Don Fuchs

Lone wolf: what you need to know for a solo adventure

Adventure is a hard thing to define. For some it's a few mates an hour or two from home, up to their door seals in mud with hours of winching in front of them. For others adventure is an isolated beach campsite, at the end of a track that needs not much more than a set of all terrains and a carefree attitude towards their paint job.

In a similar fashion some people enjoy it best surrounded by their mates, while others crave the solitude only afforded by solo touring.

Some people are born solo travellers, not blinking twice before locking the hubs and heading off for weeks at a time. But for the majority of us it's something on the fringe of our interests, the kind of thing we all love the idea of, but always put off for whatever reason.

In this article we're taking a closer look at solo touring, the dangers, the gear you need, how to get out of strife if things turn pear-shaped and most importantly, how to do it safely.

It's a bit like sky diving, a hell of a lot of fun but if you get it wrong the first go there's not too many chances to have another crack. 

Time away from the stresses of day-to-day life, away from the bills, the house that needs a fresh lick of paint and the screaming kids ...
Time away from the stresses of day-to-day life, away from the bills, the house that needs a fresh lick of paint and the screaming kids ...

Route planning

Solo 4WDing isn't just heading off-road without your mates; it's a whole different beast with different risks, different intentions and different rewards.

Unless you've got rocks in your head (and no offence if you do) you're generally heading off for some time away from the stresses of day-to-day life, away from the bills, the house that needs a fresh lick of paint and the screaming kids.

It's because of this route planning is vital. What might be the perfect adventure with a bunch of mates could be an absolute nightmare by yourself, or boring as bat.. er.. poo. 

You're out there to experience nature and a side of Australia most people normally blast past, so include the lookouts, the country pubs, the old ruins and the bakeries. Plan it around experiences and not just tracks.

You'll be the one setting up every aspect of camp, so make sure you allow plenty of time for set up and pack down.

Most importantly your route needs to be planned around your setup. If your 4WD is good to go for weeks at a time with no doubts for reliability, plan an epic trip, stopping in at places you've never had a chance to see.

If you're closer to the stock end of the scale spend a bit of time exploring your local tracks, you'd be amazed just how much there is to see.

Self Recovery


This one should go without saying but it's surprising just how many people still ignore them.

Traction boards are hands down the quickest way to get yourself moving forward.

In just a matter of minutes you can have a ramp dug for the tyres, the traction aids pushed underneath for grip and have yourself out.

The trick is to keep wheel spin to a minimum or you'll tear the lugs right off the boards. In deep mud or soft sand the boards can get shot well under the surface, but a length of rope tied onto the end before use will help finding them again.


They're not foolproof and can take a lot of digging, but if you're by yourself and there's nothing to winch off, an anchor is a godsend. 

The long and the short of it is you dig it into the sand as deep as you can then hook your winch line up to it.

As you winch in the anchor digs down until it's easier to pull you out than to keep digging the anchor down.

If you're on a budget and not scared of a whole lot of digging, burying your spare tyre and using it as an anchor can also get you out of strife.

Bury it standing up, the increased surface area will hold it stronger.


An extension strap is one of the most versatile bits of kit any 4WD can have. Obviously they're perfect for extending your reach to a more solid winch point but they can also be used for any number of fancy recovery techniques. They'll give you the extra length needed to do a triple line pull if you're well and truly bogged. 

A triple line pull can also be used to spread the load of a winch recovery onto two anchor points, meaning you can get away with smaller trees.

Combined with a snatch block or two they can be used to shift your 4WD sideways on the track, anchoring you on slippery off-camber sections of track or even righting a rolled 4WD.


By its very nature, 4WDing often has us driving through difficult terrain. Even the smoothest tracks are often flanked by step dropoffs, or eventually lead into off-camber climbs and descents. Because of this it's not uncommon for 4WDs to become stuck in less than ideal situations.

If you've been on the tracks long enough you've no doubt seen more than a few sketchy recoveries. The problem with this is if you're on your own your 4WD is the one doing the recovering, and you're right in the danger zone if something goes wrong.

