What Is Overlanding?

We live in a time when every breath of air or escape from the city is welcome. Sure, you can go camping for a night or two in the woods or hills around you, but why not make it more and turn it into overlanding? After all, overlanding has grown popular across North America, since there are so many sites to see around. 

Credit: Shannon Dizmang

What Exactly Is Overlanding?

What is overlanding exactly? The term for overlanding originally started in Australia, where people had to drive their cattle a long distance throughout the Outback – i.e., the bushes of Australia. They saw a variety of landscapes as they were going from one place to another.

Now, the idea is pretty much the same – minus herding cattle. You basically just jump into your car and drive where you want. When you need rest, you can get a room somewhere or camp under the stars. The route is the thing. 

Credit: Ken Lund

How Is Overlanding Different?

Overlanding is very often confused with off-roading and road trips. Still, they are quite different from one another. For example, off-roading involves you going off the beaten track on roads that are either un-surfaced or don’t have any roads at all. With overlanding, while you may indeed stumble across roads that are not surfaced, it is not necessarily a descriptive feature.

In this case, some people might associate it with road trips. Indeed, both road trips and overlanding can take you on the highway, but there is one big difference between the two: road trips have a destination, whereas overlanding trips don’t. Overlanding is more concerned with the route rather than the destination.

Credit: Thomas Farley

Scenic Routes for Overlanders

Are you planning to go on an overlanding trip, but aren’t exactly sure which route you should take? Well, these are a few classic ideas that overlanders often take:

  • Mojave Road: This Californian route is the kind that will take you back in time. Going over 138 miles, this was used for Native American trade and has no modern changes. All you have is nature, with beautiful desert landscapes and routes lined with stunning trees.
  • Black Bear Pass: If you are on the more daring side, you might want to try the Black Bear Pass in Colorado. This route combines all the beauties of overlanding and off-roading, giving you some breathtaking views along with the challenge.
  • Dalton Highway: If you want to go over a bit more of a civilized route, then you might want to try out the Dalton Highway. Bear in mind that while the road was built in the 70s, it is still no walk in the park. Stretching over 400 miles of the Alaskan bush, the route is breathtaking – particularly if you are lucky enough to see the Northern Lights.

North America has quite a few routes that you might take, so make sure that you do your research. Depending on the difficulty of the route, you might have to make the necessary updates to your car.

Credit: Nick Taylor

How to Plan an Overlanding Trip

The idea of overlanding is attractive to many because you don’t have to plan every mile. Still, for your trip to be safe, you need to do some planning. For example, even if you don’t want to plan the sights to see, you should look up some good camping spots along the route.

If you are going over a cross-country distance, you might want to look into travel visas as well. Acquaint yourself with the local customs and rules, and make sure that all the paperwork is handled. Also, budget your money based on how much you will spend on the road. If you are gone a long time, you might want to consider remote working.

With overlanding, you’ll probably spend more time in nature than in civilization, so you must have the right gear with you as well. Get a good tent and some camping equipment, recovery equipment (i.e., a winch, recovery strap, and some jumper cables). For more details on the proper gear to take, you can check the infographic.

Make sure you have a fire extinguisher with you, as well as a spare key hidden somewhere outside the vehicle. The last thing you want is to be locked outside of your car in the middle of nowhere, with your key in the ignition.

The Bottom Line

What you need to keep in mind about overlanding is that it’s not a competition. You aren’t driving to reach a destination. You are driving for the experience. Prep your car properly, do your research, and take the necessary gear with you. Once you settle on the route, your overlanding trip can begin.

Ferenc Elekes has been a devout Overlanding enthusiast for many years. During that time, Ferenc has explored 75 countries on six continents, with overland travel involved in 40 countries on three continents. From his trusty 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado with a roof-top tent, he’s blogged about experiences that can only be found in the remotest regions on Earth. Along the way, he’s gained in-depth knowledge of the novel challenges overlanders encounter and practical ways to meet them. On his website, he shares informed opinions about everything from the best overland gear to how to get a vehicle unstuck. Ferenc has also written for Ih8mud, the Expedition Portal, the Overland Journal, and he is often invited as a guest to outdoors-related podcasts.

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