Best Starter Overland Vehicles
What Platform To Start Overlanding With
If you're just getting into overlanding and are looking for the best starter overland vehicles to build you want a vehicle that is rugged and capable, has enough room for your overlanding gear and equipment, and maybe had a good level of aftermarket support for things like suspension systems, racks, bumpers, and other aftermarket gear that can make your overlanding experience better. The idea of overlanding is simple. Take an SUV or pickup that you can turn into an overlander and build it into a capable vehicle to be a basecamp for other outdoor adventures, hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, exploring, and more in hopes of getting away from it all. The fact of the matter is you can do this in just about any 4x4, but the more comfortable you are, and less worried you are about your vehicle the better a time you are going to have. When overlanding many people add things like rooftop tents, traction mats, camp stoves, camp kitchens and more. Generally similar vehicle platforms are used, but there is no reason that you can't vary from those few platforms. A mobile overlanding mini-home is the goal, and were here to help you get started. Here are a few of the best starter overland vehicles to make you journey a success, getting off the grid for a few days and nights or a week at a time.
Photo by Randy Ellis
American Made Overland Starter Vehicles
Overlanding has a stigma of exclusivity that is unfortunate. That stigma is that you have to have and spend a lot of money to participate. Not true of course any and all automotive hobby will be relatively expensive (when compared to knitting). The fact is several large domestic 4x4s would make the best vehicle for overlanding. We're partial to GM Suburbans and Tahoes, but also look at Ford Excursion and Expeditions, either way expect gobs of space, moderate capability off-road, easy to repair in the US and parts should be available (in the US) and Americas. Just make sure you get one with 4wd as many are 2wd and that's not very overlandy. Many used domestic 4x4 SUVs can be had for cheap while still having lots of life left in them. You can modify the suspension of almost all with off the shelf aftermarket parts or go full buggy with custom solid axle conversions, link suspension, fancy shocks, and more.
Get a Starter Overland Vehicle with 4x4 Chops
It's currently popular to slap some larger tires on a small SUV/car with all-wheel-drive, and while these may be more capable than a 2wd vehicle, but they never will match a 4x4 with a transfer case and a locking or locked center differential which is what you want in a starter overland SUV. Still any 4x4 or car with big tires looks better than a small tire'd equivalent, but don't expect durability or capability of a real 4x4 the former being pretty important if you're going "off-grid" for several days or weeks.
Photo by Van Compass
Best Starter Overland Vans
Vans offer tons of space, and picking up a used work fan is a great way to save $$$ on an overlanding starter vehicle purchase. Of course the likelihood of finding a used van with 4wd may not be simple, although they do exist. Over the past 40 years or so many people have converted vans to 4wd in their own garages, while several off-road fabricators have made a living doing this exact swap. Quigley, Van Compass, Sportsmobile, and others all specialize or have specialized in converting vans to 4wd is a great way to build a budget starter overland van. Of course doing the conversion and up-fitting for overlanding is the best way to save cash...unless you mess up and someone has to fix your "work". We'd keep our eyes peeled for used delivery vans from the Rocky Mountain region where we've seen 4x4 package delivery rigs, beverage distribution companies and more. Many newer models offer lots of headroom and also come from the factory with a 4wd system.
Photo by Dan Grec www.instagram.com/theroadchoseme/
Do Jeeps Make Good Starter Overland Vehicles?
Yeah, yeah, Jeep is overrated, too common, boring, we get it and generally agree (because we love an under-dog) still no one can deny that Jeeps are attractive for anyone who wants to get away from the city. Jeeps are durable (some models more than others), common, can be inexpensive. The 4-door (or two door if you are overlanding by yourself or with one close companion) JK/JL Wrangler platform rocks for many reasons. There are gobs of bolt on parts that make these rigs more capable and usable for overlanding. We'd recommend either a low mileage '07-'11 JK with a slight bias towards a '12- present Wrangler being our preference when looking for a starter overland vehicle (there is an engine changeover in '12 from the less desirable 3.8L to the more desirable 3.6L Pentastar). Still JKs and JLs are relatively expensive either on the new or used market and both are riddled with computers and electronics that can cause problems. So as a result don't overlook the very reliable and common XJ Cherokees, ZJ, WJ, WK, and WKII Grand Cherokees, Jeep Liberty, and of course the venerable (and much simpler TJ/LJ and YJ Wranglers). A ZJ or WJ Grand Cherokee with a 4.0L 6-cylinder will be cheap, reliable, repairable, capable, and available. Any of these older Jeeps can last a long time if maintained properly and maintenance as well as aftermarket parts abound. Other possible Jeep models like the Full Size Jeeps (FSJs) and CJs are great starter overland SUVs, but take some modification and specialized knowledge, but have a cult following and are very flavorfull.
Toyota Overland Starter Vehicles
If you've ever traveled internationally, or payed attention to international news you know that Toyota 4x4 vehicles have spanned the globe. Chances are more scientific expeditions and overlanding trips have been based out of a Toyota 4x4 of one kind or another. There are several models (were going to focus on the US based models, which can vary greatly with regard to the mechanicals of their international equivalents) that make for a great choice as a starter overland vehicle. The Toyota 4runner, FJ-Cruiser, and Land cruiser (and similar Lexus models) make for a very durable and reliable vehicle. We would avoid the 3.0L V-6 4Runner models in the late 80's and early 90's. They are underpowered and are hard on head gaskets. Land Cruisers are basically global although American models are tarted up with more luxury items than their international counterparts. The Lexus GX and LX models are both based on Land Cruisers or other international Toyota platforms. It's hard to go wrong with any Toyota 4x4 with a transfer case from an FJ-40 on up to a late model Toyota 4-Runner.
Steer Clear of Luxury SUVs as a Starter Overland Vehicle
There are several other SUVs with true 4wd drivetrains that would make for great overlanding starter vehicle bases. There are two issues that could rear their ugly heads. For one, luxury vehicles are generally overly complicated. Used luxo-utes may have tons of electronic features and baubles that in the boonies could become liabilities. The other risk for anyone wanting to use a less common 4x4s as a base for an overlanding rig is that parts can be difficult to get, and can be expensive. Ideally you want something that has parts that you can get at a parts store in New York City, Meeteetsee, Wyoming, Loreto, Baja California, Mexico anywhere. Keep that in mind when you're ogling that $3,000 BMW X5.
Do Pickup Trucks Make Good Starter Overland Vehicles?
Lots of folks use compact or full-size pickups as their base for a starter overland build. It's easy to drop in a pop up camper like one from Four Wheel Campers, or just add a used bed cap, rack system, roof-top tent, sleep in the bed under a tarp, or whatever. We would certainly seriously contemplate any 4wd pickup ranging from a Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, S-10 (Or Colorado/Canyon), Ranger, F-series, GM or dodge 1500-3500 as a base for an overlander. You can get in the door relatively inexpensively with a single cab former work truck or spend half a fortune on a Mega-Cab Diesel powered Ram 2500-3500 with all the bells and whistles. A crew cab compact 4WD pickup truck would also make for a great place to start. Early Dodges with the 12-valve Cummins and other older Diesel trucks make for some of the best starter overland trucks and they get our Zombie Apocalypse award cause it doesn't take much to keep these simple trucks running.