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Sunday, June 16, 2024

How to Define Overlanding

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How do you define overlanding? Recently, the phrase seems to have diverged from its original meaning. 

Nowadays, a two-day trip to the trails may classify as overlanding. However, this wasn’t always the case. 

So, for the sake of history, let’s define overlanding both in the old and current iterations.

Furthermore, let’s cover the basics such as vehicle and location choice while we’re at it!

Table of Contents

What is Overlanding?

Overlanding VW bus

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To define overlanding, we first need to know what it is…

Simply put, overlanding means covering long distances to explore known or unknown destinations, meet new people, or experience cultures. It is an activity that has been around for centuries. In fact, the word overlanding was first used by Australian cowboys and later by construction workers who paved roads in Australia’s outback. 

Back then, it wasn’t seen as a vacation or hobby. It was the only way humans could discover new areas and expand their boundaries. 

Trips would take months or even years and were done on animals, with no luxuries, just a great sense of direction and a burning desire to discover new land. 

Woman in rooftop tent

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With the introduction of the car, it all started to change as people could finally explore in comfort, shifting overlanding towards being a leisurely activity.

The first overland vehicle dates back to the 1910s with the Pierce Arrow Landau – a car that offered more storage space, the rear seats folded into a bed, a roof rack, and best of all, a sink! That must have been absurd in the 1910s.

A few years after the Landau, a Ford Model T package was offered by the Zagelmeyer Auto Company.

The upgrades led to a model T that had a pop-up roof, beds, and even seating space inside the car. Since safety and emissions regulations were non-existent back then, such conversions were easier to perform.  

Willys Jeep truck

Cundinamarca. CAR PLATES FROM COLOMBIA. RICAURTE DEPARTMENT OF CUNDINAMARCA COLOMBIA Willys Jeep truck. MAYBE 1962 SAYS FUNSKY1 FROM USA Group Stair trucks, chivas and other vehicles to the Colombian

by jacoibo5731 MOPAR Renault Maman est morte

After WWII, we entered an era that is similar to what we now know as vehicle-based adventuring. Civilianized Jeeps, Land Rovers, and Land Cruisers began bringing affordable four-wheel-drive and adventure junkies were hooked.

The speed cars could cover enabled people to travel longer distances in a shorter time period. This introduced the weekend or multi-day overland adventure.

Overlanding in the forest

Photo by Theo

Nowadays, we still have the same two options. Overlanding can be a short 3–4-day stint to a nearby state or country or a multi-year expedition around the world.

In recent years we have also adopted the term “mall crawling”, which I find funny.  

This is a word used to describe people who never go on adventures but have all the gear.  

Editors tip – To avoid being called a “mall crawler” don’t buy a rooftop tent unless you actually head to the wilderness to use it!

What Vehicles Can You Use for Overlanding?

Motorbiker travelling in autumn mountains

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Just like we mentioned in our Different Types of Overlanding Vehicles article, overlanding can be done through any mode of transport – from something as simple as a bicycle to something as well built and comfortable as a brand new Land Cruiser. 

An overland vehicle needs to be spacious, comfortable, capable, and reliable. The most popular options out there tend to offer all these traits. 

Some will be less reliable and more capable or less comfortable and more capable than others. However, all of them have their unique strong and weak points which make them appealing to people like us.

Overland Vehicles – Trucks

Overland Vehicles – Trucks

A Heavy Duty Truck Bed Cover On A Toyota Tacoma” by DiamondBack Covers is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

The truck is often the example we use when we define overlanding. It is built for work; therefore, it has a lot of space, a good payload capacity, is comfortable, durable, and capable off-road.

The most capable overland trucks in the current market are the Toyota Tacoma, Jeep Gladiator, and Ford Ranger.

The truck that suits you the best solely depends on your own preferences as all of the above options are great.

Overland Vehicles – SUVs

Overland Vehicles – SUVs

Jeep Wrangler” by RobertKingII is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

When it comes to SUVs, the most common options are the Toyota 4runner, Toyota Land Cruiser (and Lexus variants), Jeep Wrangler, and Ford Bronco

Basically, anything that can withstand the punishment and can be fixed with basic tools in the middle of nowhere.

Obviously, a Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco aren’t the simpler nor the most reliable vehicles on the market. However, if needed basic repairs can be carried out with simple tools. 

Overland Vehicles – RVs, Caravans, Camper Trailers


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If you need more comfort, you can opt for something like a camper trailer, RV, or caravan. These are travel methods that will provide everything you need from a shower to a full-on kitchen. 

You need to keep in mind that everything is a trade-off when overlanding. More comfort leads to a bigger and heavier vehicle which then leads to poor performance on difficult trails. 

Therefore, if tough wheeling is something you want to do along the way RVs and Caravans are a no-go.

A trailer may work well as you can leave it at camp and explore the tough trails surrounding the area. Therefore, you will not be carrying the additional weight. 

The Best Vehicle to Use is the One You Already Own

SUV on scenic autumn road in the forest

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Yes we know, it sounds cliché. However, the best thing you can do is try overlanding with the vehicle you currently own. As long as you do not go beyond your own or your vehicle’s limits you will have a great experience. 

Furthermore, this will give you a great idea of what you need out of a touring vehicle. 

