How to Start Overlanding (A Comprehensive Guide)

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Probably you have an idea what overlanding is, but do you really know what it entails?  Overlanding is a self-reliant type of adventure travel with a combination of on-road and off-road excursions to remote destinations. This means that for one to get started they need to be well prepared.

I have been doing overlanding for the last 7 years. The travel is mostly to unexplored and undocumented places or even the already existing destinations.

Overlanding is usually confused with car camping. Car camping can be done at any time with few modifications while overlanding can involve car camping but the difference come in with the motive, preparation, and the journey.

Over landing is continuous. It aims to test one’s resilience and while having fun on the journey. Exploration and discovery are the primary goal. It can be done through vehicles, motorcycles, or bicycles. The form of lodging is camping and can last for months to many years. Sometimes it involves crossing international boundaries.

USA is getting more into the trend of overlanding more recently than other countries. There are various overlanding communities. It is good to always enjoy your own company on a weekend but it also special and fulfilling to go on an adventure with other people.


How to Start Overlanding

It is not everyone who can get their friends or family who share the same interest. Looking for an overlanding community can be easy as you can find some on social media through Facebook groups, Twitter or Instagram. You can also visit a forum like Expedition Portal or Overland Bound Forum.

Joining a club is also a good place to find people with the same interest, for example; 406 cruiser, Expedition Utah, among others.

All you need to know; overlanding has two categories of needs; the needs of man (your personal needs) and the needs of your machine or vehicle. It is easy to work around these two categories.

What You Need to Start Overlanding

Mentality and Mindset- You have to be mentally prepared because there are a lot of challenges that come with over landing. You can go days without showering, staying without a proper meal for days thereby depending on coffee and snacks.

One’s vehicle can get mechanical damages and this usually happens often. You can be alone in the wild or in harsh conditions and lurking danger due to predators and help will rarely come for you easily. There is no comfort like being at home.

 Start overlanding today for beginners

Administrative Preparation- Due to border crossing, you need to do administrative preparation; get your paper work ready, international travel documentation, and insurance.

Camping Gear- You need to have all the necessary camping gear. This is for your survival in remote places where there is no easy accessibility to convenience and grocery stores. The main form of lodging is camping. You can check our comprehensive must have camping gear checklist.

Pack enough drinking water according to the number of people you are accompanied by, food and snacks should come in lots. You can carry a refrigerator or cooler in your vehicle if possible. This is to preserve the perishable food.

You will also need food preparation items like stoves. This is just in case you get stuck in a remote place for two weeks or more without any sight of people or other vehicles. However, did you know you can cook without a fire?  Yes you can, I learnt the hard way and that is why I created this cooking without fire guide.

Cooking when overlanding

There are options when it comes to camping. There are vehicle rooftop tents and also ground tents. You do not need to have a lot of money to buy the gear. One can work with their ability to afford a particular type of camping tents and their comfort needs.

For those who fear sleeping on the ground tent due to wild animals, both four- legged and two- legged, you can get a rooftop tent for your vehicle. Rooftop tents are usually pricey but you can check these budget rooftop tents (below 1000 USD) I reviewed.

Since you are a beginner, it will be a good idea to start short camping trips. This can start with a weekend overland, then advance it to a week, ten days, two weeks, and eventually a month or more. This gives some experience needed to overland.

One will need beddings; a mattress, sleeping bags, and blankets. For showering you will require a system for bathing, whether you can install this on your vehicle or just any means you will need to shower. You can read this guide on how to shower when camping without depending on public showers.

Wet wipes come in handy, do not forget to pack a packet or two just in case you handle dirt and you have no water. In hot places as well as after doing activities such as mountain climbing, you will become very sweaty and will need to use the wipes. You will also need warm and light clothes depending on the places you will be going to.

Do not forget a first-aid kit, hope that you never use it but not having one is utterly blunt. Anything can happen when engaging in different outdoor activities.

Navigation- The most important thing with over landing is that you should know where you are going, even just a rough idea. This will avoid your testing lost as the regions you will be visiting will mostly be unfamiliar to you.

You can look for a map once in a while. Mark the places that will help you replenish or get help just in case, the supermarkets, grocery stores and hospitals. You will need more fuel, food, spare parts among other necessities of overlanding.

