Outback Night Camper


For many hikers, it’s our worst nightmare, getting lost and having to spend a night in the bush. I have been hiking alone since I was in my early twenties and touch wood, I can safely say I have never had to sleep out when I hadn’t planned to. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared and clued up on what to do to ensure we survive the night. Given the unpredictability of the Australian bush, no matter how short the walk or close to home it is, things could go south and it’s best to know some survival basics should the worst-case scenario occur.


Whether you have overestimated the time it would take you to complete the hike, or found yourself off course, accepting the situation and remaining calm is the first thing to do. If you know where you are, great, you can continue your walk in the morning so you might as well get comfortable. If you don’t know where you are, there is no sense marching on in the dark. You will likely only wind up more lost, you might as well get comfortable too.


If you feel worried about the situation, create a signal that anyone nearby will take for a distress signal. If your car has broken down, open the bonnet so passing drivers will know to stop. If you have a whistle, the international distress signal is three bursts. If you have the capability to light a fire, this would be a good idea.


Look for a natural landmark which can serve as a windbreak. This could be a large rock, or a thick tree trunk, anything that will keep the chilly breeze off you in the night. I would avoid wandering into any caves, they may already be inhabited with spiders and snakes. You will also want to look for something to create a barrier between you and the ground when you are sleeping. If you have a climbing rope, coil it onto the ground to create a mat, leaves and pieces of bark also make good sleeping mats.

Build a fire if you can. Not only does a fire keep you warm, but the limited light it offers will also put you more at ease when trying to sleep. Start the fire before it gets dark and you can still see, even if it isn’t cold yet. It will be much easier to create a fire in temperate, light conditions than struggling in the cold once the sun goes down. Be sure to keep it away from trees and make sure your chosen spot is safe, it is much easier to survive a night in the bush than escaping from a roaring bushfire.

If you can’t build a fire, you will need to alternate between resting and exercising to keep warm. Jogging on the spot and doing star-jumps are a good way to get your blood pumping to your extremities to keep warm. It’s going to be a long night, and you will essentially spend it waiting for the sun to come up, but you will survive.


If you have a companion with you, you will need to have the conversation about bush spooning. The best way to stay warm is by sharing body heat. I can guarantee, at 2am when you haven’t slept a wink and are shivering yourself silly, no matter who is next to you, the thought of throwing your arms around them and getting as close as possible will be pretty appealing.


You weren’t expecting to be out this long so you probably didn’t pack enough water to last more than one day. You need to ration out the remaining water. But drink it slowly, even if you are thirsty. Anything you take in that your body doesn’t need at that moment will just be passed through. Take small sips over a period of time to ensure no drop is wasted.

No matter what, remain positive. It is one night and the worst thing that is likely to happen is you won’t get much sleep and you might be a little chilly. Get comfortable and wait it out until the sun comes up and you can finish your hike.


Have you had to spend a night in the bush? What did you do? Is there anything you can recommend to add to this article?

Oli Ward
Oli Ward

Oli has camped and hiked his way around Australia and most of Europe. He also loves writing about his experiences and sharing his knowledge.