What is Overlanding? Get Ready to Go Overland Camping!

“Adventure begins at the end of the roads you know.”

Adventure is at the heart of overland camping. Overlanding is essentially an adventure-seeking road trip that combines elements of off-roading and camping into one freaking awesome expedition. 

So if you like…

  • Exploring new places
  • Going off the beaten path
  • Camping in the wild
  • And occasionally getting lost

…then overlanding is for you!

So what exactly is overlanding and overland camping? Can I just go on a road trip in my minivan and call it overlanding? What do you need for your first true overland camping trip?

And most importantly… why should YOU try it? 

what is overlanding

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What Is Overlanding and Overland Camping?

The Overland Journal gives an amazing definition of modern-day “overlanding”. 

“Overlanding describes self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal.” – The Overland Journal

Spot on!!!

“Overlanding” as a term actually originated in Australia and had to do with driving livestock over long distances. (Don’t worry, modern-day overlanding doesn’t involve any cattle-herding!)

If you think about it, many adventure explorers from centuries past could be considered overlanders – like Admundsen heading to the south pole or the pioneers overlanding across North America in their covered wagons. (Can’t you just imagine the pioneer off-roading enthusiasts showing off their modified wagons with a 6-inch lift kit and all-terrain wagon wheels!)

The term “overland camping” is slightly more specific and refers more to how you live while overlanding. Since you’re carrying everything in your vehicle, you’ll end up using a lot of the same gear you might take on a normal camping trip.

Overlanding vs. Off-Roading? Similar, but Different

Off-roading is more about conquering obstacles. Overlanding is more about the journey as a whole – the rough roads are just a means to an end.

An overland camping trip might involve a few challenging off-road sections where a 4×4 vehicle with high ground clearance is necessary, but the majority of an overlanding trip could actually be on paved roads. 

overlanding vs off roading

An off-roading trip, not really an overlanding trip.

Overlanding Vehicles vs. True Off-Roaders

True off-roading vehicles are built and modified more for short trips and specific tasks, like rock crawling. But you probably wouldn’t want to drive a heavily modified off-roader on a 5,000-mile international road trip. 

On the other hand, an overlanding vehicle needs to be able to reliably handle a variety of terrains while carrying all the necessary gear that lets you be completely self-reliant. 

Is Overland Camping the Same as Car Camping?

If by car camping you mean pulling into a campground with electric hookups, picnic tables, and free WIFI – then no. 

If by car camping you mean sleeping in your car while on a month-long 2,000-mile road trip to explore remote locations – then sure, they’re the same.

When Does a Road Trip Become Overlanding?

So does all this mean that overlanding is essentially just a road trip on some dirt roads?

Some overlanding purists say that for you to be a 100% true overlander, you have to be crossing international borders. On the other end of the spectrum, some say that a weekend trip to explore remote mountain roads is overlanding.

what kind of trip is considered overlanding

Regarding what separates overland travel from simple road or backcountry trips, the Overland Journal makes it super clear.

“The critical point to the term overland travel is that the purpose is to include at least two or more of the following: 1. Remote locations, 2. Cultures other than your own, 3. Under-explored or under-documented regions, 4. Self-reliance in unfamiliar territories for multiple days, weeks or months.”

A week-long road trip you take on some dirt roads to the same place every year while staying in established campgrounds and cabins every night isn’t really overland camping.

But a week-long road trip where the majority of the time you’re away from civilization, relying only on the supplies you have in your vehicle and exploring remote areas you’ve never been before – now that’s overlanding!

What Do I Need to Start Overland Camping? 

So is your adventure itch starting to bother you? Wanna try and scratch it with an overland camping trip? Here’s what you’ll need.

*Overlanding rigs and gear can range from expensive luxury overland campers like EarthRoamers or an old Geo Metro and a tent. Find what works for you, where you want to go, and what you can do with your budget.

The first thing you should consider is your vehicle.

The Best Overlanding Vehicle Is…

A reliable one. 

Whatever vehicle you decide to use – a truck, van, SUV, motorcycle, bicycle, or Ferrari – make sure you can depend on it.