A phone with mapping software, dedicated GPS, and a compass will be very important. This is for communication and finding your way too. The most important thing is that you do not want to get lost in the wild. Understanding latitude and longitude is great. This can help you find your way without a map. This is your overland guide on every trip.

There are various ways of finding your way when they are lost. You can also read on books on such in order to develop that survival skills. There are a number of overland guides and trail guides that you can acquire in order for it to be easy to maneuver your way on the journey. Here is a number of beginner trail or routes that someone in the US can begin to explore:

  • Smoky Mountain Highway, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. It has several beautiful landscapes and full of dirt roads.
  • Death Valley National Park is a good way to experience the off-road, it has the hottest, driest and lowest environment in North America.
  • Naranjo road, Baja, California Sur, Mexico. From beautiful landscapes, empty beaches and expansive deserts, Rocky Mountains. Connected by dirt roads. Water sports and views of grey whales.
  • Mojave Road there you will go through Mojave National Preserve, the desert landscape. The rich history of the trails which used to be trade routes. Ensure you consult on road closures.

Skills – One requires some set of skills for the purpose of survival. You will be visiting remote places and there will be challenges; language barriers, road closures, different currency causes challenge during conversion, navigation, and mechanical problems. Problem solving capability is a very important skill.

Overlanding with rooftop tent

You can do some research on the people and the places you will be visiting in order to know their language, currency, and the weather during the time of your visit.

This will be important in order to enroll in language lessons. One will also require mechanical classes and medical training as you will only have yourselves. Help can either be very expensive e or far away. You also need to consider your security and thereby camping skills are important. Upgrade your vehicle to consider security.

What Vehicle You Will Need

First Overland Vehicle- To look into this it is good to go back in history a bit. The first overland in the world was done using a Land Rover from London to Singapore. A book ‘The first Overland: London – Singapore‘ is a good read as it makes you understand that over landing vehicle does not really matter. Additionally, it has some very good overlanding tips and tricks.

The vehicle can be a secondhand, modified old vehicle, new or even rented. Though a four-wheel drive will be more advantageous off-road, there is no perfect vehicle. Comfort and daily usability are key.

You can start with a regular off-road vehicle. I personally with a used 1st Generation Toyota 4-Runner but has since upgraded to other vehicles over time.

The general idea when choosing your vehicle or motorcycle and then modifying it is to keep it simple. Maintain simplicity. Do not overbuild your vehicle. This will mean more complications and failings on the road. The goal is not to show off and there will be no many people off-road anyway.

Vehicle Maintenance and Upgrade- Take preventive maintenance to avoid frequent breakdowns. You need the skills to fix your own vehicle in case of a mechanical breakdown. You should know how to fix tires and change them and fix other problem. Take mechanical classes.

According to your adventure desire; whether you want to go tough or slow on yourself, your vehicle needs the ability to handle the terrain off-road. Upgrade your vehicle. Choose good tires depending on type of terrain.

You will need roof racks, and cargo storage systems.  The vehicle will also need the ability to handle harsh weather and natural phenomenon like strong winds, tornado, sandstorms, this depends on the nature and the time of the year you will be visiting.

For privacy, one can use blacked out windows. Air ventilation and cooling or heating systems.  One can even have a solar panel on top of the vehicle.

Extra Fuel- Fuel can be depleted in the middle of the jungle or on the mountains, help will be far away, so extra fuel will be advantageous.

Tools for Repair – Sometimes the vehicle will breakdown due to tough terrain and straining. A tool box will be necessary. Good spare tires, good suspension, snatch strap and a tow strap. An air compressor is necessary, especially if going to mountainous regions as you will need to deflate the tires a not and later inflate them. A fire extinguisher is also necessary because of engine overheating can cause fire.

Closing Remarks

It is my hope that I have answered your question on how to start overlanding. As you can see, it is not an easy process but not that hard either way. It is highly recommended to gather all the necessary overlanding gear before embarking on an overlanding journey.

Do not skip the overlanding basics such as joining the relevant communities both online and offline and obtain your first vehicle, plan your trip and enjoy the journey.


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