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Outdoor vehicle adventuring is one of the hottest trends in motoring. Overlanding truly is about the journey rather than the destination.

Finding the Great Outdoors

2022 Jeep Wrangler - jeep.com
2022 Jeep Wrangler - jeep.com

One of the hottest buzz words in automotive circles these days is overlanding. It has ignited an explosion of aftermarket gear like rooftop tents and further inflated the prices of reliable 4x4s like the Toyota Land Cruiser. But what is overlanding exactly? And why are folks so enamored with it?

Overlanding is vehicle based off-road, and typically off-grid, camping trips that can last days, weeks, months, or even years (yes, like the #vanlife, overlanding too has become a lifestyle for some). It’s the journey that matters in overlanding. Though cool destinations are often involved, they’re treated more as touchpoints along the way. Instead, it’s the obstacles overcome, the vistas encountered, the companionship and camaraderie of those you travel with, these are what overlanding is about.

Ford Bronco - ford.com
Ford Bronco - ford.com

A key feature of overlanding is its self-sufficient nature. Like long-distance hiking, overlanding means taking everything you need for your trip with you, food, water, and shelter. Consequently, overlanding lands in the middle of a Venn diagram comprised of 4×4 owners and outdoorsy/camping enthusiasts. And if you know anything about either group, or happen to be a member, they love collecting and tinkering with all manner of gadgets and gear.

The Rig

2022 Jeep Wrangler - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
2022 Jeep Wrangler - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

Central to any overlanding trip is the rig. The specifics of your chosen vehicle may vary based on the terrain you wish to tackle, but invariably a proper overlanding vehicle will be four-wheel drive and have a decent amount of clearance.

Most overlanding trips involve taking minimally maintained unpaved roads and trails. Some are legitimately gnarly, with rocks and ruts, water to ford, and intimidating gradients to surmount. If you’re wanting to tackle such trails, you’ll need something like a Jeep Wrangler or a lifted Toyota Land Cruiser. But many overlanding trails aren’t so hairy, and a properly outfitted four-wheel drive vehicle will perform ably.

Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com
Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

You can start with the four-wheel / all-wheel drive vehicle of your choice and work from there. Common modifications include a lift of some height (depending on what your vehicle initially comes with), larger off-road tires, an off-road focused suspension upgrade, and items like a winch, lightbars, snorkels, and roof racks. Given just a few of these modifications, or in some cases, none at all, you can take our Subaru Outback, Lexus GX, or Toyota Tacoma overlanding.

The Gear

Camping Gear
Camping Gear

Of course, it takes more than just a 4×4 to go overlanding. Long distance, self-sufficient camping requires hauling everything you’ll need.

Water and food come first. MREs, or meals ready to eat, are popular among overlanding enthusiasts for their compactness and ease of use. You’re also free to bring at least some treats, like a cooler of steaks, for a memorable cookout under the stars, but remember that every ounce of weight counts against your fuel (another item you’ll have to ferry without). Good water filtration can also save on weight if you know you’ll be traveling to or near a water source.

Subaru Forester with rooftop tent - netcarshow.com
Subaru Forester with rooftop tent - netcarshow.com

Tents and sleeping gear are also necessary. You can do anything the weather and your budget permits, from rooftop tents to hammocks. Though, if you go with the former, it’s suggested you bring an extra tent in case your vehicle gets stuck, and you need to ruck your way out of the wilderness.

Other vitally important items to take with include a first-aid kit, tools for impromptu repairs, weather appropriate clothing (remembering high altitudes and desert nights mean colder temperatures), recovery gear for when you get stuck, and a personal locater beacon in case you get lost or struck. From there, you can add any amount of other gear from a portable shower to a propane stove.

The Road

Rubicon Trail - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
Rubicon Trail - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

Choosing your trail will depend on the vehicle you’ve selected and outfitted and vise versa. For the ambitious and committed there are bucket list worthy trails like the Trans-American Trail that spans over 5,000 miles across the US from Oregon to North Carolina or the notoriously rugged Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Less involved expeditions include the Smoky Mountain Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat. Monument or the Valley of the Gods Road, both in Utah. For those looking to get a bit muddy there’s the High-Water Mark Trail from St. Joe to Cass, Arkansas. And for those new to overlanding, there’s the Trans-Wisconsin Trail. Though it’s over 600 miles long, the roads are easy to pass.

Overlanding on the Cheap

Toyota 4Runner - toyota.com
Toyota 4Runner - toyota.com

Overlanding might intimidate the uninitiated as requiring major investments in both a capable vehicle and all that gear. But most overlanding devotees will tell you that you can get out on the trails for a lot less than you’d imagine.

A big key is finding a reliable four-wheel drive vehicle. One of the reasons used Tacomas, 4Runners, and Land Cruisers are so popular (and retain their value well past 200,000 miles) is because they are rugged, durable, and reliable. The last thing you want is a breakdown out on the trail, even if you’re a skilled mechanic. Here’s our list of reliable overlanding vehicles for your consideration.

Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com
Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

Once you’ve found your chosen ride, you’ll need the gear. While you could go down our list of overlanding gear and buy every item, you can get away with just a few key items and work from there.

So, get out there and try an overlanding adventure for yourself. Scenic vistas and life-long memories await the intrepid.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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