Overlanding is a recreational activity that involves taking a self-reliant vehicle through unpaved terrain on a multi-day journey. It’s easiest to think of it as a combination of camping and off-roading, or backpacking with your vehicle. The journey itself is the primary purpose, rather than the end destination.
Overlanding trips often take weeks, though shorter trips can be done over a weekend. The longest trips, which are huge cross-continent undertakings, last months or even years. These are the trips idealized by overlanders. They provide the chance to experience remote locations and different cultures. However, just spending a long weekend on the trail with your 4x4 embodies the same spirit.
Though it sounds simple enough to jump in, overlanding requires lots of preparation. Every adventure requires planning and knowledge to make it safe. Plus, you must be able to navigate, repair your vehicle, and be ready for the unexpected.
A Brief History of Overlanding
Most would say that overlanding originated in Australia. That’s where the term started being used to describe cross-country travel. The massive wilderness of the Outback separates much of the country. Cattle drivers had to travel immense distances with no towns to stop in. Between 1906 and 1910, Australian surveyor Alfred Canning created a stock route over 1,100 miles long. Overlanders still use it today for recreational trips.
In 1903, George A. Wyman took a motorized bicycle from San Francisco to New York, one of the first documented cross-country leisure trips. Though there were many expeditions throughout the 20th century, modern overlanding as we know it didn’t really take off until after World War II.
With the recovering European economy and the advent of decent four-wheel drive trucks, the ‘50s and ‘60s saw overland journeys from Europe to Africa and Asia. In 1969, the famous Commonwealth Expedition (Comex 3) traveled in small buses from England to India.
Today, overlanding is growing in popularity. It’s now easier than ever to search for overlanding groups, routes, and gear on the internet.
Overlanding vs Off-Roading
Overlanding can be regarded as a type of off-roading, but in general, the two have a lot of differences. If off-roading activities like mudding and rock crawling are sprints, then overlanding is a marathon. Off-roading is usually a day trip to an off-road park or trail. Overlanding often takes weeks or months.
Despite the grueling length of time, overlanding doesn’t usually include rigorous rock crawling or mudding. You’ll need a competent vehicle that can handle dirt and rocks, but not one that’s capable of taking on technical and difficult terrain. It all comes down to how you plan your trips and where you want to go. Some overland trips stick to a flat path the whole time.
There isn’t an inherent “best vehicle” for overlanding, though the most common type is a 4WD SUV. Vans and AWD crossovers are also common. However, they need to have sufficient ground clearance, cargo space, and good off-road tires. The more off-road-ready your vehicle is, the better. Though the locking rear differential of a 4WD is needed for rock crawling, it isn’t required to go overlanding.
Overlanding vs Car Camping
Overlanding requires self-reliance as you travel through remote locations. Though similar in some respects, car camping is a different activity. Car camping involves driving to a specific, designated campsite. The destination is the main goal, rather than the journey.
Overlanding trips are generally longer and cover much greater distances. Unlike car camping, overlanding won’t involve traveling to well-established campsites.
Though quite different, overlanding and car camping have a lot of overlap in terms of the gear you’ll bring. A rooftop tent and retractable awning are good for lodging and hanging out. You’ll also need similar tools for cooking, a power source, and emergency supplies. Still, car camping won’t require nearly as much gear or know-how because of the shorter duration and closer proximity to help and supplies.
How to Start Overlanding
The overlanding community is a welcoming one, and it’s growing larger every year. If you don’t have any friends or family that are already involved, look into local clubs in your area.
It’s important to find a group, as it’s never a good idea to go alone. Start at a well-known forum like Expedition Portal or Overland Bound. You can also use social media or a site like Meetup.com to find overlanding groups in your area.
Start with weekend trips over moderate or easy terrain. From there, you’ll build the experience you need for longer, more difficult journeys. Now get out there, have fun, and be safe!
Sources: Overland Journal | Driving Line | Overland Site | X Overland