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Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Overlanding for Beginners – A Complete Guide

If you love camping, road trips and adventure, you’ll love Overlanding. Whether it’s following the beautiful trails of the National Parks or intense off-road exploration that’s for you to decide.

What is Overlanding and How is it Different from Off-Roading?


Overlanding isn’t taking a relaxing weekend away at a local campsite simply driving off-road. It’s about self-reliant exploration, seeing new sights and conquering challenges. All while learning new things about the world and the wild.

Overlanding is basically backpacking using your off-road vehicle. It’s packing everything you need for an extended backcountry adventure and heading out into the wilderness.

The best Overlanding vehicles aren’t typically what you drive off the lot. They are trail-ready four-wheel drive trucks and SUVs (a Jeep is an SUV). They might also have a built-in kitchen, solar charging or a pop-up roof top tent.

However, as many manufacturers are seeing a surge in demand for off-road capable vehicles, you’ll find a few new models that are ready-made for traveling off the pavement.


Off-roading is taking your four-wheel drive truck or SUV down backroads, conquering hard obstacles. Off-road adventures are short trips that last a day or weekend at most. They don’t need self-reliance supplies and the upgrades needed are generally for vehicle protection.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Why You Should Go Overlanding

Overlanding is a fantastic way of traveling and exploring new areas. It’s experiencing nature in a new way and viewing breathtaking sights and sites. If you love the outdoors or you’re tired of the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the city, Overlanding will be a great experience that may lead to a lifelong passion.

Getting started Overlanding can be expensive depending on the overland setup you want. However, in the long run you’ll save on expenses like hotel and campsite fees due to the ability to live out of your overland vehicle.

Full disclosure: We sell Overlanding gear. Our success depends on how much of that gear our customers buy. As long as you have food, water, shelter and a somewhat capable vehicle, you can go Overlanding without any of the products and upgrades we recommend below.

However, that doesn’t mean you’ll have a completely comfortable, safe and enjoyable time. What we offer on our site helps make the experience easier and more fun. So read on at your own risk. You might find something you can’t live without. 🙂

How to Get Started Overlanding

There’s a common misconception that converting your truck or SUV into a capable Overlander is expensive. However, in reality, the amount of money you invest doesn’t have to empty your savings account. It all depends on where you want to go and the accessories and upgrades you want to add.

Some vehicles are already equipped to handle driving off-road without any modifications other than maybe some good all-terrain tires. We have a list of the cheap overland vehicles that fall into this budget-conscious category.

Personally, we drive a 2007 Toyota 4Runner to get us down the trail. It cost $6,000 and we have spent about $3,000 to improve upon what we started with.

If your vehicle was built for the pavement and not for the dirt, you’ll need to have a vehicle equipped with off-road upgrades so it can handle the rougher road conditions.

Next step, plan a route or an area to explore during your Overlanding expedition. Essential Overlanding gear consists of enough food, gas, water and clothes to last the entire expedition. But, in addition to those things, there are many upgrades and accessories that will make your trip more comfortable and enjoyable.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

What are the Best Overlanding Vehicles? 4×4 Trucks or SUVs?

Overlanding vehicles can be anything that’s capable of driving off-road. They include pickup trucks, SUVs, custom-built camper vans and motorcycles.

Some common vehicles used for Overlanding are:

  • Jeep Gladiator
  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Toyota Tacoma
  • Toyota Tundra
  • Toyota 4Runner
  • Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
  • Ford F-150 Raptor SVT

But, the best Overlanding vehicles have four common traits that make them ready for adventure.

Four-Wheel Drive – The terrain during Overland expeditions is often uneven and muddy. It requires equal power and traction shared between all four wheels. This is thanks to locking differentials that aren’t common in all-wheel-drive vehicles.

Undercarriage Protection – The underside of a vehicle is where the fuel tank, oil tank, transfer case and differential are. To prevent a rock from puncturing one of those very important parts leaving you stuck in the wilderness, it’s recommended to install skid plates.

Off-Road Suspension – Overlanding takes you down the most extreme off-roading trails. Upgrade from your factory suspension to an off-road suspension for all the bumps, dips and fast-changing terrain.

High Torque – There isn’t a need for high-speed driving when Overlanding. Instead, you’ll be driving unexpected terrains that may need the extra torque to power your way out of a rut.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

What Off-Road Vehicle Parts & Accessories Do You Need?

All-Terrain or Mud Tires

When it comes to the best tires for Overlanding it depends on the terrain you plan to travel over or through. Overlanders who plan to traverse a variety of conditions should pick a mud-terrain tire. Mud-terrain (M/T) tires offer more traction and grip and this is essential in some of the harsh, wet areas that you’ll encounter when navigating difficult and diverse trails.

Overlanders planning for a cross-country or weekend trip should pick an all-terrain tire. All-terrain (A/T) tires are great both on and off-road.

