Car Camping

A Beginner’s Guide to Overlanding – the Off-roading/ Camping Adventure

Last Updated on October 20, 2020 by Jody

Have you heard the term ‘overlanding’ before? I’m willing to bet you haven’t but the concept is likely familiar to you.

Overlanding is a vehicle trend that merges off-roading and camping, where you focus more on the journey than the destination.

overlanding_off-roading_camping_truck
Overlanding = off-roading + camping

A typical overlanding trip involves setting up a tent on top of a truck or SUV or packing your camping gear and taking your car to a beach, forest, or other remote location and charting a course!

If you’re looking for a fun and affordable way to enjoy the great outdoors in the safety and comfort of your own vehicle, read on to learn more and get started.

The Evolution of Overlanding

The term “overlanding” actually derives from early-1900s Australia, when ranchers would move cattle over huge spans of land, creating new pathways to unexplored parts of the outback.

Of course, the more modern version of overlanding is a lot different from this original practice.

Sometime during the middle of the 20th century, owners of 4×4 vehicles such as Jeeps, Toyota Tacomas, and others began to explore remote destinations while living out of their vehicles. Thus, today’s widely-accepted concept of overlanding – a self-reliant overland travel – was born.

In recent years, the trend has really taken off. We’re seeing everyone from seasoned adventurers to families looking to explore new or familiar areas using their car embarking on overlanding trips. It’s a fantastic way to truly enjoy every moment of a journey through nature.

Prefer the comfort of an RV or camper?
Read our Introduction to Boondocking!

The Right Ride for Overlanding

Before you can look into destinations near or far, you need to make sure your vehicle can handle an overlanding trip. It’s a bit more strenuous than your average road trip!

Ideally, you want an SUV or truck equipped with 4×4. The vehicle should be narrow with a short wheelbase, this will allow you to travel down tight trails and nimbly navigate wooded areas.

overlanding_off-roading_camping_Jeep_tent_lake
Overlanding with a tent

Some of my favorite overlanding vehicles at the moment include the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Gladiator, Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, or 4Runner.

This might go without saying, but make sure that any vehicle you plan to take on an overlanding excursion is well maintained. Check your tire pressure (including your spare, should you need to put it to use!), headlights, fluid levels, and battery before setting out. You don’t want the trip to be derailed by a breakdown!

Load Up on Gear

Remember, unlike ATVs, dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles that are designed for one specific purpose, you’ll likely be overlanding in your everyday vehicle! It needs to take you to the trail, through the trail, and get you back home on the highway safely — this requires some special gear and add-ons. A few things to consider:

  • Armor and protection. These are crucial for a long overlanding trip and will help keep your vehicle in one piece. At the very least, look at bumper upgrades and steel skid plates to protect your car’s body and drivetrain.
  • Upgraded lights. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself driving at night more than you expected on an overlanding trip. Not to mention dark or shaded wooded areas you’ll encounter along the way! Your factory headlights likely won’t cut it. Either consider upgrading your headlights before the trip or add some off-roading lights, which are available in a variety of styles and strengths and can be easy to mount. You’ll be grateful for the added visibility!
  • All-terrain tires. These are an excellent add-on if you’re a more serious traveler or are planning to tackle some particularly tough terrain. An all-terrain tire will provide increased traction and grip on all sorts of surfaces like rocks, mud and even sand. It may be an expensive investment but it’s an invaluable tool for off-road adventures.
  • Hand tools and spare parts. Keep some of these on hand if you’re planning a longer trip to a more remote destination and feel comfortable making minor repairs to your vehicle. Remember you’re putting your vehicle through strenuous driving so all its systems are under increased stress, which could cause failure. You need to make sure you’re prepared to make any necessary repairs in remote areas where a tow truck can’t reach you.

While the hope is that you’ve performed a maintenance check on your car before embarking, it’s always a good idea to also bring along some emergency supplies in case of a breakdown. This includes flares, flashlights, blankets and extra water/non-perishable snacks. 

We can’t forget about camping gear, either! That’s the other half of the overlanding trip. Car and truck-top tents have become massively popular in recent years and are great if you want to sleep right out of your vehicle or avoid any intruding wildlife in your tent.

go anywhere! car camping in a rooftop tent
Overlanding with a rooftop tent!

Of course, you can also go more traditional and pack regular tents, particularly if you’re overlanding to a designated camping area.

Since you’ll essentially be living out of your vehicle, anything collapsible and compact is perfect for overlanding. Look for space-saving grills, cookware, chairs and lanterns.

Get our tent camping tips!

While the purpose of overlanding is to break from your everyday routine and get back in touch with the outdoors, I know we can’t go anywhere without our devices!

You might find it helpful to bring a dedicated GPS, particularly if you’re headed somewhere you aren’t as familiar with. This will help you stay on course without draining your phone battery.

Speaking of, bring plenty of portable chargers (we recommend the MyCharge Adventure Series chargers!) or adapters so your phone and other essential electronics don’t die on you.  If anything, you’ll want to be able to stay in touch with friends during your journey and take photos!

Don't forget these Camping Essentials!

Know Before You Go

Lastly, make sure you do your research before planning any overlanding trip. You want to be certain that overlanding and overnight camping are permitted where you’re going.

overlanding_off-roading_camping_night
Overlanding is an off-roading/ camping adventure!

You should also map out your route ahead of time to get an understanding of the terrain, estimate the trip length, and familiarize yourself with local sights and points of interest in the area. When in doubt, state and local recreation websites are always full of resources and you can call ahead to confirm that everything is open or ask for suggestions.

In the days leading up to your trip, check out the weather forecast and make sure you’ve packed appropriate clothes and gear for the conditions. If severe weather is expected, consider postponing the trip so you can enjoy the journey in the best possible conditions!

Overlanding is an exciting way to travel and see new places. In fact, it might be the ideal socially-distant vacation strategy! Like any outdoor excursion, it does require a bit of planning and knowledge, but once you’ve done your homework and gathered the proper gear, you’ll be on the trails making unforgettable memories in no time.

About the Author

Greg Kopf is Brand Ambassador at CARiD.com and an automotive expert and outdoor enthusiast.

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