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"What is Overlanding" Cover - Featuring Jeep in Mountains

What is Overlanding?

How to Start Your Overlanding Journey

If you're always on the move and looking for an exciting new adventure in life, overlanding may be just the thing for you.Overlanding refers to the act of traveling by vehicle where the journey is the purpose, not the destination. Overlanding is for you if you always want to learn more about the world and adapt to your changing environment. You don't have to rely on anyone else except for yourself to give you the journey of a lifetime. You're never in the same place very long and you're always experiencing fun and exciting expeditions. Travel to places you never knew existed, off the beaten path, and accomplish the adventures you've always dreamed of!If you were to embark on an overlanding trip, what might it look like? You'd probably start by packing your rig with the essentials like food, water, fuel, emergency supplies, plenty of blankets, and cookware. You'd likely strap your gear to your roof rack, hit the highway, and travel to a remote area away from noisy traffic and city lights.This is how you start. But you may not know exactly where you'll end up. You might start out with just a single weekend, but maybe the next time you'll make it a week, or even a month. Your first overlanding journey will definitely be a learning experience, but you'll then know for the next time how to better prepare for whatever the adventure throws at you. Everyone has different supplies and items on their checklist that they consider essential, so don't get caught up on everyone else's journey and focus on what you want out of this experience.In this article:

Overlanding Vehicles: What Kind Do I Need?

Jeep on Dirt Road
Image credit: Keep Your Daydream
There are endless potential locations for an overlanding adventure, but only one way to get there: a vehicle. Your vehicle is the key to the ultimate overlanding experience and should be equipped to handle every situation you throw at it. If you look at most YouTube channels or blogs dedicated to overlanding, you'll see most of these adventurers have the biggest, baddest off-road vehicles you can get, featuring all the upgrades.However, you don't necessarily need a tricked-out Jeep Wrangler or Land Rover to get started. Overlanding can be achieved in a wide variety of SUVs, Jeeps, trucks, and even custom-built rigs to suit your needs. So what kind of features should you look for in an overlanding vehicle?So what kind of features should you look for in an overlanding vehicle? For starters, you want to make sure it has exceptional interior space, since you'll be spending a lot of time in your vehicle. Important details like rear folding seats and a large trunk to store your gear will be a huge benefit. When deciding how much storage space you'll need, first answer these questions: How many people are you bringing with you? How much gear are you taking? How long will your trips typically last?Gas mileage is also another important factor. Even though you'll be carrying some extra fuel with you, you still want to be as conservative as possible as you won't be close to a gas station. I know nothing can beat the 52 MPG of your Prius, but you'll still want to choose the best fuel-economic vehicle you can find.
Empty Trunk in SUV
The other thing to keep in mind is matching your vehicle to the terrain you explore. If you plan on mostly sticking to moderate or relatively smooth roads and trails, you can most likely get away with a 2WD SUV or even a motorcycle if you're going solo (yes, you can even overland in a motorcycle). But if you're planning on traveling off the beaten path, you'll want to strongly consider a vehicle with off-road tires and 4WD - if you don’t have either, traveling though rugged terrain may not be possible. If you're planning on sticking to smooth terrain, you might still consider an SUV. If you decide to try some challenging terrain, you won't be limited by your vehicle or be forced into an early upgrade.Heavy-duty shocks or a lift kit are also great investments, if your vehicle doesn't already them. Either option will help when going over rocky, uneven terrain, as those can do a number on your suspension if it's only designed for smooth highways.

Where Can I Overland?