If your daily driver is also your Overlanding vehicle, all-terrain tires are the way to go. They provide a grip that isn’t too aggressive for pavement but still has sufficient traction when you’re off-road. Also, all-terrain tires are quieter on pavement.

Recovery Winch

A portable or bumper-mounted winch is one of the most essential pieces of Overlanding gear, especially if you are traveling alone.

That’s because a winch for an Overlander is the same as a life jacket for a kayaker. Recovery winches are key for self-rescuing your vehicle when it’s stuck in mud or for helping other Overlanders.

Winches have an electric motor that provides power and torque when attached to a solid object to pull your vehicle out of an emergency situation.

Off-Road Suspension

Factory suspension on your Overlanding rig will lead to a sore body and a busted vehicle. The trails driven during an overland adventure can be brutal and often, anything but smooth.

A durable off-road suspension system will allow your Overlander to handle all the bumps on the trail. This makes for a smoother, more comfortable ride without the worry of breaking something. Additionally, aftermarket off-road suspensions are built tough to handle the punishment harsh road conditions give out.

Off-Road Lights

While off-road lights are an optional accessory for outfitting your overland rig, they are great for giving the extra light you need in front and to the sides of the trail. They are great for illuminating the path when traveling in the dark as well as for visibility around the campsite.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Raised Air Intake/Snorkels

Raised air intakes are often referred to as snorkels. This sounds like your off-road vehicle can drive through deep water without an issue but while a snorkel might let you pass through some deep water for a short time, eventually you need to reach dry land.

The actual purpose of a raised air intake is to stop the dust and dirt in the air from getting sucked into the engine. Most standard air intake filters are installed near the front wheel wells where dust naturally gathers as you drive along dry dirt roads. Raising the air intake filter higher and away from the wheels causes less dust and dirt to get sucked in.

Body Protection – Rock Sliders, Grille Guards, Skid Plates

Rock sliders, grille guards and skid plates all have the same purpose. They add heavy-duty protection to your off-road Overlanding rig. They stop most damage to your vehicle when banging into rocks, trees or other hard objects.

Another accessory for added protection, off-road bumpers, allow for a bumper-mounted electric winch and provide recovery points for attaching a winch hook.

Roof Racks / Truck Bed Racks

Roof racks and truck bed racks are a great addition to any Overlanding setup because of the extra storage space. They allow you to carry recovery gear, RotopaX, a roof top tent and/or cargo cases.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Roof Top Tents or Truck Bed Tents

During your overland expedition, you’re gonna need a comfortable place to relax and sleep. So, most Overlanders get themselves set up with either a roof top tent, a truck bed tent or an SUV tent.

They are easy to put up, quick to take down and they are installed in your truck bed, on your vehicle’s roof top or out the back of your SUV’s cargo area.

What Gear is Essential for Overlanding?

Off-Road Recovery Kit

In addition to a winch and a Hi-lift jack, recovery gear kits complete the self-rescue setup. These specialized kits have all the tools and accessories needed for a smooth recovery inside a small backpack or canvas bag.

A top self-rescue kit the WARN Epic Recovery Accessory Kit includes:

  • Two forged 3/4″ Epic Shackles with E-coat/powder cost finish (for 18,000 lb. winches and under)
  • Epic Tree Trunk Protector, including forged end loops with E-coat/powder cost finish (4″ x 8′; rated to 30,000 lbs.)
  • Epic Snatch Block with E-coat/powder coat finish (for winch capacities of up to 18,000 lbs.)
  • Premium Recovery Strap (3″ x 30′; rated to 21,600 lbs.)
  • Winching Gloves with Kevlar reinforcement and synthetic leather
  • Backpack carrying case: Made from ballistic material with a modular interior. Doubles as line damper.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Cargo Cases

Overlanding gear generally gets stored inside the cargo area of SUVs or in pickup trucks it gets put in both the truck bed and the interior space of the cab. For extra storage, cargo cases are available that allow extra gear to get stashed away on the roof or in cargo areas.

Cargo cases help keep your gear organized and make it easier to find things when you need them. Cargo cases come in a variety of sizes and styles and are weatherproof to keep your gear dry and keep the dust out.

These are also great for storing food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If you’re camping in Bear Country, easily hoisting your extra food out of the bear’s reach is an additional bonus to having a cargo case.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Recovery Jacks

Recovery jacks raise vehicles with higher ground clearance than typical vehicles. They are essential to bring in case of an emergency tire change or to aid in getting unstuck.

Off-Road Trail Tools

Overlanding expeditions can take you far away from civilization and out of reach of a tow truck. It’s necessary to include a complete off-road tool set, one that has the tools needed for typical repairs needed when traveling off-road. Other useful off-road trail tools include a recovery shovel, an ax for removing downed trees along the way, a tire repair kit and a portable air compressor.

