2013, soaking my peeling feet in a strong solution. The result was healthy skin within days. So impressed. Begone pharmaceuticals! Aqua Salveo is a natural product that really works in the treatment and prevention of athlete's foot! I also washed my blisters in a strong solution and they remained infection free.

Near Well 46Well 33Track water

Dingo infused muddy water

Aqua Salveo contains no chlorine, is easy to use and best of all, Aqua Salveo is odorless and tasteless when used as directed. In 2013 there were times when the well water looked so bad I added a couple more drops than directed. Whilst not in anyway dangerous, too much will leave a taste. It is not necessary or recommended to overdose.

Another benefit: Aqua Salveo is super concentrated which means -  lightweight

A 10 ml bottle of concentrate treats 100 litres (i.e. 3 drops (0.09ml) per liter)
A 30 ml bottle of concentrate treats 300 litres 

First Aid Kit

Wild Medix Expedition First Aid TrainingIn 2015 my medical box was top drawer.  You might find it useful as a checklist for items you might include in your own kit.

I had a vehicle and catered for four months of remote desert travelling with a total duration in Australia of 11 months. Hiking, I would take about 1% of this due to weight and space restrictions.

Prescription drugs
Co-amoxyclav/Augmentin 1000mg (10 tablets) for respiratory tract, mouth/dental, ear infections
Ciprofloxacin 500mg x 2 courses (12 tablets) for gastro/diarrhea, urinary, soft tissue, skin infections. 
Metronidazole (Flagyl) 400mg (24 tablets) for bacterial and protozoal infections.

Feminine treatment
Fluconazole/Diflucan 150mg x 3 courses (3 tablets) for thrush from heat and sweat
Visanne 12 month supply (not available in Australia), for endometriosis treatment and stopping of menstrual cycle (to keep the bull camels disinterested!)

Analgesics, anaesthetics and sedatives
Penthrop (methoxyflurane) inhaler x 2 (3ml each) for super serious pain, should I need assistance to move broken limbs etc
Oxycodone (OxyNorm) 10mg x (30 tablets) for serious pain, including spinal
Epipen - Adrenaline Auto-Injector for allergic reaction

Bactroban ointment for surface cuts and infections, 1 tube.

Eyes & ears
Sofradex Eye drops for conjunctivitis etc, 1 bottle

Non Prescription drugs
Pain and inflammation
Paracetamol 500mg  (20 tablets) for pain relief
DS-24 Multivitamins (3 months)
Reuterina - Probiotic
Aspirin (100 tablets)
Anti-inflammatories –  a selection of Celebrex, Voltaren, Panamor

Some people take Imodium or similar to block them up if they have diarrhea.  I prefer my body getting rid of the contamination and choose not to carry Imodium.

Rehydration powder: A wide selection of electrolytes.

Ointments, Gels, Solutions:
2 x Burn Shield – 10 cm x 10 cm dressing
1 x Sulphacetamie Golden Eye - styes
2 x Lucas Papaw – burns, wounds, dry skin, sores, boils, chafing, cuts, rash, insect bites
1 x Cold Sore treatment
2 x Sunscreen tubes (I prefer to cover up than use creams)
1 x Human Glove – bacteria & viral skin protection solution - Aqua Salveo
1 x Savlon disinfectant
1 x Echinaforce – Echincea drops for immune boosting
1 x bottle of Aqua Salveo water disinfectant . Drinking water treatment, foot rot

Bandages, Dressings, Splints:
Fixomull tape - blisters and skin protection
3 x Packets of wound closure strips - Instead of stitching
Various plasters and gauze dressing 
1 x Tourniquet – military grade windless style
1 x Tourniquet - military grade rubber bandage style
1 x Military grade pressure bandage
1 x CritiSeal chest wound dressing for Pneumothorax (probably not going to work for me personally)
1 x Trauma Pack with Military grade QuikClot
1 x SAM Splint
1 x Emergency space blanket for temperature control - foil
1 x Emergency space sleeping bag for temperature control - foil
2 x Triangular Bandages 110 x 110
1 x Crepe Bandage 5cm wide
1 x Crepe Bandage 7.5cm wide
1 x Crepe Bandage, heavy 10cm wide
1 x Crepe Bandage 15cm wide
1 x Wound Dressing #14
2 x Eye Pads
1 x Eye wash container
1 x Bag of 12 Safety Pins
1 x S/S Sharp Forceps 12.5cm
1 x S/S Blunt Scissors 12.5cm
2 x Scalpel and blades
3 x Sterile Gauze Swabs 7.5cm x 7.5cm
3 x packets of flexible wound closures
Cotton buds
Antiseptic Swabs
Alcohol swabs
Duct Tape - better than any plaster on the planet except Fixomull in certain circumstances!

1 x Note Pad and Pencil


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