View of Sky and Mountains
Image credit: Keep Your Daydream
There are plenty of breathtaking state and national parks in the US that make great overlanding locations. Some of these include Joshua Tree National Park in California, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, and the Big Bend State and National parks located in Texas. These parks are all great because they have some beginner-friendly areas, along with Instagram-worthy sights you've never seen.Once you choose an area or park, planning the route ahead of time is crucial. This will help you avoid some areas that may not have mapping details available. For your first overlanding trip, try to think of every detail, as proper preparation is incredibly helpful. We recommend using tools such as an off-road-compatible GPS device or MVUM's (Motor Vehicle Use Maps) to help you plan your route. MVUM's are maps that display the National Forest System's routes. Since they are not your typical road map, they might be a bit challenging to use at first, but they are helpful because they include roads, trails, and areas in general that are open to motorized travel. These maps are conveniently available online, and be sure to stick to the routes on the map that are open to motorized vehicles.
Jeep Parked Off-Road
Image credit: Keep Your Daydream
There's no denying there are some gorgeous sites to explore close to where you live, but you might also see a lot of experienced, hard-core overlanders traveling to all corners of the world. Australia is one of, if not the most popular destination for overlanding. This is greatly due to its epic scenery, challenging terrain, and wide-open real estate just waiting to be explored. However, traveling to another country can be intimidating and expensive. We recommend overlanding in another country only once you've decided you're ready to take on the world.While you're traveling in unfamiliar and secluded places, make sure to take care of your surroundings. The goal of overlanding is to learn more about the world, leaving the places you go in a better condition than how you found them. That way others can enjoy the same breathtaking experiences for years to come.Since you like to travel beyond the norm, so make sure that you also stay as safe as possible. Your daring spirit and spunk will take you places most people will never dare to go. For some tips on staying safe while overlanding, check out our Safety Tips for Solo Campers.

How Much Does Overlanding Cost?

