Overlanding: What It Is & Gearing Up
Overlanding is our favorite way to explore large areas of terrain and enjoy camping in the process. The key to overlanding is building out an intuitive and capable vehicle for car camping and off-roading.
The gear you choose for overlanding can make or break your experience. In this guide, we’ll cover all of the nitty gritty details to steer you in the right direction. We’ll cover the differences between a truck setup and an SUV or crossover setup, key pieces of gear, and even some tips on safety. By the end you’ll be ready to grab that roof top tent and hit the dirt road with confidence.
- What Is Overlanding?
- Overlanding Basics
- Gear Checklist
- What Vehicle Do You Need?
- Where To Go
- Informative Links/FAQ
Overlanding is self-reliant vehicular travel that takes place on- or off-road, typically over the course of more than one day. This differs from off-roading, which usually takes place over a couple of hours on a day trip. Overlanding requires some form of sleeping system, nutrition provisions, hydration solutions, and certain safety precautions. Additional items including camp furniture, awnings, and solar powered accessories are also a plus. Overlanding is all about the adventure, and you get to equip yourself exactly as you see fit for the route that you decide to seek out.
A successful overlanding trip is all about preparation. We already touched on the gear-intensive nature of the activity, but what about the car? All-wheel or four-wheel drive is preferred, and some decent vehicle ground clearance is mandatory for intermediate to advanced off-roading. Route planning is another key part of preparation, so we’ll touch on navigation apps and getting the info you need outside of cell service. We’ll also cover a handful of things you can do or bring to ensure safety is a priority.
When it comes to off-roading difficulty, we’re going to break it down into three categories for the sake of this article.
Beginner off-roading consists of gravel, dirt, and rock that is relatively smooth or “planar”, with rocks protruding no more than 5 inches above the ground surface.
Intermediate off-roading entails more significant amounts of rock-covered terrain. Boulders can often protrude more than 12 inches from the ground surface and need to be steered around or carefully maneuvered to avoid contact with your vehicle. Shallow mud ruts and puddle crossings are common at the intermediate level.
Advanced off-roading represents the most demanding terrain, with driving surfaces including anything from deep mud ruts to large boulders that outsize your entire vehicle’s footprint. Stream crossings are also common at the advanced level.
This list includes the basic requirements for camp setup, which is also covered in depth in our Camping Checklist article. We also include sections for off-roading gear and advanced off-roading gear. It’s important to note that there are endless vehicle accessories for overlanding, and these lists are not comprehensive.
Soft-shell rooftop tents are less expensive and come in larger sizes, but hard-shell tents are faster to set up and inherently more durable. Rooftop tents simplify camp setup and breakdown drastically, which is important for overlanding because you’re always on the move. That being said, a standard ground tent is totally usable for shorter trips, or if you don’t mind the extra time spent on setup and takedown.
Roof racks are the best way to optimize space on your rig, with options to mount awnings, shovels, and more accessories in addition to a rooftop tent. You also need to make sure your roof rack or crossbars can support the weight of your rooftop tent with people in it.
Gearhead Tip: Dynamic weight is the weight that your roof rack or crossbars can support while the vehicle is in motion. Static weight is the weight that your roof rack or crossbars can support while the vehicle is stationary. You need to make sure the static weight rating is enough to support the weight of your tent plus the weight of the people that will be sleeping in it.
There are numerous different sleeping bag temperature ratings, weights, and insulation types to choose from. Pick one based on your body shape and size and the temperatures in which you’ll be sleeping.
- Synthetic fill bags are good for car camping because they are inexpensive. They’re less packable than down, but that’s generally all right for car camping where space is less of a concern. Synthetic insulation can pack out in just a few years, however, so it’s not the most durable choice.
- Down fill bags are more expensive but longer lasting than synthetic bags. A quality down bag will be light, pack small, and last more than 20 years.
- Temperature ratings on sleeping bags usually refer to survival, not comfort, so aim for a bag with a lower rating than the temperature in which you’ll be camping.
- A 30-degree bag is great for general summer use.
- A 20- or 15-degree bag works well for three-season use. If you’re unsure of the weather, it’s always worth adding a few blankets or quilts to the car, just in case.
Many rooftop tents come with integrated sleeping pads, but many campers still like to add another sleeping pad on top for enhanced comfort.
A good camp stove is essential for basic cooking and boiling water for coffee. Remember to bring enough fuel for your stove to last through your whole trip!
- Our selection of Ooni Pizza Ovens & Accessories are a fun way to spice up camp cooking.
