If you’re a fan of adventure travel, chances are you have heard the term “overlanding” thrown around with increasing frequency, including everything from pictures of dirt-crusted 4WDs in the middle of rocky desert landscapes to #vanlife. You’ve seen pictures of vehicles and tents illuminated by glowing lights against a backdrop of ten-billion star accommodations: the dark night sky of the great outdoors, completely unadulterated by city lights, the hazy swath of the Milky Way stretched across the sky. You want this experience. Is this overlanding? What is overlanding? You don’t have a fancy rig… is this something you can still experience?
If you are wondering more about overlanding and the opportunities it allows for authentic, unique adventures, you aren’t alone. You don’t need to be an off-road expert or even own your own overlanding-worthy vehicle to get in on the amazing explorations that overland travel allows.
Let’s break it down…
So, what exactly is Overlanding?
Overlanding is just what it sounds like: travel over land. While this can be done by any number of modes of land transportation - train, truck, car, bike… camel… - the goal is generally self-reliant, vehicle-supported adventure travel.
The emphasis in overland travel is the journey rather than the destination. This doesn’t mean that you spend the whole time in the vehicle, or that your destinations aren’t worthy goals, it simply means that the transportation, and how you are experiencing the journey, is part of the adventure. Sure, you could “sightsee” all day and then return to a hotel at night, but - in addition to getting really expensive - this type of travel lacks the immersive, genuinely unique outdoor experiences that come with overlanding.
Traveling by vehicle allows overlanders to be both self-sufficient and flexible with plans. Having the gear and supplies you need along with you on the journey allows for you to explore areas further afield from the beaten track, change plans on the fly when you see something interesting to explore, and get off-the-grid as much as your heart desires for an adventure you’ll tell stories about for a lifetime.
So, this is like a road trip? Can’t I just take my car?
Not exactly. The primary difference between taking a “road trip” or “car camping” vs. overlanding, is the type of travel that is possible. Overland vehicles are designed to be a bit more robust and dependable, allowing you to travel over more rugged and rough terrain than your typical day-to-day vehicles or even most of the vans that are advertised for overland travel.
For example, in the state of Colorado, mountain terrain can be challenging, even on paved roads, depending on the grade or weather conditions. Without a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance, you can be significantly limiting your travel options. An overland-suitable vehicle will allow for far more options for travel, mountain/terrain access, and even more campsite options.
Overland vehicles are also designed to allow for more remote travel, allowing for unique off-the-grid experiences that you may not be able to access with a typical vehicle. Depending on the set-up, they are typically also better designed and equipped for the camping portion of the journey than your typical road-tripping vehicle.
So, is an overland adventure serious stuff? Like driving over boulders and down rocky mountain sides?
No, not at all! While proper overland vehicles certainly allow you to plan or be prepared for some technical terrain or challenging routes as part of your adventure, overlanding should not be confused with four-wheeling, rock-crawling, or other extreme driving adventures that require very specialized off-road equipment and terrain knowledge.
Overland vehicles are designed to be robust enough to access 4WD routes and some rugged terrain, but are generally not set up to allow for very extreme off-road travel over harsh terrain such as large rocks, boulders, rockpiles, etc., travel that requires extremely specialized build-outs and insurance. These vehicles are not designed to travel with the camp gear and supplies you would want to have along for an overland adventure. While these activities are certainly available as part of a mountain adventure, they are best rented for day use in very particular areas.
So I don’t need a monster truck to make this happen. Cool. What are the benefits of overlanding in a Jeep?
Surely, you will see a lot of people renting vans, campervans, and other RVs to overland, but there are serious advantages to overlanding in a Jeep. Jeeps are the gold-standard for overland travel, better for the unpredictable weather and variable terrain that you can encounter when traveling through mountain regions and other varied landscapes. Vans can be very limited in their abilities to leave even paved roads, which can put a serious damper on an expedition where even basic campsites are typically found off the main roads.
Properly equipped Jeeps have the advantage of 4WD and high clearance that will allow for easier travel with moderate to steep grades, rugged terrain, and technical routes. Even if you aren’t interested in terrain that is too rugged or too technical, Jeeps allow for gravel and backroad travel that simply can’t be accomplished by many of the other options on the market, particularly if you are renting.
The roof-top tents that speciality rental Jeeps are equipped with also make for a very convenient and comfortable camping experience after a day of exploration, with the advantage of camping under the stars, no matter what the weather.
Also, Jeeps are badass. You will look badass driving one, and your trip will be badass. Who doesn’t want to have a badass adventure?
Want to learn more about Overlanding? Check out Part 2