Truck with Roof Rack and Ladder Rack
You might be wondering how much this is all going to cost. To help you, we've taken a look at a couple scenarios to help you determine how to best meet your budget.Since your priorities and circumstances will differ from others, the exact cost will depend on a few factors:
  • Are you buying a new or used vehicle, or using one you already own?
  • Are you overlanding on your own or can others help with costs?
  • How many days will you be overlanding?
  • Are you considering top-of-the-line accessories or more budget-friendly accessories?
To give you a rough estimate on how much it will cost to gather your overlanding supplies, we've prepared two different scenarios. I'm just covering the big-ticket items and these scenarios don't include the cost of supplies such as food, water, and fuel while you're overlanding.
You may still need additional gear such as a jack, winch, or fuel container. Both scenarios are again rough estimates of what you can spend on overlanding gear and essentials. You can end up spending a whole lot more or a whole lot less; it all depends on how good you are at budgeting and planning.If you're buying all new gear and accessories, we recommend investing in the highest-quality items that you can fit in your budget, as you will most likely end up saving money in the long run on replacing things, especially if you become a frequent overlander.
Graphic Showing Supplies Totaling $17,550-$36,200
Scenario 1: The All-In OverlanderIf you're planning on buying a new vehicle to overland in, you could typically spend anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 or more. In this scenario, you want all the best accessories money can buy. You pick up a Rooftop Tent ($1,200-$2,500), because you want a comfortable, convenient place to sleep. If you don't have a custom-fit roof rack to attach your tent or accessories to, you'll also need to invest in one of those ($300-$600).To be able to power your electronic devices and portable refrigerator ($250-$500) wherever you go, you invest in a portable generator ($400-$800). You also need a way to communicate with the outside world in case of emergencies. You purchase a satellite communication device ($300-$600).Another item that a lot of overlanders deem crucial is a battery charger ($100-$1,200). These will help to keep your vehicle's start battery or your auxiliary battery charged (if you use one to supplement your vehicle's start battery).These are just a few key items you'll need, but the estimated cost for everything will set you back anywhere from $17,550 to $36,200.
Graphic Showing Supplies Totaling $800-$12,050
Scenario 2: The Thrifty ThinkerIf you don't see the point in buying a brand new vehicle when you already have one that will work, or you're planning on buying an older, used vehicle that you don't mind beating up a bit, you can expect to pay $0-$10,000. As for sleeping arrangements, you may have enough room inside your vehicle to snuggle up with some pillows and a blanket. However, if you'd rather set up a pop-up tent ($0-$200) in your truck bed or around your vehicle for more comfort, tents are a comfortable option as well.To free up some space in your vehicle, you can mount a roof rack ($300-$600), with a roof basket ($250-$500) or roof box ($150-$800). One product you will need is the satellite communication device ($300-600). We recommend getting one that connects to your smartphone and can easily be charged from your car since you may not have a generator.As for anything else you'd need, common household items such as flashlights, cooking essentials, bedding, chairs, and a first aid kit are things you might already have. Overall, you can spend anywhere from $800 to $12,050 on a lower-budget overlanding experience.
12 Must-Have Overlanding EssentialsBelow you'll find some of the best products and accessories that will ensure you have the safest, most enjoyable journey (they'll also make it a heck of a lot easier).
Vehicle with Roof Rack
1. Roof RackGetting a roof rack for your vehicle will allow you to take advantage of as much cargo space as you possibly can. You can utilize your roof rack for different accessories like a roof basket, roof box, or rooftop tent. Roof racks will greatly increase your cargo carrying capability, so we recommend investing one of these for your vehicle.For the ultimate capacity and possibilities, we recommend going with a heavy-duty system such as the Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform Rack. It is heavy-duty and rated for off-road use. This is the ultimate overlanding roof rack because it's thoroughly tested in the Australian Outback, and has a rugged, strong construction and low-profile design that is sure to make your friends jealous. Click here to see the roof rack options that are custom-fit for your vehicle.
Vehicle with Rooftop Tent
2. Rooftop Tent You'll see a rooftop tent on many overlanding rigs. They're a huge benefit because they allow you to save precious cargo space in your truck bed or vehicle interior, and keep you elevated to prevent wildlife from getting inside your tent. Rooftop tents also keep you out of the elements and give you some privacy to cook, change, or just relax.Thule's Thule's Tepui tents are made from high-quality aluminum and weather-proof fabric, and include an anti-condensation mat to keep out any moisture. The Thule Tepui tent is easily one of the most recognizable names for rooftop tents. They're known for their durable construction and convenient features such as large internal pockets and built-in, screened sky panels.
Portable Cooler on Truck Tailgate
3. Portable Refrigerator or Cooler While you're out exploring the world, you'll need a way to keep your food as fresh as possible. Getting a portable refrigerator that runs off your vehicle's power is our top option, especially if you're going out for long trips.However, if you want to conserve power, or you're only overlanding for the weekend, getting a quality cooler is also a great option. The Bulldog Sportsman Cooler features extra-thick side walls and a polyurethane foam-insulated lid to keep your food and beverages cold much longer than a standard cooler can.
4. Off-Road TiresTo handle rocky terrain on your journey, you may want to consider swapping your stock tires with a set of off-road tires. While overlanding isn't restricted to off-road only, these tires can be a lifesaver. And I mean, they look really cool.
Off-Road Winch on Jeep
5. Off-Road Winch If you're going to be traveling on steep grade or in the mud, snow, or water, having an electric winch will save you hours if your vehicle gets stuck.The Bulldog Standard Series Off-Road Winch, rated for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of up to 8,000 lbs, is a great choice because of its capacity and heavy-duty construction. Plus, it features a free-spooling clutch and powerful 5.5-hp motor.
Cyclists Using Yakima Portable Road Shower
6. Portable Shower For those of you who plan on taking longer trips, having a portable shower is a very convenient solution to maintaining good hygiene (that way you don't have to survive off deodorant and baby wipes).Yakima's RoadShower pressurized water storage tank comes in 4-gallon and 7-gallon capacities and gives you access to pressurized water wherever you may be. It's also not only great for showers, but also lets you clean off your muddy gear after a long hike or rinse off your dirty dishes.
Portable Air Compressor Airing Up Tire
7. Portable Air Compressor Having a portable air compressor with you at all times will ensure that your tires are always properly inflated, so you don't run into any blowouts while in the middle of nowhere. Some experienced overlanders actually recommend airing down your tires if you're going off-road because they state having a lower air pressure while off-roading will improve your ride-comfort and increase your vehicle's traction. Once you get back on main roads you can easily air them back up with the compressor.The Bulldog Winch tire inflator is a compact, heavy-duty compressor that won't take up too much space in your vehicle.
Orion First Aid Kit
8. First Aid KitIf you don’t already have a first-aid kit in your vehicle, we suggest purchasing a kit in case of a medical emergency. These kits are compact and can be stored practically anywhere in your vehicle. 'Nuff said.
LED Lights on Front of Vehicle
9. Off-Road LED LightsLED off-road lights provide a bright, focused light that will allow you to see all your surroundings at night. Vision X has a wide variety of off-road lights to choose from and are some of the brightest, most durable lights you can get for your vehicle. Vision X also provides a limited lifetime warranty on most of their lights.
Redarc Battery Charger
10. Battery ChargerIf you're planning on going off-grid for weeks, or even months, this item will allow you to do that with ease. Having multiple batteries lets you make the most of your accessories that need to be charged up frequently (phone, GPS device, portable refrigerator, etc.). Since these accessories cannot and should not be run off the vehicle's start battery, having an auxiliary battery and a way to charge and maintain that battery is crucial. REDARC's Manager30 is perfect if you're using at least one auxiliary battery (this can charge multiple batteries), and are planning on using several devices that need a frequent charge. This battery management system is really 6 products in one: an auxiliary battery charger, 110-volt charger, solar regulator, battery isolator, load disconnect controller, and remote battery monitor.
SUV Under Rhino-Rack Batwing Awning
11. Vehicle Awning Having a simple solution to cool shade is not easy to come by when you're overlanding. Sure, you might encounter a nice cluster of trees that will provide some relief from the blistering sun. You can't always rely on Mother Nature to give you everything you want. The Rhino-Rack Batwing Awning is a great solution for any overlanding trip. It easily installs on your roof rack crossbars and can easily be set up by 1 person.
Man Starting Fire in Portable Fire Pit
12. Portable Fire Pit While canned beans and PB&J's might satisfy you for the first couple meals, eventually you'll start craving a delicious, hot meal. A portable fire pit is a useful item to have, especially if you're overlanding for more than 2 days. A gas-powered fire pit allows you to cook up anything from a spicy breakfast burrito to a hearty steak-and-eggs dinner. These Portable Fire Pits by Fireside Outdoor let you enjoy a fire almost anywhere — some models even come with grill grates for convenient cooking. Plus, they fold into the included storage bag, making them the perfect choice for overlanding, when space is at a premium. It's also a great idea to invest in a cooking set that you can dedicate to overlanding and camping. This way you don't have to worry about damaging or losing your expensive cookware from home.
About Olivia M.My journey with etrailer started in Customer Service, where I went through months of product training to make sure that I had all of the knowledge I needed to help our neighbors find a solution to any situation. I helped them with technical questions, troubleshooting, product information, and anything else they needed. Since it has always been my passion to write and express myself through words, I made the transition over to the content side of the website so I could combine my product knowledge and passion for writing.In order to make sure that I am giving you the most accurate, current information, I am constantly doing research and talking with people who are doing what I am writing about every day. I am constantly striving to find out what questions you are asking, and to give you an answer to every one of those questions, plus answers to questions you haven't even asked yet - yes, I'm that good. Plus, I am constantly getting hands-on training with our vendors and asking them all of the hard questions, that way you can have all of the information you need before making a decision.
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Written by: Olivia M.Updated on: 4/9/21

