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Overlanding with a roof top tent

Overlanding - A Starter Guide For The New Enthusiast

Think of Overlanding as backpacking with a twist. You travel on dirt roads, carrying essential equipment and gear not in your backpack but in your vehicle, most likely a 4x4. This new vehicle-based travel hobby in the US is  and a combination of off-roading and camping and commonly referred to as car camping.

Because the journey is the primary goal in Overlanding, your vehicle plays a major role when traveling off the beaten path or in remote destinations. This hobby originated in Australia and is now gaining popularity in the US.

This article covers the basics of Overlanding, how to get started, and what you need to take your first Overlanding trip.

What Type of Overlanding Vehicle Do You Need?

We highly recommend you get either a four-wheel or an all-wheel-drive vehicle to overland with. A good overlanding vehicle must be able to traverse a combination of weather and terrain. You need a vehicle that can transport food, shelter, water, tools and other essential equipment. Popular choices are SUVs, custom-built rigs, trucks or any vehicle that can withstand long stretches of dirt roads and rough terrain.

Your vehicle is your home base so it has to be comfortable. 4-wheel drive vehicles like SUVs are mostly preferred by overlanders as it affords optimal power in the rear and front of the vehicle. You can choose from low range to high, and the former can help you traverse through steep hills and can give you more wheel power. Compared to an all-wheel drive, traditional 4-wheel vehicles are more suitable and capable off-road.

Depending on where you want to go, all-wheel-drive vehicles would also suffice. Although it is not as robust as a 4-wheel drive vehicle, it can also navigate dirt roads. This type of vehicle is ideal for wet or icy roads.

To make sure that you make it to serious dirt roads and to protect your vehicle, consider buying accessories such as heavy-duty bumpers, additional lighting and skid plates for your overlanding trip. For the upgrades, tires are usually most popular as they can get good traction.

Storage space

Smaller SUVs may not be ideal for a longer trip due to their limited interior size. You may not be able to take all the necessities with you. A truck-based SUV or a Land Cruiser would be better as you can load up a lot of equipment and tools in it. Keep in mind that you will be bringing with you other accessories and maybe spare parts so a full-size truck would suit an Overlanding trip.

Consider getting a recovery gear

Your truck may lose traction when you travel through dirt roads or when your vehicle gets stuck in either snow or mud. Buying a recover kit with traction boards and tow straps can help you when traversing through long stretches of dirt roads or mud. Slide the traction boards in your tires so you have more traction and it gives them something to hold onto.

Research on the place where you want to go overlanding and check whether your vehicle would be suitable or not. Otherwise, buy extra accessories or car gears for more protection.

Best Places to go Overlanding

If you prefer more remote places with empty desert or high mountain passes, consider routes in Western United States. Routes in the Eastern US, albeit shorter, can be a little difficult to navigate especially when you have a larger vehicle.

Below are some of the best overland routes that you can take:

Mojave Road, CA

You'll need about 2-3 days to fully explore this 138-mile desert landscape in California. A 4x4 overland vehicle would have no problems navigating the roads. If you love history and desert landscapes, this is a must-go place.

While there are larger rocks, most of the roads are easy to traverse. Primitive camping is allowed so long as you camp in previously used campsites.

Dalton Highway, AK

If you want a challenging yet wonderful overland trip, take this route. You will be navigating the roads together with bigger trucks which can be more challenging. There are plenty of rocks and longer inclines in this trucking road in Alaska so make sure that your vehicle can withstand the road condition. Also, you need spare tires, extra warm clothing and a survival gear for this route. You get to travel mining areas and the mighty Yukon River on this route.

Trans-America Trail

Beginners who prefer a longer route should consider this one. You'll be traveling from Tennessee to Oregon. This route isn't entirely an overland trip as there are paved roads along the way. Overlanders will need a map to avoid private properties and restricted lands.

Before taking on this overland trip, get your vehicle serviced to ensure that everything is in working order. You will be traveling through mountainous and several remote areas so a vehicle tune-up would greatly help. Consider getting snow tires especially when you are Overlanding between June through September. 

Black Bear Pass, CO

If you want intense mountain roads, take this route in Colorado. Black Bear Pass is one of the highest mountain roads in the states. It's one of the best places to go overlanding for beginners but not for inexperienced drivers. Also, you are not able to travel year-round. You can only access this route a ew months in each year. Overlanders can't take this route if the weather is bad due to floods and landslides.

For first timers, trail maps are a necessity. It contain detailed information and clearly marked trails which will come in handy in an overlanding trip. With a trail map, you'll know which roads have closed and what materials the roads are made, or if it's even passable with a regular car. It's recommended for a new overlanding enthusiast.

What You Need to go Overlanding

The good thing about overlanding compared to camping is you can bring a lot of stuff with you such as blankets, tables and other things needed that spell comfort.

You do not need specialized camping gear for Overlanding, just the basic equipment.

Coolers for food storage - Food that needs to be refrigerated can be stored in the cooler. You can also get an electric cooler with a portable battery or you can power it from your truck.

If you have a bigger truck, consider bringing portable refrigerators for your food and water. Just make sure you have enough fuel to power your appliance. Some overlanders would take with them portable generators but this isn't really necessary. As a beginner, go with the basics first and as you gain more experience, you will know what your needs are on the road.

Tools - These will come in handy so make sure that you store them in your vehicle. Buying a tire patch kit would be a life-saver during an Overlanding trip. Another great tool to have on hand is a multipurpose tactical shovel.

Roof racks - If you want more cargo capacity, consider getting a roof rack or safari rack for your vehicle.

Tents - Some overlanders would want to sleep inside their vehicles. To do this though, you may need to move some of your gear outside so you have enough space. The cheapest option is to buy a tent which requires minimal setup.

If you have a roof rack, consider attaching a rooftop tent to it. A rooftop tent allows for a more comfortable sleeping arrangement and they are also easier to set up than a ground tent. The major disadvantage is they are a lot heavier and not ideal if you want to save on fuel.

First aid kit - You will need this if you are headed outdoors. A first aid kit prepares you in an emergency or to help you treat minor injuries such as cuts, burns and bruises. A few items you may want to bring include antiseptic wipes, gauze pads, antibacterial ointment, ibuprofen and other pain relievers, antihistamines for treating allergies, adhesive tapes and bandages. You can also buy MyMedic that has the basic items you need perfect for your Overlanding trip.

Bike - If you still have room for a bike in your vehicle, this will let you travel nearby areas. Although this isn't a necessity, beginners may bring a bike for them to also explore areas that the vehicle cannot reach.

Plan Your Trip Well

For beginners, it's essential that you plan your overlanding trip ahead of time. Research the route and get a map to ensure that you are traveling only in areas that are allowed for overlanders. Get everything you need - all the essentials for a trip; your food, water, tools and other accessories. Most importantly, make sure that you know what this trip entails. You may encounter extreme weather conditions or dangerous roads, so make sure that you are highly prepared for it.

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