Overlanding is a fusion of camping and off-roading, combining elements of each to form a distinct automotive/outdoor hobby.
It has its origins in the Australian outback, where early overland routes were formed to facilitate intracontinental travel and trade. It evolved first from horseback and then to rail, before it was finally mechanized for motorcyles and automobiles.
What is Overlanding?
Nowadays, overlanding is done more for recreation than necessity.
Yes, overlanding is sometimes referred to as “car camping,” but it goes much deeper than that.
Overlanding is built upon the spirit of adventure and self-reliance—the idea of travelling into the wilderness, carrying only the essential gear for whatever you expect to encounter.
We’re posting a handful of articles that really dive into overlanding details like cargo racks, tools, vehicle recovery, radio communications, tents, packing checklists, and more. Check out our Overlanding Essentials series.
An overland trip might be a simple off-the-grid weekend, or a months-long excursion to a remote destination.
But perhaps what truly separates overlanding from camping, is the role your transportation plays in the adventure.
Hannibal had his elephants, Lewis and Clark had their canoes, and NASA had its Saturn V.
In the same vein, overlanders rely on trucks, Jeeps, SUVs, motorcycles, ATVs—even full-size vans are quite popular as overlanding rigs.
The proper overlanding vehicle must be equipped to traverse an almost infinite combination of terrain and weather. To compound the complexity, the vehicle must be able to transport water, food, shelter, tools, and other essential sundries.
How to Get Started in Overlanding
For starters, your mindset is far more important than your gear and equipment.
Make no mistake: overlanding is hard work, and you’re often faced with extreme temperatures and all-manner of Mother Nature’s curious critters.
But, for overlanding enthusiasts, that’s the entire point.
U-joints shear, tires rupture, and paint gets scratched—you’re the one that has to deal with it.
You can go days without a shower, and your evening meals might consist of black coffee and whatever you could fish out of the nearest river.
If that sounds like fun, read on.
What’s the Best Overlanding Vehicle?
As mentioned above, overlanding vehicles can be trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, custom-built rigs, and beyond. Seemingly any vehicle originally built with some off-road intent can be adapted into a solid overlanding ride.
There are a lot of motorcyclists who are into overlanding as well. So much so that an entire market segment has been established to support them. These “adventure bikes,” as the industry defines them, combine the qualities of both dirt bikes and street motorcycles. Common adventure bikes include BMW’s GS series, the Honda Africa Twin, and the Kawasaki KLR 650. (A sidecar-equipped Ural is a good choice for two-wheeled overlanding with a companion.)
Truth is, many vehicles can be made into competent overlanders. Better yet, the overlanding community is about as welcoming as you can get.
There are dozens of online forums where questions are always welcome and you shouldn’t fear any snobbery from fellow overlanders.
Perhaps more important than the vehicle year/make/model, is how you chose to outfit it for your adventure. (More on that in a second.)
What Do You Need for Overlanding?
First, let’s be clear, ‘need’ is a relative term.
Second, OnAllCylinders is an automotive blog, so we’re not going to focus on the camping facet (sleeping bags, backpacks, boots, etc.) of overlanding—you can dig up plenty of information on camping gear with a simple internet search.
Instead, we’ll explore (pun intended) some popular overlanding vehicle upgrades and accessories.
While folks may disagree about how necessary some of these are, they do represent a good sample of the aftermarket offerings available to overlanders.
Note: This is by no means a complete list, but rather a good starting point. Do your own research for the particular environment you plan to explore, and pack accordingly.
Tools – Things will break. You need to fix them. Assess what tools your vehicle will need and assemble a tool kit to keep them all together. A tire patch kit is a smart investment.
Roof Racks – One thing practically all overlanding rigs have in common is a quality luggage rack, also known as a “safari rack” or “safari basket.” Available from well-known brands like Thule and Curt, the right rack can greatly increase your cargo capacity.
Tent – While it may make sense to sleep in your vehicle cabin, the reality is that it’ll likely be loaded with gear. A bed tent or roof-mounted tent is a smart choice. Many can be deployed quickly with minimal setup/take-down time.
Mattress – If you’re overlanding in a pickup truck, then you may be able to easily stuff an air mattress in the back.
Fluid Transport – While the ubiquitous “jerry can” is an always-popular choice, Daystar’s got a modern alternative called “Cam Cans.” The system includes a unique set of mounts and can be optioned with various utility jugs and tool cases.
Off-Road Vehicle Gear – Honestly, we could devote a 5,000-word article to this one subject, but we don’t want to lose focus here. Since the type of off-road gear you’ll need can vary greatly by the type of terrain you’re covering, we’ll simply say that off-roading gear (like a winch, suspension upgrades, auxiliary lights, and off-road tires) is an essential part of a competent overlanding rig.
First Aid Kit – Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but not having one is downright foolish.
Bike Rack – Though not an ‘essential,’ a mountain bike can be a handy asset if you’ve set up a base camp and want to scout nearby areas.
Portable Generator – Again, not an ‘essential,’ but if you’ve got the room, a generator can be an invaluable asset for powering electrical gear.
Other Cool Overlanding Stuff – Mr. Heater’s got a fan/light combo that can be hung from the roof of your tent/trailer. Portable shower systems can be an easy-to-haul luxury. Satellite-based GPS units work even when you’re outside of mobile phone coverage.
Any time you take a vehicle off-road, you risk having a negative impact on your environment. Make sure you’re travelling only in areas where you’re allowed to go and be aware of your surroundings. This protects both the environment and you. Stories abound of off-roaders getting stuck or venturing into harm’s way. Be mindful of your campsite, properly extinguishing any campfires and cleaning up any litter before leaving. Here’s a good website to learn more about what you can do to mitigate any harmful effects of trekking off-trail.