Patrick L.


Olivia...fabulous article, very gear inclusive and well written!!?????? just forgot one thing...the overlanding trailer! ??

Etrailer Expert

Mike L.


@PatrickL Thanks for the kind words! We didn't mention an overlanding trailer because we don't offer them...

Patrick L.


@MikeL an important thing for ALL trailer builders..whither on or off the unbelievable amount of quality parts and super experienced help available at eTrailer!!!
Etrailer Expert

Mike L.


@PatrickL Why thank you!!

Anton S.


We love boondocking. Be safe and take some sort of protection.

Stephen A.


This article responsibly ramps up concern for the environment by proposing leaving it BETTER than you found it. Vast tracts of public land are now being banned from boondocking because of the filth and trash left behind by irresponsible boondockers. It is far too late for a " leave it like you found it" mantra. But the article should have proposed specific ways to do this. Making provisions to pack out other people's garbage is not pleasant. But it must be done if we are not to drown in human waste. I always hike with one shopping bag which I try to fill. I usually succeed.

Mike H.


Love the article. We have been overlanding for a few years now and have logged over 16,000 miles In our 2016 Jeep JK and adventure trailer. It is great to see how this activity has grown so popular. You meet the best (like-minded) individuals on the trails. We have found the most amazing spots traveling the Trans-America Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, etc. Our future goal includes the Trans-Canadian Trail to Newfoundland and Labrador. Safe travels everyone.

Etrailer Expert

Chris R.


That is awesome to hear.



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