You Don’t Need to Be Rich to Overland - What It Takes to Be an OverlanderPosted in How To: Tech Qa on May 22, 2016
Overlanding has become a popular form of off-roading, but perhaps not for the right reasons. Most “overland” rigs you see are covered with expensive accessories that are considered a requirement for getting into the backcountry. But are they? While a rooftop tent can be more comfortable than a ground tent, you can still get off the pavement without one.
Overlanding has long been popular in places like Australia and South Africa, where there are wide expanses of open space with few services. So it is no surprise that a lot of off-road trailers, rooftop tents, and freezer/fridges come from these countries.
There is really no equivalent in the United States though. Even in the most rural parts of Utah or Montana you are never very far from a hot meal or a gas station. Overlanding exploded here about the time the economy was slowing down and people were questioning spending all day to cover half a mile of nearly impossible terrain. Overlanding gives you the opportunity to explore the backcountry without a specialized vehicle or concern for breaking expensive drivetrain components. Or at least that is what it should be about. Trailers, tents, and fridges definitely provide more comfort, but don’t let the lack of them keep you from exploring.
Our friend Stephen Watson from Offroad Design summed up the phenomenon best: “If you own a Land Rover you go overlanding. If you drive a Land Cruiser you take it on expeditions. Me? I just drive a Chevy. My family goes camping.”
Perhaps nothing says “I am on an expedition!” more than a rooftop tent. They were originally designed in regions where man is not at the top of the food chain. They come in many different sizes, with either hard or soft covers. All are expensive and heavy compared to traditional ground tents, but set up quickly and are very comfortable with the internal padding. In our experience they vary widely in how easy they are to pack up in the morning. They also render your vehicle immobile when they are deployed.
Don’t have room for all your things? An off-road trailer provides more storage space as well as a platform for items like a rooftop tent, bikes, or kayaks. What they don’t provide is a toilet or shower, but you can bring a portable cartridge toilet. In most cases we find that a larger vehicle makes more sense than a trailer because trailers severely limit where you can go, particularly if you need to back up. The flipside is that you can have a smaller, more economical daily driver and then just hook up the trailer when you are ready to leave civilization.
Food on many expeditions is the complete opposite of a manifold burrito. If you are spending weeks off the grid, eating beans out of a tin can get old. Food seems to come down to personal preference. Some people enjoy cooking in the backcountry and actually eat better on the trail than they do at home. If this is you, a camp kitchen or trailer with kitchen provisions should be on your wish list. For good food with less prep and cleanup, frozen meals in vacuum packs can just be put in boiling water when you are ready to eat.
Freezer-fridges are not cheap, but as high-end traditional ice chests get more expensive the price gap is getting smaller. Electric fridges do require power to keep your food cold, but you never have to worry about running out of ice during extended backcountry forays. Also note, the drawers can be used to safely store heavy items like tools, spare parts, and recovery gear where they are out of the way yet easily accessible.
Roof racks are a great way to add cargo space to your vehicle. We prefer to mount light and relatively compact gear like clothing and bedding (in dry bags) or sand ladders on racks since the weight is up high. Sand ladders have become incredibly popular recently. They are relatively inexpensive and can save you hours of digging if you get stuck alone in the sand.
Most trails that are explored by overlanders are big enough for fullsize vehicles. Starting with a 3/4-ton truck can provide heavier-duty components such as solid axles with big brakes and diesel engines, along with the payload to handle gear like the Four Wheel Camper shown here. The downside is that suspension upgrades are often designed for maximum cargo capacity, not comfort on washboard roads, so factor shock and spring upgrades into your budget.
Onboard air is not exclusive to overlanding, but it is a worthwhile upgrade for everything from actuating locking differentials to airing up your tires at the end of the trail. The least expensive option is a portable compressor that attaches to your battery with alligator clips. However, these are slow and get very hot when airing up big tires, to the point when damage could occur. Belt-driven converted A/C compressors and CO2 tanks can reliable move large volumes of air, as can the dual electric compressors shown here. Packaging is often the deciding factor when determining which air system is right for you.
Accessories like freezer-fridges and winches pull a lot of power and require a robust charging system. Dual batteries with an isolator that allows one battery to be drained by the accessories but ensures that the starting battery remains charged are a worthwhile but costly upgrade. Solar panels are also becoming popular but are most useful when you camp in one sunny location for an extended time. At a minimum we recommend replacing your factory battery with the biggest absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery you can fit.