You might need to do some research to sort out water availability on your route. We recommend carrying a large water storage device so you can go a day or two without filling up.
Bear Bag / Canister
Kitchen Cleaning Supplies
Basic Tool Kit
Spares (Fuses, Tires, Engine Oil)
Tire Repair Kit
Advanced Off-roading Gear
Traction Board / Tracks
Many kinds of vehicles are appropriate for overlanding, not just the fully-kitted-out trucks you see on social media. Crossovers and SUVs make excellent overlanding rigs and often deliver better gas mileage. Trucks and vans certainly have their purposes too, and offer lots of space for gear.
AWD vs. 4WD vs. 2WD
All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles are often preferred for overlanding adventures because they provide enhanced traction. This helps out in intermediate to advanced off-roading scenarios, and can even be essential for mild terrain if it’s wet, muddy, sandy, or snowy. Two-wheel drive vehicles can still be used for overlanding, but relatively dry and beginner-friendly off-road terrain is recommended for these vehicles.
Vehicle Ground Clearance
Ground clearance is the measurement from the lowest point of your vehicle to the ground. This is an important consideration because it determines the maximum height of an obstacle that your vehicle will be able to clear, and how deep of a rut you can navigate without “high-centering” your vehicle.
For beginner off-roading, 5 inches of ground clearance is generally the minimum amount for basic dirt road travel. For intermediate off-roading, 8 inches of ground clearance is the minimal amount for safe travel. For advanced off-roading, 10+ inches of clearance are required to maximize your vehicle’s potential. It’s important to note that some vehicles can gain ground clearance with aftermarket lift kits, wheels, and tires.
High-centering: When part of your vehicle becomes stuck on terrain that is higher than your wheels.
Approach angles and departure angles are essentially the angles that determine how steep an incline your vehicle can ascend and descend without making contact with the ground. A vehicle with good departure angles generally requires less ground clearance because the bumpers won’t hang up when entering and exiting obstacles. This is often why some crossovers perform relatively well off-road even with only eight to nine inches of ground clearance.
The approach angle is the angle from the point where the front tires contact the ground to the frontmost part of the vehicle, typically the front bumper. This determines how steep an incline your vehicle can ascend without scraping the ground.
The departure angle is the angle from where the rear tires touch the ground to the rearmost part of the vehicle, usually the rear bumper. This determines how steep an incline your vehicle can descend without the bumper hitting the ground.
It’s essential to understand your vehicle’s limitations so you can make informed decisions about terrain selection. Your tire choice has a huge impact on your vehicle’s capabilities, and an all-terrain tire often strikes a great balance between off-road performance and on-road efficiency. It’s also important to factor in your cargo space when planning a trip to ensure you can actually carry sufficient supplies to get you through your journey.
There are many ways to navigate in remote terrain, and a smartphone is often sufficient for navigation on many overlanding routes. In more remote terrain, we recommend a handheld GPS or even a trusty paper atlas. There are also some awesome mapping applications for your smartphone like ONX OFFROAD that make things easier, although most of these apps require a paid subscription. We recommend finding an experienced mentor to show you some routes that are established before venturing deep into the unknown.
Two aspects of self-reliance are understanding how to prioritize safety and being prepared for anything. We covered some key safety items in the Gear Checklist above, but we want to emphasize the importance of a first-aid kit, and basic vehicle safety equipment like jumper cables, a tow strap, and a tire repair kit. Another important piece of safety gear is a satellite communication device, which allows you to communicate with preset contacts without cellular reception.
- Shop Everything Overlanding
- Shop Everything Hike & Camp
- Shop Everything Travel
- Read How To Choose The Right Sleep System
- Read Camping With Care
- Read Camping Checklist
Q: What is overlanding?
A: Overlanding is self-reliant vehicular travel that takes place on- or off-road, typically over the course of more than one day.
Q: What is the difference between off-roading and overlanding?
A: Off-roading typically takes place over the course of a daytrip, usually a handful of hours or less. Overlanding takes place over multiple days, and often includes some driving on paved roads.
Q: Do you need 4WD/AWD for overlanding?
A: No, you don’t need 4WD or AWD for overlanding. While it can be useful for advanced off-roading scenarios, many overlanding routes are smooth enough for vehicles with 4x4 to remain in 2-wheel-drive over the course of the entire route. If you don’t have 4WD or AWD and you find yourself questioning a particularly challenging section of trail, we recommend you turn around and find another route.
Q: How much do rooftop tents weigh?
A: Typically between 80 to 180 pounds.