Where Can You Go Overlanding?


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To define overlanding, we often use epic scenery to describe the experience – it’s part of the activity. However, where exactly do overlanders tend to go? Furthermore, can you drive anywhere you want if there is a road? 

The first question is relatively easy to answer. Overlanders tend to go to areas of great natural beauty whether this is national parks, mountains, lakes, or deserts. Some even search for a good off-road challenge along the way. 

In the US, such areas include the mountains of Colorado, Moab, Arizona, and even the Nevada desert. 


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Australians tend to go even more remote due to their vast outback. Crossing the Kimberly or tackling the old telegraph track are both bucket list trips for every overlander. 

The point here is to visit areas seen by few and get a good challenge along the way. After tackling a difficult trail, arriving at your destination and observing the views is worth the fight. 

Overlanding doesn’t need to be tough though – it is up to you to decide the difficulty level of your trip. 

One of the most important things to keep in mind is private land laws. In countries like the US or Australia, this isn’t much of an issue as there are vast swaths of public land you can explore.


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However, the UK, for example, has strict rules regarding where you can drive off-road as most of the land is privately owned. 

The best way to avoid getting into trouble is to use an application such as OnXoffroad or GAIA GPS. The saved trail maps offered by both will provide a great starting point for finding trails. 

Keep in mind that these work best in the US, you will need to find a trail map for your specific country or if this isn’t offered, you can plot your own routes in GAIA GPS or OnXoffroad.

What Overlanding Gear Do You Need?

What Overlanding Gear Do You Need

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Another way people define overlanding is by referring to it as a gear or accessory obsession. 

You see, to visit such places, we tend to fill up our vehicles with gadgets that will make life easier on the trail and at camp. However, in most cases we overdo it – simplicity is the key here. 

To start overlanding all you need is a mode of transport, recovery gear, a simple tent, somewhere to cook and store your food, and a lot of water. From there on you can decide how much more or less complicated you want your setup to be.

Below is a list of some great accessories to get you started.

Pros and Cons of Overlanding

Overlanding at sunset

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Overlanding has many pros, but it also has some cons. 

The first and most obvious benefit is that people get to explore the world. In our opinion, no other activity offers exploration in such a great way. 

Traveling by plane leads you to an unknown location but you lose the element of the journey along the way. You just board a plane and arrive at your destination without seeing or doing much.

overlanding by a river

Image by Patrick Jennings via iStock

With overlanding the destination isn’t the most important factor – the trip is. Along the way you will get to know the country you are traveling through and you will need to apply navigation and survival skills while working your way to your destination. 

If you happen to travel with friends, you will form great memories and overcome challenges as a team.

You will understand the culture of a place and meet new people who will share their own experiences and values. 

Overlanding is a challenging adventure that can lead to some of the best lessons, and greatest memories.

Overlanding Breakfast

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The trade-off here is that overlanding can sometimes be dangerous due to the challenges we tend to take through difficult roads and remote locations. However, challenge is what makes us better; therefore, to a certain extent, we must embrace it. 

You must also keep in mind that it is a costly activity due to fuel, vehicle maintenance, food, and all the related gear. 

However, with careful budget planning, a knowledge of your own and your vehicle’s limits, and a great sense of adventure we can reassure you that your experience with overlanding will be great. 

How is Overlanding Different from Off-Roading?

Jeep rock crawling

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When we define overlanding people can sometimes get confused as to what difference there is with off-roading.

In fact, the lines are so blurred that we have a whole article just on this topic.

In a few words, off-roading tends to be a trip in which the sole purpose of the activity is to find challenging trails to test the vehicle you have built and the skills you have developed. Such trips tend to focus on a single location.

Vehicle builds also differ. A truck that is built for off-roading will usually have bigger tires, more suspension travel, and a lot of body protection. This makes it better off-road but worse on road. In fact, some off-road trucks can’t be driven on-road and must be trailered to the trail.

4X4 Driving in mud

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Overland vehicles tend to sit in the middle. They are built so they can tackle some difficult off-road trails while also being able to handle nicely and remain comfortable during long drives on road. 

In most cases, this involves having smaller tires, more subtle suspension lifts, and a longer and heavier vehicle that can carry a lot of gear but may have more issues trespassing a tight trail. 

In addition to the drivetrain modifications, they may have drawer and electrical setups that help store everything you may need while also providing some much-needed electricity.

Overland camping by a lake

Photo by mysticenergy via iStock

So, off-roading mostly focuses on challenging yourself and your vehicle on tough trails that require skills and specific vehicle modifications. Overlanding involves off-roading but not to such an extreme level. In overlanding off-roading is used to access beautiful locations that would not be accessible using a normal vehicle. 

Keep in mind that you can build a vehicle that leans more towards the off-roading or overlanding side. You can sacrifice some road manners to tackle more difficult off-road trails or you can sacrifice off-road abilities for a more comfortable travel experience. It all depends on your preferences. 

How to Define Overlanding – Final Thoughts

roof top tent camping

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The way we define overlanding doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s simply traveling and experiencing the world through areas known by few.

We hope this article has helped you get a better understanding of what is required to undertake this activity and enjoy the world around you

If you have any further questions, post them in the forum section of our page!

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