Before you think about hiking in the outback, there’s a few things about hiking safety that you need to know.
On this page, we give you the real story from experienced outback hikers and national park rangers on hiking safety in the outback.
Read the advice on this page carefully.
Being prepared can make the difference between an enjoyable outback hike and one that you’ll wish you’d never started.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the minimum you need to know to hike safely in the Outback:
- Hike between April-October only
- Let a reliable person know where you’re going
- Carry appropriate maps and a GPS
- Walk with at least two others so that in an emergency an injured person is not left alone
- Carry all of your water and drink often
- There are NO MOBILE (cell) phone services. Carry a PLB or satellite phone
- Fill in the log books at the beginning and ends of trails
- Carry a first aid kit
- If camping in winter, be prepared for below-freezing temperatures
When to Hike
The best time to hike in the outback is between April and October.
These months are the cooler months in the Southern Hemisphere, and are the best hiking weather.
Generally, you’ll get clear sunny days, cold nights and sometimes a cool breeze.
From time to time, we do get very hot days in April and September, so be mindful when planning. Sometimes, we also get rain around Easter and at the beginning of June.
Don’t hike between November and March in the outback.
Before you argue, and say: but X website said that it was ok in December, or but I’m a fit experienced hiker, read these anecdotes.
- In 2006, a very fit athlete died on the Larapinta Trail from heat exhaustion. Why? It was 39 degrees Celsius, he had just flown into the Outback from a cool climate and lastly, it was simply too hot to keep himself hydrated.
- In 2007, at Palm Valley, a very fit, young German tourist was doing a short hike in 42 degree heat. He collapsed and needed to be airlifted to hospital.
Every year people from overseas and elsewhere in Australia come to the Outback and hike in the summer and collapse from heat exhaustion or worse, die.
Ask yourself: Would you hike the Sahara Desert or Death Valley in summer?
The answer is most probably no.
Treat the Australian Outback with the same respect.
Let Someone Responsible Know
Who knows where you’re hiking and when you’ll be back? Do you trust them to raise the alarm if you don’t get back on time?
Tell a reliable person of your hiking plans, including when you’re planning to get back. Make sure they know to how to contact police if you’re not back by the designated time.
Walk in a Group
Another Outback hiking safety tip is to walk with 2 or 3 other people.
This is in case of an emergency. If one person is injured, then 1 person will be able to stay with the injured person and care for them, and 1 person (preferably 2 people if the group is large enough) will be able to hike out for help.
Water in the Outback
This is another critical piece of hiking safety advice.
Carry all your own water when hiking in the Outback. Make sure you drink it!
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Thirst is one of the early signs of dehydration. Even in cooler conditions, you should stop and drink regularly.
Do not expect to find water on an outback hiking trail. Most rivers and creeks in the Outback are dry.
Some longer hikes, like the 223km long Larapinta Trail, have water supplies provided. Check the trail guides for details.
When planning your hike, take into consideration the weather conditions, how far you’re walking, how hard the track is and be honest about how fit you are. Make sure you also take enough water for cooking and emergencies.
For an two day overnight hike in cooler weather in the Outback, we generally carry 6 litres per person.
We recommend that you carry a satellite phone or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon).
Be aware that there is very limited mobile (cell) phone service near hiking trails in the Outback. Where there is limited coverage, this will be via the Telstra Next G service.
Along the Larapinta Trail, we’ve found that all of the high peaks and ridges pick up the mobile phone service from Alice Springs. If you’re climbing Mt Zeil, there is also Next G mobile service once you get to the top.
A Final Word on Hiking Safety:
Don’t forget to carry a well stocked first aid kit and know how to administer first aid.
All of this safety advice might sound like overkill, but believe us, every year rangers rescue hikers from Outback trails because they didn’t walk to the Outback conditions.
Use this advice and make sure you’re not one of them!