Air Mattress

A truck bed air mattress is a necessity for a comfortable night’s sleep if you’re sleeping in your pickup. They are made to fit a variety of truck beds, from short beds to long beds. If you’re sleeping in your truck bed, we can’t recommend these enough. If you’re sleeping in your roof top tent, a standard air mattress will make things more comfortable but many Overlanders sleep on the foam mattress that comes with their roof top tent.

Cooler or Portable Fridge/Freezer

An essential piece of Overlanding gear for long expeditions, you need something to keep your perishable food from spoiling. It’s also nice to have cold beverages on warm summer nights at the campsite.

If you’re just traveling for the weekend, a heavy-duty camping cooler will be fine to keep your food cold for the duration of the trip. If your trip is longer than 2 days we recommend investing in a portable refrigerator freezer.

A “dual zone” model will have both an area that acts as the freezer and the other will provide cooling like a refrigerator. A standard model will only have one temperature, either freezing or cooling. You set it at the temperature you want.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Camp Cooking Set & Propane Grill

Another essential piece of Overlanding gear is a camp cooking set. You’ll need utensils, dinnerware and a propane grill if you’re not able to have campfires.

Jerry Cans

Before you head out on your overland expedition, you need to calculate the gas needed and places to refuel. In the case of an emergency, it’s recommended to bring a full Jerry can or two as an emergency reserve. Please make sure the Jerry can you use is for fuel and not water.

First Aid Kit

An advanced first aid kit that includes a blood stopper kit must be kept in the vehicle at all times. Be sure to double-check the first aid kit’s contents and refill what’s missing before heading to the trails.

Never slack on safety, emergencies are always unexpected. You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere without medical supplies.

Automotive Rated Fire Extinguisher

Another essential piece of Overlanding safety gear is a fire extinguisher. One that’s rated for automotive fires. While a fire extinguisher might not save a vehicle engulfed in flames, it can prevent a small fire from escalating into a full-blown wildfire.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

Optional Gear

While this gear isn’t essential for an Overlanding trip, these additional accessories provide “a little extra” that improves comfort and the overall enjoyment of the experience.

Cooling Off

During the summer, the weather can often reach some very uncomfortable temperatures. A solar or battery-powered fan is a great option for helping cool off. Recently, portable air conditioners have been introduced for camping. They’re great for cooling down the inside of your tent or vehicle on those hot summer nights.


Portable solar panels convert the sun’s UV rays into a usable form of electricity. They can power small electronics and charge your phone. They have sockets for different kinds of plugs offering a multi-use power source.

Another option for power is portable power banks. These devices are plugged in and pre-charged at home and store the power for when you need it at a later time. Some of the best have 1500 to 2500 watt-hours of power for charging phones, powering computers or for camp lighting. Many are also able to be recharged using solar power so you have more power for the next day.

Portable Shower

Nobody likes feeling dirty and not having the ability to clean themselves. Portable camping showers are little shower stations that set up in minutes. If there’s a clean water source nearby you can fill it up with that. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your stored drinking water for showering.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide


Taking an off-road GPS is always a great idea for any Overlanding expedition or anytime you explore new areas. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are digital maps that function via a satellite. They show your location and keep you from getting lost. Also, you can set waypoints to pre-plan the route you’re going to take. Another less expensive option for navigation is an Overlanding app for your phone.

Tips and Info for Beginner Overlanders

How to Improve Off-Road Driving

Three tips for improving off-road driving for Overlanding beginners are:

Have Vehicle Awareness – Know how much space your vehicle needs for clearance and how your tires turn.

Stay In Your Comfort Zone – Have experience in the vehicle that you’re taking off-road. Never go past your comfort level.

Use The Buddy System – If you’re learning, head out to easier off-road trails with a friend. That way if you get stuck you have a friend to help you out.

How Much Water to Bring Overlanding

The amount of water required for Overlanding is 1 liter (1 quart or ¼ gallon) of water per day for each person. But, the total amount of water for an expedition will vary if there are luxuries like a portable shower.

How To Find Overlanding Trails

If you’re getting started Overlanding, you might be wondering how to find overland trails. With the growing popularity, companies are developing specially designed products aimed at the Overlanding community. A great product for finding Overlanding trails is the Garmin Tread XL Overland Edition. It has on-road turn-by-turn directions and topography maps to follow off-road. Also, it includes local campgrounds and several other extra features.

Overlanding for Beginners - A Complete Guide

How Much Does it Cost to Go Overlanding?

Overlanding can cost a lot for the initial set up depending on the overland rig you want. But, after the initial setup, your overland expedition will cost around $30 to $40 a day. The majority of your expenses will be fuel, food and drinks.

When Did Overlanding Begin?

Overlanding began in Australia and South Africa in the mid-sixties to late seventies when four-wheel-drive trucks became commercially available. It has seen a huge increase in popularity over the past 10 years. In the U.S., due to the availability of off-road trails, Overlanding is more popular in the western states.

We hope we covered everything you wanted to know about getting started in this wonderful pastime. For further education, please check out our other articles related to this topic.

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