In Camping & Overlanding/ Tips & Resources

A Beginner’s Guide to Overlanding

August 10, 2016

What is overlanding?

It’s kind of a thing now.  If you’re unaware of overlanding but love camping, road tripping and hardcore adventure, you may want to read further.  Overlanding is the latest and greatest in the ever burgeoning outdoorsy world where vehicles now take center stage.

And these vehicles aren’t just any vehicles with standard off-road packages.  In addition to being trail worthy, they may have built in kitchens, solar charged batteries, tents that attach to said vehicles or customized sleeping quarters.  Part of the overlanding culture is customizing a standard vehicle (typically an SUV, van or dirt bike), with everything it needs to sustain itself for weeks on end.

Overlanding is about exploration, rather than conquering obstacles. While the roads and trails we travel might be rough or technically challenging, they are the means to an end, not the goal itself. The goal is to see and learn about our world, whether on a weekend trip 100 miles from home or a 10,000-mile expedition across another continent. The vehicle and equipment can be simple or extravagant – they, too, are simply means to an end. History, wildlife, culture, scenery, self-sufficiency – these are the rewards of overlanding.

“What Is Overlanding?” Overland Journal. Expedition Portal, n.d. Web.

Overlanding is a movement. It’s a mission. It isn’t elitist, and it doesn’t matter what you drive. It’s for everyone who feels the call of the wild, and anyone willing to go find it. n.p.,n.d.

Overlanding is self-reliant travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.

“Overlanding.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.


I was initially confused about overlanding because I failed to understand how it was different from what I was already doing.  For example, I like to car camp. What makes overlanding different from car camping?   After all, I go on weekend trips 100 miles away.  I explore remote locations.  Hell, I already answer the Call of the Wild (notice my blog name?).  Am I an overlander and just not know it?  Is this some kind of millennial buzz word?  Or worse yet, a made-up marketing term by camping elitists who want to exclude themselves from common folk who just go on ordinary camping trips?

And what about RVs?  What makes overlanding different from venturing around in a standard RV?  Car camping, RVing, and overlanding seem to arrive at the same conclusion.

Do I now say that I’m going overlanding (not camping) next weekend?

Here are 11 things to know before getting into overlanding.

Vehicle backpacking

After my partner and I ventured down the rabbit hole (him first), I then discovered that overlanding is essentially vehicle backpacking.  Instead of strapping everything needed for sustainment onto your back, you’re strapping everything to your car.  Food, water, shelter, gasoline, everything.  As such, overlanding allows you to retreat further into the backcountry and for longer.


Not surprisingly, overlanding also beckons folks who relish in offroading.

Offroading makes me carsick, but it’s a necessary evil as unexplored territory usually lacks paved roads.  A typical driving day may involve 45 minutes of jostling to the tune of muddy terrain, stream and river crossings.  Snorkeling tubes for the vehicle are not uncommon and typically preferred.

Crafty folks

The overlander is also a craftswoman (or craftsman).  The overlanding community is rich with crafty folk who like to build things and tinker with their vehicles.

Things like specialized tires, lifts, and dual battery systems are frequent topics of discussion.  Building shelves and kitchen drawers are definite possibilities.

You will fall in love with your vehicle

An overlander’s vehicle is their house, kitchen, refuge, and escape pod.  Vehicles are always named and frequently referred to as human beings that are also members of the tribe.  Should you decide to get into overlanding, you will have to name your vehicle as well.  Our vehicle Herman (my partner’s, actually) is the lifeblood of our adventures.  If he hurts, we hurt.  When he bent his skid plate going over a rough patch of terrain, we felt it too.  When he made it through a Jeep-only offroad trail in Sedona, AZ, we were crying out in joy.  Not just for our safe passage, but for him. He’s totally bad ass.


Road trip mentality

Overlanding is essentially road tripping (to the max), so you’ll need to have two things: a free-spirited mindset and good attention to detail.  All members of the group should be competent with GPS and paper maps (compass is a bonus), the route planned, ferry and train schedules, weather tracking, local customs, and other details critical to success.

You’re more likely to get into arguments on overlanding trips than standard road trips, as there is much more room for error.  So, choose your overlanding buddies wisely!

Research will become your greatest hobby

It goes without saying, but there are different interpretations for “must heavily research” depending on the person.  Besides routes and road conditions, you’ll also need to research local customs, language, plan a budget, have contingency plans, and much more.  But just remember that no amount of planning beats first-hand experience.

Glampers needn’t be dissuaded

Don’t let the idea of camping, wilderness, lack of civilization, and no stores for miles scare you off.  If done right, overlanding is a form of glamping that never stops.  Like a roving hotel in nature, you can actually live it up out in the woods.  We travel with a toilet tent (no peeing in the bush, thank you), portable shower, lounge chairs, cushy sleeping pads, a camp kitchen with sink, and other niceties.  We have wine with every meal.  I’m too old to travel any differently.  We keep all these things streamlined. Every item haves a purpose and a place to be packed. Other overlanders go even further.  Check out the Earth Roamer.

But treat packing your vehicle as if you were backpacking. Remember, your vehicle IS your backpack.

We fell into this trap in the beginning and still suffer occasionally from it to this day.  Just because you’re carrying items in your vehicle doesn’t mean you should bring the kitchen sink.  Sure, bring your bottle opener.  Bring your Bluetooth speaker, WaterPik, four pairs of shoes and whatever else you deem necessary for comfort and enjoyment.  But then take a long hard look before you load up the car.  Though our setup sounds excessive, we’ve spent a few years continuously modifying our system to keep things streamlined. Every item has a specific purpose and a place to be packed.

For a comprehensive gear list, see this post. (COMING SOON!)

And for my personal effects?  I learned the hard way.  I used to bring outfits for every occasion, every hike, every purpose.  I’m not carrying them on my back, so who cares?

For some reason, when I go on a trip like this I tend to wear the same clothes every day.  I don’t care about being grungy.  I barely comb my hair when I’m on an overland trip.  I’m much less rigid about my appearance in the wilderness and wild.


Seemingly outlandish ideas will become possibilities

Have you ever thought about driving to Peru from your home in Vancouver, BC?  How about biking from Paris to New York without crossing the Atlantic Ocean?  Think of all the places, boundaries, cultures, foods, and people you’d encounter on such a journey.  All these crazy ideas suddenly become possibilities with overland travel.

No matter where you go and how you get there is inconsequential.  Full blown exploration is the heart of the matter, and it takes a crazy person to make that come true.


Gear is important.  While it’s not everything, it’s easy to become obsessed.

I’m not a gear person, but my partner is.  In fact, the overlanding community is fraught with the gear-obsessed and for good reason.  Gear helps long-term sustainment and overlanders want the most efficient way to accomplish this with the least amount of hassle, weight, and cost.  But it doesn’t have to be expensive, and systems are often DIY.  For example, there are online forums discussing carpentry and electrical engineering by way of YouTube videos.  Others have rebuilt the insides of their vehicles like an episode of Tiny House.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I once met a guy who stayed for weeks in the desert sleeping under a tarp.  He fashioned seats out of empty buckets and made his backpacking stove.  He never once referred to the overlanding term, which made talking to the guy pretty memorable.


So hopefully this brief summary helps you understand that this overlanding term is no big to do.  If you’re outdoorsy, relatively crafty and have any type of vehicle, you can overland. But if you’re not all of those things, overland buddies can help fill in the gaps.

Richer experiences await the most adventurous explorers, and the world of overlanding is yet another way to foster those dreams.

Overland Resources


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