The Outback Ranger’s Guide to Tyre Pressures

Most people new to outback travel ask the question at some time: what tyre pressure do I need to drive on X road?

If you’re a newcomer to outback road conditions, the discussions in online forums and elsewhere can be very confusing.

To help you out, I’ve written this beginner’s guide to outback tyre pressures.

This guide is based on my experience driving in all sorts of country as a park ranger, and from my many trips in the outback.

I’ll give this disclaimer here before we start: This advice is meant to be a GUIDE only. Tyre pressures can vary depending upon how your vehicle is loaded, your actual tyres, and even your tread patterns.

Checking Your Tyre Pressure – When to Do it?

Tyre pressure is the single most important thing that contributes to keeping your tyres in good condition.

So it’s VITAL to pick the right pressure for your tyres, your vehicle and the driving conditions.

Let’s start with some general advice:

  • When not on a trip, check the pressures every month or so.
  • The best time to check your tyres is when they are cold, ie before you start driving on them.
  • If you’re going to be driving for awhile on gravelly unsealed roads and you’re not in a constant 4wd vehicle, flick it into 4wd for safety.
  • Drop your pressures on unsealed gravelly roads, especially if you’re going to spend some time on them.

Pressure increases when your tyres get hot and, while this is perfectly normal, this is the reason that it’s best to lower the pressure on dirt. It’s also why you check them cold. You’ll get an accurate reading.

It’s also good to remember that under-inflation or not having enough air in your tyre, can lead to damage and can lessen the tyre life. However, letting air out of your tyres is recommended in some situations – more on this below.

Likewise, over-inflating your tyres when driving on rough roads can also lead to punctures, blowouts and excessive wear, so it really is important to get your pressures right.


Handy Tools:

  • I always keep a small tyre pressure gauge in the glovebox. These are generally more accurate than gauges you find in service or gas stations (this isn’t saying that they are wrong all the time but I have found significant differences in the past)
  • I also carry a small 12v air compressor so I don’t get caught out and can also fix (repairable) punctures that happen on the road
  • To lessen the chances of having to repair punctures though, I always carry a second spare; believe me it has helped out on many occasions.

Tyre Pressure gauges: get one and keep it in your glove box

So what pressure is right for you?

Well, I can’t say exactly, because tyres and vehicles are all different, so sometimes you have to try a little trial and error to find what works best for you.

Just remember to not exceed the information you can find on the sidewalls of your tyres.

Another thing to remember is that the more you load up your vehicle, the most likely you are going to have to increase your pressures.

So what pressures should you use for the different types of terrain you may encounter on your trip?

Here is a simple guide, and I hope it helps.


Again, let me say that this is just a guide, you’ll have to work a little with these figures to work out what’s best for you.

  • If you’re on the bitumen, ie sealed road then you should aim between 32-40psi, but remember if you have a big load you may have to go a little higher.
  • On the gravel or unsealed roads I would take it down a little but not too much, let’s say between 32-36psi.
  • In sand, if you lose traction then try deflating to between 15-25psi depending on how deep the sand is. Remember the hotter the air temperature, the softer the sand will be.
  • If it gets really rocky and slow but you need the traction, I’d probably try around 24-28psi.
  • Mud can be quite daunting and if it’s black soil, you are in for some interesting times. Try pressures around 24psi

Many a time I have had to get somewhere in this type of mud and quite literally have taken hours to move just a few hundred metres.

Remember you want momentum but you need to maintain traction and point in the right direction!

Big Red, Birdsville, Simpson Desert

Important Tips

So what’s the most important thing to remember? Safety first!

Don’t drive too fast, avoid taking corners too fast and don’t accelerate or slow down quickly.

Drive to the conditions and drive as smoothly as possible. If you are kind to your tyres then they will be kind to you.

I’m going to throw in the disclaimer again and say that this is all based on my own experience.

What may work for me won’t necessarily work for you.

You may have different opinions and for that matter different tyres and tread patterns than I have used, so I appreciate that some of this information may not be right for you.

So try any of my suggestions if you want or simply learn for yourself.  Have fun, enjoy your travels and make sure you come back home to tell your tales!


  • Frank Quicke says:

    Remember on gravel ALWAYS ENGAGE 4WD for safety and pservation of the road or track.When tyres pressure is reduced high speeds will very soon raise the pressure back up again

  • Rebecca says:

    I’m considering going to the Simpson Desert soon. I’ve wanted to go for a while now and my recent Cambodian tour was cancelled.

    I have also recently bought a 2011 Great Wall x240 4WD and will be travelling by myself.

    I was mainly interested about fueling the car and if I’d need to take fuel on board with me?

    I’ve never traveled out this way before and intend to enter via New South Wales/South Australia and head up north and then head east through the desert.

    I think the specifications say around 13L/100km and a 70L capacity tank for my car. (Or around 10L/100km – combined). The car is a manual.

    Thank you for any help and guidance you can offer me.

    Kind regards,

  • Sam says:

    Just wondering how did ur trip go with great wall v240 and if u had small camper towing. Looking into doing a trip hVe not decided on 4×4 yet but for the price they selling can’t go wrong

    • Gary says:

      Hi Sam, you must have us confused. We’ve never had a Great Wall or even gone on a trip with one. However from many different people I’ve heard they aren’t too bad.

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