A big off-road SUV with a lift, all-terrain tires, and a winch won’t be a good overland camping vehicle if it breaks down every few miles. Remember, part of overlanding is exploring remote locations, locations where you probably won’t have cell service and can’t just wait ‘till someone else drives by to help you out. 

best type of overlanding vehicle

So if your limited budget means you’ll have to choose between off-road ability and reliability, choose reliability. The reality is that most vehicles with average ground clearance and half-decent tires can go 95% of places you might want to go. Check out these unlikely overlanding vehicles.

Still think you need some ginormous 4×4 truck to start overlanding? Ever heard of the Mongol Rally? It’s a 10,000-mile adventure race that has to be done in a compact car with a 1-liter or smaller engine. (For reference, in the US most Ford Fiestas have a 1.6-liter engine.)

The best overlanding vehicles are ones that combine both off-road ability and reliability. That’s why some of the most popular overland vehicles are vehicles like…

  • Toyota Land Cruisers
  • Toyota Pickups
  • Toyota 4Runners
  • Land Rover Defenders
  • Jeep Wranglers
best overlanding vehicles that have off road durability and are reliable toyota land cruisers land rover defender

Check out some more good choices for budget overland vehicles.

In addition to your vehicle, you’ll also need…

A Place to Sleep

Self-reliant adventure travel means most nights you won’t be staying in hotels. So you need a place to sleep. While overland camping, you’ve got three options…

  • On your vehicle
  • In your car
  • Near your car
where to sleep while overlanding

On your vehicle: Roof top or car top tents are one of the most popular options for overlanders. They get you up off the ground and give you an extra level of security, especially from curious creatures. Plus they give you a little more flexibility regarding where you can camp. 

Rocky ground as far as the eye can see? Just find a relatively level place to park your vehicle and you’ve got a place to camp.

iKamper has some of the best options for rooftop tents.

In your vehicle: If you’re in an SUV with seats that fold down or a pickup truck with a long bed, chances are you can throw down some sleeping mats or an air mattress inside and you’ve got a place to sleep.

Near your vehicle: Just bring along your trusty camping tent and pitch it near your vehicle. It takes a little longer to set up and take down but it’s a great budget option for getting started.

Basic Overland Camping Gear

Here’s a list with some of the other basic gear you’ll need to go on your first overlanding camping trip.

  • A place to sleep (see above)
  • Something to cook on. It could be a regular camp stove or an all-in-one outdoor kitchen system.
  • Basic camping essentials (lighter, flashlights, sleeping bag, etc.)
  • A way to keep food cold 
  • A way to navigate
  • A way to communicate
  • First aid kit
  • Basic vehicle repair kit
  • Vehicle recovery kit (especially, if you’re going on really rough roads and are unsure of road conditions)
  • A way to store water
  • A way to power and charge your devices or other electronic equipment

Like I mentioned before, depending on your budget and needs, you can get really elaborate with your setup or just keep it simple. You can even find cool overlanding equipment like overlanding campers, truck campers, trailers, tent heating systems, and more!

Don’t miss some of my overland camping articles to get some good ideas that’ll make your overlanding adventures even better! (COMING SOON!)

all in one kitchen system from ikamper for overlanding kitchen

And the Last Thing Every Overlander Needs Is… A Sense of Adventure

Overlanding is more about the journey and less about the destination. So embrace the journey. 

Embrace the fact that the road you’re traveling isn’t on google maps.

Embrace the fact that you don’t know exactly where you’ll be sleeping tonight. 

Embrace the fact that you might be a little lost. 

Embrace the time away from social media and emails.

Embrace the amazing views.

Embrace the adventure.

Ready to Try Overlanding? 

An overland camping trip is one of those trips that changes you. It expands your horizons, teaches you about yourself, and helps you learn to rely on the loved ones you’re traveling with. 

So whether you’re gonna head out to explore new places in an EarthRoamer or an old VW Beetle, get out there and try overlanding! There’s no better way to scratch your adventure itch while becoming a sort-of modern-day explorer.

And for a little help planning your first overland camping trip, don’t forget to check out my other overlanding articles.

WHAT YOU NEED TO START OVERLAND CAMPING +GEAR LIST! (COMING SOON!)

TOP OVERLAND CAMPING TENTS (COMING SOON!)

GUIDE TO PLANNING YOUR FIRST OVERLAND CAMPING TRIP (COMING SOON!)

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