The terms “overlanding” and “off-roading” are often used interchangeably to describe the same activities. And while there are many commonalities between the two, there are also some differences that make overlanding and off-roading distinct pursuits.
So what are these differences? Let’s find out in this overlanding vs off-roading guide.
Overlanding vs Off-Roading: What is Overlanding?
Overlanding is the act of traveling “over land.” It’s something that humans have done for thousands of years, first by foot, then on the backs of animals, then by trains, cars, motorcycles, and so forth.
It is an adventure. It’s less about the destination and more about the journey to get there. It is an opportunity to enjoy the moment, take in the scenery, and connect with the world around you.
Examples of overlanding trips can be found throughout history – the Silk Road from China to Europe, the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon, and the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.
Yet another historical example of overlanding comes from Australia. The modern use of the term overlanding came from there, where ranchers used the term to refer to the act of moving livestock across the Outback.
Today, overlanding is less about moving cattle and sheep and more about adventuring with a vehicle as your home base.
The goal of modern overlanding is to explore and see the world. You take your living accommodations with you in the form of a tent, camper, or something similar. You are self-sufficient in your travels in that you have a place to eat, sleep, and relax when you aren’t driving. In essence, it’s a way to harken back to our nomadic ancestors and experience new places over the course of days, weeks, months, or even years.
Overlanding vs Off-Roading: What is Off-Roading?
Off-roading is a bit of a different animal…
Where overlanding might involve a long journey, off-roading is usually a much shorter endeavor and one that takes place on very rough roads and trails – if roads and trails even exist.
Off-roading is truly getting off-the-beaten-path. It might involve rock-crawling or driving over sand dunes. It might be an afternoon trip on a Jeep trail in the mountains or a jaunt over the famed Rubicon Trail.
This is a tough pursuit. Off-roading might involve rocks, mud, sand, and any number of other environmental factors that you have to overcome to continue the journey. And because of this, off-roading rigs are often far different from overlanding rigs.
For example, you can overland in a 40-foot RV. You can’t off-road in one.
Now, my truck – a 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon (shown below) – pulls double-duty. It is an overlanding vehicle and an off-roading vehicle. But that’s required me to make many additions to the truck to make it off-road capable (i.e. larger wheels and tires, improved suspension, and a winch). That has come with some sacrifices, though, like a less comfortable ride and reduced fuel economy.
However, having a vehicle like this allows me to set out on days-long overlanding adventures, and then take some short off-roading adventures within that longer trip. I can tow my Turtleback Expedition Trailer with the Jeep and be comfortable doing so on all sorts of roads, and then I can park the trailer and head for some rough, muddy trails for a few hours of off-roading.
Overlanding vs Off-Roading: Primary Differences
As we’ve discussed, overlanding involves long, self-sufficient trips while off-roading involves much shorter trips on muddy, rocky roads or natural terrain.
Because of this, overlanding and off-roading rigs are set up differently.
If you’re overlanding, you need something with accommodations for you to sleep, like my Toro Offroad Skylux Tent on top of my Turtleback Trailer.
If you’re off-roading though, you might need a rig with huge tires, a suspension that has incredible articulation, and a roll cage, among other goodies.
Additionally overlanding is usually considered something far more laid back, while off-roading can be a tense, stressful (yet fun!) experience.
So, while there are similarities between the two, at the end of the day, there are many significant differences that make overlanding and off-roading their own separate entities.