Imagine turning off the highway, away from traffic, paved roads, and amenities. When overlanding, you’ll be driving your rig onto stretches of road touched more by nature than humans, and enter a seemingly unknown part of the world with only your vehicle, gear, and sense of adventure. Here you can explore stunning vistas, maneuver around spiring rock formations, and sleep under the guise of looming mountains.
Overlanding is a combination of camping and off-roading. Camping and overlanding embody sleeping in nature. So, what’s the difference between overlanding and camping? Camping emphasizes sleeping at a destination, while overlanding is more about the journey to get there.
Overlanding and off-roading activities share an interest in exploring hard-to-reach natural places. These experiences rely on vehicles that can navigate unpaved surfaces and drivers who can fix and maintain their rigs. So, what’s the difference between overlanding and off-roading? Off-roading typically seeks out day trips on unpaved technical roads. Overlanding is self-supported touring of natural environments over an extended period.
If you’re interested in getting started overlanding, here’s what you need to know.
Before you start overland camping, the most important—and exciting—part of the process is researching and planning.
Tap into resources like social media, overlanding forums, and local gear shops. YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit are valuable sources on how to build out your vehicle. Subscribe to the Overland Journal to learn from industry professionals and experts. Seeking out local resources is helpful as well—gear shops can help with camping gear, while mechanics can help with vehicle maintenance and knowledge.
Your overlanding rig is crucial. It’s your home, mode of transportation, and adventure mobile. Before embarking on an overlanding excursion, prepare your vehicle. Make sure it’s reliable and equipped to handle your planned route. A broken-down rig in remote wilderness with no cell phone service is a dangerous situation.
Like any outdoor activity, overlanding comes with risk. Some dangers to plan for are vehicle accidents, breakdowns, getting stuck, and natural disasters.
These risk factors shouldn’t deter you but instead encourage you to plan and prioritize safety. Share your plans with others, invest in proper safety equipment for you and your vehicle, and make the hard decision to turn back during uncertain conditions. Be sure to take the initiative to understand your vehicle’s limits.
How to pick a vehicle for overlanding
What makes a vehicle ideal for overlanding? The best adventure rigs are secure, reliable, and safe on and off the road. There are several vehicle types and aftermarket features that can help you achieve this.
A four-wheel drive vehicle will give you peace of mind in dicey areas and access to areas with sand, mud, rocks, snow, and other variable terrains.
Quality tires are also essential for an overlanding vehicle. There are different tires to choose from depending on what kind of overlanding you want to do. Do you mostly travel off-road? Do you come across a lot of snow or sand? Answering these and other questions will help you narrow down your options.
An overlooked aspect of purchasing and personalizing an overlanding vehicle is access to spare parts and maintenance. Overlanding rigs push the limits. Your car will break down and need care. Avoid rigs with hard-to-find parts or complex mechanics.
Other features to consider when picking a vehicle for overlanding are suspension, gearing, capacity and weight, and protection. What are the best overland camping vehicles with these qualities?
Best overland trucks
- Ford F-150
- Rivan R1T
- Toyota Tacoma
Best overland camping vehicles
- Ford Transit
- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
- Land Rover Defender 110 SE
Best overland camping trailers
- Boreas Campers
- Escapade Campers
- Tentrax Trailers
Best budget-friendly overlanding vehicles
- Jeep Cherokee XJ
- Subaru Outback
- 80 Series Toyota Land Cruiser
An overland gear list varies based on the person, route, and weather, but here’s a list of must-haves for overlanding to get you started.
First aid kit
A first aid kit is crucial for any outdoor activity. Your overlanding kit should include gauze, bandages, wound cleaning agents, an emergency blanket, a splint, and anything else you can fit. Account for allergies and any other medical needs.
Emergency communication device
If you’re exploring the backcountry, bring an emergency communication device, like the Garmin inReach Mini. An emergency communication device is a two-way satellite communicator that will call for help even without cell service. Some models also provide weather reports and GPS information.