A wireless controller allows you to set up the recovery gear, secure the vehicle as best as possible and then get the hell out of dodge till the situation is safe again.


Back in the day you'd need to be skilled on the radio and well versed in repeater stations to get a call out for help. These days, with the drop in cost of technology, it's just flat out irresponsible not to have a safer system.

You've got a few options depending on budget and what you're hoping to achieve.

On the cheaper end of the scale are GPS trackers or PLBs (Personal Locating Beacons). The idea behind both is that if you get in trouble, you hit a button and emergency services are notified of a distress signal and rough co-ordinates. Certain models can also be used for live tracking so loved ones know exactly where you are.

Satellite phones need no introduction, but what you may not know is they can be hired for as little as $200 for two weeks. If you're planning a trip to remote areas it's a small price to pay to know you'll come back in one piece.

On the higher end of the scale are two-way satellite communicators. Most include built-in GPS tracking, meaning while you're in the middle of the Kimberley crossing a river people can be watching back home. If it all goes pear-shaped you can text someone exactly what's gone wrong and they can send appropriate help, and with two-way messaging you'll know they're on their way. It's a better system than pressing a button and hoping help will find you.


SOME ESSENTIALS: First aid kit supplies Photo Lynnis Bonanno / Daily Mercury
SOME ESSENTIALS: First aid kit supplies Photo Lynnis Bonanno / Daily Mercury Lynnis Bonanno

If you were to ask most 4WDers if they had first aid covered they'd point to the half empty kit stuffed behind the back seat and then forget about it just as quick.

It's one thing to have all the gear (which most of us don't), but it's another to know how to properly use it.

For less than $200 and a half a day at an RSL you can get up to scratch on first aid, which is normally all it takes to save a life, possibly your own. It'll be a general overview course but will be enough to give you a half an idea for most situations from broken bones, heat stroke, snake bites and burns - all real possibilities in the bush in any situation.

A broken arm is a story you'll tell to the grandkids one day if you're prepared. It's potentially catastrophic if you're not.

Having a twin locked manual 4WD with all the gear is no use if you don't know how to drive a manual, so don't be the weak link when it comes to safety.


Maxime Coquard

In a perfect world you'd have spare parts for every single part of your 4WD. Of course it's not overly practical to be dragging along a spare engine, gearbox, diff centres, transfer case, wiring loom, driveshafts … you get the point, and that's not even mentioning the tools you'd need to do these repairs.

With that in mind most repairs can be broken up into one of two categories. Easy to fix, and trip stopper. Start at the front of your 4WD and work your way to the back, looking at everything that might give you grief, what will break, and how hard it'll be to fix it. If it's hard to fix, likely to break, and a trip stopper, fix it before you even leave your driveway. Everything else can generally be mitigated with a few basic tools and spare parts.

Things like wheel bearings are cheap to replace, and they're potentially catastrophic if they break, so put a new set in before you need to, the old ones can be kept as spares. The Uni-joints in your driveshafts are an easy fix if they give up the ghost, so grease up the old ones and carry new ones as spares.

Worst case you can always continue on in front wheel drive; ask us how we know. 

10 Rules to Live by

  1. Always have a plan to get out - even if it doesn't include your 4WD.
  2. Rule of threes - Three minutes without air, three hours without water, three days without shelter, three weeks without food. Plan accordingly.
  3. The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude.
  4. Always have somebody at home who knows your plans and will be a strong advocate for your rescue.
  5. Push your comfort zone, don't smash it - a solo trip through the Simpson Desert might not be the best beginner trip.
  6. Tools - as much as you need and as little as you can get away with.
  7. Paper maps never fail; know how to read them.
  8. Have a checklist - keep a quick list in the glove box of all the vital gear you need and check it off before setting off.
  9. Supplies are king - a few tins of beans and bottles of water make a rescue just a boring wait; boring is good.
  10. Two is one, one is none - If something's an absolute trip ender if it breaks, bring two spares.
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