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What is overlanding, anyway?

What is overlanding, anyway?

Jake Hopkins |

If you've heard of overlanding, but wasn't quite sure what it is, this is the article for you. In the last few years, overlanding has seen absolutely explosive growth in the off-road community. 

In fact, it's hard to remember any segment of the 4x4/off-road industry that has exploded to the same degree.


Overlanding is an adventurous form of self-reliant travel, typically involving off-road capable vehicles, where the journey itself is the primary goal rather than reaching a specific destination. It combines aspects of camping, off-roading, and exploration, often covering long distances across remote and rugged terrains.

Key Elements of Overlanding

  1. Self-Reliance: Overlanders carry all necessary supplies, including food, water, fuel, and equipment, to sustain themselves for extended periods without external support.

  2. Off-Road Vehicles: While many vehicles can be used for overlanding, 4x4 trucks, SUVs, and specially modified vehicles are common. These vehicles are equipped to handle rough terrain, carry heavy loads, and provide living space.

  3. Camping: Overlanding often involves camping in remote areas. Overlanders use various types of gear, including roof-top tents, ground tents, or even custom-built sleeping arrangements within the vehicle.

  4. Adventure and Exploration: Overlanding emphasizes exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations, often involving crossing borders, navigating through diverse landscapes, and experiencing different cultures.

  5. Minimalistic Approach: While some overlanders travel with high-tech gear, the philosophy often involves minimalism, focusing on the essentials to maintain mobility and adaptability.

Popular Overlanding Routes

  • Pan-American Highway: Spanning from Alaska to Argentina, this route offers a diverse range of landscapes and cultures.
  • African Routes: Including journeys from Cairo to Cape Town or across the Sahara.
  • Australian Outback: Traversing the rugged and remote areas of Australia.

Equipment and Gear

  • Vehicle Modifications: These can include lift kits, off-road tires, enhanced/lifted suspension, auxiliary lighting, off-road bumpers/skid plates/armor, and additional fuel storage.
  • Recovery Equipment: Winches, traction boards, tool kits, and recovery rope(s).
  • Camping Gear: Roof-top tents, portable stoves, water purification systems, lanterns/flashlights/headlamps, and compact cooking equipment.
  • Navigation and Communication: GPS devices, satellite phones, and maps are crucial for navigating remote areas.

Community and Culture

Overlanding has a strong community aspect, with enthusiasts sharing routes, tips, and experiences. Overlanding expos, forums, and social media groups provide platforms for knowledge exchange and community building.

This particular group of off-road adventurers earned a reputation of being extremely welcoming and supportive—regardless of experience or budget. 

Simply put, you don't need a $50,000 vehicle to get into overlanding. Most overlanders start small, with basic upgrades like bigger tires and a tent. 

Only after several years do most participants find themselves investing in rooftop tents, high-end suspension systems, and in some cases, dedicated overlanding rigs.

What are some popular overlanding vehicles?

Overlanding vehicles are chosen for their durability, off-road capability, ample storage space, and reliability. Here are some of the most popular vehicles for overlanding, known for their ability to handle rugged terrains and long journeys:

1. Toyota Land Cruiser

  • Why Popular: Renowned for its reliability, durability, and off-road capability.
  • Features: Strong frame, powerful engine options, extensive aftermarket support for modifications, gas and diesel powertrains available.
  • Notable Models: Land Cruiser 70 Series (still in production in some markets), 80 Series, and 200 Series.

2. Toyota Tacoma

  • Why Popular: Versatile, reliable, and capable midsize truck with a strong reputation.
  • Features: Available with a TRD Off-Road package, good payload capacity, and robust aftermarket parts availability.
  • Notable Models: TRD Pro, which includes off-road enhancements like skid plates and all-terrain tires.

3. Jeep Wrangler

  • Why Popular: Iconic off-road vehicle with a removable top and doors for versatile adventuring.
  • Features: Excellent 4x4 systems, solid axles, extensive customization options.
  • Notable Models: Rubicon, known for its advanced off-road features such as locking differentials and disconnecting sway bars.

4. Land Rover Defender

  • Why Popular: A classic choice for overlanding with a heritage of exploration.
  • Features: Rugged construction, permanent 4WD, excellent ground clearance.
  • Notable Models: New Defender (2020 onwards) offers modern comforts with traditional off-road capability.

5. Ford F-150 Raptor

  • Why Popular: A high-performance off-road truck with ample power and modern amenities.
  • Features: Enhanced suspension, powerful engine, spacious interior.
  • Notable Models: The Raptor is specifically designed for off-roading with features like Fox Racing shocks and all-terrain tires.

6. Mercedes-Benz G-Class

  • Why Popular: Combines luxury with formidable off-road prowess.
  • Features: Triple locking differentials, strong ladder frame, powerful engine options.
  • Notable Models: G550 and G63 AMG, offering both off-road capability and high-end features.

7. Subaru Outback

  • Why Popular: A more compact and fuel-efficient option that still offers decent off-road capabilities.
  • Features: Standard all-wheel drive, good ground clearance, and a practical design for overlanding light.
  • Notable Models: Wilderness trim, which includes off-road enhancements like increased ground clearance and rugged body cladding.

8. Nissan Patrol

  • Why Popular: Similar to the Land Cruiser in terms of robustness and off-road capabilities.
  • Features: Strong engine, durable construction, capable 4x4 system.
  • Notable Models: The Patrol Y62 is popular in many markets outside the US.

9. Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

  • Why Popular: A midsize truck offering advanced off-road technology.
  • Features: Multimatic DSSV dampers, locking front and rear differentials, skid plates.
  • Notable Models: ZR2 Bison, with additional off-road enhancements from American Expedition Vehicles (AEV).

10. Ram 1500 Rebel

  • Why Popular: A full-size truck with off-road capabilities and comfort.
  • Features: Enhanced suspension, off-road tires, electronic locking rear differential.
  • Notable Models: Rebel, specifically designed for off-roading with additional skid plates and tow hooks.

Additional Considerations

  • Aftermarket Support: Vehicles with extensive aftermarket support are preferred, as they allow for easier modifications and repairs.
  • Durability and Reliability: The ability to handle long trips without frequent breakdowns is crucial.
  • Fuel Efficiency: While not the primary concern, better fuel efficiency can extend the range between refueling stops in remote areas.

These vehicles are popular choices among overlanders due to their combination of off-road capabilities, reliability, and the availability of accessories to enhance their performance and comfort for long-term travel. For more detailed information on overlanding vehicles and gear, resources like Expedition Portal and Overland Journal are excellent places to start.