Vehicle recovery kit
There’s a high chance that your rig will get stuck when overlanding. This is where a vehicle recovery kit comes in handy. Your vehicle recovery kit should include tow straps, recovery boards, shackles, a jack, jumper cables, rope, and tree straps.
In addition to basic tools such as wrenches and sockets, consider bringing shovels, axes, flashlights, and spare parts.
Portable air compressor
Airing down your tires improves traction, and traction is crucial in overlanding.
Tire repair kit
A tire repair kit is something every vehicle should carry. Practice changing your car tires before you head out on your first overlanding trip.
When it comes to water, bring at least 1 gallon of water per person per day. For extra precaution, pack a water filter too.
Overlanding offers the luxury of packing more for prepping, cooking, and eating a delicious meal in a beautiful landscape. One-pot recipes are delicious and come with easy cleanup. Invest in quality cooking tools, a cooler, stove, and anything else that will elevate your experience.
Overland camping gear
The rest of your gear will be similar to a car camping setup. When packing your rig, be conscious of weather, how you want to sleep, power supplies, other luxuries, and weight capacity.
Overlanding tips and tricks
- Know before you go. Research and plan for the route, weather, road conditions, meals, local wildlife, and camping sites.
- Download your vehicle’s manual to your phone.
- Follow Leave No Trace principles.
- Drive with other people. If you’re just starting out, traveling with a caravan of overlanders will make you feel more safe and comfortable, and you’ll learn more about how you want to overland in the future.
- Carry a paper map as a backup.
- Prepare a few frozen gallon water jugs before your trip. This will keep your food colder longer, and you can use it as drinking or cooking water.
- Store your gear in the order that you need it. Keep similar items together in color-coded or clear boxes and bags for organization.
- Take a few shorter trips to figure out your ideal sleep system.
How to plan an overland camping trip
These resources can help ease stress and cover unforeseeable circumstances when planning an overland camping trip.
- Overland Expo is an event that takes place a few times a year in locations across the United States. The event is hosted in the West, East, Pacific Northwest, and Colorado. A ticket to Overland Expo gives you access to roundtables, demonstrations, and vendors all dedicated to the outdoors and overlanding.
- iOverlander is an app for finding places to travel and camp off the beaten path. It’s useful in finding remote places to camp, including national forest land and urban stealth camping spots.
- Gaia GPS is a mapping service that allows you to navigate using the United States Geological Survey and the United States Forest Service maps. The app also has a feature called the Motor Vehicle Use Maps that informs you of restrictions for high-clearance vehicles and seasonal road closures.
- Expedition Portal is an online forum for overlanders to connect.
- Recreation.gov is a resource for finding federal campgrounds, like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service sites.
- Roadtrippers features everything from campgrounds to things to do, places to eat, and road services along your route.
- Campendium helps you find places to camp, with in-depth reviews from other Campendium users. The app features boondocking sites, free campgrounds, RV parks, and more.
- GasBuddy is an app that helps you find the cheapest gas on your road trip.
It’s also worth asking local gear stores along your route for recommendations and current conditions.
The best state for overlanding depends on the person and what they’re looking for. Utah has dramatic desert scenery and off-roading trails, while California and Oregon offer longer routes and diverse landscapes and geographical features. Colorado is home to nearly 8.3 million acres of BLM land. The East Coast is great for beach and sand overlanding adventures.
When looking for overlanding campsites, utilize the resources listed above, like iOverlander and Campendium. Once you’ve figured out where you want to camp, download directions to each site, and prepare your vehicle for the surrounding environment.
Overlanding is a higher-risk, higher-reward version of car camping, far away from traditional campgrounds.
Where you sleep when overlanding is your choice—in a car, tent, or hammock. Rooftop tents are a popular option with overlanders.
You don’t necessarily need a 4×4 or four-wheel drive vehicle for overlanding. Four-wheel drive is an added security, but if you invest in quality tires, safety equipment, and recovery gear, you’ll be able to navigate most overlanding routes.
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